What Cherishing Your Spouse Really Means

Newly married couple in a field; husband is kissing his wife's cheek
Seth Mourra/Stocksy

Wayne Williams grew up a Chicago Cubs fan because that was his father's favorite team, which also meant that for most of Wayne's life he lived as a frustrated sports enthusiast. At the time, the Cubs had the longest World Series drought in the major leagues, but even so, at the start of every season Wayne and his father renewed a promise to each other: When (not if, but when) the Cubbies made it to the World Series, they would listen to the games together.

Chicago finally made it during the 2016 season, and Wayne resolved to keep the promise he had made as a boy, even though it would be costly. He now lived in North Carolina. His dad was in Indiana. It would have been easy to discard the agreement as sentimental foolishness, but Wayne believes a promise made is a promise kept, so he traveled to Indiana to share the last game of the World Series with his father.

But there was another hitch: Wayne's dad died in 1980. So Wayne put a lawn chair next to his father's grave and watched the game on his iPhone for the next four and a half hours.

I love stories of people keeping difficult promises. There's something especially noble about a person being true to his or her word, even at great cost.

Perhaps that's why I was taken aback when God reminded me of a promise I had made on my wedding day: I had vowed to "love and to cherish" my wife until death brought us apart.

For more than 20 years, I had focused on love — serving, sacrificing, persevering — but had conveniently forgotten to consider what it meant to cherish my wife. God made it clear that it was time to be true to my word. But first, I had to figure out what cherishing even meant.

A new delight

One of the easiest ways for me to discover the difference between loving and cherishing was to compare the famous biblical chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13) with the Song of Solomon, a book devoted to cherishing. Consider these comparisons:

Love is about being gracious and altruistic. "Love is patient and kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4). Cherish is about being enthusiastic and enthralled. "How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice" (Song of Solomon 4:10).

Love tends to be quiet and understated. "Love does not envy or boast" (1 Corinthians 13:4). Cherish boasts boldly and loudly. "My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand" (Song of Solomon 5:10).

Love thinks about others with selflessness. "[Love] is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way" (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Cherish thinks about its beloved with praise. "Your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely" (Song of Solomon 2:14).

Love doesn't want the worst for someone. "[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Cherish celebrates the best in someone. "Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful" (Song of Solomon 1:15).

Love puts up with a lot. "[Love] hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). Cherish enjoys a lot. "His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable" (Song of Solomon 5:16).

Love and cherish complement each other. Without the bedrock force of love, cherishing won't last. It'll be a sentimental ideal that is lost in the real world. Without cherishing, love feels like a duty more than a delight. I don't want my wife to think I'm with her only because God says I'm not allowed to leave; I want her to think my greatest delight is sharing life with her.

Men, our wives want more than simply to be loved. They want to hear, "You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes" (Song of Solomon 4:9). And wives, your husbands want more than to be tolerated. They want to hear, "As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men" (Song of Solomon 2:3).

Dave Wilson, co-founder of Kensington Community Church, asked seven male leaders, "How many of you have a wife who loves you?" and every man raised his hand to signify yes. He then asked, "How many of you have a wife who likes you?" and every hand went down.

Every husband felt loved. None felt cherished.

The only one

You are the only person in the world who can make your spouse feel cherished in this way. Others can love, respect, appreciate and praise him or her. But if you don't cherish as a husband or wife should, your spouse will never be a cherished spouse.

I believe God wants to raise the level of Christian marriages so that we're not just gritting our teeth and hanging on but instead learning to celebrate and honor each other.

The good news is that cherishing your spouse is something you can learn. God is more than capable of teaching us and empowering us to cherish our spouse the way He cherishes us.

Cherishing is an attitude and an outlook. Since it's not based just on feelings, it can be developed. Committing to the promise to cherish, adopting a cherishing mindset and then putting into practice cherishing actions creates a cherishing heart. These are all things that can be chosen.

The right mindset

I had to adopt what I call an "Adam and Eve" mindset. One thing that kills cherishing is comparing one's spouse with anyone else. The tendency is to compare a spouse's weaknesses with someone else's strengths. In the beginning, Eve was literally the only woman in the world, the one who defined what a woman was to Adam. I began praying for that mindset with my wife. I would not expect her to be anything other than what she is. She would be my Eve, the only woman in the world.

A 1-carat diamond would be the envy of most wives in the town I grew up in. It would pale in comparison to the 6-carat diamond a friend of ours received for her 20th anniversary. Comparison can devalue even things of great worth.

The right actions

After committing to my promise and adopting an Adam and Eve mindset, I set about discovering acts that create a cherishing heart.

One of the most effective things I did was spend 2016 filling in a daily journal. Each morning I'd write something my wife had done the previous day for which I was thankful, or I'd praise a certain quality of hers. When you begin every day thanking your husband or wife and celebrating him or her, it shapes your attitudes and you view your spouse differently (and the journal doubles as a meaningful Christmas gift at the end of the year).

I also decided to marshal the power of biology and make our morning hugs last a little longer. Neurologically, hugging releases oxytocin, a neuropeptide often called the "cuddle chemical" that fosters feelings of closeness and bonding. No more perfunctory good-morning hugs for me. Taking just another 30 to 45 seconds made a difference in how much I cherished my wife.

If a woman cherishes an engagement ring or a man cherishes a new car, what does he or she do? Shows it off ! Likewise, I looked for opportunities to showcase my wife's best qualities to others, praising her publicly, bringing her up in conversations and making sure she was noticed in group settings. And sometimes, I just sat back and observed with great joy as I saw God use her to bless others.

The benefits of cherishing

Here's what I've found out about cherishing: The more I deliberately choose actions that cherish my wife, the more I experience positive emotions toward her, which encourages me to cherish her even more. It's like getting a ball rolling downhill; cherishing picks up its own speed. Infatuation is exactly the opposite. It's like a ball rolling on a level surface; it slows down until it completely stops.

The second thing I've found out about cherishing is that life is much more pleasant when you cherish the person you live with. After I had completed the book Cherish, I was working in my office when I heard Lisa waking up. The best way to describe what happened next is that my heart leaped. I knew she'd get a drink of water, shuffle down the hall to my office, come up to my chair and give me a hug, and I also knew that more days than not, this would be one of the highlights of my day.

I started cherishing Lisa because God reminded me of a promise and impressed upon me the need to do it. But like so many things in the kingdom of God, obedience brings tremendous blessing. We receive much joy when we are empowered by God to do what He calls us to do.

A tale of two wives

I once met a man who had been married twice — both wives died of illness. His first marriage had been rather traditional. He loved his wife, was committed to her and never mistreated her. He decided to treat his second wife like a "princess," even calling her that. He told me that his second marriage was more fulfilling, more intimate and happier than his first, but it wasn't because his second wife was "better" than his first. In terms of spiritual maturity, relational availability and demeanor, they were, according to him, "about the same." The difference is that he loved his first wife but sought to cherish his second wife.

Some people think the best way to improve their marriage is to change their spouse. This man field-tested a different theory and found it to be quite effective. Instead of changing your spouse, change your attitude. Raise the bar. Don't just love your spouse. Learn how to cherish your spouse, and you'll enjoy your marriage like never before.

Gary Thomas is the author of Cherish: The one word that changes everything for your marriage.

Based on research and experience from Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Focus on the Family has created valid and reliable questions that evaluate the strength of your marriage. Take our free assessment now. 

This article first appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Rediscover the Forgotten Wedding Vow." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2018 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission.

You Might Also Like:

  • Faith Conversations: Honoring Marriage

    Jennifer Aaron

    How we talk about our spouse and our marriage matters. Let’s consider that, especially when we're involved in a conversation in which spouses are being bashed or divorce is being suggested.

  • The Intimacy of Prayer

    Ted Cunningham

    Praying with your spouse intensifies and strengthens your spiritual bond. When you pray together, your vulnerability with your heavenly Father deepens and enriches your marriage relationship.

  • Are You Kind to Your Husband?

    Shaunti Feldhahn

    Shaunti Feldhahn shares from the results of her recent research, pointing out that she found the answer to having a great marriage was simple—be kind.