“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
By the time I was 25 years old, I had been dating my wife for almost 7 years. An engagement was imminent, but to be honest, I struggled with the idea of being with someone forever, not because I did not want her with me but because I was unsure if I could love her well over the course of a lifetime.
During that time, this famous Bible verse continually tumbled in my mind, until finally, I threw up my hands in frustration. Why wouldn’t this verse go away? What good was it to know the “definition” of love if it did not explain things to me practically?
Write it down, I thought.
So, I did. I wrote down each characteristic of love listed above and then defined it in “I will” terms to help me understand what that looks like relationally. Below is what I came up with. For the last 20 years, I have tweaked it a bit as I learned new lessons about love and how to express it, but throughout our decades together, it has served as a good guide for me in my marriage. It is my hope in sharing this with you that you, too, will find it instructive and will provide some helpful boundaries for your marriage.
Here, as best as I can define it, is what love is:
PATIENT – I will allow you time to change and I will care for you, in spite of your faults.
KIND – I will exchange criticism for tactful honesty. I will not expect perfection from you because I am not perfect.
NOT ENVIOUS – I will not look to meet my needs outside of us or ask you to be something that you aren’t. I will stop focusing on what I can get from you and will focus more on what I can give you.
NOT BOASTFUL – I will not put myself above others, especially you. I am special and unique but I will not lord my good qualities over your deficiencies.
NOT PROUD – I will be more affirming of you, rather than puffing up my ego. I will not use you as a “showpiece.”
DOES NOT DISHONOR – I will conduct myself in a manner that never brings me shame or you pain. I will guard my mouth, my body, my heart, and my mind so that at all times and in all ways, or our relationship remains free from the infection of betrayal, lies, or mistrust. I will strive to make you proud to call me yours.
NOT SELF-SEEKING – I will not expect you to meet all my needs. That is God’s job, not yours. I will be extroverted in love and love you for loves’ sake.
NOT EASILY ANGERED – I will calmly work out problems with you, seeking a resolution that respects both of us. I will begin with your point of view and consider your feelings. I will refuse to engage in debate or persuasion.
KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS – I will give you a new blank slate each day and refuse to bring up past wounds when arguments arise.
NOT DELIGHTING IN EVIL – I will not try to sabotage our relationship. I will not rejoice in your crushed spirit.
REJOICING WITH THE TRUTH – I will accept truth from you, whether easy or difficult to hear, and rejoice because truth clarifies issues as well as character.
PROTECTING – I will not allow myself to get away with thoughts of harsh criticism about you or myself. I will cherish you in ways that show you are valuable to both God and me.
TRUSTING – I will take more risks to express my feelings towards you because I understand that our level of closeness depends on our level of vulnerability with each other.
ALWAYS HOPEFUL – I will be expectantly excited about the possibilities of our relationship, even if I cannot see those possibilities.
ALWAYS PERSEVERING – I will be willing to work on solutions to issues, regardless of how long it takes or how painful it may be.
NEVER FAILS – I will continually practice the things above, for I never want to disappoint you.