Everywhere I look, I can find a tool to get to know myself better. I can mail off a DNA test vial to reveal my ancestry. An enneagram quiz will offer a tidy numerical system to explain why I do what I do. Myers-Briggs, the “Big Five”, and DISC testing unpack the details of my personality. Spiritual gift assessments help narrow down the ideal area of Christian service. I could spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out what makes me, me.
As couples, we’re introduced to the idea of individual love languages. (There’s a great quiz for that, too!) Each of us has a natural bent to the way we express love and affection. No doubt, I’m a hugger who throws around compliments like confetti. My husband, Rob, is my go-to guy if I need some quality time or a helping hand. It’s a valuable tool to once again, get to know myself better in the context of a relationship.
The danger is that in over-examining ourselves, we start to define love by the way we express it. Our thinking shifts to say, I’ll love you how I feel naturally comfortable loving you. Love stops being love and becomes just another expression of my personality. Our focus is no longer on the object of our love—our husband or wife—but on the way we choose to show it.
A heavy focus on self-awareness quickly spirals down into self-love. The world is happy to promote the view that the more I know and love myself, the more I can love my spouse. It sounds good on the surface, but if flies in the face of how God says love works:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in them and they in God.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:7-8, 15-16, 19)
The only way to know if my love is the real thing is to examine the source. Does my love for my spouse come from within myself or from God’s love in me?
Today, does your marriage feel stale? Do you find yourself bored, irritated, and distant from your spouse? Has affection and intimacy faded so you feel like roommates instead of lovers? Is there an empty void where affirmation, thoughtfulness, and generosity used to thrive? Have you run out of emotional energy to pursue each other’s hearts? Before running down the road of self-examination, reach out to Jesus. Take the bold step of asking him to examine your heart and mind:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Pray and ask for God to reveal what’s in your heart:
Are you believing in God’s love for you? Are you trusting in him to forgive you, accept you, and hold on to you forever? Confidence in God’s love brings a peace that the ups and downs of married life can never take away.
Do you have an intimate connection with God? Is he the one you run to when you’re hurt or scared? Do you pray, asking him for help and wisdom in your marriage? Is his truth in the Bible shaping your priorities and motivations? Knowing God and inviting him into every detail of your life will drastically alter the way you relate to one another.
Have you fallen out of love? Are you bitter or resentful because your dreams at the altar failed to come true? Are your conversations saturated with sarcasm, critical remarks, and conflict? Do you put parenting and work ahead of time together? If you’re angry and forgetting why you married in the first place, you might be far from God as well.
Who’s your source? On your own, you might be able to stir up some warm, fuzzy feelings for a while. By sheer willpower you can be polite and hold up your end around the house. But apart from God’s love—transforming your heart by his Spirit—true oneness, sacrificial kindness, and patient humility are impossible. Receiving God’s love through faith in Jesus fills us up with genuine, enduring love for one another.
Self-examination has its place and can be useful. It shines a light on our fears, strengths, and natural tendencies. We gain a better understanding of those around us, giving a greater appreciation for each other’s unique makeup. But to live in true, Christlike love with the one we married, we have to “live in God.” (v.16)
Invite him to expose the broken, sinful places in your marriage. Open your arms wide to receive his limitless grace and love. He adores you and will do more than you can ask or imagine if you cry out to him. (Ephesians 3:20) Ask for more love for Christ. More peace, satisfaction, and gratitude. More listening and serving, tenderness and honor toward your spouse. As God saturates your lives with his love, it will overflow onto one another. The beauty of God’s love will make your marriage beautiful, too.