Here’s a little something I’d like to share with you folks out there.
In married life, how do we let our spouse know that he/she is loved? Can our spouse feel this love through our words and deeds? Words are relatively easy. But love without work is like a body without a soul. We must work at being loving otherwise love will slowly fade away. The work we do will show how much our spouse means to us. Without work it is just lip service. It is just words. It is insincere and it is empty. But working takes effort and that puts us out of our comfort zone. It means going the extra mile for our loved one.
It is often said that love is shown by work of self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. Easy to talk, but, how do we work at them?
I believe in Jesus Christ so I go to Him for help. You may like to research into your respective religious faith in Bahai, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jains, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, etc, for help.
The Bible points out many ways in which we can work to attain the oneness, the joy and companionship we desire in our marriage. For love to grow and flourish in a marriage, we have to put in the effort to:
Jesus loves us and He works at it, “we must carry out the work of the One who sent Me; the night will soon be here when no one can work”(John 9:4 NJB). God loves us and St Paul says, “God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished…” (Philippians 1:6 TEV)
When we court our mate, we work to look our best, we work at being on time, we work to be at our best behaviour, we work to please our mate, we take effort and time to select and give gifts that please, etc. When we have a baby we work at making the baby grow up healthy. We hug, kiss, feed, fuss over, change nappies, and wake up in the middle of the night to attend to the baby’s cry. We work and serve the need of the baby out of love and we get immense joy when the baby gives us a smile.
Most importantly the couple must work at not hurting each other. All couples crave gentleness from each other. Therefore, it is vital not to hurt each other by coldness, by angry scolding, by giving the silent treatment, by bitter words, by pushing the emotional triggers, by impatience, by harsh criticisms, by constant irritation, by neglect, by the withholding of the expressions of affection. Love craves its daily bread of tenderness. No couple should deny their spouse the little things of affection, the amenities of love, along the busy and trying days.
Mother Teresa says, “People who really and truly love each other are the happiest people in the world.” (Loving Jesus, 15) So, how do we continue to work at making our spouse know our love? The couple must constantly work at their marriage, spending time on it and making it into a labour of love.
2. Accept Differences
Do I always want my way? Do I become angry when I don’t have my way? But we are all unique. We are all brought up differently. So if we demand that our spouse follow only our way, we will have constant conflict and misunderstandings. We must learn to be tolerant so as to allow, accommodate and accept differences in views, perspectives, values, mannerisms, and ways of doing things. St Paul tells us, “Show your love by being tolerant with one another” (Ephesians 4:2 TEV)
3. Initiate Giving Love
What would be the result of our taking the initiative to express love towards our spouse? Am I affectionate? Do I nurture a gentle and patient relationship? We know that all good parents constantly encourage and affirm their children; do I regularly do the same with my spouse? The Bible tells us, ”we love Him because He first loved us.”(1 John 4:19 TEV) We must take the initiative and not forget the Golden Rule, “Do for others what you want them to do for you.” (Matthew 7:12 TEV) What the passages teach us is that if we want to nurture love in our relationship, we have to initiate giving love first.
Trust is the most fundamental ingredient in any lasting relationship. Am I deceptive and manipulative in my relationship with my spouse? Do I have double standards? Before we can trust each other we must be trustworthy ourselves. Faithfulness is vital for any married relationship. Without the deliberate choice to stay faithful, how can my spouse trust me? And one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is “faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22 TEV). St Paul declares that love “believes all things,” emphasising the necessity of trust in any loving relationship. (1 Corinthians 13:7 NKJV)
5. Give sacrificially
At the root of all marital conflict is the struggle of who do I love more—myself or my spouse? Am I always self-serving? Am I considerate to my spouse’s feelings or am I only sensitive to my own feelings? Jesus acknowledges that it is natural that we all love ourselves very well but He commands us to “Love your neighbour as you love yourselves.” (Matthew 22:39 TEV) Our spouse is our closest neighbour. St Paul tells us, ”Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself. (None of us ever hate our bodies. Instead, we feed them, and take care of them)” [Ephesians 5:28-29 TEV]. Am I willing to sacrifice my innate self-centredness for the welfare and happiness of my spouse? Mother Teresa reminds us that, ”Love, in order to survive, must be nourished by sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of self.” (Loving Jesus, 101)
6. Restrain certain actions
How many times has our spouse requested us to refrain from certain behaviour? Has our spouse reminded us not to use foul language? Not to be so free with our sarcastic remarks? Has our spouse constantly asked us to stop our angry outbursts? Am I too proud to give way to such requests? Every time we fail to restrain ourselves, our spouse begins to question our love. God restrains Himself because of His great love for us: “For the sake of My name I shall defer My anger, for the sake of My honour I shall be patient with you, rather than destroy you.” (Isaiah 48:9 NJB)
7. Always seek reconciliation and compromise
Jesus seeks reconciliation with the whole world because He loves us and, ”He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.”(2 Peter 3:9 TEV) God devises a compromise to judgement by giving His Son to take our place, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 TEV) Love will always seek to find a solution to every conflict in marriage and be prepared to make compromises and to forgive and make up, regardless of who is right or wrong. It is the unity of the couple that really counts.
8. Commit Ourselves
Commitment is the enduring and long-suffering quality of love that works and fights to strengthen a relationship. It is in the nature of true love to bind itself, to commit itself. St Paul described this quality when he said, “Love suffers long. . . bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”(1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8 NKJV) Do we possess this kind of commitment? This kind of patience and commitment is essential if we are to find a solution to the inevitable conflict of personality differences in a marriage. The couple must have the willingness to stay the course and not give up too readily.
9. Endless Forgiveness
People we love often hurt us unintentionally or intentionally by what they do or what they fail to do. If we want our love to flourish and grow at home, we have to learn to forgive endlessly. Jesus reminds Peter the number of times he has to forgive his brother, “’Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ answered Jesus, ‘but seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22 TEV). Similarly, Mother Teresa advises, “We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.” (A Gift for God, 18)
10. Stop keeping scores
The Bible teaches that “love does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 TEV). But can I choose to stop keeping scores of wrong done to me? We must learn to fully and completely forgive our spouse for the wrongs done to us. Forgiveness is fundamental to the growth of a loving relationship. Mother Teresa stresses, “We know that if we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.” (A Gift for God, 18) Jesus reminds us “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.”(Matthew 6:15 TEV) God promises “I will forgive their sins and will no longer remember their wrongs.” (Hebrew 8:12 TEV) God does not keep a record of our wrongs when we repent. Similarly, we have to do the same.
11. Small acts of Care and Consideration
Many find it difficult to perform small acts of care and consideration in their homes. So we need a mindset change to provide them. The small acts of care and consideration are the daily living routine in the home such as encouraging, supporting, cheering, hugging, cooking, washing up after meals, vacuuming the house, smiles, taking time to chat and listen, warm greetings, accepting differences, constant affirmation, etc. If we can perform these little acts cheerfully and readily for each other, we will make our homes much more peaceful and happy. It is important that we learn the joy of sharing and serving each other. St Paul emphasises, “Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another, to show love and to do good.”(Hebrew 10:24 TEV)
How our friends respond to our requests will determine how the friendship will progress—will it be better, strained or possibly end. Friendships that break are the ones that are full of verbal smoke screen. But friendships that last are the ones when individuals communicate how they desire to be loved. Jesus communicates His love for His disciples: ”I love you just as the Father loves Me”(John 15:9 TEV). “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you”(John 15:12 TEV). Jesus also communicates how He wants us to love Him in return: ”If you love Me, you will obey My commandments” (John 14:15 TEV). Similarly all marriages need constant honest and sincere communication between couple to flourish, grow and last. We must constantly affirm: “I love you very much.” “You mean everything to me.” “You make my day.” “I care for you.” “I think of you often.” “You are my greatest gift.” “Marrying you is the best decision I have made.”
We communicate our love by our words, attitudes and deeds.
Do I get angry if I don’t get my way? Do I have a short fuse? Anger takes many forms. It can be obvious or it can be subtle. Some tempers manifest themselves in the following ways:
a) explosion—-we rage, we use anger to lash out at others and intimidate them.
b) implosion—-we give the silent treatment, we sulk, we turn it inward and beat ourselves up.
c) irritation—we have little tolerance, we are out of control.
d) repetition—we nag constantly, we are stuck in the same angry groove.
We are the only one who can make ourselves angry. We choose how we respond to the event that upset us. We must choose to take active steps “never let the sun set on our anger or else we will give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:27 NJB) The devil of anger will build walls between the couple. Taming our anger is one step towards demolishing the walls of resentment and lack of tolerance.
All marriages have their differences. There will always be disagreements. One major obstacle to reconciliation in any dispute is for the couple to stand on their pride and to stand on their presumed rightness. No reconciliation can start if the spouses do not learn to extend mercy to each other. Although the merciful one knows the risk of being hurt again, he/she still seeks ways to extend mercy.
But what has mercy got to do in a marriage relationship? We know that mercy is extending kindness to the other party. When I refuse to extend mercy, I am implicitly saying that you must first pay for the so called hurt you have done to me before we can be reconciled. You must pay by apologizing first. I justify myself and I want justice. I put myself right and the other party wrong. I maintain that I am right. I am too proud to admit to any fault or to forgive first. If both sides ardently justify themselves, there can be no reconciliation. In order for the marriage to grow, we must learn to extend mercy to each other. For “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7 NKJV). And when we extend mercy to our spouse, we are being kind to ourselves. As Portia in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” says, “It (mercy) is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (Act4: Scene I:184-185).
If we constantly harden our heart and ask for “our pound of flesh,” we will invariably head for trouble in our marriage. So don’t harbour grudges. Don’t rankle and don’t let the sun go down by standing on our self-righteousness and pride. Each may think that he/she is right but remember that there are many ways to look at the same thing. Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13 NKJV). Thus we must also go and learn to extend mercy in any marriage dispute to come to reconciliation.
15. Putting our spouse first
Am I always kind and appreciative to my spouse? When I take action or make a decision, do I consider my spouse first. St Paul stresses this priority when he says that we are to “learn first of all to do our duty to our own families”(1 Timothy 5:4 NJB). Duty here means respect or godliness. So our first priority must be to show respect and godliness to the people in our homes. We must also “look out for one another’s interest, not just for your own.” (Philippians 2:4 TEV)
It is extremely important to remember that the limited checklist above is for oneself to grow and improve and NOT as a checklist to use against our spouse. None of us, on our own effort, will have the staying power to stick to the above works. But if we ask the Holy Spirit within us to guide and help us stay the course, we will, in time, come close to achieving the ideal love we all so desired.
Incidentally, an easy way to constantly review in our mind the above deeds is to remember this acronym:
We patiently W A I T for G R A C E S from God. So let us go and join His C A M P.
In summary, constantly remind ourselves to:
1.Work on loving our spouse,
2.Work at NOT HURTING each other and
3.Work towards making our marriage a labour of love.
Love works only for those who WORK at it and with the help of the Holy Spirit through constant prayers.