Which system is the right system? What gauge is the right gauge? What metaphor best captures what we’re supposed to be paying attention to? If you have read many books on marriage you know how confusing these questions can be: love languages, pink hearing aids, blue sun glasses, love tanks, love banks, waffles, spaghetti, Mars, Venus, his needs, her needs, love, respect, love dare, seven key questions, seven minute solutions, new marriages by Friday, fourteen secrets, etc… (that’s from a two minute search on “marriage” on a Christian bookstore website).
Is all this language different ways of saying the same thing or do we need to know this many different systems?
You hear one couple talk about how a book / speaker completely revitalized their marriage and another couple tells you the same book / speaker didn’t do anything for them, is totally unrealistic, or created tension in their marriage.
How do we know what is “worth our time” (which is limited and we’d prefer not to waste)?
Here is the evaluation from this section of the upcoming GCM: Intimacy seminar to help you assess this aspect of your marriage: GCM_Intimacy_Eval_Differences
The Importance of Understanding Our Differences
God’s design for heaven is that unity in the midst of diversity will be a key component of our eternal joy (Rev. 7:9). Marriage is meant to be the clearest earthly picture of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph. 5:32). Put these two truths together and it becomes clear why it is so common for “opposites to attract” and why it is important for a couple to gain a deep appreciation for their differences in giving / receiving love – this is what we’ll be doing in heaven; marriage is a warm-up for eternity.
If we love, then we will want our expressions of love to be understood. The greatest joy of love is not the act of loving, but seeing the joy our act of love produces in our beloved. This is a primary difference between immature self-centered love and mature other-minded love.
Read I Corinthians 14:19-20. This passage is addressing speaking in tongues rather than love languages, but at least two principles are relevant to both. First, the primary purpose of speaking is to be understood. Paul says, “I would rather speak five words with my mind [understandable to others] in order to instruct [encourage, build up] others, than ten thousand words in a tongue (v. 19).” Second, putting our preferences and enjoyment first in our communication with others is an indicator of immaturity (v. 20).
“Ask your spouse this wonderfully honest, humble question (which is much easier to read than to do), ‘What change in me would make the biggest difference for you?’ (p. 15)” David Powlison in Renewing Marital Intimacy
Think of the things you will consider in this chapter as a series of different frames you can put around the concept of love. Love itself doesn’t change as you put each new frame around it, but your creativity and perspective is expanded.
“Have you ever noticed that you tend to have different kinds of ideas when you use different tools to help you think (p. 42)?” C. J. Mahaney in Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God
The goal of this chapter is to give you eyes to see opportunities to love you may be missing. With each new frame the possibilities of how to love your spouse in fresh ways will expand. As life changes (month-to-month or year-to-year), you could read this chapter and have new opportunities sparked by the same frame. One of the disciplines of a romantically vibrant marriage is two spouses who discipline themselves to continually look for these opportunities.
“Sadly, many people don’t notice the needs others have for the opportunity to build their friendship by meeting those needs because they have trained themselves not to notice (p. 133).” William P. Smith in Loving Well: Even If You Haven’t Been
If these things seem hard or unnatural, remember they are essential parts of love. If we embrace this discomfort as part of love, then it becomes adventuresome, playfulness, flirting, or exploring. However, if we grumble, then it becomes laborious, sacrificial, monotone, and self-defeating. Trusting your spouse enough to fail at an attempt to love him/her well is itself part of love – vulnerability.
“Think about the fact that marriage without vulnerability is not marriage… The degree to which you are comfortable with emotional, physical, and spiritual nakedness in front of your spouse is a sure indicator of the quality of trust that exists between you (p. 148).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?
As much as any chapter in this series, it is recommended that you talk your way through this chapter. That may be more challenging for some husbands, but remember Jesus was a talker and a listener, and your calling is to love your wife as Christ loves His bride (Eph. 5:25).
“Jesus was not the stereotypical strong and silent type, limiting himself to 7000 words per day. He talked all the time. He was constantly teaching, preaching, comforting, rebuking, encouraging, and telling stories (p. 120-121).” William P. Smith in Loving Well: Even If You Haven’t Been