Are you an 18- to 30-something? If you are, then most likely you will have spent your formative years surrounded by a culture where faithfulness and commitment are not highly valued. Our generation believes we should have the freedom to dodge our obligations and stay true to only that which we deem as beneficial to our individual happiness.
But do these ideals sustain love?
Despite what we see all around us (namely promiscuity, divorce, cheating, commitment-phobes, friends with benefits and so forth), people still really want to love, date, get married and stay married. They do. Do you ever hear anyone say: “Well I’d like to date you, but about five months from now I’m really hoping you’ll cheat. If that doesn’t happen and we end up engaged or married, I’d like to get divorced, so one of us will have to start working too much, become emotionally distant or just decide it isn’t working anymore and leave.”
No, deep down people still really want to be in love and stay in love.
But to make this happen, we’ve got to start living with intentionality. What does it mean to be intentional in love, and why is it seriously vital to the health and longevity of all types of romantic relationships?
The word "intentional" is defined as, “to be done on purpose; deliberate.”
Often there isn’t purpose in love. So many people think a healthy relationship should exist in a carefree and easy manner. And as soon as things become laborious, we peace out and try to find happiness with someone else.
But as our generation is beginning to understand, this mindset does not lead to love that lasts. Long-term relationships are difficult, as two people purposefully and intentionally live out unconditional love in word and deed. If you say you want to commit to another person, whether it be dating, engagement or marriage, you will have to act out that commitment on a day-to-day basis.
"Yes" Means "No"
Intentionality is not so much about saying “yes.” Instead, it’s understanding that saying yes to a commitment or relationship means you will have to say a whole lot of uncomfortable and difficult “no’s.”
For example, saying yes to a date night means saying no to a night out with friends. It means saying no to buying a new CD for yourself, so there will be money for a date. It means saying no to work when they want you to stay late. It means saying no to answering your phone, texts or tweets and taking constant glances at the TV behind your date’s head during the course of the evening.
As Christians, we have a great life guide in the Bible. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Bible is not a list of rules, rather God wants to help us understand how to have the best relationships possible. God challenges us to say no to things like cheating, lying, sex outside of marriage, breaking promises, being selfish, acting out of anger and ignoring problems. The Word really steers us toward intentionality and making deliberate, specific choices toward lasting love.
Begin questioning how you and others live. Many patterns that society deems “normal” are often toxic to relational health. Open your eyes to things and people around you and evaluate how they live and if their relationships seem healthy. How can you make changes to your lifestyle that promote long-term love?
Try to carve out a little bit of time for Sabbath rest. As a culture, we need to start saying no to working too much. Yes, this can seem impossible when the corporate world expects us to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Almighty Career. However, if our generation doesn’t start demanding and enacting change ourselves, we’re going to become burned out, divorced and lonely people. Sadly, many of us already are.
Look Mark Zuckerberg right in the face and say, “No!” It’s not always work that takes up our relationship time. Say no to constant technological connection through Facebook, iPhones, Internet or email and begin practicing moderation. All these things can drag us away from each other and suck up moments that could be spent enriching our real relational connectedness and love.
Take a good hard look at your finances. Yep, money is important in relationships and it needs intentionality too. So many people today live beyond their means and are drowning in debt. Saying no to an excessively materialistic lifestyle can breathe new life and freedom into a relationship. Two of our favorite books are Consumer Detox by Mark Powley and Simplify by Paul Borthwick. These are great resources to learn how to be intentional with your love and your dough.
Get a babysitter. For those with kids, as hard as it is, we should start saying no to a child-centered family dynamic. Yes, we are supposed to love and care for our children—but not at the sacrifice of our marriage. A good friend of ours named Greg Dyson always shares this idea when he speaks about marriage and relationships. “I was with my wife first before my kids and I’ll be with my wife after my kids move out. She comes first!” Children don’t need obsessive parents whose only shared goal is to raise a Harvard-bound future CEO, NBA star or musical savant. Children need parents who have stable marriages and take time to nurture love.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Committed sums it up best when she says: “Love limits, almost by definition. Love narrows. The great expansion we feel in our hearts when we fall in love is matched only by the great restrictions that will necessarily follow.”
Couples will be presented with millions of little choices every day that add up to either the healthiness or fragility of their relationship. When presented with difficulty, making a choice to turn back, go home and work things out will be the monumental difference between generations past and our generation today. We can succeed in love. We can have lasting commitments. We just have to dig our heels in and start choosing to make it happen.