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What Does It Mean to Tell Your Spouse, I Love You 

This article provides biblical definition to these words by rooting them in the model of God’s love for His people.

Jun 8, 2023

The Question 

It became obvious to Dr. Jay Adams that many of his married counselees did not understand the concept of love. Most had been influenced by their culture to respond to the question, “What does it mean to love your spouse?” with a feeling explanation. In his marvelous little pamphlet, “What to Do When Your Marriage Goes Sorrow,”1Adams, Jay. What to Do When Your Marriage Goes Sower. P & R Publishing (May 1, 1992) he answered this question by pointing out the example of God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). This love was acted out “In while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Adams concludes that while feelings are important, love is primarily an action to benefit the other.   

Have you ever asked yourself, “When I tell my spouse I Love you, what am I really saying?” I’ve asked this question of myself and others. In most instances, the answer in substance sounds a lot like a popular psychology book or the climax to a Hall Mark movie after “following your heart.” I appreciate you, enjoy you and desire your company are the better answers that are proffered. 

God’s Model 

If you are a Christian and operate from a biblical worldview, you should formulate your answer following God’s model.  Think about it. What are you saying with those three wordsI love you? If you are following God’s model, here is what you mean. 

I Choose You!

Think about Abraham. God comes to him as a pagan and calls him to come out from his people to a land God has chosen for him and his progeny (Genesis 12 & 17). As we follow the journey of Israel throughout the Old Testament, we find this affirmation of God’s choosing: “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you…” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). 

When we turn to the New Testament from Jesus to Paul, we are repeatedly told that God chose us to be in a relationship with Him. Jesus said, “No one comes unto me unless the Father calls him (John 6:44). Paul says, “Just as He chose us in Him (Jesus Christ) Ephesians 1:3-4). 

When I say I love you, I tell my wife, “I choose you above all else and everyone else.” 

I Am Committed to You.

The promise of Genesis 3:15. as one commentator observed, leaves no doubt, “No one reading the Bible can miss the connecting threads: God is doing something in the history of Israel that has its genesis in a promise given in Eden. God committed to Adam and Eve that she would bear a redeemer. God would provide a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13).”2Unfortunately, I no longer have the reference for this quote. To whomever, I express my appreciation. 

 Paul says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). 

When I tell my wife, “I love you,” I tell her, you can count on me. I am committed to you. I ware this ring that says to the rest of the world, “I am committed; don’t mess with me.”

I Delight in You!

The Psalmist captures the sentiment of God that permeates the Scripture. “For the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:4). The other morning at breakfast, I turned and focused on my wife. She said, “What?” I said, “I am delighting you in. You are my companion, my lover, my coworker, my co-parent, my joy….” After almost 61 years, she is the delight of my life. Of course, I frustrate her sometimes, and she me, but those are quickly covered with love. 

God tells his people frequently that He loves them (Malachi 1:1). We do well to follow that example. A study I read sometime back, probably from John Gottman, indicated that overcoming one negative interaction takes five positive affirmations. That is painstaking human research, but we should already know this if we read the Scriptures. Take time to review all the one-another passages addressed to the church, for example. 


Remember your wedding vows. Review them. Remember that you chose your spouse when you made that first covenant with God on your wedding day. Then with God as your witness, you committed to your spouse in that second covenant to keep yourself wholly for him/her, and in that third covenant, you exchanged rings as a witness to the watching world that you delight in your spouse, implying, “don’t mess with me I am committed.” Remember, these were your vows to God and your spouse in God’s presence. Tell your spouse, I love you, multiple times daily in words and actions, and in doing so, you follow the model of your God, imitating the depth of objective meaning of His words to you. 

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folman reported an interesting study regarding team performance. Here is the bottom line. 

….The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.3Zenger, Jack and Joseph Folkman, The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio. Harvard Business Review, March 16, 2013. Cited April 10, 2023. This business research comports well with John Gottman’s research.

Your marriage is a team charged with the Culture Mandate by God. This team’s bedrock is love—God’s to us and ours to each other. Each of us will contribute to keeping our team, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, functioning at peak performance in every way if we are offering each other the affirmation, I love you, frequently and mean, I choose you, I am committed to you, and I delight in you, backed by congruent behavior and physical affection.