Remember the days before you were married? Remember the freedom of doing whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted? You answered only to yourself, and that was pretty much it.
Then you fell in love. All of a sudden you had to say no to yourself with respect to freedoms, choices, and preferences that you enjoyed in your previous life. You had to consider someone else’s feelings and desires, which can be a painful way of life.
This way of life is called self-denial. Simply put, self-denial is the practice of postponing, or even giving up, activities and attitudes that block love and connection. In great marriages, self-denial is a daily way of living, relating, and thinking. And it’s one of the most important keys to love.
A loving and well-thought out attitude of self-denial will mean giving up things like these:
- The comfort of detachment.
Love requires the effort of making an emotional connection, even when you least feel like it. It’s very natural to disconnect when you’re stressed, tired, or upset with your spouse, and at times you do need ‘me’ time. But more often, you need to deny yourself the choice of withdrawing from the relationship. Getting out of your comfort zone and connecting on the relationship’s terms, not your own, helps generate love and close feelings.
- Your dreams and desires.
At times, one partner will need to postpone a good dream or legitimate desire for the sake of connection. For example, a wife might delay developing her career while she raises the kids. Or a husband might live in a city that is not best for his career, but best for the marriage and family.
- The right to demand fairness.
When both partners insist on playing fair, they enter into legalistic, loveless emptiness. Give more than you receive in your love life, and deny yourself the demand of fairness. Don’t get put out if you end up going to the basketball game with him more than he goes to the symphony with you. Love gives up keeping score in order to gain connection and compassion.
- Saying whatever you want.
Learn to deny the strong urge to say to your mate exactly what you feel when you feel it. Partners hurt each other deeply when they assume carte blanche to say anything to each other. Instead, first ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if he said that to me?‘ This sort of approach also includes denying yourself the privilege of confronting every little thing your mate does. As Proverbs 19:11 says, ‘A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.’
Self-denial is like the economic laws of saving and investing money: Those people who can be patient and wait will always reap the greatest payoffs in the long run.