“I, Patricia, do take you, Patrick, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to live together in the Holy Estate of Matrimony; to love, honor, respect, trust, cherish, encourage, and support you according to God’s Holy ordinance …”
At a monthly Living Waters Counseling how-to-do-life seminar, my good friend, Dr. Norman Wise, painted perhaps the best picture of what often derails marriages. He said that as singles, we feel unhappy. We meet the opposite sex, and they make us feel happy. So we marry. Then we become vampires, sucking the happiness out of our spouse. If your spouse is the same way, as Norm put it, “You have two ticks with no dog.”
That is not what God ordained. Figuratively speaking, God’s plan is for us to become one happy whole dog with no ticks … at least until the kids come. God’s plan is simple. It’s found in the B-I-B-L-E (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth). What is on God’s to-do list for marriage? Love, honor, respect, trust, cherish, encourage, and support your spouse. Even among those, love is the key.
The problem with “love”
Actually, love is not the problem. Our English language is the problem because we have one word to describe four very different actions or feelings. God’s prescription for a joyful marriage requires a healthy dose of all four. The Greek terms for love are eros, phileo, storge and agape.
Eros is a temporal conditional love that is based on feelings. It is performance-based. You can even eros a cool car. We love as long as the object of our affection makes us happy. It’s good because it is what attracts us to each other, but bad if that’s all a relationship is built on.
Phileo is a brotherly or friendship love. It’s loyalty-based causing us to feel like part of the group. It’s working shoulder to shoulder in the Kingdom.
Storge is family love and loyalty. It can come by way of adoption where we agree to become one family and belong to one another.
Agape is unconditional. It is marked by intentionality. Because it is not predicated on performance, it is the opposite of eros. Agape held Jesus on the Cross.
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).
For couples, eros attracts us. We become friends (phileo). We marry to become one family (storge). Then we agape – intentionally love one another for life, even if we don’t feel like it or our spouse doesn’t deserve it. If we both continue to agape, then eros, phileo and storge are naturals. If any of these is missing, our marriage can become derailed.
Did I say God’s plan is “simple?”
Yes, but I did not say easy. Why? Because when we are born, we are helpless ticks. Life is necessarily all about us. It’s a parent’s job to bring a child from tick to dog. The dog ultimately still has and depends upon its master (God). The relationship with the master is one filled with the four loves. Unlike a tick , the dog does not need to depend upon another to be whole.
Childhood training can lead us to believe we deserve to be loved because parents usually storge us no matter what we do. We did not have to do anything to receive their love. Their love is loyal because we are theirs. So why wouldn’t we expect our spouse to love us this way? This mentality can set us up for tick syndrome. Tick vows go like this: “I, Patricia, do take you, Patrick, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to live together as long as you support me and make me feel happy, loved, honored, respected, trusted. When you stop, I’ll find another dog.”
Of course you wouldn’t say that, but is it true? Outside of marital infidelity, substance or physical abuse, couples I work with in my practice say they are divorcing because they grew apart and just aren’t happy anymore. Aren’t they describing tick love?
Do you really mean “to love?”
Perhaps 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives us the best picture of what it really means to love. Modeling vows after these verses might produce this: “I, Patricia, promise to love you, Patrick. I promise to be patient and kind. I promise not to be envious, boastful, proud, disrespectful, self-centered. I promise not to have fits of anger or keep a record of wrongs. I will not delight in evil but will rejoice in truth. I will always protect and trust you. I will hope for the future. I will persevere until death do us part.”
Only Jesus can do this perfectly. But as we strive to agape our spouses intentionally, we continually become more holy. As we become more holy, we become more useful for the Kingdom. As we become more useful for the Kingdom, we find the deep and abiding joy that God has set apart for us.
Do you promise to make your marriage a no-tick zone?
Do you promise to do what God has put on the to-do list for your love?
Patricia Hartman is a CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA. (khwcpa.com) and author of “The Christian Prenuptial Agreement: The Power of Marriage Unleashed” available at ChristianPrenuptial.com. Twitter @CPrenuptial.