As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I’ve spent a lot of time defending the natural family, so there’s been little time to talk about how to enjoy better family success. Today is related. I have a long list of posts on defending marriage, the institution itself. I’ve done a lot less on how to enjoy better marriage success. But I’m thinking about Valentine’s Day, coming up tomorrow, so here are a few collected thoughts.
In Stephen Covey’s classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he tells this story:
At one seminar where I was speaking on the concept of proactivity, a man came up and said, “Stephen, I like what you’re saying. But every situation is so different. Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“The love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb. Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
In the great literature of all progressive societies [i.e., civilized societies, not socialist societies as the word progressive now connotes], love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. They’re driven by feelings. Hollywood has generally scripted us to believe that we are not responsible, that we are a product of our feelings. But the Hollywood script does not describe the reality. If our feelings control our actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so.
Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother brining newborn into the world. If you want to study love, study those who sacrifice for others, even for people who offend or do not love in return. If you are a parent, look at the love you have for the children you sacrificed for. Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured (pp. 79-80).
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Some people think raising daughters is tougher than raising sons. Certainly it’s different. But youth leader Elaine Dalton (author of A Return to Virtue) once said something that stuck with me as key:
“The greatest thing a father can do for his daughter is to love her mother.”
She’ll know how to value herself as a woman, and expect and accept the kind of love you want for her, if she sees her father setting the example of love with her mother.
Covey and Dalton are both Mormons, and while Mormons emphasize family strength and forever marriage, many others also have insights into how to do it.
We were given a useful book a few years ago: Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, with the subtitle The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. The premise is that, among the differences between men and women are these basic needs. A woman needs to be cherished—to be loved unconditionally. A man needs to be respected—maybe even in order to grow in respectability.
So, if you are a wife who wants to be loved, start with respecting your husband—not waiting until you think he meets some standard you have set for being worthy of respect, but starting with the understanding that he comes worthy of respect, and your showing that makes it more true. And, as a husband, while doing the respectable job/money-related work might help make you more respectable, you’ll get more by showing your love for her. These things are interrelated. Love from a respectable man is more valuable than from a dirtbag, so a woman is happier being loved by a man she respects. And a man might value respect from strangers or acquintances, but it means so much more to him to be respected by the woman dearest to his heart.
Part Two of the book, called “The Energizing Cycle” (p. 115), shows a circular graphic in which his love motivates her respect, and her respect motivates his love. It’s one of those simple but not easy things about a happy life.
I’ve been following the Matt Walsh blog for a while now, and the more I read, the bigger fan I become. He wrote a piece recently titled, “I Wasn’t Ready for Marriage.” The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some highlights:
If there’s one thing about life that I wish everyone would consider — particularly my peers, and those younger than me — it’s that you’ll never do the big things if you’re waiting until you’re ready to do them.
You’ll never be ready.
You. Will. Never. Be. Ready.
You can’t possibly understand the reality of marriage — the joy, the commitment, the love, the anger, the pain, the hope, the fulfillment, the excitements, the banalities, the journey, the sacrifices, the rewards, the journey—until you’re in it. Same can be said for parenthood, only more so….
We commonly view living together as a logical step before marriage, but it isn’t. It’s something some people do, but it isn’t a step to marriage. Your marriage is defined by the commitment you make to the other person—not by the bathroom or mortgage you share. Living with someone is not a “warm up” for marriage or a “try out” period, precisely because it lacks the essential, definitive characteristic of that permanent commitment. You can’t comfortably transition into an eternal vow. You make it, and then it’s made.
In fact there is, as far as I can tell, only one form of “not ready” that should possibly stop you from walking down that aisle: immaturity. If you are prepared to dump someone you profess to “love” because they chew with their mouth open or leave wet towels on the floor, you have a maturity issue. And remember, it’s YOUR issue….
The real checklist ought to have only four items.
Do I love this person? Can I trust this person? Can they trust me? Do I have the maturity and strength to give myself to this person, and to serve this person, every day for the rest of my life?
I can’t tell you how you’ll answer those questions, but I can tell you what my answers were before I said “I do” to Alissa:
Yes, I love her, but I don’t really understand love or what it means. Yes, I trust her, but I don’t understand trust or what it means. Yes, she can trust me, but I will still come up short in ways I cannot yet predict. Yes, I have the maturity, but I still have a lot of growing to do.
And then we clasped hands and walked into that wild unknown.
Matt and his wife have only been married a few years, and fell into the wild unknown of parenthood as well, by having twins about a year ago. God bless them with long and happy lives!
If you’d like some short but valuable advice on getting the message of love through to your beloved, you could try The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Knowing your own “love language,” as well as your spouse (there are also helps for understanding and loving your children and teens) will help you both give and receive more abundantly. The five languages are,
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Quality Time
3. Receiving Gifts
4. Acts of Service
5. Physical Touch
One thing to remember is that you’re better off expecting to do the translating both directions. Even when the other person also believes he is doing the translating for both giving and receiving, it will still seem like you’re the one needing to do it all. Oh well. Just do what you can and accept what you can get.
Even deeper is a book called Bonds That Make Us Free, by C. Terry Warner (yet another Mormon), of The Arbinger Institute. The subtitle is Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves. It’s about more than spousal love. It’s a very disciplined approach to philosophical introspection. Wow! But it hurts the brain. You can get a daily (or so) thought by liking The Arbinger Institute on Facebook.
One last thought:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
—“Nature Boy,” a song performed by Nat King Cole, 1948,
written by Eden Ahbez, 1947