As part of the launch for my new book, I invited some friends to share how they make their marriages beautiful. The road to beauty is not always pretty or easy. We often find ourselves in dark and difficult places and don’t know where to turn for help or companionship. One of my main goals in writing Making Marriage Beautiful was to vulnerably offer my experiences so that others would not feel so alone or hopeless. This series seeks to give more glimpses into the lives of diverse men and women who have partnered with God to create and sustain satisfying, joyful marriages.
Finding a Deeper Love, by Heidi Wheeler
Finding Josh sixteen years ago was finding home. We met during college, but it was a post-graduation backpacking trip that initiated the spark between us. As we discussed our mutual passions—God, music, community, and the outdoors—our hearts began to weave together. It wasn’t long before we knew we wanted to keep walking the trail together for life.
We made our vows on a rainy April day, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Our early married years were sweet and light; it didn’t seem challenging to care for one another well. We delighted in learning each other’s nuances, which we tried to accommodate instead of change.
We had good intentions to continue these patterns but 14 years of marriage, 10 moves, infertility followed by 4 kids in 5 years, and two graduate school degrees piled on stress and responsibilities. These opportunities for sanctification caused certain characteristics to become irksome instead of endearing. Additionally, we became less willing to give up our own needs in deference to our spouse’s and we cycled through the same disagreements without resolution.
Something had shifted. Loving wasn’t as effortless anymore.
Many love stories mimic ours—we find the soul who embodies home and in the midst of intense feelings, make a lifetime commitment to love no matter what the journey may bring. But when our falling-in-love hormones dopamine and oxytocin settle down, and the easiness diminishes we wonder: What’s the best way to deal with our differences? How do we navigate the circular conversations that have surfaced? How is it possible to flourish when there’s a lifetime of compromises ahead?
Even in good marriages, these questions are normal, and we’re finding the common response to all of them isn’t complicated, but it can be difficult. The answer is habitually choosing loving actions despite feelings that fluctuate with circumstances.
We’ve realized that falling in love was the catalyst for and not the culmination of our relationship. Letting go of initial expectations that a thriving marriage centers around the in-love emotions is freeing us to seek and find a deeper love.
C.S. Lewis differentiates between early and enduring love in his classic, The Four Loves, “Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling.” And he continues, “But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.”
Reflecting on the greatest Love, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, is what encourages us to keep giving each other grace. Through Him, we have been recipients of undeserved favor. As we practice extending that same grace to each other, we further understand the magnitude of Jesus’ gift.
This deeper, more sacrificial type of love allows us to remain when the loving feelings are stale because we know God will redeem them into something beautiful. It challenges us to forgive because He first forgave us, and encourages us to see imago Dei in the one across the table because God’s image is there.
In tangible ways, it looks like me protecting my husband’s sleep-in on a Saturday morning even though I wanted to sleep in too. It’s him emptying the dishwasher late at night so I have a smoother morning the following day. It’s saying please and thank you with requests. It’s looking at each other’s faces when we’re conversing. It’s us putting down our technology at night to emotionally connect. It’s finding humor in the midst of chaos. It’s every single thing we can think of to honor our spouse.
Love habits—kindness, grace, respect, forgiveness, deference—don’t always come naturally, but as we practice the daily art of surrendering ourselves to something greater, we see the investment paying off and our ability to love each other at a deeper level growing.
When we habitually choose: “You before me, “You in spite of you,” and “You because of Love,” we’re building something enduring. The love that sparked years ago on a Colorado trail has morphed into what will sustain us for the rest of the journey—and it’s more beautiful than we could’ve imagined.
Heidi loves encouraging others to wholeness of mind, body, and spirit because she believes that Christ is a healer for our brokenness. She cherishes new ideas, change, and the perspective that comes with 23 moves and plenty of adventure. She’s happily married to Josh, the mother of 4 young children, and works as adjunct nursing faculty at a local university and as editor of a local magazine. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and finding fun ways to eat back the calories she burns running. You can find more of her work on her site.
To enter my book giveaway, please leave a comment below. Each month, I’ll choose two lucky readers to receive an autographed copy of Making Marriage Beautiful. Also, if you like what you see, consider signing up for my bi-monthly newsletter.