Two years ago I had the pleasure of travelling to Sydney, Australia for my job. Not knowing when, or if, I’d ever get back I tacked on two days to my trip to do a little sightseeing. As I’ve traveled quite a bit for my job I’ve gotten used to being bold and venturing out on my own, but this time I went ahead and signed-up for one of those pre-planned tours that would take me up into the Blue Mountians and a chance to experience what lie beyond Sydney.
I was the only solo traveler in this tour group and quickly befriended two older couples who were sightseeing for a few days before embarking on luxury cruises. Turns out both couples were quite seasoned travelers and cruise enthusiasts. Their kids were grown, they were retired or semi-retired, and had the time and means to see the world. They had a lot in common and at first I envied them the freedom of being able to travel around the world in your twilight years with the one you love.
Yet, as the day progressed and I spent more time around these couples I noticed some distinct differences. In one couple the wife was very outspoken. She was often critical and harsh in her judgement of things, and this included her husband. She spoke over him and for him. Their body language was that of two people who were used to each other, but not connected. The husband spoke little and seemed to be disengaged for much of the conversation.
The other couple was quite different. They held hands and sidled up close to one another. Their conversations had a lot of give-and-take and they seemed to really listen when the other one spoke. Everything about them exuded love.
From the outside both couples appeared to have quite an exciting and enviable life. But by the end of the tour, when I said my goodbyes, I knew there was only one couple that had my admiration and respect.
Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (TLB)
My husband and I had those words from 1 Corinthians read at our wedding, just as I’m sure 98% of Christian couples do. It’s the proverbial definition of love. Standing at the alter listening to those words I thought I knew what they meant. I thought I knew what love looked like and I was confident that my new groom and I would live out these words for the rest of our lives. I really, truly did.
But, as a young wife there were so many times I forgot these words. So many times I couldn’t wait to prove my point or win an argument (love is never boastful or proud); so many times I sat with girlfriends and complained about my husband’s lack of housekeeping (love will hardly even notice when others do it wrong); so many times I snapped at my husband (love is not irritable or touchy). Too often I focused on what I needed/wanted/wasn’t getting (love is never selfish), or I pointed out the things he was doing wrong (love does not demand its own way), and brought up past deeds in arguments (love does not hold grudges).
And the worst part of all? I was ready and willing to share it with the world. I thought this is what you did once you joined the wives club. You sat around with your girlfriends, mothers and sisters and complained about your husbands. I justified my behavior as a right of passage, a way to feel like I wasn’t alone and seek support. But really it was selfish and terribly toxic. All it did was tear down the image of my husband in both my eyes and in the eyes of those around me. And most of all it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied because contempt breeds misery.
It took me many, many years — and coming face-to-face with the possibility of ending my marriage — before I began to change my approach. On the recommendation of a friend I bought the book “Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian. I won’t say this book saved my marriage, because it’s much more complex than that, but this book completely changed my view of my role as wife and partner. It changed how I prayed (Before: “dear God, please change my husband to see things my way”) and what I prayed for (Now: “dear God, please help him to see the amazing husband and father you created him to be”).
Don’t get me wrong…I still mess up. A LOT. I make mistakes weekly and fall short often. But I look to 1 Corinthians 13, verse 7, and I particularly like this translation from The Living Bible. It says, “If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.” (TLB)
It’s been nearly 15 years since we stood on that alter and this is what love looks like to me now — to stand by my husband, always believing in him (instead of questioning him), expecting the best (not looking for the worst), and speaking highly of him (instead of complaining and criticizing).
Let me be clear: this is not always easy. It may sound simple, but it’s really not. It takes making the choice every day to set-aside my pride and ego and follow these guidelines. But I do it because it’s how God has instructed me to live. I do it because it makes my marriage, my family, my life fuller, sweeter, and happier when I do.
I hope in 20 years we will look like that couple I met in Australia. Whether we’re travelling the world or sitting together in a booth at the I.H.O.P., I hope young couples will look at us and see the loyalty, the respect, and the unwavering love.
This is what love looks like to me.