My children are blessed with parents that are still married and still very much in love. So when two couples in their lives divorced a couple of years ago, they found it confusing and scary. They had never encountered the possibility that people could stop being married.
And when members of those failed marriages began dating again, my children were filled with questions—many of which I could not answer. Yet, as a therapist and pastor who has counseled countless people on relationships, the one question that I felt confident answering was how some marriages succeed while others fail.
Every relationship is unique and every situation is different, so I’m not going to talk about the specific content of any given relationship. I have found that the details don’t often matter. It is what we do with the details that matters. It is the dynamic between two people, the process of their relationship that truly matters.
So, in order for my young children to understand, I boiled it all down to this: laziness and selfishness.
Relationships take effort.
You cannot put it on cruise control and then be surprised when it runs into a ditch. You can never stop trying to connect, to love, to build up what you have. I told my kids that if you are not dedicated to growing your love for each other, then other things can sneak in: things like anger, disappointment, frustration, and even hate.
I wholeheartedly believe that love is not a feeling. It creates feelings. But in and of itself, it is not a feeling. It is a choice. It is an action. It is a way of being and behaving. Lust is feeling. Romance is a feeling. Infatuation is a feeling. They are like weeds. They pop up out of nowhere, unexpectedly, and without any effort.
But, love? Love is something you have to nurture in order to grow. It takes effort and planning. It takes intention and attention.
If you aren’t intentionally growing the love in your relationship, then you are living off of weeds.
Weeds with shallow roots and a short lifespan. Weeds that can shrivel up just as easily as they appeared.
That is why I told my kids that in relationships that fail, one or both people got lazy.
But, someone also got selfish.
Whereas laziness slowly erodes away at a relationship, selfishness poisons it.
And the more selfish we become, the quicker that relationship dies.
Too often I hear people say that they get married to be happy. That is not a good reason to get married. You don’t get married so that you can be happy. You get married so that you can make the other person happy.
But that isn’t how our culture has trained us to be. As with all of you, I have been told that I am supposed to go and find my happiness and my truth and my purpose. I am supposed to find the person who will complete me and make me happy.
Ugh. Where did this fallacy come from?!
Nowhere in the Bible does it say we are supposed to go and find someone to serve us or love us or do anything for us.
- We are the ones who are told to go and serve and love and do.
- We are the ones being sent.
- We are supposed to be known by how we love each other the way that Jesus loves us.
And guess what? Jesus came to serve, not be served. Jesus came to lay down His life out of love for us. Jesus came and gave it all. He did not come with selfish motives and neither should we.
Consider any failed relationship that you have experienced, encountered, or witnessed.
Take away the details. Strip down the specifics and look at the process by which that relationship deteriorated. You will most certainly find that somewhere along the way, laziness and selfishness appeared.
Laziness and selfishness kill relationships. And because of that, not only am I diligent to ward against them in my own marriage, but I am committed to teaching my kids to be active, dedicated, and selfless in their future relationships.
Whatever relationship status you may have, you can do the same. You can make that commitment for yourself and encourage others to do it as well. We can make a difference. We can show the people in our lives what love is supposed to look like, feel like, and act like.
About Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller, MAR, MA, LPC is a Christian pastor, professional counselor, and author of No Longer Two: A Guide to How God Created Men, Women, and Marriage. For over a decade, she has been combining her expertise in psychology and theology to help individuals, couples, and families both in private practice and in ministry, as well as through her writing, speaking, and teaching.
She is the co-founder and Co-Executive Director of The Center for Living Well, a nonprofit Christ-centered wellness ministry dedicated to helping people live well and love God. She regularly leads classes, workshops, and retreats on a wide range of topics including faith and relationships. She is also a Master-level Christ-Centered Yoga Leader at the Center.
Jennifer is one of the new co-hosts on Heart and Soul with Jory Fisher. You can listen to her with Jory the second and third shows of the month.