I remember the first time I said, "

I love you," to my amazing wife, Ashley.

At the time, we were both college students. I had been working up the nerve to say it for a long time, but for some reason, the thought of saying it out loud made me feel like throwing up! My mind was playing out all these terrifying scenarios...

What if she didn't say it back?

What if I actually did throw up on her while trying to say it?

What if she laughed and told me she thought of me as just a friend, or worse, a "brother"! (We were in Kentucky, so marrying a sibling might have technically been legal. My grandma just married her cousin a few years ago. Seriously. True story. We combined the word "husband" and "cousin" and call him the "Cuzband.")

What if she expected me to tell her in a picture perfect scene that could rival anything in a Nicholas Sparks novel, but hearing it in my dingy dorm room offended her?

What if...

She could tell my mind was spinning, so she sweetly asked,"What are you thinking about?"

I had to say something! I was caught. I couldn't lie, so I said, "I was thinking...I was thinking...that I love you."

My voice squeaked like a prepubescent middle schooler. There was nothing "smooth" about it, but I had gotten it out (without throwing up), so I felt like it was a victory. She smiled and said, "I love you too."

It was a beautiful moment (although, I doubt you'll see it retold in any Nicholas Sparks' novels.)

Ashley and I have now been married almost fifteen years. Our understanding of love has grown a lot since we first exchanged those words. We have come to understand that love is so much more than a feeling. It's a commitment, it's a promise, and it's an action.

Love is the foundation of every healthy marriage. When you clearly and consistently communicate your love (through both words and actions) to your spouse, it has the power to transform your relationship.

Here are seven ways to say "I love you" to your spouse.

(In no particular order)

1. Listen to him/her

Our love is communicated through our listening just as much as it is communicated through our words. Listening sends a powerful message that silently says, "I love you. I appreciate you. I respect you, and I value what you have to say."

2. Be specific

It's good to say, "I love you," but it's also important to clearly communicate specific attributes you love about each other. Say things like, "I love your creativity. You help me think new thoughts." or "I love your compassion. You challenge me to be a better person." or "I love how great a mom/dad you are."

3. Serve your spouse

Selfishness is an enemy of love. Love, by its very nature, means putting another's needs ahead of your own. Serving your spouse, whether with little acts like a foot rub or bigger acts, is a simple way to communicate your love for them.

4. Write a love letter

In our digital age, we send text messages all day long, but how often does your spouse get something handwritten from you? Write out a love letter and give it to him/her. It will most likely become a keepsake they'll treasure for years to come.

5. Value what he/she values

You and your spouse have different personalities, and you're going to have different interests. Taking an interest in their interests and valuing what they value shows your love. Take up a hobby they he/she loves doing. Join him/her in a cause they're passionate about. It will bring you closer together.

6. Keep your eyes on him/her (not on somebody else)

Your spouse needs to have the confidence of knowing that you love them and ONLY them. Keep your eyes, your thoughts and your flirting focused exclusively on your spouse.

7. Continue pursuing him/her

Don't let your relationship get on autopilot and don't take each other for granted! Continue wooing, pursuing, adoring, dating, seducing, appreciating and loving each other through all the seasons of your marriage.

This article was originally published on Patheos. It has been republished here with permission.

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