Keeping Your Vow Even When You Don't Feel in Love Anymore

A wonderful young couple has asked me to marry them this summer, Lord willing, and I am honored to do it. They agreed to share in some pre-marital counseling from me before they tie the knot. Admittedly, my experience is limited when it comes to counseling of this sort but I will do my best. I know what the Bible teaches about eligibility for marriage and that this commitment is divinely intended to be between one man and one woman for life. I know that the Bible teaches so much about what real love is, if we are willing to listen and learn. This young Christian couple has a lot of potential, and I suspect they would have a strong marriage without any counsel from me. And yet, I am hopeful that I can share some things and stimulate their thinking about married love in a way that will be advantageous to them. Marriage brings a lot of joy and surprises to life. Having one's eyes opened as fully as possible ahead of time and learning from the successes and failures of others is wise.

So, what kind of pre-marital counseling am I doing with this couple? I've got several books for them to read pertaining to marriage and we will discuss highlights together in our sessions. That will be our main focus, although we will have some fun exploring some personality profiles as well (an exercise beneficial for any relationship, I think). There are several good books out there I want them to chew on together even before they commit themselves to each other for life before God and men. One book they are reading together is fairly new to me but I have found it to be of such high quality that I wanted to promote the book and share a quote from it here. Its pages are filled with great observations and Biblical advice. I've been married for over 17 years now and so many of the truths contained therein I can shake my head at and say: "He's got it exactly right, but I surely didn't understand that before I married Ranae." Some things we have learned via experience. And yet, digesting a book like this ahead of time could have only helped our love mature even more quickly, I think.

The book is entitled: The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. It was written primarily by Timothy Keller with some input from his wife, Kathy. Here is the quote I want to share starting on page 111:

"People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on 'being in love' for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change--not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one..." - C.S. Lewis

In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling (emphasis added, -SRB). You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love...

Many people hear this and say, 'I'm sorry, I can't give love if I don't feel it! I can't fake it. That's too mechanical for me.' I can understand that reaction, but Paul doesn't simply call us to naked action; he also commands us to think as we act. 'Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.' This means we must say to our selves something like this: "Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, He didn't think, 'I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.' No, He was in agony, and He looked down at us--denying Him, abandoning Him, and betraying Him--and in the greatest act of love in history, He stayed (emphasis added, -SRB). He said, 'Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing.' He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.'" Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day."

Let me encourage you to purchase this book and read it if you are married or planning to get married. Like any work of men, there are a few bones to eat around, but there is so much good meat to consume here. I'll close with a quote from the apostle Paul that is relevant here:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).