11 June 2009

Cultivating Marital Love

A few years ago I visited a very fine Christian couple who lived in a community several miles from my home. After a cordial welcome and a conversation on a variety of subjects, the husband informed me of the problems existing in their son’s marriage. As I listened, it was easy to detect the deep sadness that filled the hearts of these parents. This brother mentioned that he had been concerned for some time since he thought that his son and daughter-in-law had not been trying to improve their relationship. He said, “Love that is not cultivated will soon die.” I could not forget that statement that was filled with many pertinent points regarding the necessity of permitting love to mature.

In oriental countries a custom has been in times past for the parents to select their children’s future mates. It seems that the couple enters marriage with a nominal amount of affection but with the passing of the years that love is cultivated and matures. Whereas so many of our young folk in our society get married in the heat of passion and their love subsides in a few years. The present divorce rate is proof that there is a wholesale failure in our marriages in this country. There is real need to cultivate marital love. Webster defines the word cultivate as follows: “1. to prepare and use soil, land, etc for growing crops; till 2. to break up the surface soil around (plants) in order to destroy weeds, prevent crusting, and preserve moisture…4. to improve or develop (plants) by various horticultural techniques 5. to improve by care, training; or study; refine (to cultivate one’s mind) 7. to seek to develop familiarity with; give one’s attention to; pursue.”

Especially in this analogy, attention should be given to definition number two, that is, “to break up the surface soil around (plants) in order to destroy weeds, prevent crusting and preserve moisture.” Certainly in marriage there is the constant need to eliminate the negatives that would destroy the proper relationship between the husband and the wife. Every effort must be made to keep the marriage from “crusting”. Love will become hard if not cultivated.

Also care must be given in preserving and maturing marital love. This requires the obtaining of wisdom; knowledge and training to develop (cultivate) this love. A very wise man wrote: “The plainest man that can convince a woman that he is really in love with her has done more to make her in love with him than the handsomest man, if he can produce no such conviction. For the love of a woman is a shoot, not a seed. And flourishes most vigorously only when grafted on that love which is rooted in the breast of another.” I want to mention some suggestions that will enable marital love to be cultivated and to mature with the passing of the years.

First of all, husbands and wives should learn early in their marriage relationship to give themselves totally to each other. Love is something that must be given away in order to receive it. This is true in every aspect of marriage including the sexual relationship (See I Corinthians 7:1-6). Marriage is not a fifty-fifty relationship but it is the giving of oneself one hundred percent to making the marriage successful, happy and enjoyable.

Second, there is the need to be unselfish in marriage. Paul wrote that loves “does not seek its own” (I Corinthians 13:5). It would be wonderful if each partner sought the other’s good and welfare at all times. But if one is not careful self will be the focal point in every deed. And this is when trouble arises. Selfishness suppresses service for others. It is probable that most marital problems can be traced to this root sin of self-centeredness.

Third, love should be expressed both by words and actions. While it is good for the husband to bring an occasionally gift home for his wife, however, there is no substitute for those beautiful words, “I love you.” Often the husband is reluctant to verbalize his feelings for his wife. True love can also be best understood by its characteristics. Henry Drummond mentioned several of them in his book, “The Greatest Thing In the World.” They are: “Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, and sincerity”. Of course the apostle Paul wrote of such characteristics of love nearly two thousand years ago as is found in I Corinthians 13:4-8.

Fourth, one needs to learn not to hold grudges. There is real trouble brewing when a tea kettle cannot release the steam that has been created by the heat of a fire. A husband or a wife who harbors resentment will eventually explode emotionally. The advice of the apostle Paul is worthy of heeding in the marriage relationship: “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). Sure there will be disagreements in marriage but how beautiful it is when there is forgiveness and reconciliation. When one has been wrong there is the need to say, “I am sorry”. And the response should be, “I forgive you.”

Fifth, before problems have become so great and seemingly insurmountable, help should be sought from a trusted friend. This assistance may be found in the person of an elder, a preacher or a Christian friend. There may be the need of seeking the help of someone who is trained professionally in marriage counseling. The institution of marriage is so precious in the sight of God that every effort should be made to save this relationship.

In closing, the point should be emphasized that when two people truly love the Lord, their love for one another will become stronger. The reason being, when the husband and wife draw nearer to God, they are drawn nearer to one another. This is a fact that cannot be denied. The result is inevitable.

I assisted in the funeral service on one occasion of a man who, had he lived one more week, he and his wife would have celebrated their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary. How wonderful that two people could learn to live together for such a long time. They had truly cultivated their love over the years to the degree that only death could separate them. That was exactly what God had planned in His design for marriage (See Matthew 19:4-6; I Corinthians 7:39). My wife and I have been married for fifty four years. I can truly say with all sincerity that I love her more now than I did when we were joined together in a simple but beautiful wedding ceremony on a very warm August night in 1955. Our love for one another has brought us closer together as we have faced many difficulties and disappointments as well as the good times along life’s way. There are scores of couples who will testify to the fact that marriage can be successful. And they should be examples worthy of emulation by the young couples who have just begun their journey in life together as husband and wife.

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