Imagine a scenario where you attend your young daughter’s ballet performance. She is not a natural dancer, but she enjoys dancing and is trying hard to do her best. When she finishes her flawed performance, she looks to you eagerly for your approval and love. Instead, you tell her that her performance fell far short of your expectations, and you turn your back on her, but not before telling her you’d love her a whole lot more if she gets it right next time.
Heartless, right? Cruel. You can’t imagine doing such a thing and just the thought of it brings tears to your eyes.
Before you deny ever having done such a thing, take a minute to think about how you might have allowed your love for your spouse to weaken as a result of his or her actions. You’re a wife who sees your husband trying but consistently falling short, leaving you frustrated and angry. Or you’re a husband who no matter how many times you tell your wife what you need, she just won’t give it to you.
If you feel that way more often than not, you may have fallen into the trap of performance-based love. This is love based on what your spouse does or doesn’t provide for you. If your spouse doesn’t perform in the way you want, you find yourself falling out of love. While this is a normal human reaction, it’s one we need to deal with because we’re being asked to do something that doesn’t make complete biological sense – we’re being asked to stay married to one person our entire life, and nothing about that is easy.
As my pastor Patrick Kelley says, don’t expect your partner to complete you. That may have made for a romantic movie line, but it’s not conducive to a healthy relationship. It’s unfair to put those expectations on another person, especially since they absolutely will not be able to live up to them. And when disappointment comes in a performance-based relationship, love will surely die.
It’s the same way of thinking about our relationship with God. We don’t and can’t earn our way into an eternity with him. It would be impossible to be a person worthy of His greatness, thus requiring Jesus’ sacrifice to save us from ourselves.
If you are expecting your spouse to earn your love, you will be sorely disappointed. This doesn’t mean that you should be a doormat or ignore issues that are hurting you. Discussing them and working through problems is key, but with the understanding that the other person is just that – a person, incapable of being perfect and often with many flaws only outnumbered by your own.
Our greatest model of unconditional love is God’s love for us, and we should strive for the same thing. Instead of making our spouses prove themselves, we should extend grace and forgiveness when they fall short of our expectations. Yes, talk about it, but don’t withhold love as a punishment or threat.
Philippians 2: 3-4 says, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Serving your spouse is a beautiful way to show and share your love. In our house, I love to cook and my husband loves to eat, so it’s a natural way for me to serve him. In return, he comments on how good the meal is, then goes for seconds to prove it. It’s not something he thanks me for, and there are times I might feel taken for granted, but I’m positive I’m guilty of the same when he kindly serves me. He quietly fixes what’s broken, mows the lawn, and offers to make me drinks, all ways he serves me without expecting a thank you or anything in return.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean having no expectations. But it does mean holding your love steady when your spouse falls short. It means reminding yourself that your spouse can see that look on your face, can feel disappointment, and can sense a retraction of love, just like the young ballerina who is struggling to get it right, and really just wants you to love her.