One of the most common pieces of advice is for husbands to tell their wives, “I love you” when things have gone awry. (Trigger warning)
This is why that’s a bad idea:
The word “love” is equated with action.
So in imbalanced, or sin-driven marriages, “I love you” means: I love how you make me feel, I love what you do for me.
It might mean: I want more. More intimacy. More ego-stroking. More respect. More control. More submission. More. More. More. From you.
I love you means, “Tonight I will get what I want.”
As one woman said, “I don’t want the love he has to give. When he says ‘I love you,’ it makes me sick to my stomach.” And she’s not wrong. There is a trauma response associated with those words. Hearing or reading them brings intrusive memories of flying spit, force, rage, loud yelling, flying objects, crying children, tears, upraised hands, begging for mercy. Love is a dangerous word.
Actions associated with trust, protection, and kindness, however, are a balm. They are the opposite of “me.” They are focused on “you.” You are my priority. Your safety, space, dignity, and desires are important to me. I will honor your requests. I hear your voice. You are a person separate from me, with different needs, wishes, and desires. I choose to come under and serve your needs, not for my sake, but for yours. I desire to provide for you–even apart from myself. I relinquish my desire to be the center of your world, especially if I am not best or seeking your best. I will no longer tell you I love you or demand it from your lips. You are free.
This is the love of Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection says, “You are my priority. Your safety, space, dignity and desires are important to me. I hear your voice. I will lift your requests to my Father. You are a person with choices, wishes, needs, and desires. I choose to give my all to serve your greatest need, not just for My sake, but yours. I desire to use what I have to provide for your needs. I give you the opportunity to choose me–each and every day–or to do life on your own, but I am here waiting. I will not force myself or my will on you, but I will join and enable you as you desire to walk with me.”
The story is told of a slave girl purchased by Abraham Lincoln. She stepped down from the block and followed him through the crowd. At that point he turned to her, “You are free.”
“Free to think what I want to think?”
“Yes, you are free to think what you want to think.”
“Free to say what I want to say?”
“Yes. You are free to say what you want to say.”
“Free to go where I want to go?”
“Yes, you are free to go where you want to go.”
“Then, sir, I want to go with you.”
True love is freedom–freedom to love God and others–freedom to be the person God created her to be.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, we also are in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and yet he hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother and sister whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God must also love his brother and sister. (1 John 4:15-21)