How to love your spouse can be confusing.
One of the reasons it’s challenging at times is because you and your spouse are constantly changing. I’ve heard it said that you don’t marry 1 person on your wedding day, but you actually marry 3: the person you think they are, the person they really are, and the person they become in response to being married to you.
The famous theologian, Forest Gump, put it this way, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” To a certain degree, the same is true of marriage.
If you’ve ever been confused with what it looks like to love your spouse, you’re not alone!
I know I’ve been there, and I’m the “expert”. People are sometimes hard to understand and figure out…even our spouse that we’ve been with for years.
Your spouse might be complex and confusing at times, but loving them doesn’t have to be complicated. You might think it takes reading their minds to figure them out, but I want to suggest a couple other methods that might help before you revert to any Jedi mind tricks.
In order to understand how to love your spouse you need to understand the principles of love AND the person you are trying to love.
Understand The Principles of Love
Most people have a fairly decent understanding of what love looks like. In fact, if you ask most people what the Bible has to say about love they can recite some or all of 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Let’s not stop with 1 Corinthians 13 though. Look at all the one another commands of scripture that shed light on even more principles of love:
- Love one another (John 13:34)
- Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
- Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)
- Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
- Build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Be likeminded towards one another (Romans 15:5)
- Accept one another (Romans 15:7)
- Admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16)
- Greet one another (Romans 16:16)
- Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:2, 32; Colossians 3:13)
- Be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13)
- Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15, 25)
- Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19)
- Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5)
- Consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
- Look to the interests of one another (Philippians 2:4)
- Bear with one another (Colossians 3:13)
- Teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
- Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13)
- Stir up [provoke, stimulate] one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)
- Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
- Employ the gifts that God has given us for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10)
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
- Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16)
Overwhelmed yet? If you only focus on the principles of love you will be overwhelmed and confused. But understanding the person you are trying to love will help simplify things a bit.
Understand the person you are trying to love
Principles should guide how to love your spouse, but we also have to consider the person we are trying to love.
Loving your spouse is an art project, not a science project. Yes, there are principles of love that should lead you in how to love your spouse. But the application of those principles might vary depending on the unique DNA of your relationship.
Another way to say this? Love looks different depending on the person you’re attempting to love and the circumstances surrounding the opportunity to love.
Consider that Jesus was, and is, the perfect lover of people. But have you ever wondered why his love looked different to different people in different situations?
He pursued a meal with Zacchaeus. He confronted the woman at the well. He overlooked the soldiers leading him to the cross. He waited to raise Lazarus from the dead. He turned over the tables in the temple.
Was he loving perfectly in each of these situations?
His love looked different to these different people in different circumstances in response to their need of the moment.
Consider what Ephesians 4:29 has to say about what it looks like to love others in the context of meeting needs: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (NASB, emphasis mine).
That’s the goal of loving our spouse: meeting the need of the moment. The wisdom of love, and I believe the art of marriage, is being able to identify and meet the need of the moment.
Sometimes meeting the need of the moment will look like listening. Sometimes it will look like appreciation or praise. Sometimes it will look like overlooking an offense. Sometimes it will look like instructing or gently confronting. It depends on the situation, the person, and the particular need of the moment.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for what it looks like to love your spouse. Principles can and should guide you, but to apply the principles of love with wisdom, you have to consider the person you’re trying to love. Discernment is required to hit the mark in your relationship.
How to identify and meet the need of the moment
This is the art of marriage: identifying and meeting the need of the moment. Here are a few ways you can love your spouse “smarter”:
Go through the top 10 ways to love your spouse
Click HERE to check out a list of the top 10 ways to love your spouse and complete the exercise to help you understand what it looks like to love your spouse.
Find out how you’ve hurt them
Hurt happens when our needs aren’t met. If you came home late and it produced insecurity in your spouse, the need of the moment might be security. If you were dismissive of your spouse’s feelings, the need of the moment might be comfort. Find out how you’ve hurt your spouse and that might give you insight into identifying the need of the moment in future situations.
Understand your spouse’s past
The most significant way you can love someone is to love them in a way they’ve not been loved in the past. If your spouse wasn’t accepted growing up, chances are “Acceptance” will be a frequent need of the moment. If your spouse had harsh parents, you can bet they will prioritize you being gentle with them.
Also keep in mind, that the opposite is also true. The most significant way you can hurt someone is to hurt them in a way they’ve been hurt in the past…by you, and by significant people in their past and childhood. Be aware of your spouse’s emotional “soft spots” (ways they’ve been hurt in the past) to give you wisdom and compassion to be extra sensitive around these areas.
Meet the unmet need behind the sinful deed
Look at your spouse’s heart, not necessarily their behavior to determine the need of the moment. If your spouse is demonstrating sinful behavior, the initial need of the moment isn’t always instruction. It might be something else. Read this post to learn more about how to respond to your spouse’s sinful behavior.
Even the perfect plan and perfect understanding of your spouse might not reveal what the need of the moment is. After being married for over 27 years I still get it messed up from time to time. When you do get confused, instead of fumbling around in the dark, just ask your spouse. It could look something like, “I’m really trying to love you right now, but I don’t seem to be getting through. What do you need from me right now?” Be careful of your tone with this one, but if you do it with the right heart and right tone it should produce a good response.
One other option when you don’t know what to do is provide comfort. In a nutshell, comfort looks like mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Click HERE to learn more about what comfort, or empathy, looks like.
At the end of the day, the secret to identifying and meeting the need of the moment is knowing your spouse inside and out. I believe you can only love someone as well as you know them. And since we all are changing and growing constantly, that means the process of getting to know your spouse should never stop.
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.