Learning How to Say “I Love You”


I skipped my first Valentine’s Day as a husband. I sort of made that decision on my own: “We’re poor,” “busy,” and “it’s not even a real holiday.” How perfectly sensible those words seemed at the time.

We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary this year! Let’s just say I learned a valuable lesson that first year. In fact, I’ve been learning lessons like that every year since. I can’t claim comprehensive knowledge of this wonderfully-mysterious creature I have the privilege of calling my wife, but I’ve come a long way.

Here’s something else I’ve learned along the way. It’s an epiphany I had driving home from Sunday service a while ago. (I may or may not be embarrassed to say how recently this was!) Let me share it with you in three steps.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
That’s what Jesus called the second most important commandment, second only to “love the Lord your God” with everything you’ve got. The adverb phrase at the end of the command is important: “as yourself.” I remember Tim Keller asking something like this in his little book Ministries of Mercy: “Does care for the poor mean giving them just enough to get by or something even more?” His answer—another question—“What would you want?” After all, Jesus tells us to love as we’d want to be He expects our giving of love to be informed by our receiving of love—by how we’d like to receive love. In fact, this is exactly how Jesus puts it in another place. We call this one the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12).

Your wife is doing this.
That’s right. If she’s a Christian, then she’s loving her neighbor(s) as herself—your kids (if you’ve got any), folks at church, you, your literal neighbors. Maybe she’s making a meal or writing a note. She may be buying and carefully wrapping little gifts to commemorate a special event—one she’s made sure to remember. Maybe she’s remembering details she’s been told and following up on them in a conversation. She’s loving others. And she’s doing this in ways she receives love herself. She’s loving her neighbors as herself. She’s loving her neighbors in other ways too, of course, in ways she’s learned how it’s best received by others. But, like all of us, she’s got her “defaults.”

Love your wife in the way she expresses love to others.
Learn her “defaults.” In other words, learn from the ways she shows love. Watch what she does. And express your love to her in those ways. Prioritize those ways. I suspect they overlap with your “defaults.” That’s one of the reasons you’re a good match and one of the many ways marriage increasingly makes two into one. But—and you know this—the overlap isn’t absolute. It’s why she wasn’t quite as thrilled with that mix-tape you made her as you would have been had she given one to you. It’s why she wasn’t as thrilled with that ski-trip honeymoon in the Alps as you were. (Sorry dad!) Husband-friends—study your wife, watch how she loves, and learn from it.

I know this is late to be useful for Valentine’s 2023. Sorry about that. There’s always next year. And, there’s a calendar full of opportunities between now and then. Husbands: do your best to learn how to say “I love you.” It’s just one of the many ways we get to live with our dear wives “in an understanding way” (1 Pet 3:7 ESV).

Jared Compton, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology



  • Pray that God would teach us to love those around us well.
  • Pray for our students and faculty as they head into Spring Break that they would rest well and come back with the energy and focus needed to finish the semester well.
  • Praise the Lord with us for his faithfulness and pray that he would provide the remaining funds for our On The Double match.