Do You Love Your Spouse Or Do You Love Yourself?

I Love Me Written inside a Heart Drawn in SandA few years ago Donald Miller got engaged to a woman named Paige. I don’t know either of them personally I assume that by this point they are enjoying marriage together. Donald Miller’s name may or may not be familiar to you. He’s written several books, including Blue Like Jazz, and is a popular conference speaker and blogger. I confess that I have never read his books although I do know many people who seem to benefit from them.

I came across one of his posts (“What are You Looking for in a Spouse? Why not Create a List?”) in which he gives a list that his fiancee had made that described what she was looking for in a husband. According to Miller, she made the list to help her weed out people who didn’t fit the criteria that she deemed important. I would agree that putting thought into the kind of person you want to marry is a smart idea. Otherwise you might get caught up in the moment and forget your convictions on what makes a good husband or wife.

But I have to admit that as I was glancing through the list of what she wanted in a husband, I couldn’t help but thinking of Paul Tripp’s book on marriage What Did You Expect? Here’s her list as it appeared on Miller’s blog:

I want someone who…- loves God with his whole heart.

– wants to talk to me everyday, 30 times a day if that’s what I need that day.

– can’t wait to see me again

– is always thinking about me

– surprises me, in good ways from the little to the big

– plans dates for me

– follows through on what he says he’s going to do

– is consistent in his actions and behavior

– doesn’t disappear

– reassures me of his feelings for me with his actions and words

– wants the whole world to know how he feels about me, isn’t afraid to show it or say it

– puts me first, after God.

– is not afraid of my sensitivities, scars and wounds but wants to be a part of healing them

– always makes time for me no matter what else is going on.

– pursues me

There are undoubtedly some helpful things on this list and all of the entries have their place. And yet there’s something about the overall feel of this list that concerned me.

In chapters 11-12 of his book Tripp takes a look at what real biblical love looks like in a marriage. I find both chapters to be very, very convicting mainly because they expose how much I fall short of loving my wife. One of Tripp’s points in these chapters is that we often confuse gospel centered love with self love. Sometimes (maybe often) we love other people because of what they do for us or how they make us feel.

For example a man might think that he loves a woman because she’s beautiful but that might be self love. Maybe he “loves” her because her physical beauty makes him feel better about himself. To the extent that’s true he doesn’t love her but rather loves himself. Or the same kind of thing can happen in the area of emotional connection. You might think that you love a person because the two of you just “click” and he/she is so easy to be with. But maybe that love is really “self love” and what you really enjoy are the benefits of a relationship without having to work hard developing it. We can imagine all kinds of additional ways that self love might masquerade as true love: a man marries a woman because of family expectations or a woman loves a man because she thinks that he’ll provide security.

Looking back at the list above, it’s relatively easy to see that there MIGHT be a problem. If I read it correctly, it seems that she is looking for a husband that will make her feel good about herself. I say all this conditionally because I don’t know either of these people personally and don’t want to jump to conclusions based on one blog post.

But regardless of Donald and Paige’s relationship, I see the drift to self love in my own life. I’m always tempted to say that I love my wife when I’m really probably only loving myself. That kind of self love stands in stark contrast to the self-sacrificing love of Christ described in 1 John 4. Here’s how Tripp defines this gospel love:

Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.

He then goes on to unpack that definition and give concrete examples.

So I guess that in one sense this is plug for Tripp’s book. But in another sense this is a call to both you and me in all our relationships to see the difference between self love and Christlike love and move from here to there.

*Originally posted Oct. 8, 2015


  1. Judy Sheppard said:

    I agree with your position. My husband and I had been rejected twice due to unfaithfulness of our spouse. Without knowing this fact, each of us petitioned God to help us remain pure, discerning, and allow Him to do the choosing if He desired each of us to remarry. We were acquaintances but not a “couple”. God led me to share my feelings with him, and after much Scripture research and prayer, he proposed to me. We had never dated nor kissed. After pastoral counseling we married six weeks later and will soon be married 27 years. We trusted God then and now.

  2. Thanks for the post, Keith.

    Two questions. One, how does one tell if he loves particular things about his spouse because of self-love rather loving those things because they are intrinsically, legitimately enjoyable? Second, how does one prevent himself from having a hard time actually enjoying the marriage because of the fear that the enjoyment could be self-love?

  3. Shannon Spurling said:

    That list. Wow. I am so sorry she is going to be so disappointed. Don’t need to know the guy to know he will never be able to meet all those requirements. I guess the question should be, how will she respond when she realizes that she married a sinful human? She sure has given herself a lot of ways to become disenchanted with a poor wretch who may be giving his all, but may still fall way too short to cover half the list. I wonder what his list would look like.

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