Mark Twain tells a sobering tale about exploring the Mississippi River he loved so much. After virtually memorizing the river’s bends and navigating its waters with rapt admiration, he was chagrined to wake up one day and find that the river had lost much of its poetry. The mystery of that mighty waterway had been replaced with a boring predictability.
He had literally loved his love out of that river.
Every marriage goes through this stage. An enrapturing love quiets down to a predictable routine. The mystery is replaced with an almost comical familiarity—the wife knows exactly how the husband will sit on the couch, the husband knows exactly how his wife will answer the phone.
A wife we know decided to get her husband golf clubs for his birthday. She went to a store and told the owner, “Here’s the money for a set of clubs. My husband will ask me to come in here tomorrow night. He’ll look over these clubs, then walk over to talk to me about it, then go back to the clubs and touch the ones he decides are the best option. At that point, I want you to walk up to him and say, ‘Your wife already paid for these yesterday. Happy Birthday.’”
The clerk was suspicious, but he agreed to the plan.
The next day, our friend took her husband to a restaurant next door to the golf shop. After dinner, the husband (as predicted) pointed to the shop and said, “You mind if we just stop in there?”
“Not at all,” the wife said.
The husband walked through the shop and settled on two sets of clubs. He then walked back to his wife and conferred with her about them, then returned to the clubs and touched the set he thought would be best. The owner came up and went through his spiel.
When love becomes this familiar, is it possible to “love our love” out of a person?
The old adage that “familiarity breeds contempt” can be all too true. As our partners and their weaknesses become more familiar to us, respect often becomes harder to give–but doing so is actually a biblical command. Wives are commanded to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33) and husbands are commanded to respect their wives (1 Peter 3:7); in fact, we’re commanded to respect everyone: “Show proper respect to everyone.” (1 Peter 2:17).
Respecting someone when we know their faults all too well is a sign of a truly sacred marriage. We must learn to have contempt for contempt instead of contempt for each other.
It’s an additional mark of our sin that we usually blame our spouse for our failing to respect them: “How can I respect him?” “How can I respect her?”
We can do so in the same way Paul respected a church full of quarrelers (1 Corinthians 1:11), unlearned and simple people (1:26), “worldly” infants (3:1–3), arrogant egocentrics (4:18), a man sleeping with his father’s wife (5:1), greedy men suing fellow believers (6:1), and childish thinkers (14:20). He still honors them by saying, “I always thank God for you . . .” (1:4). He knew them well enough to be familiar with all their faults, yet he continued to be thankful for them. Why? The key is found in the second half of verse 4: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given to you in Christ Jesus”.
We can be thankful for our fellow sinners when we spend more time looking for “evidences of grace” than we do finding fault. If my wife is more aware of where she falls short in my eyes than she is of how I am witnessing evidences of God’s grace in her journey of spiritual growth, then I am a legalistic husband, akin to a Pharisee. I should literally seek out evidence of how God is growing her, not how she’s resisting God. This is true because giving respect is an obligation, not a favor; it is an act of maturity, birthed in a profound understanding of God’s good grace.
Consider the type of people Jesus loved in the days he walked on earth—Judas (the betrayer); the woman at the well (a sexual libertine); Zacchaeus (the conniving financial cheat); and many others like them. In spite of the fact that Jesus was without sin and these people were very much steeped in sin, Jesus still honored them. He washed Judas’s feet; he spent time talking respectfully to the woman at the well; he went to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Jesus, the only perfect human being to live on this earth, moved toward sinful people; he asks us to do the same, beginning with the one closest to us—our spouse.
Your spouse isn’t the enemy: contempt built on familiarity is the enemy, so have contempt for contempt. Give honor to those who deserve it—beginning with your spouse.
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com
(Note: this post is adapted from the newly updated version of Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy? You can read more about this book here: http://www.garythomas.com)