I still remember my wedding day like it was yesterday.
It was January 2, 2010, in Chicago, Il., and the high was -10°F. Snow covered everything in a big, white blanket, and we were all bundled to stay warm. Winter weddings are special in their own way. The church was decorated with twinkle lights, candles of all shapes and sizes burned through the corridors and the Christmas décor was still hanging which gave the whole place a warm and festive feel.
The images of that day from the sanctuary to my handsome groom, are sealed in my mind forever.
But there’s something else I will never forget—our pastor’s message. He gave a message that spoke straight into the hearts of both myself and my husband. It was based on Ephesians 5:22-33 in which a husband and wife are called to reflect Christ and the Church in their marriage. In his conclusion, he offered three practical ways to live this out daily. He said this:
“Every day, say these three phrases to each other: ‘I love you. I’m sorry. How can I help?’”
My husband and I have literally been saying these three phrases to each other every day for the past seven and half years, and I cannot tell you what a huge difference this has made in the life, health and stability of our marriage.
1. “I love you.”
I don’t think we can ever say this phrase enough. The need for a husband and wife to affirm and reaffirm their love daily is crucial to a joy-filled and God-honoring marriage.
There are, of course, many ways to say, “I love you.” But verbally expressing it is of paramount importance. For example, it’s one of the first phrases we say to each other when we wake up in the morning. We also make intentional efforts to say, “I love you” throughout the day—both in person and in texts.
There is something so powerful in a person who shows love and knows that he or she is loved in return. It is confidence and security and allows us to overcome past rejections and pains. Most importantly, love allows us to reflect Christ more in our marriage.
Implicit within Paul’s revelation in Ephesians 5 is that a human marriage reflects Christ and the church is the non-negotiable element of love. The word “love” is used four times in this passage, and it is emphasized because Christ’s death on the cross—His ultimate sacrifice for the church—is nothing but an act of love.
Now, because of how men receive love (generally-speaking), my verbal expressions to my husband also include, “I’m so proud of you,” “I’m so grateful for all you do,” “You are a wonderful father,” or “Thank you for how you love and care for our son.”
You know your man. Think about what love sounds like to him, and use those words daily, too.
2. “I’m sorry.”
Forgiveness is a two-way street. It’s important we both confess our sins as well as forgive the sins of our spouse. It is grace that Christ shows us in Ephesians 5:25 when he “gave himself up” for us, and it is this grace that we should show to each other. Forgiveness also plays a vital role in empowering a husband and wife to keep their covenant to one another. It creates a hedge of protection from long-lasting bitterness, resentment and hate.
I must say that love and grace go hand-in-hand. This is especially true in a fight as both “I love you” and “I’m sorry” are usually in order. For example, whether we’re mildly annoyed or plain out furious with each other, my husband and I have cultivated a habit of stopping the conversation early to first say, “I love you” and then “I’m sorry.” To be honest, that jump starts our humility and compassion back into the moment, and the fight usually ends quickly thereafter. Reminding ourselves in a heated moment we truly love each other does wonders for stopping a fight, seeking out and showing grace and working toward restoration.
3. “How can I help?”
This phrase is almost self-explanatory. If we are to “nourish and cherish” each other like Christ does for us in Ephesians 5:29 then we must seek out the other’s good by extending help and aid as needed. We should not just assume or guess what our spouse needs.
Rather, part of our daily and sacrificial care for each other should include asking, “How can I help you?” This question, of course, requires a follow-up. We must hear the needs of our spouse, and then seek to respond to that need in a time-sensitive fashion.
At the heart of this question is open lines of communication. I know it’s hard for women to sometimes express their needs to their husbands (and vice versa), but this is something we should all seek to get better at. For the sake of our marriage, we must be willing to be vulnerable, to expose our heart, to share our weaknesses and—if love and grace are also being developed—we can be confident that this vulnerability will be met, heard and cared for.
My hope and prayer is that these three phrases encourage you in the Lord, today. May you feel empowered to speak new words of love, humility and care to your spouse with the knowledge that Christ first showed this same love, grace and care for us. Ultimately, may His relentlessness fight for you even to the point of death renew your own fight for your marriage.
Published October 9, 2017