I knew a girl in college who had recently gotten married. She was pretty young at the time, just barely out of her teens. But, according to her, she had met the love of her life. They hadn’t been dating for very long, but the chemistry between them was out of this world, she said. They just had to get married because they were burning with passion. In fact, now that they were married—they were having crazy, hot sex several times a day. She was just gushing about this new relationship and this young man who had swept her off her feet.

On one hand, I was trying to wrap my brain around this relationship that had happened so fast. How well did they actually know each other? How committed was this guy? How did things progress to the point of marriage so fast? But on the other hand, part of me was a little jealous. This passionate relationship of hers was one that I longed for. From my perspective as a 20-year-old virgin, it sounded pretty good!

I lost touch with my friend for a while, but when we reconnected years after college she was in a far different place than the last time I had saw her. This time, she was divorced. Her life had taken a turn for the worse, and her relationship with the “love of her life” had ended in infidelity, heartbreak and a whole lot of pain.

My heart went out to her, and still does. Though she is now picking the pieces of her life back together, the prospect of finding true love came at a high cost. The truth of the matter is that everyone reading this post probably knows of someone who has gone through a similar sort of situation. Sadly, we all know of a couple whose marriage has lost its love.

Passion has turned to passivity.

Romance has turned into regret.

Commitment has turned into criticism.

Love is no longer love at all.

My heart breaks when I hear stories like this—especially among followers of Christ. It breaks because of the realization that sometimes, we go into this thing called marriage extremely ill-prepared. In fact, at Christian college, I often heard people talk of a couple’s marriage plans in terms of “how long can they wait to have sex” as though that was the determining point of when to get married, rather than the bigger picture of creating a healthy, nourished, God-honoring relationship that would stand the test of a lifelong commitment.

When it comes to pursuing true love, so many times our focus as Christian young adults is caught up in the romance, the sex, the chemistry that we’re looking to one day have while neglecting the things that really matter most at the end of the day and forgetting the very things that make up an incredible marriage.

I often hear the verse in 1 Corinthians 7:9 misinterpreted to mean that if you can’t control your sexual desires, just go ahead and get married so that you can channel your sex drive into your marriage. But what a partial interpretation that is because there is so much more to the story. Marriage is about so much more than having sex.

John Piper puts it this way in one of his sermons:

When a person seeks to be married, knowing that as a single he or she would “burn with passion,” it doesn’t have to mean that marriage becomes a mere channel for the sex drive. Paul would never mean that in view of Ephesians 5.

Instead when a person marries … he takes his sexual desire, and he does the same thing with it that we must all do with all our physical desires if we would make them means of worship—1) he brings it into conformity to God’s word; 2) he subordinates it to a higher pattern of love and care; 3) he transposes the music of physical pleasure into the music of spiritual worship, 4) he listens for the echoes of God’s goodness in every nerve; 5) he seeks to double his pleasure by making her joy his joy; and 6) he gives thanks to God from the bottom of his heart because he knows and he feels that he never deserved one minute of this pleasure.

Having sex is but a speck in the picture of true marriage, because marriage is a call to lose your entire life for the sake of another.

The truth is, sex is the easy part. The harder part is everything else.

A strong marriage is built on foundation of love, service, and grace—in essence, a list of actions that speak so much louder than words. Real marriage is not simply based on crazy hot sex. It is rooted in the tiny little decisions made in the day-to-day. It is rooted in forgiveness and letting go of wrongs. It is founded in encouragement, edification and lifting each other up. It is grounded in humility and respect. It is built on qualities that reflect nothing less than the heart of God—loving His bride to the point of giving away His very life.

It is a love that gives all, but asks for nothing less than all in return. It is a love that is built on choice—in the easy moments, and even more in the really hard moments.

Don’t sell yourself short on the picture of what a real marriage is. Choose to engage in a relationship that reflects love on every single level.

A version of this article originally appeared on truelovedates.com. Used with permission.

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