Everyone wants to be in love.
At least we say we do, and usually mean it. But often it’s about what we want love to do for us: make us happy, fulfill us, provide stability. We don’t always realize that love and all its benefits aren’t free; they come with a cost. They require us to change, grow, work and often sacrifice.
I knew when starting a relationship that it would take some effort. But now that I’m engaged and preparing for marriage, I’m noticing the cost more and more. Don’t misunderstand me, because I still believe love is well worth the cost that we put into it. Nonetheless, to paraphrase Jesus, we would be foolish to enter in without first counting the cost and making sure we’re prepared to pay it. Here is what love has required of me so far.
Healthy relationships require clear communication between both parties. Sometimes we don’t want to communicate — sometimes it’s even painful to do so — and yet we still need to.
I’ve noticed this especially as a man. The cliché is that men get by on as few words as possible, and we avoid talking about things unless we absolutely need to. Another cliché is that women expect men to intuitively understand things (feelings, expectations) that we really don’t get unless they’re articulated to us clearly. So in relationships, both of us need to put aside our pride and reservations (that’s the cost of making it work) and talk about things openly and directly — even when we don’t want to, or don’t think we should have to.
“Do we really have to talk about THAT incident? Should I even bring it up?”
“Do I really have to spell THAT out for him? Shouldn’t it be obvious?”
Yes, you do need to communicate. This can be hard, but it makes things much clearer and helps us grow together in understanding.
Companionship is wonderful; it’s one of the main benefits of a relationship. But it can also require a cost.
Personally, I’m an introvert. I was used to having my space, my alone time, and my independence for years while single. But now in my relationship, I’ve had to rework things: my schedule, free time, commitments and even my independence. There are certain things I used to do on a whim (hobbies, events) that I can’t just do all the time anymore. There’s a constant companion who I need to factor in to my schedule, routine and plans. And though she brings great happiness and joy into my life, she also requires me to make sacrifices to spend time with her and meet her needs. Mind you, it’s not that my fiancée demands that I make these sacrifices. I do so voluntarily, sometimes automatically, because that’s what it takes to make the relationship work.
Additionally, spending so much time with another person means you’ll see each other’s quirks and flaws up close, and you’ll probably get tired of each other occasionally. But it also brings love, support and closeness that little else in this life can offer.
Similarly, relationships require compromise. They require giving of yourself, of your own time and energy and resources, to build a lasting, shared commitment. Being in a relationship, I’ve had to set aside my pride and selfishness — to let someone else into my life, to listen to her ideas and feelings, to care for her and look after her just as for myself. This has proven a great responsibility, but also a great joy.
While single, I was hesitant to commit to this kind of self-sacrifice. I don’t buy into the cultural lie that relationships take away all of your freedom. But still it’s true that I’ve had to change some of my ways of doing things, sacrifice some of my free time, do some things her way, and let her do some things for me that I was used to doing myself.
We’re selfish creatures, and my selfishness sometimes bristles at these compromises. I’m not even married yet, and I’m sure that marriage will require even greater compromises of me. But Christianity is already about dying to self, giving up your own rights, and learning to serve and love others. This is why marriage has often been called “the great sanctifier.” Because even though it hurts and requires sacrifice, love makes us more selfless and makes us more like Christ, whom we’re called to follow.
Love is wonderful and essential, but it also has a cost. Before you begin a relationship, count the cost and be sure that you’re prepared to pay it. And when you do, I think you’ll find the rewards are well worth it.