Jared Pingleton, Psy.D.
Probably by now the flowers have faded, the chocolate has been eaten, and the cards have been discarded. Once again, our attentions are understandably focused back on the regular routines and responsibilities of life. Valentine’s Day may be a nice, lingering memory, but we still need to love and be loved the rest of the year. This is where we need to intentionally and unconditionally activate our marriage covenant.
You see, just as in loving God, there are basically only two times to love our spouse: when we feel like it, and when we don’t. Generally on Valentine’s Day we are more apt to feel and act lovingly toward our spouse—the floral, chocolate and greeting card industries depend on it! But as we all know, we don’t always feel those same warm fuzzies towards that person who forgets to take out the trash, kiss us goodbye in the morning or make us otherwise feel special.
If a spouse were always lovely, loving and lovable, no one would need a marriage covenant—loving them would be a simple reaction of our flesh! Jesus pointed out that our human nature is instinctively wired to love someone who loves us—even non-Christians do so (Luke 6:32). But none of us is always lovely, loving and lovable. It is natural to immaturely react according to our flesh; to do the opposite requires a mature response activated by the Word and Spirit of God.
Consequently, our love must mature to become more realistic than be merely romantic. Pontificating poetic platitudes is easy; relating relevantly and regularly is hard. The truth is your spouse needs you to love them most when they are least lovely, loving and lovable. That is precisely how God loves us and is the simple yet transformational declaration of the gospel: when we were at our very worst and were least lovable, He loved us the very best (Romans 5:8).
This is an incredibly significant principle for both theology and psychology: God loves us because of His lovingness, not because of our lovability. God is proactive—not reactive. One of the most impressive things to me about Jesus’ character is that He never immaturely reacted to anything or anyone. Unlike me, He was entirely and exclusively self-controlled and therefore was always and only proactive (John 10:17).
God loves us because of whom and how He is, not because of whom and how we are. No matter what we do or don’t do, Jesus cannot love us any more—or any less—than He does right now! It is really not about us; our being loved by God is all about Him. In the same way, I believe that in healthy marriages true love is more about the character of the lover than the characteristics of the beloved!
This concept is both radical and revolutionary. It is radical because it is counter to and in conflict with everything that our culture teaches us about love, and it contradicts the natural reflexes of our flesh. It is revolutionary because it has the potential and the power to permanently transform marriages like possibly nothing else can.
So, only 51 weeks till Valentine’s Day. How will you love your spouse until then?
[adapted from Making Magnificent Marriages, available here: https://store.aacc.net/view_product.php?product=MMM-JP]
Jared Pingleton, Psy.D., serves as the Vice President of the American Association of Christian Counselors. As a Clinical Psychologist and credentialed minister, Jared is dually trained in both psychology and theology and specializes in the theoretical and clinical integration of the two disciplines. In professional practice since 1977, Dr. Pingleton has had the privilege to work with thousands of individuals and couples to offer help, hope, and healing to the hurting.