Jeremiah 2:32 says, “Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.” Hindsight is 20/20, and in my younger days I often thought to myself, “How could God’s people see the miraculous things they witnessed and still forget God.” It’s not that they didn’t acknowledge God. They still went to the temple and offered sacrifices and observed the Sabbath. But over time, he was just no longer central to who they were or how they defined themselves. They deprioritized God.
I used to wonder “how could they forget,” but as I’ve gotten older, I am much more likely to wonder, “Would that have been me that Jeremiah (or whatever other prophet) was speaking about?”—caught up in my own selfishness, or the excitement of the moment in the world around me, and a million miles away from God even as I go to church every Sunday.
Sadly, the same thing can happen in marriage. When a spouse’s place is deprioritized—when we “forget” our mates—the covenant bond becomes strained. When it goes on for “days without number,” walls build up, resentment sets in, blame and accusations are given a breeding ground. Normally, a husband or wife doesn’t intend to ignore their spouse. In fact, when they first marry, they may even deny the possibility that they ever could forget about their covenant lover. But the reality is, in our culture, where one’s worth is often defined by how busy he/she is, a spouse can be relegated to the “I’ll-get-to-you-when-I-can” zone.
How do you know when you are forgetting about your mate? Certainly, it can manifest differently in every couple, but here are some questions to ask.
Is coming up with excuses to spend time and energy and resources away from your mate getting easier? In our selfish human nature, we are masters at rationalizing our choices, even if those choices put distance between us and our spouses. Is there always something else demanded of you at work? Is there always another person who needs your time and attention more than your covenant lover? Is there always a hobby that takes precedent? Are the children’s needs always leaving you too exhausted to connect with your mate? Are you the only one who can head up that ministry the church is currently doing? It can become easy to rationalize and even justify putting our spouses on the back burner.
Are you hearing? We all have an innate need to feel heard. Being heard gives you value in a relationship. Not being heard makes you feel worthless. We deprioritize our mates when we no longer hear them. We might listen, and might even be able to parrot back what was said, but when you no longer listen to your mate’s heart, and fail to hear the joys, fears, anxieties, or questions (that might be wrapped up in the yelling, crying, or silence), then you are no longer hearing.
How’s your sex life? Should sex be a priority for not forgetting your mate? The apostle Paul seemed to think so. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says meeting your mate’s sexual needs is a crucial part of a healthy, God-centered relationship. Sex, as well as other expressions of intimacy, is important to a healthy relationship. So, if your sex life has diminished, or if you are no longer connecting emotionally, or if you are no longer socially relating, then your spouse may feel forgotten.
How's your spiritual life? Are you praying for your mate? Are you praying with your mate? When we forget our mates, it becomes easy to begin to cut them off spiritually, no longer feeling a need to come before God with them and for them.
What about forgiveness? When a person has forgotten his/her mate, it becomes so much easier to hold on to grudges, resentment, and anger. A deprioritized mate is not considered worthy of forgiveness. But forgiveness is a continual practice in remembering. It helps us to remember how much we’ve been forgiven of (both by God and by our mates). It helps us to remember how much we love and value our mates and want them to live in grace and kindness rather than shame and guilt. Forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship.
There are lots of other questions you could ask. And remembering our mates doesn’t mean that we can’t engage in work, or hobbies, or care for other people. But we need to remember that jobs end, children leave home, friends come and go—but our relationship with our mates should be something that brings peace, joy, encouragement, and blessing for life. Don’t forget your covenant lover.