12 Ways to Love Your Spouse: Offense is the Best Defense

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Posted: October 6, 2022

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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How do we love our spouses?

How do we nurture a loving relationship with them over the next 5 or 50 years of marriage?

You have heard that marriage is hard work and this is true. However, it is hard work that has a big payoff. A key component in having a successful marriage over the long term is being intentionally proactive about investing in the health of your marriage and molding yourself into the spouse you want to be.

It’s not about just hoping that your marriage will be great, but putting in the work to make your marriage great.

Time spent implementing what you learn about expectations, happiness, emotional needs, gender differences, love languages, stages of marriage, common pitfalls in marriage and how to avoid them, as well as transparency in marriage is an important part of the journey to becoming a loving spouse and having a lasting marriage. Read on to find practical tips for building an awesome marriage.

Part 1 – Expectations

In Part 1 we will explore why it is important to have realistic expectations of marriage as far as where your affirmation comes from, how your spouse can be a realistic mirror rather than a vanity mirror, and the importance of knowing the stages of marriage.

Source of Affirmation: 

Expect that your spouse will not complete you in every way and build meaningful friendships in other areas of life. Your spouse has limitations in meeting all your needs. You will need to get some of these needs met in other places. It is a good idea to encourage each other to get some relational needs met in places other than your marital relationship. Purposefully build and nurture strong friendships with other couples and same sex friends. Have bowling buddies, have a sewing circle, a frisbee golf friend, or a gardening group etc.

Realistic Mirror:

Know that your spouse is not going to make you feel good about yourself all the time. In fact, at times you may feel they magnify your faults like no one else does on this planet and all you want to do is blame them for this magnifying effect or run away from them. However, this can be a good thing (when done respectfully).

Marriage is one of the primary ways God uses to refine our character, to make him more like himself. Consider adding in a new component to your mindset about what marriage is and what it should do for you.

One counselor has said:

“I don’t believe the goal should be about how the other person makes me feel about myself. Rather I believe it’s more about how well I can love the other person (Reynolds, 2014).” 

How well are you loving your spouse? What is the source of your happiness? “If we look to marriage to be the source of our happiness, then the probability of affairs occurring is high. Our culture has changed so that we look to marriage to bring us happiness, excitement, joy, fulfillment, meaning, friendship (Reynolds, 2014).” This is too big a responsibility for any one person, disperse the load to God as well as other friendships.

Stages of Marriage:

Marriages go through different stages throughout their lifecycle. It’s very helpful to learn about them before you get married. These stages are:

  1. Romantic Love
  2. Disillusionment or Distraction
  3. Dissolution, Adjustment with Resignation, or Adjustment with Contentment (William Harris, 2).
Stage 1:

Romantic Love

You will be in a rose-colored-glasses/infatuated/limerent state at first.  This is a God-created biological phenomena lasting three years max. It will fade. That is normal. When Stage 1 ends it doesn’t mean you have fallen out of love with your spouse or you married the wrong person. It means you have a new opportunity to love in a more selfless way than before.

“Stage 1 typically occurs prior to marriage and within the first several years after couples tie the knot. It is characterized by passion and strong feelings of romance (William Harris, 2022).”

Stage 2:

Disillusionment or Distraction

“Stage 2 unfolds when couples may become disillusioned with the reality that it takes hard work to make marriages and families happy and stable. Distractions such as balancing school, work, finances, children, and extracurricular activities can decrease the time couples have to spend with each other to communicate and nurture their marital friendship (William Harris, 2022).”

This is where planning to spend time together intentionally really comes in to play. There comes a point when there are too many demands in life to do all of them and still be able to sleep. When that time comes, the important often gets pushed aside by the scream of the urgent (or the toddler, take your pick). So it is so important to plan a regular date night, to plan times to work on your sex life if you need to do that, to get up a little earlier to talk with each other before your day, to be intentional to go to bed at the same time, whatever works for your schedule. The point is to make something work for your schedule, or else by default in this stage you can slowly drift into the roommate/business partner zone.

Stage 3:

Dissolution, Adjustment with Resignation, or Adjustment with Contentment

In this stage, couples are deciding if they want to continue being married to each other.

“The reality is that more than 40% of couples eventually decide to dissolve their marital unions. The rest decide to adjust to marriage with contentment or resignation—the latter resigning themselves to the fact that their marriages probably aren’t going to get much better (William Harris, 2022).” 

This is so sad, because you have already gone through all the work of getting to know this person, building a life together, perhaps having children together, and putting in the time to go through the first two stages together. Push through with extra effort into this last stage where you get to enjoy some of the fruits of your labors.

That being said, “a growing number of married couples have decided to work on their marital friendship by gaining new relationship knowledge and skills. These couples tend to adjust to the realities of long-term marriages with contentment. There are things you can do to help adjust to the idea of a long-term contented marriage. You can read relationship enhancement books together, use helpful couple relationship websites, attend community or religious sponsored relationship classes, and take advantage of marriage counseling (William Harris, 2022).”

Work to make it to the last stage where you start “liking” your spouse again. This is where to work you’ve been putting into your marriage really starts to pay off. “You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for (William Harris, 2022).”

Proverbs 27:17 proclaims: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

You have an incredibly valuable asset in your spouse. This person knows you probably better than anyone on the planet. If your goal is to be sanctified, to be like Christ, then you have a ready-made help for that in your spouse. They are able to reflect back to areas they have seen you grow and areas where there is work yet to be done like almost no one else can. Don’t lose this advantage of help in growing in godliness.

So, in Conclusion…

Set your expectations correctly for marriage. Your spouse will not complete and fulfill you in every way, make sure God and others play a large role in your life in this way. Also know that at times your spouse can be a magnifying mirror for your faults rather than your virtues. Use this to your advantage to grow and don’t run from it.

Lastly, know that there are stages in marriage and each has its beauties and challenges, none is the same. Enjoy the rose-colored glasses of stage 1, plan to prioritize each other through stage 2 so you can make it to stage 3 where you appreciate and accept the differences in each other.

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This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

About the Author
Adina James
Adina James

Adina James MA, LMHC has a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), holding her license in Washington.

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