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As vitamins nourish and strengthen your body, so are these potent phrases to your relationship. And they come with the following guarantee: If you begin using them on a regular basis, the results will be profound. Measurable. That’s a promise.

Number One: I love you.

During my high school years, when I worked at DuPage Photo and Hobby Shop, I became quite the connoisseur of greeting cards. Hallmark had just released its hilarious Contemporary card line (twenty-five cents each), and our store had a terrific selection of them. One of my favorites had a classic illustration of a woman reclining on a chaise lounge. She had this passionate look on her face, and the card read: “Please tell me those magic three words I’ve been longing to hear from you.” Inside, the card read: “Scratch my back.”

Although that one also still makes me smile, as you know, those aren’t the magic three words at all. The real ones are: “I love you.”

Of course, the impact of these words is clear to everyone. You can flip on your TV and hear a guy going on and on about how much he “loves” his Toyota. Or you can go to a sporting event and hear the fans yell and scream about how much they “love” the Dodgers. You may hear a woman exclaim to her friend how much she “loves those new shoes.”

But there’s nothing to compare with the power when two people are romantically gazing into each other’s eyes, and one of them says, “I love you.” Or when a telephone conversation with someone special ends with “I love you.” Or when you say to your mate over dinner, with all the tenderness and sincerity you can muster, “I love you.”

Remember that “I love you” must be spoken in its entirety and does not count if delivered on the run. A breathless “Love ya” shouted over your shoulder as you dash out of the house with a toasted bagel in one hand and your computer case in the other doesn’t count.

Some Extra Dosage

Many years ago, the marriage expert Walter Trobisch wrote a book called Love Is a Feeling to Be Learned. The title says it all, doesn’t it? Years later, a book was published with the same big idea tucked into its title: Love Is a Decision.

If we said “I love you” only when we had chills running up and down our spines, as we did the first time we held hands, we would rarely say it at all. Why? Because getting through a day—and much less a life—means a lot of hard work, daily interruptions, and drudgery: “Clean out the garage.” “You’re late.” “What’s for dinner?” “Are we there yet?” “Oh no, I think I’m going to be sick.”

Add to that, sometimes people act in such a way—whining, arguing, silent, disobedient, distant—that makes them quite unlovable.

The titles of these books remind us that love is something we decide on and learn about and work on. Love is not something we hold out for until everything is in perfect order and the feeling hits us. No, “I love you” means that regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what has happened, you can count on me.

Let’s pretend that you and I are sitting across the desk from the most popular marriage counselor in town. We ask her about this. “How many couples tell you that their marriage is in trouble because ‘We never loved each other in the first place’?”

The counselor gives us a knowing smile and tells us that many—in some cases, most—of her clients say exactly that.

Are her clients lying? No. This is really how they feel. But what they’re actually saying is, “I don’t have that same tingle I had when we first met [or] . . . when we announced our engagement [or] . . . when we got married. It’s been so long that I don’t remember the last time I had that feeling.”

After almost forty-five years of marriage to my late wife Bobbie, and two years of marriage to Nancy, I fully understand this. “I love you” is really “I love you . . . anyway.” “I love you . . . regardless.” “I love you . . . and that’s final.” This is something that comes from our minds as well as our hearts. It’s a feeling to be learned, a conscious decision we make.

Number Two: I need your love.

It’s one thing to tell your husband that you love him, but what if you want him to say it to you . . . and he just doesn’t? This vitamin will fix that problem.

Very early in my marriage, I learned a painful lesson about unmet expectations. No, actually, I learned many painful lessons about unmet expectations.

For example, one of the things my dad did every year was to give my mother something nice for Christmas. Something practical. As kids, we watched my mother lift a bathrobe or a new blouse out of the box, hold it up with admiration, and with appreciation say, “Oh, Samuel, thank you sooo much.”

Question: Do you suspect that I entered marriage with certain expectations?

My late wife’s dad, on the other hand, bought her mother not-so-practical and over-the-top gifts like an expensive sil­ver coffee service or a sleek new convertible. Gifts she did not ask for, expect, or particularly need.

Question: Do you suspect that Bobbie entered our mar­riage with expectations?

Another example: When her family was on a road trip, Bobbie’s dad—who was always the driver—pulled the fam­ily car over for short diversions. “Scenic Lookout Ahead” or “Pecan Pralines at Stuckey’s” or “Flea Market Next Exit” meant an immediate adventure.

It was get off the interstate, find a parking spot, and enjoy. Every time.

Question: Do you suspect that Bobbie entered marriage with expectations about car trips?

My dad considered the time saved on road travel like money in the bank—every precious minute passed at a gas station, like a lost jewel. If we kids weren’t back from the potty by the time the tank was filled, we believed the family car would leave without us. This never happened because we never dared to dawdle.

Question: Do you suspect that I entered marriage with different expectations?

After a few years of silent frustration about these and other unmet expectations, my wife and I finally talked. “I need some help in selecting gifts at Christmas,” I admitted to her. “I was sure you’d like that hair dryer. I didn’t know it would make you cry. I feel as if I failed you on Christmas Day, and I need help.”

That gave her the freedom, later on, to say to me, “I would like our car trips to be more fun. I need for you to stop at more rest stops even if we don’t make great time.”

The point is this: In every marriage, people have expec­tations. Often these go unmet because no one expresses them. So we mope around, stewing over the fact that our mate isn’t doing what we need them to do. Sadly, most mates are seriously inept at mind reading!

“I need your love” is about putting our unmet expec­tations into words. It’s the unashamed admission that our relationship is a two-way street. I speak it with the confidence that the person I’m speaking to loves me and wants to do things that make me happy.

When I was a little boy, my mother taught me a way to communicate “I need your love” without making a sound. She had learned this from her mother.

When we were someplace where lively chatter was not appropriate—in a church service, for example—she reached over and took my hand. Then she squeezed it four times. I squeezed her hand in return, three times. She squeezed my hand twice. And I finished the wordless exchange with one final really big squeeze.

Here’s the translation:

“Do you love me?” Four words, four squeezes.

“Yes, I do.” Three words, three squeezes.

“How much?” Two squeezes.

One last hand-crushing grip. No explanation necessary.

I taught my daughters this little game and, now in their forties, we’ve probably done the “love squeezes” a thou­sand times.

Some Extra Dosage

I remember vividly the day a good friend of mine called to share something that was troubling him. He told me that he suspected—at that very moment—that his wife was packing her things into her car and leaving him! The mother of four children was running away from home.

As it turned out, he was right. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from her. She wrote that she’s not off on some short-term fling, but that she’s gone forever and never going back.

She fulfilled that promise.

In the years that followed, my friend and I talked about what had happened. In every situation like this, there are plenty of complex issues and two-way failures. One of the things that was clear to me—and to him—was that my friend’s wife was living with a truckload of unmet expectations.

Because, like most men, my friend wasn’t world-class at reading his wife’s signals or subtle hints, he had missed most of these opportunities to meet his wife’s needs. And she had neglected to verbalize her needs and expectations to him.

This “I need your love” statement is about daring to tell the ones you love that their expression of love for you is important and the best way for them to convey it. Suffering in silence or harboring resentment is not a viable option.

When was the last time you spoke these two things in your marriage relationship?

 

Dr. Robert Wolgemuth has authored more than twenty books on marriage and father­hood. After almost 45 years of marriage, the Lord called his wife Bobbie home. In the years following her death, Robert married Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and he continues authoring and ministering on family issues. You can learn more about Robert and Nancy’s ministry work at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Adapted from The Most Important Place on Earth: What a Christian Home Looks Like and How to Build One by Robert Wolgemuth, copyright © 2004 by Robert D. Wolgemuth (Thomas Nelson). Used by permission.