Love Conquers All
There is something about being in love prior to marriage that blinds us to certain realities about our partner—realities that, unfortunately, don’t become obvious until after the wedding. I’m pretty sure God created “love goggles” knowing that it might stunt human procreation if we weren’t hijacked by the emotions of our love into a state of temporary self-deception!
Prior to marriage, couples tend to overlook things like his difficult or broken relationship with his father or the fact that her family’s primary communication style is yelling. One partner may have been the victim of abuse at some point or may struggle with anxiety or depression. It may be a third marriage for one or both partners. Maybe she’s a perfectionist. Maybe he offers criticism more easily than affirmation. She may be a driver while he is more passive and easygoing. There are dozens more scenarios I could list, but I’m sure you get the picture. It seems God has predisposed us to believe before we say “I do” that all these past problems and the trauma they inflict on our souls are going to melt away under the weight of this powerful love that we now share. Isn’t that cute? Well, not so much.
Because usually within weeks or months—no, not years—after the wedding, we realize that the person we wake up next to every day has some issues. And those issues need to get resolved if this arrangement is going to match up to the perfect picture we have painted in our minds of what marriage should look like. How we react to this realization will determine the quality, and potentially the very survival, of our marriages going forward.
We can glean from scriptures like Ephesians 5:25-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7 that our sanctification (becoming more like Christ) is one of the primary purposes, if not the primary purpose, of marriage. The reality is that love can heal the wounds of the past, but it’s likely to take many years of tireless, selfless, painstaking love, given without expectation of anything in return, to accomplish that healing. Sounds a lot like Jesus’ time here on earth, doesn’t it? The Pharisees of His time were always trying to heal or fix the people of Israel by telling them what to do and what rules they should follow in order to earn God’s favor. But Jesus’ first response to hurting people was always to offer them grace. He told them “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30).
So as you navigate your relationship with your spouse, keep a few things in mind. First, most of the problematic behaviors they bring to the marriage are the result of their inner fears being activated by your interactions with them. Often we don’t even know how we are inadvertently sparking fear in our spouse! And it is important to acknowledge that some of us have more deep-seated fear caused by greater trauma, and some of us have less.
Second, know that we can either be a Pharisee to our spouse, telling them how to change in order to be more lovable to us, or we can be Christ to them by gently loving them and giving rest to their wounded souls. The law brought condemnation, but love conquers all. We are all usually well aware that we are broken and messed up without being told by our spouse. And we often simply need our spouse’s love and acceptance in order to heal.
Finally, we have to remember that because the foremost purpose of marriage is for our sanctification, God entrusted our spouse to us as an instrument of that sanctification. And this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but the more difficult our spouse may be, the more extraordinarily God is asking us to love them and the more we will be conformed to His image in the process of loving them.
Our spouse is exactly who God created them to be, and we can either choose to love that person in a way that frees them up to reflect God’s image more clearly, or we can choose to try to change them into something more like our own image. My experience with struggling couples has shown me that this second option is painful, ultimately fruitless, and too often destructive to the marriage itself.
The good news is that we will never have to be nailed to a cross to show our spouse how much we love them, but it will definitely require us to take up our cross and follow Jesus’ example of loving at great cost to ourselves. So we must ask ourselves if we are willing to give God thanks for the sanctifying instrument of our spouse in our life? Can we accept that he or she was chosen for us by God before the beginning of time for that very purpose? Can we set aside our own purposes for our marriage and yield to God’s higher purpose for this union? If we can, then God will bring healing and His presence into our marriage in a way that exceeds our greatest expectations.