You vowed for better and for worse, but did you mean it? Loving your mate when they are “less than”


When you are married you will sometimes get hurt by the one who loves you most in all the world — and you will hurt them, too.

He or she will disappoint, frustrate and drive you to the outer limits of your own obedience {although you are ultimately responsible for your choices and actions and can never use Adam’s excuse!} And some days you will both lose it, like my Michael and I can, acting more like offspring of the father of lies than the Father of Love.

We fall from grace. We seek and offer forgiveness. We go on. The process and progress of learning to love each other well isn’t over till it’s over. For there will be moments that are less than love. Less than respect. Less than obedient and Godly.

Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself.
Your closest neighbor is the man or woman who wears your ring.

Jesus says to lay down your life for a friend.
Your spouse is your best friend.

Jesus says love your enemies.
Maybe sometimes it feels like your spouse is the enemy?

These commands of Jesus can be utterly beyond our reach when we look in, not up and out. Because the way of Jesus is the way of loving along life’s dusty, bumpy road filled with pebbles that wedge annoying between our own dirty toes as well as potholes deep that jar us hard.

Yet Jesus always extends grace to us. And we are called to be like Him. Extending grace to our mate.

Pouring it all over our one-flesh-other even when we think our flask is empty. When it’s the last thing we feel like doing. For there is always more fragrant nard in the deep wells within where He resides over the affairs of our hearts. We sometimes need to stand on our tiptoes and reach a little higher to find the grace hidden behind our own hurts, pride and sin. And then cover our mate’s multitudes no greater than our own sin, with love stronger than death.

Real love, not Christian platitudes.

Hard and messy.

Always a verb.

And I am not writing about habitual evil such as daily or frequent abuse, addiction or adultery. Those are things from which we must take leave if our spouse is unrepentant and unwilling to work on recovery.


But I’ve been wondering if God in His life lessons in teaching us to love doesn’t use our spouse’s less than moments to help us rise above the circumstances seen and be more than our own wounded, sinful, self-seeking self would have us be?

Lessons hurtful stretching us uncomfortable in a big way. Stretch marks becoming the pathways of grace. Birthing more Jesus in our hearts when we give love and forgiveness to our spouse whose love at the moment is less than. No matter how offended we may feel, no matter even if we feel our supposed rights were trampled. Even when our heart is breaking.

Jesus was trampled.

Jesus suffered unjustly.

Jesus kept loving.

Never once did He depart from His journey to the cross. He didn’t run away to the other side of hard where all is well. He didn’t lash out at evil hurled against Him with ugly, mean words. He rolled up his sleeves and bled out His sinless heart and He calls us to come and follow Him and do the same.

And it ain’t easy.

But He’s our brother who leads the way. He bore the pain and labored bloody crying Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Perfect Role Model.

And I don’t know if this ever happens to you and your husband but sometimes something triggers something lacking in my soul or Michael’s and we fill with sin that spills over. And then we wonder why we do the things that we desperately deplore, yet to which we can at times so easily succumb.

My own behavior baffles me. For I find myself not doing what I really want to do but doing what I really loathe. Yet surely if I do things that I really don’t want to do, I am admitting that I really agree with the Law. But it cannot be said that “I” am doing them at all—it must be sin that has made its home in my nature.
Romans 7: 15-17 


Marriage is until death do us part. And marriage is a daily death to selfishness and rising up out of the grave where stony hearts do not want to budge open. Marriage is not a walk in a pretty park everyday. Marriage will take us places we may not want to go, but in this crucible where flesh against flesh burns away impurities we must stay the course.

For marriage is helping us become more God-like, more truly loving, more sacrificial.

In the good and the bad times, sickness, health, poverty, wealth. We don’t vow to stay together as long as our partner is perfect. Then leave to find another husband or wife. Starting over. And sometimes over and over.

Marriage is a long haul with two souls longing to be loved helping each other along the way. And marriage is not a romance novel but more a reality show in your face 24/7. And when you remarry after divorce or come from a past horribly scarred, and couple yourself to another one who was broken earlier in life, like me and my Michael, what you begin with is two people in pieces.

And it can take a lifetime to fit all the pieces into a beautiful mosaic of hope, healing and love lasting. But through the mystical bond of two-becoming-one, you help put each other back together again. And you may not live happily ever after every single moment of every single day — for life is highly imperfect– but you don’t throw in the towel. Never take your ring off your finger, never walk out the door, never threaten divorce.

Jesus stayed the hard course. So must we during the less than times in marriage.

satan’s aim is to pull married couples apart, but God knows that in staying together two are better than one. Stronger. A double-barreled weapon against an enemy fierce. We cannot be each other’s cruel judge either, keeping a list of infractions a mile wide and heaven forbid we choose to punish our spouse, especially after they have sought forgiveness.

There is evil in the withholding as much as there is in the dishing out.

Jesus beckons us come. To travel the high road with Him, especially at times when we’ve fought or become disgruntled with our spouse. He lifts us from the gutter the moment we ask for help and gives us power to forgive, keep loving, and continue coming together.

If our love and commitment is only fair-weathered then we must ask ourselves is it really love at all?


For if you praise your spouse with loving words, thanking them for all that is God in them, all that is good and blesses you, but forget when things have not gone easy, then your love is cheap.

Spouses want and need to feel safe together, even after times of discord. Able to be who they are, warts and all, and yet still be loved and held in their mate’s tightest grip, not fearing that he or she will let them go because they missed the mark. Even again.

Sometimes you must be the strong one. Other times your spouse. And out of the fullness of the one the other’s soul poverty is lavished with love true, pure and costly.

We don’t just love our spouse when they do everything right, when they look great, when they are kind.

We love them all the time. Anyway. Just they way they are in all the given moments of a marriage, good and bad.

We must not say I’m done. I’m leaving. That’s defeat. And the demonic cheers.

God loves us just the way we are but He’s not content with that so He works diligently in our hearts day by day. Pruning and prodding and purposing to make us like Him. But He won’t compel us — we are not his robots but beloved children free to make our own decisions — and we must cooperate with Him, choosing to be good.

And marriage is a great classroom.

We accept and love our spouse for who they are on our wedding day — stars in eyes, visions of the honeymoon alluring — trusting God that they will pursue Him hard in life and marriage.

And we accept them in all the moments yet to be…

I would not leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from my heart
I couldn’t love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

I Love You Just the Way You Are
Billy Joel

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Related posts for you to read:

Wicked words wash away bridges in marriage plus 5 tips to repair the breach

How good do you love during the bad in your marriage — 12 tips for dealing with rough patches

Getting off the marital merry-go-round of conflict 

Build a home with hearts of love. 29 tips for growing a lasting marriage

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30 thoughts on “You vowed for better and for worse, but did you mean it? Loving your mate when they are “less than”

  1. Hits close to home this morning as I pray for a couple I love so very much. And also makes me so grateful my husband and I fought through those hard times and keep on working towards having a godly marriage. Actually headed to a marriage retreat this weekend! Blessings to you Sheila. Not reading many blogs lately but the words you share are ones I so identify with an appreciate you sharing.

    • May your weekend away, Beth, be truly blessed! Let me know how it went and what you learned. Praying with you. Hugs, my friend. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read. 🙂

  2. I agree with you. Marriage has difficult times. I don’t always like my husband, but my love is deepening. I think God intends marriage to be place where we are refined. I’m you neighbor at Inspire Me Mondays. Have a good week!

    • Marriage does refine us, Carol, if our hearts are willing to change once we see the value in becoming more like Christ…that it soooo pleases our Father who loves us like crazy AND reflects light into a dark world. Blessings to you and your husband. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. sheila, i love your post today. learning to give to your spouse the grace you want to receive…always a good thing for the long haul! blessings today:)

    i feel sad for couples when they make these promises at their weddings. they have no idea what they are promising and what they will have to go through to learn to keep their vows…or not.

    • And I was one of those couples, Martha, a long time ago, who had NO CLUE what marriage is all about. In another life when I was MUCH LESS wise, less loving, less obedient. And I lost greatly. Long before I truly understood how much God loves me and how my obeying Him shows Him I love Him. And how He blesses our obedience. And now He allows me to share my stories with others and I always pray my words hard learned go out and bless others and their marriages. Thanks for stopping in. Nice to “meet” you!!

    • Thanks, Michelle. YES God is always faithful. And it has taken me a long time to learn, after great loss, just what God means us to do in marriage. So glad He’s a patient Dad. Thanks for your link, I’ll have to check it out. 🙂 Hugs!

  4. It seems like I am the one always in need of forgiveness and for some reason my husband is always so willing to forgive. Last night after I got upset he did the dishes and cleaned up the house. I think maybe my mean words were the wrong to express my frustration, but I guess he understood where I was coming from. He understood and we forgave each other and today is a new day.

  5. Wonderful wisdom here Sheila. I’m the first in line among all those who have “less than” days. It’s so easy to expect my husband to give me grace and then get worked up into a hissy fit on his “less than” days. Good word of advice for persevering in love!

  6. Absolutely! Marriage ain’t easy, that’s for sure :). But all the hard work is worth it because it helps me understand things like grace and forgiveness and joy and sacrifice and sin and God’s incredible love for me.

  7. This really hits close to home. I’m reading the book “Boundaries in Marriage” right now with some eye opening revelations. Thank you for sharing! Found you on the #RaRa Linkup

    • Hello Amanda. Boundaries are important for us and for them. They help us to love each other well and give respect…and get respect. All the best with setting Godly ones. And…your blog name is calling to me. I was once a post traumatic woman {divorced}. Will be visiting soon. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. As always, Sheila, your words hit home in a holy way. Life with our spouse can be both a flame of love and a fire of getting burnt. I sear mine with my words sometimes. Yet he displays such God-like grace toward me. Maybe I’m more verbal and he retreats, crab-like, scuttling back to his man-cave? Whatever the reason, I can testify to grace being a challenge and a thing that stretches us right out of human skin, just as you describe:”Stretch marks becoming the pathways of grace.” Amen. Indeed they do! We all bear the scars and wounds of living in frail flesh while struggling to be Jesus-with-skin-on for one another. Thank you for this insightful piece. 🙂 x

    • You are very welcome, my friend. And thanks again for all the encouragement you give. We are all ever learning to be more like Christ, loving God and our husbands better each day.

  9. Moving through a long term commitment, loving in spite of warts, choosing to not be offended when something was clearly offensive is hard on the soul. But I believe you’re right when you remind us that Jesus loves us, warts and offensive behavior as well. If we want to be treated with God’s grace, then we should extend God’s grace! Well said, my friend!

    • Thank you much, Carol. And it is indeed hard not to react sometimes when we get hurt. BUT GOD…and our need to constantly be seeking Him, spending time with Him and choosing to be like Him.

  10. SO true — marriage is a classroom — where I learn more about myself every day! I have so many moments where I baffle myself with my attitude or reactions. Marriage is an illustration of the true love and grace God extends to us minute-by-minute 🙂 I am so thankful for a husband that is willing to help the Lord to put this broken shell of a girl back together and turn her into something beautiful. #RaRaLinkup <3

  11. Thanks for sharing this amazing post in Words of Comfort Link up. It blesses me, gives direction and encouragement to keep fighting in my position as wife. Thanks again!

    Tayrina from TGAWrites

  12. Love that Billy Joel song. And this is so true. I am not perfect and neither is my husband but through Christ we can love each other with a perfect love. A love that loves us as we are yet sees us as we one day will be.

  13. Thank you Sheila, as always you speak wisdom and truth. My heart rejoices in the fact that all of the hardships just make it easier for me to learn the love of Christ. I know he is at work to flow his grace more and more through me. I am trusting him to make me a better conduit for that. Thank you for your great encouragement to love in all cases! Cheering you on from the #RaRalinkup on Purposeful Faith.