Neuroscience tells us that the shelf-life of an infatuation is about twelve to eighteen months. It’s a nice run while it lasts, but when the slide starts, you can’t stop it. You’ve got to find something new to build.
That “something new” can be a cherishing marriage. Infatuation is built on happenstance. When it hits, we may be as surprised as anyone. Cherishing, on the other hand, is a choice. Because infatuation is passive, once it starts to fade, you can’t force it back. Cherishing is the opposite: because it’s a choice, if it starts to weaken, you can build it back up, which you’ll have to do from time to time if you want to preserve a cherishing marriage. Cherishing isn’t a one-time decision; it’s a long-term policy that needs to be renewed.
If you read the book Cherish when it first came out, now might be a good time to go back and remind yourself of the power of this one word and the difference it can make to re-set the bar of what you want out of marriage.
My goal is that those who have been married five, ten, twenty-five or even fifty years will seek to build a marriage that younger infatuated couples envy—not to spite them, but to help them.
By year five of your marriage, you know infatuation has a rather limited shelf-life, even though young couples often feel their emotions so strongly that they sometimes think they have found something more precious than mature love. Part of this is our fault as older couples; when we tolerate substandard mediocre marriages, we give young people reason to look down on what we have. Yet we have the delightful calling and wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to younger or newer couples that when infatuation fades, there’s something even better than infatuation up ahead: a cherishing marriage. Otherwise, when their infatuation fades, they may think they have nothing to look forward to and just hang in there for a few more years until they become infatuated with someone else and get a divorce to pursue the next new infatuation.
When the bar is set at “love” we’re focused on our own obligations: sacrificing, serving, being committed. Those are all good things, but cherishing lifts our sights a bit higher to celebrate each other, delight in each other, showcase each other and develop a special affection that no one else can match. It comes from holding to the promise most of us made on the day we got married (“I promise to love and to cherish until death do us part”), adopting a cherishing mindset, and unleashing practices in our marriage that build a heart and mind that truly cherishes each other.
Once we start cherishing, we don’t naturally keep cherishing, however. It has to be an ongoing commitment, which is why I’m humbly suggesting that if God challenged you with the message of Cherish that for the year 2020, you dust it off and give it another look. And if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, January is always a good time to start.
And that bit about making younger couples jealous? Let me explain.
Decades ago, my friend Dr. Greg Bledsoe was a medical student in a family practice clinic when he and the resident doctor walked into the room of an elderly female patient and her husband. The patient’s limbs were shrunk with neuromuscular disease, and she sat tilted to the side with her mouth agape, drooling.
Her husband was spry and sharp. As a young man might, Greg felt sorry that this octogenarian man was saddled with caring for such a “broken down” wife in his old age. After the husband reached up and wiped a little drool from his wife’s chin, Greg glanced down at the medical charts and saw that this couple still lived together, making the husband this woman’s primary caregiver. Greg found himself praying, “Please, God, not me, ever.”
The resident physician received a page and stepped into the hall to answer it, leaving Greg sitting alone in the exam room with this patient and her husband. Greg wasn’t far enough along in his studies to dispense medical advice so there was an awkward pause, which was eventually broken by the husband’s earnest boasting of his wife’s excellence.
You see, the husband had noticed the way Greg looked at his wife, and it hurt him that this young medical student was missing the beauty and elegance of his wife because of her current condition. He began boasting about her finest qualities and their favorite memories.
Greg reflects, “For the next ten minutes I was transfixed as this man, who moments before I had pitied, regaled me with story after story of his life together with his wife. It was incredible. What was even more incredible, however, was the change that occurred in me.
Watching this elderly man caress his wife’s hand, kiss her cheek, wipe away her drool, and joyfully recount their lives together provoked a powerful transformation of perspective within me. Gone was any semblance of pity. Instead, in its place was…envy.”
When this man simply “loved” his wife—cared for her and sacrificed for her—Greg felt sorry for him. But when he saw this husband cherish his drooling, mentally absent, severely wrinkled and elderly wife, he envied him. He realized this man had experienced and was still experiencing something special that goes far beyond personal appearance, emotional euphoria or relational “fun.”
It became apparent to Greg than when this man wiped drool off his wife’s chin, it was no different from a twenty-five-year-old flirtatiously wiping ice cream off a date’s cheek. But it was even deeper than that. This was an act of affection and giving, not asking.
This one encounter forever changed the way Greg looked at and thought about marriage. A couple of years later he asked a young woman with beautiful hair and flawless skin to be his wife, yet he knew, because of this elderly couple, that it would take decades to fully experience the joys of a mature, cherishing marriage.
A cherishing marriage is built and sustained by myriad choices, reinforced over decades so that someone becomes increasingly precious to us. What this means is that your best days as a couple can still be ahead of you. Instead of looking back wistfully, you can wake up excitedly!
Let’s rebuild our marriages to give young couples something to look forward to.
If you used traditional vows at your wedding, you made a promise to cherish your spouse. How about using 2020 to renew that promise and learn what it means to fulfill it, whether you made that promise months or decades ago?
I accepted the “Cherish challenge” some years ago to aspire to more than mere love in my marriage. When my time here on earth comes to an end, I want people to be able to say, “He didn’t just love his wife, he cherished his wife.” I want this not so that others would be impressed by me, but because I want people to see marriage really and truly can keep getting better—long past the time infatuation has flitted away.
Re-setting the bar of marriage at Cherish has transformed thousands of marriages. Will you let it build yours in 2020?
This article originally appeared here.