“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” King Solomon, considered the wisest man to ever live, wrote these words some 2,968 years ago. So why does he encourage us to guard our heart above everything? It’s simple. Our heart is the epicenter of life in that our most important relationships flow through our heart.
Although this verse was aimed at individuals, to teach us how to lead Godly, productive, and dynamic lives, we believe it to be some of the best marriage advice ever written. The importance of our “heart” is something that we rarely hear about in the context of marriage. And yet, there is nothing more important than keeping your heart open to our spouse. You will never have a great marriage unless both hearts are completely open to each other.
What does an open heart have to do with marriage? Everything! Let us explain. We often hear couples say, “I don’t feel love for my mate anymore.” Now, as marriage counselors, we kind of just let that go past. It’s not real important. You might be thinking, “How can you simply let that go, isn’t not feeling in love with your spouse a huge problem?”
It’s not that we ignore the fact that someone doesn’t feel “love” for the other person; instead, we challenge their beliefs about love and its origins.
Let us ask you a question: Where does love come from? Have you ever thought about where love actually originates from?
When I (Greg) look back over the twelve years of my marriage, I’m amazed at the depth of my love for Erin. It’s funny to think about where it all started. I still remember the day—like it was yesterday—when I fell in love with Erin.
I was sitting in the back of an Old Testament theology class at Grand Canyon University. On one side were my buddies and on the other side was this beautiful girl whom I hardly knew. Her name was Erin.
Since I had been up late the night before, and since I’ve always been the type of student who has a difficult time remaining attentive during class lectures, I soon fell sound asleep. Unfortunately for me, of all the classes that I could have picked to sleep in, I made the mistake of choosing the one with a unique class tradition. Towards the end of the class period, the professor would call on a student to end the day’s lecture with prayer.
As I slept soundly, dreaming of wonderful things, suddenly Erin grabs me and shakes my arm, and whispers, “Hurry, stand up…he just called on you to pray!”
Feeling completely disoriented, I looked up at the professor and realized that he was not saying anything. Therefore, I naturally assumed that the class was waiting for me to pray, so I stood up and began to pray. And it wasn’t one of those boring prayers, I mean it was a prayer that would have made Billy Graham himself proud. I thanked God for the professor and his wonderful insights that changed my life (I has no idea what the man had actually lectured on). But as I prayed, I started hearing laughter emanate from around the room. And then to my horror, I quickly realized that I was a complete “fool” when the entire class broke out in laughter and the professor said, “Thank you for your enthusiasm, but please let me finish lecturing next time before you end us with prayer!”
Needless to say, I was extremely attentive for the remainder of the class. The thing I remember most about that day was sitting there staring at this girl, thinking how awesome she was to have played that kind of practical joke on someone she hardly knew. I remember thinking: “Now that’s the kind of girl I could marry!” And then it hit me…I was in love.
Of course I had no idea at the time that five years later, Erin would actually become my wife. And certainly I had no idea that there would be times in our marriage that we would fight, and we would go through periods of conflict that were so painful, that we would both doubt our love for each other.
I still remember the times when I didn’t feel “in love” with Erin. I tried to figure out what was wrong with me or with her. I remember putting so much pressure on myself to figure out how to feel love towards my wife. Looking back, I wished someone had pulled me aside and spared me the torment of not feeling love for my wife, by asking me where love actually comes from. Because the answer to the question, “where does love come from,” has been one of the most freeing insights I’ve ever had in my marriage.
The reason we blow by this issue of love in our work with couples is that our assumption is that love is not about chemistry (this is a fantasy). We tend to falsely think that love is magical or that we have the ability to crank up the old love generator and create love. When I didn’t feel love for Erin, I put this enormous pressure on myself that somehow I needed to create love for her. Like that it was something that I could magically generate. And when I didn’t feel love for her it was either I was incapable of generating love (like there was something wrong with me) or that there was something wrong with Erin—that she was unlovable.
In reality, there is no love that comes from us. We are not the originators. God is. It says in I John 4:7-8 that love comes from God and that God is love! In verse 19 it goes on to say that we love because God first loved us. The point is that I do not generate a single drop of love. It all comes from God. By receiving God, I receive his love. I can then open my heart and share it with others. Love feels good to me, but I am just passing it through from God to others. By making a conscious decision, I can pass love through to my spouse. It helps the process if I see her as God sees her (valuable and precious).
When people say they no longer feel love for their spouse, we assume they have the door to their heart closed for some reason or another to prevent the flow of love. Our job is to find out why the doors are closed (where the blockage is). This is the key. I have stopped making the issue about how to love my spouse. Since I do not have any ability to create love, I make the focus on the state of my heart. The real question becomes: “Is my heart open or closed to my wife?” If my heart is closed to Erin, then God’s love does not come from him, through me, to Erin. And I don’t feel “in love.” If my heart is closed then I have shut God’s love out. This is what is actually happening when people do not feel love for their spouse. They have simply closed their heart to their mate (for good reasons I’m sure).
This has been extremely freeing to me. Instead of putting my efforts and energies into doing something I have zero ability to do (create love), I focus on the condition of my heart. Is it opened or closed? I have control over my heart. This is why King Solomon encouraged us to “guard our heart” above everything else. Our relationships—especially our marriage—flow through our heart. This is why 1 Peter 1:22 says “love each other deeply from the heart.” The key to a great marriage begins with making sure our heart is open to our spouse.