1. "Honey, 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."
2. "Honey, 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 while 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 are 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. When met with acceptance, validation and affection, intimacy begins to flourish and the longings of person can be fulfilled and they will feel loved deeply.
The Wounded Heart faces the pain and losses from the past in childhood and also the past in the marriage. Then current hurts and losses in the marriage can be addressed more easily. (Isaiah 61:1-2) When spouses become aware of each other's sensitivities and emotional vulnerabilities they are better able to partner together and have grace and 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. 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 Empathetic 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. 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. Your 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 reveal who are to your spouse.
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. Learning to identify and label emotions, developing calming and self-soothing techniques when emotionally flooded are all essential to not harming one another and loving deeply.
The Humble Heart embraces conflict as inevitable. It is open to feedback from others about behaviors and attitudes of the heart. It is not what we fight about but how we fight that matters. The humble heart takes responsibility and seeks to repair quickly. (James 4:1, 5: 16) 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.
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 govern 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 and 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. Verbalizing affirmation is also a part of creating closeness. 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) Ruth Graham states, “Long term marriages involve two good forgivers.” Forgiveness is our responsibility even if we don’t feel like it. It sets us free when 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) 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, and preoccupy our affection and 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.