I don’t have to tell you what day it is. If you own a television, radio, have internet access or get a newspaper, you know that today is Valentine’s Day and if you didn’t get your sweetheart a card, flowers, chocolate or jewelry, they won’t love you anymore. At least that’s what the advertisers would like you to believe.

But let’s face it: love is a risk. When you put your whole heart into a relationship, there is always a chance, usually a good one, that you will get hurt at some point. Because we’re all human and we all mess up and we all hurt the ones we love whether we intend to or not. And sometimes, sometimes the ones we love are taken from us too soon. Before we’ve had the chance to fully express how much we love them.

Today, a very dear friend of mine is burying her husband of 41 years. I’ve never seen a couple like them before. There was such a strong aura of respect between them, it was awe-inspiring to watch. This woman has been one of the single biggest spiritual influences of my adult life and watching her love her husband, pray for him, treat him with such devotion, kindness and respect – well, she made me – makes me – want to be a better wife.

Now, every marriage is different. As unique as the individuals in them. And that is partially why I struggle with self-help books and advice for marriages. True, there are universal concepts that apply to all love relationships, but when it comes to loving your spouse, don’t you need to love them the way they need to be loved? I think that is the key difference in marriages that last and ones that don’t. Do you know your spouse well enough to know that instead of flowers on Valentine’s Day, she’d rather you just sit down and put your arm around her for an hour or so and just talk? Do you know your spouse well enough that instead of that bottle of cologne, maybe he’d just like for you to surprise him and take him to lunch? Do you love your “other” the way they need to be loved? I remember reading the Love Languages book for marriage and that’s basically the concept to which I’m referring here, but it needs to be even more personal, more intimate than the generic ideas of a book.

And there are always risks. In everything in life. Especially in love. There are no guarantees that we will have another day together. There are no guarantees that something won’t upset our familiar and easy routines. We will disagree. We will become aggravated with one another. We will show our ugly sides. And sometimes, when that’s all there is, when there is no more trying to love your spouse the way they need to be loved, marriages crumble. That’s what they mean when they say, “Marriage is work.” because it is. It is our human nature to put ourselves first. Always. Look out for #1. So it’s work to put someone above yourself. But it’s the only way it works. It’s the only way it lasts. Risky? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

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