Here’s an all too familiar scenario: You “fell in love” with your spouse before marrying. But then sometime AFTER marrying, you look at him or her and wonder, “Who IS this person?” He or she is totally different from the person you thought you married. It causes you to wonder: “Did I marry a mythical mate? Did I marry just an illusion of a person? Was he/she purposely deceiving me before we married? Why didn’t I see this?”
At this point you could feel deceived by your spouse. You also could be confused by your own inability to see what you should have. You wonder, “Did I ask enough questions before marrying? Were there red flags popping up to warn me before I walked down the aisle that I should have seen?” Or maybe you ignored those clues that you should have addressed. And now you are living with regrets in confusion.
What’s strange is that most likely, your spouse feels the same way about you. He/she believes YOU are the one who switched personalities after marrying. And our guess is that you both are right. You both HAVE changed after marrying.
The Mythical Mate
That’s what happened with Steve and me. (And we know a multitude of other spouses who have experienced this same situation). I thought Steve had totally changed. And what’s ironic is that he thought I had changed! This caused us both to wonder what happened to our sweetheart who didn’t continually irritate and pick at us.
Was this all an illusion? Was our spouse different now that we are married? We believe the answer is, YES! However, we didn’t purposefully deceive each other. It’s just that life hit us in challenging, unexpected ways. And as a result, we both changed in the process. Also, unbeknownst to us, we brought in differing expectations, backgrounds, and ways of handling things. When our differences kept clashing into each other, it rocked our peaceful love relationship. And this caused confusion.
What happened? Marriage happened! This is what Dr Archibald Hart talked about a while ago on a radio program. He described marriage as a situation where “two imperfect people enter into an impossible relationship.” Now, we’re not thinking he meant that obtaining a happy marriage is impossible. He meant that it’s impossible to remain as “perfect” as we thought we were. And it is.
Maggie Gallagher said, “Getting married is the boldest and most idealistic thing that most of us will ever do.” And that’s SO true. But despite the past idealism, we CAN grow our relationship to be stronger than ever. It isn’t impossible. Many, many of us get to this place.
But it takes real intentionality to get to there. We just can’t get stuck on focusing on past expectations, and any type of mythical mate or mythical love illusions. If we do we will live in continual disillusionment and discontent!
Our Mythical Mate
Dr Hart went on to say:
“Over time, we try to find the beauty we had in the beginning of the relationship. But in reality it wasn’t as beautiful as it seemed. We were seeing a ‘mythical mate.’ We created fantasy images of the person we desired out of a few characteristics we were drawn to. This delusion met our needs.”
But this delusion or mythical mate illusion doesn’t last forever. It just can’t. We can only shelf reality for a period of time. Eventually it catches up with us. Looking back, I now see how naive I was at the beginning of our relationship. What I thought was real love was actually more of my fantasies (hopes and dreams) making it all appear real.
A while ago, I heard a pastor talk about this type of love. He explained that issues of the heart can fool you into thinking that you’re experiencing REAL love. But instead it’s a fake, illusional type of “love.” It really isn’t love at all. It’s actually a certain type of feeling, disguised as love.
He said that many people think the tingly, goose bump, “I can hardly think or eat or sleep because of the intoxicating feelings I have for this person feeling” is true love. But when that type of feeling goes away, then the dialogue of “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you” rears its ugly head as an excuse to “move on.”
The problem is that too many people fall in love with the feeling of love. However, they’re actually in love with the image of a person. They love the myth—the illusion of the person they projected them to be. They loved the feelings this person brought out in them—feelings they wanted to feel. In reality, that is a surface type of relationship. It’s more about “me, me, me” rather than true, biblical love. Biblical love is sacrificial. It takes serving each other, and WALKING in love. It’s about showing the person love and grace, rather than just voicing it without backing those words up with actions.
True love demands more of a person than sunshine little moments of pleasure. Surface “love” never plumbs to the depths of proving our love. Sometimes our spouse isn’t lovable. But sometimes we aren’t either. That’s mature love takes action.
True Love VS Mythical Mate Love
We are to love each other as Christ does. He calls upon us to do no less. The question is, what do we do when we’re faced with the “real” of living together in marriage? Do we gripe, complain, and cry foul that “it’s not fair?” And/or in our disillusionment, do we dump out of our marriage stating, “I realize I never really loved you?” Do we feel justified to entertain thoughts about someone else to fulfill our desire to be loved another way? And then do we instead express our love to someone else? There is no doubt that this eye opening time presents a HUGE temptation to do just that!
But there is another way of approaching the situation. This seems more in line with God’s views on covenant living. What if we instead look to Christ to teach us how to truly love your spouse? Even though the temptation is to feel justified in leaving, how about asking God to help us to love the one we’re with?
This won’t be easy. But isn’t it what we vowed to do on our wedding day?
To truly love, we are called upon to be “imitators of God” as His “dear children.” We are to “live a life of love.” This is love in action “just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God“? (See Ephesians 5:1-2.) This is when we will truly reveal and reflect the love of Christ. It is a matter of love in action.
Love In Action
I have, we have learned over the years:
♥ I am called upon to show LOVE IN ACTION when Steve is sick. That’s when I do what needs to get done (without expecting his help). And I do this with a good attitude. That takes maturity on my part. But it’s the right thing to do. And when I do all of this—that is love in action.
♥ Love in action is exhibited when Steve is patient with me when I have a bad attitude. He decides he will NOT argue with me. Instead, he gives me grace and space. He sometimes even gives me a hug even though I’m not very huggable. And oh, how I appreciate him for it!
♥ When Steve leaves his insulin or his cell phone at home and I drive it in to wherever he is—that is love in action. I do this even though it is totally inconvenient. I THOUGHT my day was full before his phone call! But I determine that Steve is more important than my schedule. He is, and he should be! After all, we are marriage partners. And he didn’t do it on purpose. So sometimes it’s good to go the extra mile to show love.
♥ Love in action is shown when Steve is talking to someone and I want SO BADLY to say, “That’s not the way it was…” But I don’t. I decide to leave his dignity in tact. And if it’s important we talk about it later. But for now, I leave it alone.
♥ Steve shows love in action when he wants to finish off a dessert all by himself. But he offers it to me instead.
♥ And when I say, “No, you have that dessert; I’m fine” (even though I want it SO bad) — that is love in action. (We usually split it at that point.)
♥ It is love in action when Steve intentionally turns away and does not look when a scantily-clothed gal comes on a commercial. Despite the temptation, he choses to honor me and honor God by not to giving into it. Oh, how I love that! (It also goes with the biblical principle: “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.“)
We could go on and on. But we think you get the point. It’s all about 1 Corinthians 13 being lived out in real life. THAT is real love! And there is nothing mythical about it!
The Mythical Mate
But unfortunately, it’s true what John Thomas wrote. We have lived this and see it in many other marriages:
“Sadly, most Christian marriages represent nothing more than re-packaged psychology. It is Hollywood nonsense wrapped in a few Bible verses, with a vision so low it’s no wonder half of them end in divorce. How I long for Christ-followers to experience the stunning views of God from the top of the peak of marriage! Unfortunately, most are stuck in the climb, whining and complaining about not getting his or her ‘needs met,’ which is for each of them the highest goal of marriage.” (From the Boundless.org article, “The Sacrifices of Marriage”)
This may or may not be the place in which you find yourself in your marriage. But what do you do if you are living in a state of disappointment in your marriage? What do you do if you are not living with “stunning views” right now?
We aren’t entirely sure. But we have a few suggestions, founded on biblical principles. This comes from our experience, as well as the experience of others who have lived in this state of disappointment. God showed us to build upon the good. Now, we aren’t talking about sinful abusive/cheating issues. You have to deal with those issues in a whole different way. (Go through the Abuse in Marriage topic. We also have several Infidelity topics available for you. Here’s one: Emotional & Physical Affair.)
But there are things you can do when you are dealing with the “normal” issue of feeling like you don’t love your spouse. The main one we see is that you can build upon the good.
Building Upon the Good
Right now what you see is not what you want. But God doesn’t tell us to love our spouse IF they fit in with our wants. We are to live out love. We are to show love. And then true love can grow out of it. Steve and I have both been there. (And so have many, many other spouses we know.) We dropped the mythical mate illusion. And we worked on our marriage from a reality stance.
The following are three quotes that centers around building upon the good through “Love in Action.” These are challenges for all of us:
• “You’ve probably read Philippians 4:8 several times. You may have even memorized it. But have you ever directly applied it to your spouse? ‘Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.’” (Linda Dillow)
• “When you focus on your [spouse’s] strengths, you change the dynamic of your home for the good. As Dr. Gary Chapman says, ‘Focus on one positive thing and another will appear. In the darkest night of a troubled marriage, there’s always a flickering light. Focus on that light and it will eventually flood the room.’” (Arlene Pellicane)
• “This year, let’s be ruthless and honest regarding our motives in marriage. Are we loving our spouses? Or are we trying to manipulate them? Are we trying to turn them into ‘love me like I want to be loved’ machines, or are we partnering with God to help them flourish as the people God created them to be?” (Gary Thomas, from his article, “What to Do When Sacred Marriage Doesn’t Work“)
We know there is more that needs to be done than those 3 simple suggestions. But they are a good start. Take one day, one step at a time. Ask God to guide you along the way. As you continually look to Him, He will shepherd you through this.
No matter where your marriage is right now, this is our prayer for you:
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all …so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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