(Even though our primary audience is pre-engagement and premarital couples and this post is primarily about spouses, many of the same principles will apply. Consider them as you consider your future and while you’re observing each other before marriage.)
This afternoon at Kroger, my mother-in-law struck up a conversation with a young man holding a beautiful bouquet of roses. When I returned to the check out line with our final items, she pointed out the roses and told us he was about to see his fiancée whom he had not seen in a few weeks (which at that stage of a relationship can feel like an eternity). As we waited our turn, she made a few recommendations for his future. She said, “Keep giving her flowers even after you are married.” He replied, “that’s the plan.” When I heard his answer, I immediately thought: “Yes, that is always the plan but life gets in the way. Marriage becomes mundane unless couples are intentional and refuse to let it fade.”
She went on to tell him about how her husband would leave flowers on her pillow for no reason and reminded him to keep doing sweet gestures for his wife after the wedding day passes. Hopefully her advice will stay with him for a long time… after the newness fades, when the house is filled with little kid noises and stress, and even when she pushes his buttons. Before any baggage forms between them, couples want to give gifts, offer loving words, and shower each other with affection; but, once disappointments come and dreams are not realized, it is less appealing (or top of mind) to keep intentionally showing love and affection.
Showing love consistently does not require many grand gestures. If you treat your spouse poorly, grand gestures will mean nothing (or will have the opposite effect – neglected spouses can feel angry when their partners do something large and showy to “make up” for lost love). A nourished marriage comes from daily, weekly, and monthly nurture. We do not eat one huge meal every now and then. We eat daily. We drink daily. We shower regularly. We brush our teeth daily. Taking care of ourselves requires daily attention, and so does taking care of our relationships.
What can I do for my spouse to keep sweetness flowing in my future marriage? Here are a few ideas:
- Buy flowers.
- Clean something.
- Bring home donuts.
- Take him or her on a surprise date (e.g., to a pet shop to cuddle puppies, to play mini golf, to see a beautiful view, etc.).
- Send a kind text to someone he or she loves.
- Fix something which has been bothering him or her.
- Compliment him or her for something specific in front of others.
- Buy the item he or she keeps talking about or looking at when you go out together and bring it home as a surprise.
- Hug each other a lot for no specific reason. (Create a culture of affection in your home.)
- Drop off lunch at work from his or her favorite restaurant with a sweet note included.
- Volunteer to get out of bed and get the item he or she forgot (like her ChapStick or his book).
- Make her coffee; bring him his favorite drink.
- Do a chore he or she just hates doing.
- Check with each other before making plans, even if the plans do not include the other person.
- Give frequent back and shoulder rubs.
- Welcome his or her friends and loved ones to your home, out to eat, or (sometimes) on vacations. (Love the people he or she loves.)
- Offer him or her the last cookie, piece of cake, or scoop of ice cream.
- Prioritize sex even in the stressful times of life and take his or her needs into account. Does she need to know your desires in advance so she can mentally prepare? Does he need to feel wanted or desired by you?
- Cook a favorite meal.
- Say thank you often and for even small, everyday tasks such as washing dishes or taking out trash.
Additionally, sometimes love can be shown in what we avoid doing or saying…
- Give each other grace (some would call it a “pass”) instead of calling out every mistake, harsh word, or perceived injustice.
- Remove always and never from your vocabulary when describing the other’s behavior.
- Do not nitpick or nag – it sucks the sweetness out of a relationship.
- Be right without emphasizing your rightness. (Maybe the trip did take longer than expected and you should have left earlier, but does pointing out that you were correct help anything? Even if it makes you feel better for a minute, does it improve the trip?)
- If your partner or spouse does something to upset you or hurt you and you need to discuss it (those times will come), save that discussion for private and later (not during the infringement when emotions will be higher). It is tempting to let the world know your spouse is not perfect when you are hurt, but it only makes the situation worse.
- Before nagging your partner or spouse to complete a task, ask yourself, “Is this something I could do myself?” Something like picking up dirty clothes from the floor takes a few seconds and is one small way you can say, “I love you.”
- Resist the urge to bring up past mistakes unless you are having a specific discussion designed to clear the air and restore peace and intimacy – or, unless a repeated issue needs to be addressed.
Eric often tells our clients the story of a bitter, angry married woman who felt hatred for her husband. She wanted to leave him, but not only that – she wanted him to feel great pain. She sought a counselor’s advice, and he created a guaranteed plan for bringing anguish to this man his client so deeply despised. He told her to go home and… start showing him a lot of love. Pour it on thick. Be sweet and affectionate, do small acts of kindness often, and make him feel incredibly loved. Then, after he feels extremely adored… leave him. Nothing will hurt him worse. She thought it was a fantastic idea and went home to implement their fiendish plan. A few years later, the counselor saw this woman in town and asked her if she ever left her husband, to which she replied, “Leave him?! Our marriage has never been this good in years. Why would I leave him now?!”
The change started with her. She showed him love and as she did, her feelings grew. His desire to show her love increased as she changed towards him. Love, despite our culture’s mixed-up definitions, is a verb. We do not act lovingly because we feel love. We act lovingly and then our feelings follow.
Be on guard. Do not allow yourselves to get so deeply mired in bitterness that you want to inflict pain on each other. Go into your marriage determined to continue dating. Determined to show love daily. Determined to honor your wedding vows. Determined to remember why you chose each other in the first place.
Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him. – C.S. Lewis
What are five small ways you can intentionally show love now and after you are married?