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First Thoughts

Cultivating Affection in Your Marriage

I am not a gardener, and the only thing that I seem to be able to grow in my yard consistently is weeds. Part of my problem is that I do not take the time to prepare the soil so that plants have a chance of growing. Behind every beautiful garden are hours of hard work. Beautiful gardens do not just happen, they are made to happen.

We can say the same thing about marriage. Movies and books lead us to believe that affection and romance just spontaneously erupt between two people who will then live happily ever after in a constant state of marital bliss. However, reality tells a different story. Behind every good marriage are years of faithful effort that produces the sweetness of affection. Good marriages do not just happen, they are made to happen.

In the early days of a relationship, affection seems to come so easily. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, and make significant sacrifices to spend every waking moment with each other. Then comes the romantic proposal as the tidal wave of emotions presses the couple forward to that glorious day when they become man and wife. After that comes the joys of the honeymoon and a taste of “happily ever after.”

But once the couple returns, they find that the honeymoon is not real life, and being married is not the same as dating. The routine of the work week, meal preparation, house cleaning, home maintenance, and child-rearing seem to erode away the excitement they once experienced. Pretty soon those two who once couldn’t be separated have slowly drifted apart. The romance fades, the passion dwindles, and affection is MIA. What happened?

The answer comes not by looking at what has been done, but by looking at what hasn’t been done. Many marriages struggle because husband and wife stopped working on the relationship. Like a yard with no flowers, overgrown with weeds, a poorly maintained marriage will lack affection because there has been no effort to create an environment for the sweet growth of affection. So, what can be done? How can things change?

Well, first we must realize that affection is a mutual responsibility. Wow! That really sounds romantic, doesn’t it? When we think about affection, we often think of emotions, how we “feel” affection for someone. And yes, emotions do play a part. However, emotions are not to be primary. When it comes to affection, it is first and foremost a choice. One must decide to be affectionate before one feels affection. Remember, good marriages do not just happen, they are made to happen.

Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:39). Paul says something very similar when he says, “count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

Marriage provides the greatest opportunity to practice this kind of love. Your spouse is your closest neighbor. To you, your spouse is to be the most significant person on the planet, which means that his or her interests are to be your highest concern. Husbands and wives must choose to love before they are given a reason to love. They are to be affectionate before they feel affection. And when both husband and wife make this choice together, the feelings of affection will grow. Remember, good marriages do not just happen, they are made to happen.

Next, it is important to realize that affection starts with the husband. The Bible calls husbands to be leaders in their marriages (Eph 5:22). To lead means to be out in front, to take the initiative and be the first one to act. Often when there is no affection in a marriage, a husband first needs to look in the mirror to begin fixing the problem.

Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25), which means that Christ sets the example for how husbands are to love their wives. And what is the example that Christ set in his love for the church? Well, in 1 John 4:19 we read that Christ loved us first. He made the first step, he was the initiator. Through his death on the cross, Christ established our relationship with him, and he maintains that relationship by continually pouring out his love, grace, and mercy upon us who do not always love him as we ought. So, husbands, take your cue from Christ and be the initiator. If there is a lack of affection in your marriage, you take the first step and show affection toward your wife.

Third, even though affection starts with the husband, it is completed by the wife. Titus 2:4 says that older women are to train younger women to love their husbands. Again, this does not sound very romantic, that wives need to be trained to love. The reason for this is that husbands are not always very lovable, and at times, wives do not feel very loving toward their husbands. What this means is that wives are to show love before they feel love. Again, good marriages do not just happen, they are made to happen.

Another passage to consider is 1 Peter 3:1-6. Even though the context of this verse is about a godly wife winning her husband to Christ through her behavior, I think we can expand the principle to include that the affection a wife can show to her husband helps create an environment for affection to grow in the marriage as a whole.

So, to sum up, affection in marriage is a mutual responsibility that starts with the husband and is completed by the wife as they both choose to show affection before they feel affection. As husbands and wives put forth loving effort, that produces an environment where the feelings of affection can grow. If you want affection to grow in your marriage, then start showing affection. To help you out, we have attached a document to this blog post that includes 50 ways you can show love to your spouse. I pray you find them helpful and that the Lord will bless your marriage as you seek to love one another!

Ryan Trzeciak (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves First Baptist Church as the Director of First Counseling.

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