A marriage strategy made popular by The Five Love Languages book and others like it is that if you love your spouse, they will love you back.
Many a client has walked into a marriage counselor’s office and asked what they can do to get their spouse to show them love. They’ve tried and tried to be a good husband or wife, but the reciprocation just isn’t there. The heartache and pain of this sort of rejection leaves a person raw, desperate, and unable to take much more. If only a marriage counselor could solve this riddle for them.
After seeing enough clients like this walk into their office, patterns begin to emerge: patterns in the way people are wired to give and receive love. Many times the unloving spouse isn’t actually unloving, their efforts to give love back just aren’t seen and/or the efforts to show them love never found their mark. After seeing these sorts of patterns hundreds of times, the experienced marriage counselor can diagnose that these two spouses just aren’t speaking one another’s love languages. Through some assessments of what makes that person feel good, a love language is discovered and now the husband or wife has the magic key to unlock their mate’s heart. As long as they show love in that language (in the way the other person wants), their spouse will receive it and will show them love in return. Marriage crisis solved.
This type of strategy has helped many couples and it has sold lots of books, but there are foundational flaws to it that have set spouses back much further than when they began.
Flaw #1: Love is Not Self-Seeking
What happens when the underlying premise of a marriage counseling strategy is to get your spouse to do for you what you want? What happens is we undermine the very definition of what love is, which is a catastrophic problem.
Trying to get my spouse to do what I want might seem innocent, but we’d agree it is the very definition of “self-seeking.”
The problem here is that 1 Corinthians 13:5 clearly tells us, love is not self-seeking.
Jesus then models sacrificial (the opposite of self-seeking) love for us and tells us to do likewise:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:9-10)
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:44, 46)
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:11-13)
The irony of modern marriage is we include these sorts of things in our marriage vows, that I will “love, honor and cherish you…for better or worse…’til death do us part,” yet the rubber hits the road what we really mean is, “I will only love you if you love me back.”
This is called kickback love, which according to the Bible, isn’t love at all.
Instead of diving deep into the gospel to allow our hearts to be transformed to love sacrificially, we run to a marriage counseling strategy that is meant to transform our spouse.
This is backwards.
Flaw #2: Connected to the Wrong Power Source
Is it easy to love someone who doesn’t love you back? Not at all. Especially when this person made a vow to you that they would indeed love you back.
This hits pretty close to home for God. On his wedding day with His people, they proclaim to him:
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (Exodus 24:7)
Centuries later, God even reminisces about this day:
This is what the LORD says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me. (Jeremiah 2:1)