A six-letter word for love is giving. It may never be a crossword puzzle answer, but it is the answer to a crosspatch marriage. While greeting cards become redundant and often-repeated rituals turn stale, unselfish giving communicates—and sustains—love.
Dr. Gary Chapman teaches that we give and receive love through five "love languages"—touching, telling, conversation, gifts, and deeds. 1 A simple "I love you" every day is not enough. Love means speaking your mate's love language. We must discern what communicates love to our mates, and then lavish it on them.
A woman who loves to shop and buy gifts probably shows love by gift-giving, and feels most loved when her husband buys something for her. Another woman, whose love language is deeds, may feel more loved when her husband vacuums the house. Many women need unhurried, attention-focused conversation, while many men feel loved when their wives "seduce" them or respond enthusiastically to their lovemaking. Their language is touching.
Try some of the following creative ways of expressing love to your spouse:
With your spouse, look through the marriage and family life section of a religious book store or catalog. Agree on a book, and take turns reading it to each other in the car (without children) or in bed. Pause often for discussion. As partners give each other the gift of listening they stimulate and improve communication.
Arrange an "overnighter" in a hotel. Staying two or three nights is better but not always feasible. You can keep expenses down by taking your own table service and food and eating some meals in the room. The important thing is to be free of all responsibilities except pleasing each other.
The first time we did this, my husband made all the arrangements as a surprise. One afternoon he brought home the baby-sitter and told me we were going out. In the car were my overnight case and all the clothing I might need. I tingled for weeks afterward. That two-day investment of time and money is still paying dividends in our marriage.
One pastor's wife arranged child care for her children for a Sunday afternoon. Then she "kidnapped" her husband after the morning worship service and drove him home. She had his favorite meal in the oven, and they had the whole house to themselves. Now other couples in the church are following their example.
You may build closeness in a marriage by praying together. Often one partner feels reluctant to do this. If so, ask God to work it out. Then ask your mate to pray about a specific personal need of yours when he has his prayer time. Eventually your mate may become comfortable with the idea of your praying together.
Women often have a natural bent toward serving others. It fulfills a woman's God-given purpose to be a helper to her husband (Gen. 2:18). Therefore, serving is often easier for a woman. But the man who learns to serve his wife will be greatly appreciated and rewarded. In an article on making Christmas memorable, Clem Walchshauser describes a behavioral gift he gave his wife. 2 He filled a canister jar with handwritten "coupons" rolled up and bound with colorful ribbons. Such coupons might offer:
• "One evening out alone, with the kitchen cleaned up and kids put to bed before you return."
• "One weekend morning sleep-in while I take the children out."
• "One item of your choice repaired." (Make the repair yourself or take the item to a repair shop.)
• "One free polish job for all your dress shoes." • "One evening for reading together our old love letters."
• "One interruptionless viewing of a TV program." (You handle all interruptions.)
Include things you will feel comfort able doing. Promise a foot massage, a moonlight walk, or a week when you put your clothes where they belong! Tell her when she can redeem coupons, or let her redeem them at will. You may find her using them more than once.
Expressing love in these tangible ways, as acts of the will, produces feelings of love. It recharges emotions that may have waned over the years.
Another ingredient important to the growing marriage is sexual enjoyment. Ann Landers asked her readers whether their sex life went downhill after marriage. Eighty-two percent of the 141,210 who responded said yes. 3 All moral aspects of that question aside, it is true that sex in marriage can become dull and routine. Keeping sex exciting requires effort. If dysfunction or negative attitudes are handicapping your marriage, you owe it to yourselves to talk it out and to get whatever help you need.
Guilt can impede a satisfying sexual relationship. During the first two years of her marriage Gail could not achieve sexual fulfillment. Then on a vacation trip, while driving through the night with her husband asleep beside her, she reviewed her life's sexual experiences, talking them over with the Lord. When her husband awoke, she revealed to him her reflections. He accepted what she said without embarrassing her. When he realized how their pre-marriage sexual experiences had devastated her, he asked her forgiveness. Before that vacation was over, Gail was able to respond sexually to her husband.
There are three principles that will keep boredom out of the bedroom. First, make love in a variety of settings. Any secluded spot will do, as long as the wife feels safe. Carry a blanket up a mountain trail. Visit a lake on a dark summer evening. Go "parking." Try your own backyard. Making love in unusual places creates special secrets that the two of you share.
Second, reserve unhurried times for lovemaking. Don't always make sex the last event of the day, when you may be too tired to appreciate it. Have a candle light dinner in your bedroom after the children are asleep. Meet at home for a stimulating lunch break. Indulge in mini honeymoons and in marriage enrichment seminars.
Third, create sexual desire by keeping yourselves attractive to and interested in each other. Because men are stimulated visually, wives should build a special intimate wardrobe and offer their body generously to their husbands. Women are stimulated mentally, so wise husbands will be generous with loving re marks and encouraging compliments.
Anne Ortlund says sex should be "often, often, often. It smoothes out the hurts, and it's God's gift to heal us and help us say 'I love you' more deeply than words." 4
Finally, we can communicate our love by expressing appreciation and admiration. Those who receive such expressions thrive. Words of appreciation and admiration fortify the marriage relationship. A husband who regularly thanks his wife for meals and clean laundry will see her bloom before his eyes.
Keep an "appreciation notebook." Record the things your spouse and children do that please you. Periodically write them thank-you notes, or praise them verbally and publicly for a specific thing you've recorded. This communicates worth, acceptance, and love.
Love means giving, and giving ex presses love. "God so loved the world, that he gave." In giving, one sacrifices in order to bless the receiver. But giving brings joy to the giver as well. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
You gain a blessing by giving one. You gain a loving mate by being one.
1 Gary Chapman in a talk delivered at pastors'
conference, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 1986.
2 Clem Walchshauser, "Make your Christmas
Memorable, " Kindred Spirit 3, No. 4 (1979).
3 Ann Landers, "Marital State on Skids, Survey
Shows, " Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 22, 1989.
4 Anne Ortlund, "Finding Fulfillment,"
Today's Christian Woman, September/October 1984.