I'd like to think Carl and Ellie from the movie UP never had this problem
I’d like to think Carl and Ellie from the movie UP never had this problem

Have you ever heard of the seven stages of the married cold?

It’s one of those stories that’s been floating around for years, but it keeps coming back because it’s both funny and unfortunately true.[1]

In your 1st year of marriage, if your loving spouse gets sick, you would probably say with all sincerity – “Oh, sweetie pie, I’m really worried about those nasty sniffles you have! There’s no telling what that could turn into with all the strep that’s been going around. I’m going to take you right down to the hospital and have you admitted for a couple days of rest. I know the food is lousy there, so I’m going to bring you takeout from your favorite restaurant. I’ve already arranged it with the head nurse.”

In your 2nd year of marriage, if your spouse gets sick, you still show much loving concern – “Listen, honey, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I called the doc and he’s going to stop by here and take a look at you. Why don’t you just go on to bed and get the rest you need?”

In the 3rd year, you say – “Maybe you better go lie down, darling. When you feel lousy you need the rest. I’ll bring you something.  Do we have any canned soup around here?”

By the 4th year, you say with love – “No sense wearing yourself out when you’re under the weather. When you finish those dishes and the kids’ baths and get them to bed, you ought to go to bed yourself!”

5th year – “Why don’t you take a couple aspirin?”

6th year – “You oughta go gargle or something, instead of sitting around barking like a dog!”

And by the 7th year, you turn to the love of your life and say – “For Pete’s sake, stop sneezing. Are you trying to give me pneumonia? You’d better pick up some tissues while you’re at the store.”

If this isn’t you and your spouse, odds are you probably know someone just like this.  Most of us consider this to be the natural progression of a love relationship.  As we spend more and more time together, we tend to lose not only the fire and passion of our early days, but also that “other-centered” focus that is pretty typical at the beginning.  But have you ever wished that it wasn’t that way?  Have you ever wondered if you could rekindle that intimacy?  More time doesn’t have to equal less passion.  More time doesn’t have to equal less passion.   How we treat each other is a choice we make everyday.  It comes naturally at the beginning to be so “other-centered” because we are so busy trying to convince the other person to stay with us.  We are more sensitive, more thoughtful, more willing to compromise, but once we have been together for a while all those things seem to start to fade.  And when the relationship starts to get a little dull around the edges, when it isn’t so sparkly new and shining bright, we tend to dump it instead of work on it.

Look at the divorce rate in America.

A conservative estimate shows about 50% of first marriages end in divorce, 67% of second marriages end in divorce and a whopping 73% of third marriages end in divorce.[2]  50% of first marriages, 67% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages.  The vast majority of divorces happen to people under 30 years of age; about 80% for women and a little over 70% for men.  Couples without children are 26% more likely to divorce than couples with children.[3]  Interestingly, education seems to play a role in length of marriage.  In a study of people married during the 1980’s, college graduates who married after the age of 26 were still married 81% of the time more than 20 years later.  College graduates who married younger than 26 were only married about 65% of the time and high school graduates without an advanced degree were only married about 50% of the time if they got married under the age of 26.[4]  Here’s a statistic that I like.  According to a study, Christian couples who come to church every week have the lowest rate of divorce at 27% whereas people who only come once or twice a year or never have about a 49% incident rate for divorce.  See?  Coming to church enhances your marriage, too!  Gotta love studies like that.  But regardless of all the numbers, it simply shows us that we have a penchant for disposable relationships.  In our disposable lifestyles, we also have disposable relationships.  In our disposable lifestyles, we also have disposable relationships.

Why do you think that is? 

Why are we so willing to dump something that isn’t working?  Obviously, when we entered into the marriage we thought there was something worthwhile.  Most people think of marriage as a lifelong commitment otherwise why bother getting married?  Divorce is not only emotionally painful, but logistically difficult, too.  So when people generally enter into a marriage, it’s with this idea of “forever” in their minds.  Yet somehow we chuck it all out the window pretty quickly.  We have this notion that love will last forever.  And when it doesn’t, we either assume we were wrong about the relationship or wrong about love, but that isn’t true.  There is a way to stay in love.  Maybe not that fiery, passionate love we had at the beginning, but a love that nourishes us and makes us feel good.  Our video Bible Study group did a series on this and I thought it was so great I wanted to share it with all of you.  Andy Stanley, the guide for our Bible Study in the videos, said this, “Falling in love requires a pulse, but staying in love requires a plan.”  Falling in love requires a pulse, but staying in love requires a plan. And guess what?  God has a plan.  If you’ve got your Bibles or a Bible app on your phones, please open them up to Philippians chapter 2 beginning with verse 1.  Philippians 2:1.  In this letter to the church at Philippi, Paul is writing to them to give them encouragement to keep on growing in Christ.  Apparently, Paul had spent a lot of time in Philippi and now that he’s been thrown in prison, he’s worried that they’ll forget the lessons of Christ as they worry about what will happen to them so he’s writing this to bolster their confidence and to remind them of how Christ would have them behave toward one another.  This model of behavior isn’t just for churches, but for our everyday lives and in our marriages as well and this is where we pick up in our Bibles this morning.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

This is God’s recipe for a healthy relationship.

Take equal parts humility and equal parts concern for others and mix it together and you have the perfect recipe for a healthy relationship.  Paul reminds us that even Jesus, Jesus who is by his nature God on Earth, even Jesus didn’t take advantage of who he was to make us bend to his will.  Instead, Jesus, the creator and most powerful person in the universe, took on the attitude of a servant because he wanted to model for us the kind of life we could live if we just listened to God.  And God isn’t telling us to “take the attitude of a servant” so we can serve him or just because he said so.  That kind of thinking is making God out to be more narrow-minded and self-serving than even we are.  God gives us these life lessons to make our lives better.  But it does take faith to do it.  Faith not only in God that what he says is true, but also faith in one another.  It also takes conscious effort.  It’s not something that comes naturally to us, so we have to actively do these things.  We have to actively act in humility, to think of our partner more than ourselves, to react not in haste but in kindness, to take the attitude of a servant.  To use another Andy quote, we have to learn to make love a verb.  We have to learn to make love a verb.  Love is a choice we make every day and if we ignore that choice we will see the seven stages of the married cold become a reality in our relationships.  But if we DO actively choose to love one another, to think of them before ourselves, we can have the healthy, loving relationship we so desire.

There is always a gap between our expectations and our reality.

It’s how we fill that gap that often determines whether we are successful at making love a verb or not.  The most successful couples, the ones who report the most happiness, are the ones who fill that gap with the best of expectations.[5]  They believe the best about their spouses, even when they are wrong.  They CHOOSE to believe the best even though it’s likely not to be true.  It’s that positive attitude that ends up inspiring their significant other to become the best partner they can be and in turn give them the relationship they always hoped for.  There’s a book I’ve read that has some great ideas how you can put your spouse or significant other above yourself.  It’s called The Love Dare.  Some of you may have heard of it.  It was a big deal about five years ago, but the lessons and suggestions it has are still relevant today.  But you don’t even need a book to do this.  All you need is the willingness to put others’ needs before your own.  Think of how incredible of a world this would be if everyone thought of other people’s needs more than their own.  Challenge yourself this week to do something unexpected for those that you love.  Put their needs, their wants, and their desires above your own and see how that can brighten up their day.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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