Seeking Love Imbalance: Marriage

By Ed Welch

How can we love people more than we want to be loved by them?" The marriage relationship offers us insight.

Editor’s note: In an earlier post, we discussed how pastors and planters are aiming for a subtle imbalance in what they hope to give to another and what they hope to receive. We asked the question, “How can we love people more than we want to be loved by them?” The marriage relationship offers an illustration that will help us better understand that dynamic as pastors – and in looking at it we also can learn some important lessons about having healthier marriages.

Pastors and planters not only have to spot the fear of man in themselves, but they also have the job of helping others grow in their walk with Christ. As they become aware of this problem, they also will begin to notice it in the lives of others. 

So how can pastors and planters do a good job of confronting the “fear of man” issue in their ministries, as well as minister to those who are dealing with the issue? How do we reach the point where we are loving others more than we expect to be loved by them?

You see this every day in ministry, but every marriage has to deal with this as well. So let me illustrate with my own marriage. 

How does my wife love me? Does she love me the way I want to be loved? That can so easily become the prominent question. And if I feel like I am being rejected by my spouse, I can feel utterly powerless. My tendency is to mope around or to be angry, rather than to love. For singles, it’s the same question: How can I put my best foot forward in order to win the affection of other people? It’s a human issue. 

As husbands, our desire is to respect our spouses more than we are respected by them, to love them more than we want to be loved by them. Our quest is to outdo our spouses. 

Can you see the freedom in that? In some sense, we give up everything. We give up our own quest for honor and affection and to be the most important. And in the midst of that, there’s power to be able to love, where there’s nothing my wife can do to that would keep me from loving her. 

That particular formula is something I end up identifying just about every week as our vision. But here’s where you get stuck: You want something from your wife and you don’t feel like she’s giving you what you want. Or to make it worse, what you think God commands her to give you, which is a thornier issue. 

But instead of dealing with the thorny issues of headship and submission – which might not be the easiest thing to deal with at a time like that – I offer this simple model: We know we want to be imitators of Christ, who loved people more than he cared to be honored or respected by them. 

That doesn’t mean we’re silent in the face of rejection, either as husbands or pastors. It gives us the freedom to speak about such things, but in a way that’s not angry and accusing. It gives us the freedom to say: “When you said that to me, it really hurt.” That’s a whole lot different than turning away and moping or turning around and accusing.

Your concern is for the relationship, rather than your own individual rights. 

Published January 24, 2022

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Ed Welch

Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in counseling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah and a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counseling for more than 30 years and has written many books and articles on biblical counseling, including When People Are Big and God Is Small, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, and Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. He and his wife, Sheri, have two married daughters and eight grandchildren. In his spare time, Ed enjoys spending time with his wife and extended family and playing his guitar.