Which sounds more romantic? Is it more romantic to say,
“My love, I see that the divorce rate is 50%? Let’s get married anyway and let’s assume that our love is so special, so passionate, so superior to all those other couples, that we’ll make it –even when conflicts and hurts arise, our love is so strong that we’ll stay together till death us do part.”
Or, can we get to the place where people will realize that the true romantic would say, “Beloved, the divorce rate is 50%. I want to marry you and I love you so much that I want to learn everything the Bible and the experts know about what makes marriage succeed or fail so that we can work to make sure our love and our marriage last, till death us do part.”
God tells us to “Love one another” and to “Love one another deeply from the heart.” We all want to feel safe, secure, attached and loved. However, real love is not just roses, chocolates and Hallmark cards on Valentine’s day. Loving deeply is more than the image of Noah and Allie in the movie “The Notebook” passionately expressing their love to one another, in the rain, while canoeing on the lake encircled by white swans. Real love can contain romance but research shows that marriages that last long term take hard work, time, growth and continually learning principles and skills regarding communication, conflict resolution, and attachment.
The creator of love and pair bonding is God. In the garden he fashioned all the animals in sets of twos so that they each could have a companion. Then after creating the animals God made one of the most profound and powerful statements ever made…” It is not good for man to be alone” So he created Eve, a mate for Adam. In Ecclesiastes it states “Two are better than one because they get a good return for their labor and they can keep each other warm at night.” It’s beautiful that God is the author of love and attachment and formed us to need each other.
Clasping a loved one’s hand, or having someone hold us when we are afraid or threatened changes how our brain responds and how we experience the danger. Research on attachment shows that the comfort and love of someone important to us regulates our physiology and emotions and can actually bring relief so our fear and body is tranquil. The findings also reveal that the deeper the attachment the more motivated and equipped we are with internal resources to work through our differences and conflicts when they arise.
Sounds wonderful but how do we attach and love deeply, day to day, long term, in the midst of stressors, hurts, conflicts, differences, sin and brokenness to keep this attachment strong? The word “Heart” is used over 1,000 times in the bible and is quite complex. The heart is mixed with love, sin, needs, feelings, motives, attitudes, self-centeredness and weaknesses. No one really understands the heart completely but God.” The purposes of a man’s heart our deep waters and it takes a man of wisdom and understanding to draw them out” as it states in Proverbs. Examine the different parts of your heart as we celebrate love and Valentine’s Day this month so that you can love your spouse deeply from your heart!
The Vulnerable Heart risks to reveal its fear, needs, feelings and weaknesses. To know and be known is what we desire. This occurs by dropping our defense mechanisms and false self (fig leaves) which we developed while growing up. (Genesis 3:9-10) This task of establishing and maintaining safety is the threshold for openness and intimacy. Adam and Eve were both naked and unashamed. With safety we can emotionally risk to be vulnerable enough to share our fears and needs. When met with acceptance, validation and affection, intimacy begins to flourish and the longings of person can be fulfilled they will feel loved deeply.
The Wounded Heart faces the pain & losses from the past in childhood and also the past in the marriage. Then current hurts & losses in the marriage can be addressed more easily. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
When we marry we inherit the way our spouse was treated by their mother and father. This is not to blame our parents but to identify the emotional wounds and unmet needs that we bring into the marriage. Linking our present hurts to childhood hurts can help us to grieve and reduce reenactments. When spouses become aware of each other’s sensitivities and emotional vulnerabilities they are better able to partner together and have grace & wisdom to love deeply.
The Responsible Heart confesses mistakes, receives corrective feedback, doesn’t blame, looks at one’s self, and takes ownership. (Luke 6:41-42) (Psalm 139:23-24)
This embrace of personal responsibility opens the door for connection. If we deny the impact of how our behaviors hurt our spouse’s well-being or have an agenda of demonstrating our spouse’s deficiencies, while minimizing our own contributions to relationship then safety and trust is damaged. As C.S. Lewis said “The worst spiritual disease is thinking that one is well.” Spouses often blame one another, escalating quickly and staying angry when humility and taking the log out of one’s own eye is essential. A wise man is open to correction, counsel and learning to love deeply.
The Empathic Heart experiences what it feels like to be in the other person’s place. Listening, hearing and really understanding with the heart in such a way as to be moved to action.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Once individuals are able to step outside their own deeply held beliefs and feelings, they can begin to better tolerate and become curious about their partners’ views. Emotional empathic communication includes skills in taking-turns, respecting differing points of view, listening, paraphrasing, and validating the others emotional experience even if it is different than our own.
Attachment grows when one of us is anxious, hurting, and in need of attention or comfort and we receive it. When our partner reaches out, unsolicited, to provide comfort or support they are loving from the heart. To “reach” is to move towards with compassion, having seen the need. It is a giving from the heart to assist the distress. One would have the other’s back and could turn to the other for warmth and security knowing they will be available and attentive. The reach could be in the form of a hug, words of acknowledgement, understanding or sharing the burden. “I see how lonely you are feeling” “I see I hurt your feelings”. Empathy for others pain is one of the most powerful ways to love deeply.
The Authentic Heart speaks with honesty, yet is sensitive to others feelings when it speaks truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
Minimizing, pretending, avoiding and hiding your authentic self is not honest or loving. You partner needs to know your heart and hear your feelings, reality and truth. Repressed needs, feelings and thoughts can lead to distance and superficiality in a marriage .One of the most loving things you can do is revealing who are to your spouse. When one partner reveals an emotion such as sadness, fear or loneliness, the other is able to recognize this as a gift of vulnerability. Another part of authenticity is to learn to ask for what you want and need from each other. The request is about unmet connection needs such as acceptance, belonging, comfort or safety. Their ability to reveal, listen, and move to action strengthens the bond and is loving deeply from the heart.
The Emotional Heart manages feelings such as negative communication and affect such as criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt which are all predictive of relationship dissatisfaction. Patterns between partners of negative reciprocity such as one demanding and one withdrawing or one attacking and the other defending need to be recognized and interrupted. Negative emotions must be contained to promote emotional safety and closeness. Learning to identify and label emotions, developing calming and self-soothing techniques when emotionally flooded are all essential to not harming one another and to loving deeply.
The Humble Heart embraces conflict as inevitable. It is open to feedback from others about behaviors & attitudes of the heart. It is not what we fight about but how we fight that matters. The humble heart takes responsibility & seeks to repair quickly. (James 4:1, 5: 16)
When you bring two different individuals together from two different families, with two different sets of needs and feelings then conflicts and working through differences is just a normal part of the relational process of learning to love one another. Healthy conflict can be productive, rather than destructive if partners are able to understand the underlying dreams beneath their stances.
If conflict is managed with skill partners can grow closer, and enhance trust. After conflict, repair and mending is needed to get back to resonating with each other. Statements such as I was wrong”, “I’m feeling sad about how that went between us”, or “I understand why that felt bad”, rebuilds safety. Identifying and verbalizing your contribution to conflict as well as recognizing irrational thinking is loving deeply.
The Free Heart values separateness and is able to express its uniqueness, set boundaries, protect what’s good, and know what it is and is not responsible for. (Ephesians 5:35) God loves differences and he gifted us all with free will. We can influence and take influence from one another but we cannot force change or governor our spouse. Attempts to control or manipulate often produce the opposite of the desired effect. Accepting our spouse’s free will, free choice and autonomy is part of healthy boundaries and loving deeply.
The Connected Heart seeks closeness and builds a secure attachment that enables us to be accessible, engaged and responsive to each other’s emotional, spiritual & physical needs. (Genesis 2:18) Creating and maintaining closeness includes being present, in the moment, tuned in, and responsive to requests or bids for connection. “Focused, engaged, reading each other’s affect and signals in the moment is part of creating a secure safe bond that communicates how important one is to the other. Each spouse is able to emotionally reach, receive, reveal, recognize, request, and respond to requests for connection and comfort.
An attachment injury is a relational trauma that occurs when one does not experience the support and availability expected from one’s partner during a time of emotional crisis or vulnerability which can be very disruptive to the bond. Taking turns in the “initiator” and “follow” positions in the relationship builds reciprocity, where both partners feel emotional expressions of being desired and loved.
Verbalizing affirmation is also a part of creating closeness. “We all want to hear “ I missed you”, “I need you”, “You’re still the one”,” I’ll never let you go” and “ I can’t imagine my life without you”. Research shows that healthy couples have five times more positive interactions in a day than unhappy couples. Being responsive and engaging with your spouse is part of loving deeply.
The Forgiving Heart has grace and mercy and chooses to forgive quickly and often. The forgiving heart holds no grudges. (Matt 18:21-22) (Colossians 3:13)
Long term marriages involve two good forgivers as Ruth Graham states. Forgiveness is our responsibility even if we don’t feel like it. It sets us free where we cease to demand punishment or restitution. We cancel the debt for our spouse and absorb the cost of pain because of the forgiveness we have been given by Christ. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone their behavior or even forget. But it sets us both free to love deeply.
The Committed Heart protects it’s primary affection and the relationship from outside idols and builds the marriage on the foundation of Christ. (Psalm 127:1) Commitment involves at times giving up and sacrificing other desires for the “we” in the relationship. We all have longings and thirst for what we do not have and often find wrong strategies for fulfilling these that can harm our marriages.
Anything we allow to capture, consume, & preoccupy our affection & heart more than our relationship with our spouse or God can become an idol of our heart. Another aspect of commitment is knowing and honoring each other’s dreams in life, retirement and death. Commitment creates an atmosphere of trust and safety where the investment of time and effort are indicative of loving deeply.
Find more inspiration for a godly marriage in What One Tongue Can Do
To learn more about Christian Marriage Therapist Terri Haley visit Matters of the Heart