Is Marriage About Chemistry?

I spoke with a 29 year old woman the other day who is still single and eager, but not desperate, to get married. I've been married 13 years tomorrow - my anniversary. Sometimes I'm amazed we've made it this far, but we learned a few things along the way that made it possible. So in chatting with this woman, I realized how much my thinking about marriage has changed over the years (and how hard it would have been to learn this prior to being married).

One of the notions that I kept hearing in her language (I don't remember the words she used) was the importance of the right chemistry between two people. She mentioned friends who think they might have settled too quickly for the wrong guy. These kinds of mindsets are so common. I believe that kind of thinking is dangerous. One of the points I made with her was that there is no value in discussing chemistry or if two people are right for each other after they are married. Once married, it is quite harmful to wonder whether or not you are with the right person. Here is the right way to think about it: "you're married, your spouse is now the right person, start thinking about how to improve your relationship rather than decide if you should be in it."

The thinking that wonders if someone is the right person assumes there is something critical about the combination of two people that makes relationships work. I don't believe things work this way. What makes a relationship work is the choices that each person makes, not some innate quality within the individuals that cannot be altered.

Relationships operate according to principles. These principles can be learned. As I've said previously, we enter into relationships that benefit us and both parties in any relationship expect certain terms to be adhered to. In marriage those terms are written as vows. Many of the relationship difficulties people face in marriage come from violating those vows. The other difficulties people face in their marriages come from selfishness and what I call "following with love" rather than "leading with love."

When a person "follows with love" they say to themselves, "I'll do something loving after my spouse does something loving." A follower waits until they feel loved before they do loving things. When dating, the relationship is all about the way the other person makes us feel (chemistry). Once married, there is a job to do. There are bills to pay, chores to do, problems to solve. Marriage then requires teamwork. It stops being about how you feel (reactive) and starts being about what you do (proactive). People get resentful because they no longer feel what they used to feel when dating. They want to feel that same thing again. Therefore they only do what they need to do when they feel what they want to feel. Unfortunately this results in two people who rarely feel what they want to feel and rarely do what they need to do.

My wife and I practice "leading with love." This means that we attempt to do loving things (we don't always succeed) even when we don't feel loved, even when the other person is not doing anything that qualifies them to receive our love. If Christ loved us when we were still in sin and utterly unlovable, then we should be striving to be like Him and do the same. We're actually commanded to do so in 1 John 4:10-11 "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

Christ loved while we were in sin and then asks us to love the same way. Wow. Tall order, but it is a principle that works. Plus, and here's the real benefit, the feelings of love follow "leading with love." The feelings of love are the result of loving actions. If I choose to do what I should do and my wife chooses to do what she should do, we both get the benefit of feeling the passion and the love that we enjoy so much. In God's economy things always work this way - the benefit follows the work.

The reason the woman I spoke with hears from friends that are wondering if they "settled" for the wrong person - they've lost "those loving feelings." (Think of the song - "You've lost that loving feeling") The feelings weren't lost, the couple just isn't doing what's necessary to produce them - serving each other. The person who wonders if they "settled" is assuming that if they had chosen a better spouse things would have worked out better. If already married - it doesn't do any good to wonder that! The marriage difficulties are not the result of marrying the wrong person, they are the result of not adhering to the principles of successful relationships.

Jesus Christ came to serve. As we learn to be more like him, especially in our relationships, we will find that our relationships will start to work. My marriage has lasted 13 years because my wife and I have realized that marriage is about serving, not being served. Loving first, not waiting to first be loved. We've learned that our marriage success comes from deciding that our marriage is more important than anything else. We have not given ourselves the liberty of deciding that "this isn't going to work out." We're going to make it work out. It's no longer about the chemistry - its about the choices.

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When Then Is Now said...

I have been reading through more of your blogs, and I just had to say I appreciate your thoughts on "second guesses". Once you're married, you're married! So many people think this is a close-minded view of love, but I think it's just simple.
Of course I'm still very young, but I'm trying to start preparing myself for "the one"; trying to start being that 1 Peter 3 woman, and this blog really blessed me!