“Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.”
Couples who nourish each other put love into action. They sacrifice by putting each other’s needs above their own. Both members of a thriving marriage strive to discover exactly what helps the other feel loved. They invest time and energy looking for ways to encourage each other according to their spouse’s love needs. Strong couples support each other’s goals and say through their actions, “You are valuable to me.”
Cherishing is an attitude, but nourishing is an action. To cherish is to love, esteem, and treasure someone in your heart. To nourish is to communicate that love in ways the other person finds meaningful. Nourishing is all about edifying or building up. It’s a question of helping your spouse achieve his or her God-given potential. The key is to encode the message in a language he or she can understand.
Effective nourishing involves four steps: 1) Exercising the will; 2) putting the will into action; 3) supporting actions with words; and 4) learning to speak your spouse’s special “love language.” Let’s take a closer look.
Nourishing is based on a resolution to identify your spouse’s strengths and find creative ways to stimulate them, draw them out, and enhance them. This isn’t something that happens automatically. On the contrary, it’s an investment you have to decide to make. This requires foresight and enough imagination to envision who and what your mate can become as you feed him or her with the proper spiritual food.
The key text here is Ephesians 5:29: “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” In this passage, Paul reminds the church that people rarely neglect their own bodies. In the same way, caring for your spouse’s needs should be seen as equally important. It’s a matter of loving your partner as you love yourself (Luke 6:31).
Bottom line: you are responsible to help your spouse become more like Christ. You’re to care about and spur his or her ongoing spiritual, mental, and emotional growth. You’re not responsible for the outcome, but you are responsible to nourish this aspect of his or her life. If you’re like most people, it’s likely that you’ve never looked at marriage in this light before. If so, you need to make up your mind to see it this way from now on.
If cherishing is an attitude, nourishing involves the actions that stem from that attitude. Just as there are some foods that are more nutritious than others, there are actions that can nourish your spouse in powerful ways. In general, they all boil down to service – the selfless, other-oriented kind of service that Jesus exemplified when He washed His disciples’ feet. As He explained, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14, 15).
The apostle Paul reflected this same mindset when he wrote to the church at Philippi:
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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus; who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:3-7)
This is what selfless service is all about.
“My little children,” wrote the apostle John, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Every husband and wife needs to learn how to put this verse into practice. But it’s important to add that this does not mean that words don’t count. They do.
Indeed, words carry great power. Genesis 1:3 tells us that God called the universe into being simply by speaking. Similarly, Proverbs 18:21 affirms that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Like God, in whose image we are made, we have the ability either to tear down or build up other people by means of the words we say. It’s a sobering thought.
Nourishing means coming alongside your mate in moments of weakness, speaking uplifting words, and offering needed support. This is why the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “encourage one another daily, while it is still called ‘Today'” (Hebrews 3:13). If you don’t provide your spouse with this kind of daily spiritual sustenance, you’re essentially starving him or her. And when that happens, the whole relationship suffers.
Finding your mate’s love language
Marriage counselor Gary Chapman says that every individual has a primary “love language.” We have to learn to speak that language if we want that person to feel loved. You can talk all you want, but until you master the correct expression there’s a good chance your spouse won’t even hear your professions of undying devotion. According to Dr. Chapman, there are five basic love languages:
Words of Affirmation. Some people thrive on being verbally recognized and acknowledged. If your spouse falls into this category, realize that he or she craves your words of spoken praise and appreciation.
Acts of Service. The old saying “Actions speak louder than words” is especially true for certain individuals. If that’syour mate, you’ll be amazed at what an impression you can make simply by taking out the trash.
Receiving Gifts. There are other folks who attach a great deal of significance to receiving gifts. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
Quality Time. Still other husbands and wives value the gift of time more than anything else. Give this person your undivided attention if you really want them to know how much you care.
Physical Touch. Finally, skin on skin contact is highly important to some individuals. If physical affection is your spouse’s primary love language, nothing will communicate your love more clearly than a simple touch or kiss.
Do you want to help your spouse grow and flourish? Then learn his or her love language and start to use it. You’ll be surprised what a difference it will make!
Questions for Discussion
What is your special “love language?” Talk about this with your spouse. Fill in the blank for each other: “I feel loved when you ________.”
What are some ways you can learn to speak each other’s love languages more effectively in the days and weeks ahead?
What does it mean to “wash one another’s feet” in the context of your marriage?