– “When all is said and done, we are commanded by God to love!” (Dr Rand Carlson)
We doubt that any Christ-follower would argue against that point. But what is hard sometimes is taking what we say we believe and actually applying it in our marriages.
This week we’re going to draw from Dr. Randy Carlson’s book, Starved for Affection (published by Tyndale House) to learn some practical ways to combine the two. [For more on Dr. Carlson's ministry, resources and free e-newsletters on marriage, go to Theintentionallife.com] On this subject
Love is a biblical mandate and is foundational to a successful marriage.
I’m convinced every reasonably healthy person is equipped to love others
the way God designed. You choose to love someone else by putting their
needs above your own. It’s a commitment of your will.
Affection, however, is a step beyond love. Affection takes the loving
relationship between a man and woman in marriage into the deeper realm of
tender expressions that result in feelings of closeness and security.
Affection takes work because it requires knowledge of what makes the other
person feel loved. You show affection when you perceive and appreciate
what your spouse needs and meet those needs in a way he or she can
Here’s my definition of affection: Affection is the kind of love that
leaves you feeling close, safe, and cared for. I like to say (though it
may be grammatically flawed) that affection is “love as actions” — actions
that leave your spouse feeling really good about you and your marriage.
Love is the commitment and the action, and affection is the safe, secure
feeling that results. Strong marriages thrive when both the behavior of
love and the feelings of affection are present. This “love as actions” is
what moves you the 18 inches from your head to your heart:
• Love is patient. Affection is empathetic.
• Love is kind. Affection is tender.
• Love is not rude. Affection thoughtfully apologizes for its words.
• Love is not self-seeking. Affection rubs the back of a discouraged spouse.
• Love does not delight in evil. Affection carefully and privately uncovers sin and helps the person
back onto his feet.
• Love never fails. Affection undergirds and confirms your unfailing love for your spouse.
But do you need to “feel” like showing affection in order to do it? The
answer is no. I’ve found that sometimes I don’t feel like forgiving
another person, but I do it out of sheer obedience to God who requires it
of me, the feelings of forgiveness will eventually follow my obedience.
Feelings follow thought and behavior.
You may feel anything but affectionate toward your spouse. But if you
begin to act out affection, you could be surprised when your feelings
catch up with your actions.
In his book The Fine Art of Friendship, Ted Engstrom tells of a man named
Joe who was so upset with his wife that he decided to divorce her. But
before serving her the papers, he made an appointment with a psychologist
with the specific purpose of finding out how to make life as difficult as
possible for her.
The psychologist said, “I’ve got the perfect solution. Starting tonight,
treat your wife as if she were a goddess. Change your attitude 180
degrees. Start doing everything in your power to please her. Listen to her
when she talks about her problems, help around the house, and take her out
to dinner on weekends. Then, after two months of this wonderful behavior,
just pack your bags and leave her. That should get to her!”
So Joe implemented the plan that evening. He couldn’t wait to do things
for her. He brought her breakfast in bed, had flowers delivered to her for
no particular reason, and took her on romantic weekends. They even read
books to each other, and Joe listened to her as never before. He kept this
up for the full two months.
After the allotted time, the psychologist called Joe at work. “Joe,” he
asked, “how’s it going? Did you file for divorce? Are you a happy bachelor
once again?” “Divorce?” asked Joe. “Are you kidding? I’ve never been
happier in my life!”
The idea of course, is that when he began to show love to his wife, she
responded, and they fell in love all over again. There’s no guarantee that
this will happen in every marriage. But if you start loving the spouse God
has given you by showing affection even when you don’t think it’s
deserved, I can guarantee your efforts will be noticed.
Only God can give you the strength to survive in a lonely or loveless
relationship and reach out to your spouse even when you may not feel like
it. After all, he loved us when we were pretty unlovable (Romans 5:8 says,
“But God demonstrates he own love for us in this: While we were still
sinners, Christ died for us.”) and he can show you how to be loving and
affectionate in your situation as well.
All of this brings to mind something Henry Blackaby said on the difference
between God’s love and worldly love. He said,
“Jesus commanded those who wanted to be his disciples to follow HIS
standard for loving rather than the world’s standard. He directs us to
love in exactly the same way he loves us. When Jesus saw us hopelessly
enslaved to sin, he didn’t say, ‘I don’t feel like dying on the cross for
them. I think I’ll wait until the feeling comes.’
He didn’t say, “I’ve tried and tried to love them, but they always reject
me — I give up!’
Jesus saw that without him we would perish, and acted lovingly toward us
despite our rejecting him. His love didn’t depend on what we did to
deserve it, or even on whether we accepted it. JESUS FREELY AND
UNCONDITIONALLY GAVE US HIS LOVE.”
This is how God wants us to love our spouses. Not with strings attached,
as the world loves. Not just love as long as they’re lovable. Not just
love as long as they appreciate it. God wants us to give our love freely
and unconditionally. Only God can help us to love in this way.
We challenge you to start acting towards your spouse in loving ways that
will astound them (even if you don’t feel like doing this). Start looking
for ways to lavishly show love and honor to them (may be like you did
before you married and started allowing the distractions of life to
interfere with the nice things you used to do for them and say to them).
You may be surprised what your loving and affectionate words and actions
will do within the heart of your spouse — and also within your own heart.
It may take your marriage to a new level that you never knew was possible.
We pray God will help you to do this and abundantly bless your lives
together as a result,