"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT
The verse above summarizes into the following: "LOVE CONQUERS ALL". Unfortunately we live in a world in which the word "love" is abused and misused desensitizing its meaning and value. A person expressing love can with the same lips express words of denigration directed to the same person to which they initially expressed love when personal needs are not met or disappointment surfaces.
HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS…
I love you…as long as you meet my needs
I love you…till you cannot take care of me anymore
I love you…until you cannot provide for me anymore
I love you…until you change
I love you…when you cater to me
I love you… until you get sick, and I am forced to take care of you
I love you…until you hurt me
I love you…until you don’t make me happy anymore
I love you…until you make me suffer
I love you…until you gain weight
I love you…as long as you look attractive
I love you…until you make a mistake
I love you…until you stop prioritizing me
I love you…until you stop spending time with me
I love you…until you stop pleasing me
I love you...my way
I love you...until you are unfaithful to me
I love you...as long as you agree with me
I love you...until you stop meeting my expectations
I love you...whenever you take care of yourself
I love you...until you want to spend time with your friends
I love you...until you want to be with your family
I love you...only if you accept my family
I love you...as long as you let me have a social life
I love you...as long as you have money
I love you...as long as you treat me the way I want to be treated
I love you...as long as you do what I say
I love you...as long as you do what I want!
As you can see opposition becomes evident when conditions are not met according to individual preference. In each case the individual under these impositions receives conditional love subject to the limitations of the giver. As a Pastoral Counselor, I witness this conditional love in marriages experiencing marital conflict. It is unfortunate when a spouse blatantly refuses to admit or accept the fact that the love they provide is based on conditions it compromises the ability of a marriage to reach a consensus on the points of contention threatening the peaceful quality of married life. Many people love according to the terms of their personal preference.
Here is where world philosophy tries to undo the Word of God failing miserably in its attempt as witnessed in a multitude of broken homes, divorces, multiple marriages, broken relationships, and a myriad of psychological issues.
"If it doesn't work, let it go...next!"
"Marriage is the only place where you sleep with the enemy"
"It is better to be alone than in "wrong company"
"Marriage lets you annoy one person for the rest of your life!"
This type of "cheap psychology" is what contributes to a mindset of "tolerating" a spouse without putting any effort into understanding, cultivating and nurturing a strong marriage. Many years ago the mention of divorce was "taboo"; today it is an option. Statistics say 84% of this generation would rather cohabitate without getting married to "test" compatibility (n.d., Majority of Americans Now Believe in Cohabitation, 2016) As we continue to watch marriages in conflict, dissolution, and divorce the desire to commit to a spouse wanes. Psychologists, Counselors and Clergy offices are inundated with couples struggling in marital conflict because spouses have lost the ability to communicate to each other, are involved in a battle of power, and are fighting for the acknowledgement of personal needs and expectations. What can be said of a spouse who berates the other spouse for physical changes which come as a consequence of aging, such as weight gain, wrinkles, or erectile dysfunction?
Interesting how a spouse can expect perfection in whom they married, yet they themselves are imperfect.
There is so much emphasis placed on "self" it is no wonder a spouse loses sight of the other spouse becoming unfaithful, indulging in maladaptive behaviors, and ultimately causing collateral damage to children, family members and friends in the process. So, where is the problem in this dilemma? It is in the focus on "Me"—and me alone. The verse with which I began this article is focused on unconditional love looking beyond shortfalls and character flaws. When a couple is in marital conflict shortfalls and character flaws take center stage along with insults and humilliation screaming disagreement. However, imagine having to live with someone who conditionally loves. The other spouse would have to "walk on eggshells" interacting, talking and being with such a spouse lacerating the integrity of the marriage. When a marriage affords grace it thrives. It could be argued spouses makes too many mistakes, excuses, or cause too much pain to forgive their wrongdoings. However, it is an act of will to forgive another. To say "I cannot forgive" is truthfully saying "you do not want to forgive"; it is a conscious decision to reserve the right to forgive in lieu of vengeance, avoid minimizing the injustice committed, or as reprisal to demonstrate disdain against the offender.
HOW DO I LOVE THEE UNCONDITIONALLY? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS
I love you and will help you to understand and meet my needs
I love you and will take care of you till death do us part
I love you and will go to work myself when you are unable to provide for me
I love you as you change
I love you and will cater to you
I love you and when you get sick I will take care of you
I love you even when you hurt me
I love you and will make you happy in spite of myself
I love you even when you make me suffer
I love you with the extra weight
I love you regardless of your appearance
I love you even when you make mistakes
I love you and will prioritize you to demonstrate loving the most important person in my life
I love you and will wait until you want to spend time with me
I love you even when can't please me
I love you God's way
I love you even when you are unfaithful to me
I love you even when we agree to disagree
I love you even when you do not meet my expectations
I love you and will help you take care of yourself
I love you and encourage you to spend time with your friends
I love you and your family
I love you even if you do not accept my family
I love you and am willing to share my social life with you
I love you for richer or poorer
I love you and will show you how I want to be treated
I love you even when you disagree with me
I love you and respect what you want to do
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Philippians 2:3 ESV
What would marriage be like if spouses regarded their spouse more significant than themselves? It would be a win-win situation on both sides! The ugly truth is the fact that many times it takes one spouse to humble themselves wintering a storm of mistreatment to champion demonstrating unconditional love. Some times "...love thy enemies" Matthew 5:44 KJV means loving the adversarial spouse; although their crude behavior, nasty attitude, and indifferent demeanor is disliked the spouse is loved. Spouses willing to walk the path toward marital restoration must traverse a journey of sacrifice requiring patience, grace, and compassion because of unconditional love to ultimately rekindle the love which brought them first together.
The most important person in the husband's life is his wife and vice versa. Children grow and become independent making a life for themselves. A husband and wife are then left to either enjoy the empty nest, begin from scratch a new courtship lost within the years of raising children, or in a worse case scenario serve each other divorce papers because they do not "know" each other. It is painful to share this but I have seen several couples with an investment of 20, 30 and 40 years of marriage in the latter part of the previous sentence. Husband/Wife, if your husband or your wife is not the most important person in your life, ask yourself who occupies that place for you? If your answer is someone else including yourself you have managed to identify the place in which to start making changes to fix your marriage. Ask yourself "how can I be a better husband/wife" and shift the retaliatory "I" to a productive "I".
LOVE DOES CONQUER ALL but husbands and wives must be willing to own and demonstrate it selflessly and without imposition to allow the seed of love to blossom into the masterful marriage God intended without the thorns and thistles of demands. When God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18 NIV It was because alone he was limited in executing the task which God bestowed upon him. "...He brought her to the man." Genesis 2:22 NIV the most unique creation of everything created by God created from components which had already undergone the process of refinement. God loved you husband so much that he gifted you with what he sealed his creation; he gifted you, your wife. Wife, the Lord created the man which you call husband to be the leader of your household and the keeper of your heart. God had faith in him first that what he created in your husband was capable of living out the purpose for which he was created including loving you.
If you want to see the difference, be the difference! Live out the strategy of loving each other unconditionally in the end both husband and wife are blessed!
n.d. (2016). Majority of Americans Now Believe in Cohabitation. Obtained from Barna Group: https://www.barna.com/research/majority-of-americans-now-believe-in-cohabitation/