Love can be defined in myriad ways, but in marriage "I love you" really means: "I promise to be there for you all of my days." It is a promise that says, "I'll be there when you lose your job, your health, your parents, your looks, your confidence, your friends." It's a promise that tells your partner, "I'll build you up; I'll overlook your weaknesses; I'll forgive your mistakes; I'll put your needs above my own; I'll stick by you even when the going gets tough."
This kind of assurance will hold you steady through all of life's ups and downs, through all the "better or worse" conditions. When you follow through on the promise of "I love you," it is the fulfillment of our Lord's instruction in Scripture: "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'" (Matthew 5:37).
"I love you" really means: "I promise to be there for you the rest of my days."
Our heavenly Father has demonstrated throughout the ages that He keeps His promises, including the most important one of all: reserving a spot in heaven for each of His followers, for all eternity. Since God keeps His promises, we must keep ours, too—especially the one we made before God, our family, our friends, and our church on our wedding day.
I hope you'll indulge me as I share a few more words presented by a man expressing this kind of commitment to a woman. Seventy years ago my father, James Dobson Sr., spoke these words to his fiancée (my future mother) after she agreed to become his wife:
I want you to understand and be fully aware of my feelings concerning the marriage covenant we are about to enter. I have been taught at my mother's knee, in harmony with the Word of God, that the marriage vows are inviolable, and by entering into them I am binding myself absolutely and for life. The idea of estrangement from you through divorce for any reason at all [although God allows one—infidelity] will never at any time be permitted to enter into my thinking. I'm not naïve in this. On the contrary, I'm fully aware of the possibility, unlikely as it now appears, that mutual incompatibility or other unforeseen circumstances could result in extreme mental suffering. If such becomes the case, I am resolved for my part to accept it as a consequence of the commitment I am now making and to bear it, if necessary, to the end of our lives together.
I have loved you dearly as a sweetheart and will continue to love you as my wife. But over and above that, I love you with a Christian love that demands that I never react in any way toward you that would jeopardize our prospects of entering heaven, which is the supreme objective of both our lives. And I pray that God Himself will make our affection for one another perfect and eternal.
James and Myrtle Dobson enjoyed a loving, committed, fulfilling marriage that began in 1935 and ended with his death in 1977. They never wavered for a moment through all those years. If you approach your own marriage with this determination, you too will establish a stable, rewarding relationship that will last a lifetime.
Your commitment to each other will do even more than enable your marriage to go the distance. It will establish the essential foundation of trust that is a requirement for true intimacy in any relationship. We'll talk more about trust in the chapter ahead.
Action Steps for Cultivating Committed Love
•What role do emotions play in your relationship with your partner? Talk about this together, then reaffirm your commitment to each other, regardless of your feelings at any given time.
•Identify another couple whose marriage has stayed secure under stress. Ask them, "What is your secret?" Decide if their methods can also be applied to your marriage.
•Reread the statement made by James Dobson Sr. to his fiancée. Get together with your partner and renew in writing your lifetime commitment to each other.5 Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy
By Dr. James Dobson