Again, this week kind of overlaps last week's lesson, but also throws in the need for being positive. Actually, this probably should be lesson 1 but its something you will always have to work on, so its probably of little consequence where it falls in this 4 part article.
OFFER Your Help
Another thing you can do is to always offer your help. Let your spouse choose if they want your help. Often when I see John struggling with something I will move to help him without asking if he needs it and things usually end with him getting mad at me. This is because I am either helping in a way that interferes with what he is doing, there isn't anything I can really do, or he feels it would put me at risk. Another reason your spouse may reject your offer of help is that they wish to accomplish the task on their own, either to prove something to you, or to themselves, sometimes both.
So I have learned that its better to ask than to assume. If you are hurt or confused by your spouse's rejection of your offer to help then feel free to ask them to explain why, though if tensions are high its best to wait till they have calmed down to try to discuss it. When discussing this topic its best to approach it with an open mind. Truth is that you may be pleasantly surprised by your spouse's answer, though sometimes their answer may hurt. If this is the case seek to understand why they feel the way they do so you can come to terms with it. If its something that can be worked on ask your spouse for suggestions on how you might handle it differently in the future.
Something else that is tremendously important to do when trying to relearn to love your spouse is to avoid being negative at all costs. This means that you should try to avoid thinking negative thoughts about your spouse as well as avoid speaking negatively to and of your spouse. The more you think critically, and speak negatively the less likely you are to view your spouse in a positive light. Its hard to love someone you spend all your time bashing. Now, I do not recall where I read this insight but when I did I sought to follow the challenge presented to avoid negativity. I was shocked and appalled to discover that a good portion of my communication with John was negative or demeaning, that I often thought of him in negative terms, and was a little loose tongued when it came to venting to friends about our marital issues. No wonder he thought I wasn't any fun anymore! No wonder he didn't enjoy spending time with me! All I ever did was nag him every chance I got. If I were in his position I probably would think I was annoying too.
Does this mean that I let all the things I want and need to say to John fly out the window in favor of being positive all the time? No, certainly not. I just have to be much more careful in the way that I bring something up. Instead of saying 'You never do this anymore. You don't love me.' I have to say 'Honey, do you remember when you did this? I really enjoyed that... Do you think we could do it again some time soon?'. This puts the want or need in the form of a request instead of a demand. This is often the best route to take because it reminds your spouse of something you enjoy without implying that they are failing to making you happy. Remember that your spouse does love you, they wouldn't have married you if they didn't, so if they stop doing something you enjoy give them the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming they are being vindictive. Chances are they've just forgotten about it and need some gentle reminding. Your spouse has a life outside of their relationship with you, they are busy and have a lot on their mind, just as you do...sometimes the needs of their spouse get lost or forgotten in all the mess they have to deal with on a daily basis. And I bet if you were to ask them they would have a need or two of their own that you have been unintentionally neglecting.
Also, be sure to praise your spouse when they do something you like or would like them to do more often. Sometimes this praise need not be in the form of words, and sometimes it does. If your praise seems to embarrass your spouse then don't make it a long drawn out compliment. If they seem to enjoy a lot of praise then try to fill that need to the best of your ability, but within reason. If the good deed is not too personal, feel free to 'brag' about it to your friends or family. Obviously I like to hear those things directly from my husband, but it makes me feel even better when I find out that he has been saying nice things about me to other people too. It lets me know that when he compliments me its not just to get me to shut up, its because he genuinely appreciates what I did and is proud that I am his wife. Why is praise so important? If the good deeds of your spouse go unrecognized and unrewarded then they will be more likely to forget that its something you like, or may feel you do not like it and will stop. If you want something to grow you must feed it, and the food of good behaviors is encouragement and praise.
So this week, and for every week of the rest of your life, try to be positive about your spouse. Do not be so positive that you cannot see when the situation is really bad and needs an intervention, but seek to see the good in your spouse and cultivate and encourage those behaviors. Also, try not to force your help on your spouse. If they are doing something wrong, let them recognize it on their own and help them if they ask for it. Only intervene when someone or something may be hurt or damaged in the process.
The lesson this week is a little harder to accomplish so you may want to spend 2 weeks or more working on this one... Today we discuss giving up selfishness.
Another thing we must be mindful of in our journey to get to know and love our spouse as they change and grow over the years is that we must always try to be self-less. In recent years there has been a big push for people to learn what they want and need and how to get it, usually by means of being assertive... which is all well and fine, and its good to have that knowledge... I mean, how can you teach your spouse about what you need and want from the relationship if you don't know what those things are? Knowing what you want is not inherently selfish...But as Gordon B. Hinckley said of life:
“Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others...By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.”
When we shift our focus from ourselves to those we care about and develop a real love and concern for them, we stop begin so worried about what we are or aren't getting in return. I mentioned in another article on this site that anything you do for the purpose of getting a certain outcome can be called manipulation, but I would go a step further to say that doing something that is supposed to be a selfless act, with the intent and expectation of getting something in return is what the true definition of selfishness and manipulation is. In marriage life should not be an equal 50/50 effort as everyone is fond of saying... That sort of relationship is, in essence, a game of tit-for-tat in which you only do something for him if he does for you and vice versa. This is great in theory but often leaves one or the other person feeling like things are not balanced and that great effort will be required to restore that balance...they become focused on what they aren't getting, and therefore focused on themselves rather than the real reason they ever cared at all.
The concept of which I speak can most closely be related to the love a parent has for a child. All you expect of your child is that they learn and grow and follow certain basic rules. You do not berate your child for showing their love for you in a particular way, you learn what their actions mean and you adjust to it. With a spouse you should seek to give a full and honest effort to everything you do, even if your spouse gives you nothing in return, just as you would for your child Why? Not for any reason other than you love them. It is through this attitude that an unwilling or resistant spouse may begin to see just how much worth they have in your eyes, that you would still make sacrifices for them even when they are not or are unable to give you the same. All is not fair in love and war, one person will almost always be giving more effort than the other at various times but the trick is for both of you to play co-supporting roles rather than co-leads, realizing when more effort will be required of you and when you are the one in need of assistance yourself. Life is instead a balancing act in which you both seek to give 100% regardless of the effort being put forth by your spouse, that you try to keep the scales level even if it means giving more than the widely accepted 50%.
I know this is a scary concept... but learning to truly love someone means risking emotional pain. It's about making yourself vulnerable to your spouse, to let them into your life completely. I know that opening yourself up like that can be terrifying. I also know that it can be a wonderful and satisfying experience.
So what can we do to help us learn to give our all to loving our spouse? First off, try to be understanding of what your spouse is experiencing. Realize that though you may not think its any great challenge, what your spouse is facing may appear to be a proverbial Goliath. Be respectful of that and never belittle their situation, try to understand, even if you don't agree, and offer to help in any way you can.
Desire Their Happiness
You must also develop a desire to see them happy...'DUH!' you might say, but to love is more than just wanting them to be happy. John could be perfectly happy sitting at home all day eating junk food and playing video games, but what a sad existence that would be! He is a magnificent, intelligent, and capable being! To be wasted on such frivolous things would be a shame. No... more than simply desiring your spouse's happiness you should also desire them to grow and develop into something greater than they were when you met them. Love them as you would your own child.
You would encourage your child to do the things they are good at, to develop new talents, meet head-on the challenges of life and ever be at their side to help them face it all if they call on you for help. And so you should treat your spouse. If they have not yet earned a degree encourage them to start taking some classes, recommend ones that deal with subjects they are interested in or excel at. If your spouse shows interest in a certain hobby or project encourage them to get started on it, doing what you can to facilitate the process. Make the suggestion and then leave it up to them whether or not they do it. Just as trying to force a child to do something usually backfires, so it does with adults.
When you learn to care for your spouse in the way a parent cares for a child you will begin to see that there are things they must face on their own while you cheer from the sidelines. Sure there are things you have to do together but its not just the things you learn together that bind you in happy marriage, but also the things you learn and the ways you grow independent of your spouse. It at least gives you things to talk about!
So this week, or for the next two or more weeks, try to be more supportive. Try to think more about what you can do for your spouse rather than what you want them to do for you. Ask about what your spouse's dreams are, what they would like to accomplish in life. Then try to be as supportive and encouraging as you can without making them feel forced to do it. Also, try to be more open with your spouse about how you feel, if you have difficulty with that.
So your lesson for this week is somewhat of a continuation of last week, though its a little different. First lets discuss individuality in more depth than we did in the last post.
No Man is an Island... But a Snowflake
So how do you get to know and learn to love someone that is so very different from the person you thought you were marrying? I can tell you that the first and most important step is to accept that your spouse is a snowflake. No, I don't mean that they are literally a flake of snow, but that your spouse is an individual, completely and uniquely different from you or any other person who has ever lived. Try to identify these differences and seek to understand them.
This concept is of equal importance for both husbands and wives to learn and apply to their lives. Remember that your spouse had a life before you came into it, they were independent and took care of themselves. They had trials and conflict that they handled on their own and in their own unique way. So move over and let them do things in the way they are accustomed to doing them! As discussed in another article your spouse's way of doing things is not necessarily wrong, just different. Watch what they do and see if there is something you can learn from it.
Learn to accept and encourage your spouse's independence and self-reliance. You do not want a spouse that is entirely dependent on you. Sure, its nice to be needed and feel necessary but to be someone's primary reason for living gets exhausting and burdensome. You also will want to be able to take comfort in the fact that should something happen to you they will be able to survive without you. The last thing you need to deal with as you lay dying is being terrified of what will happen to your family when you're gone.
It also is a very exhausting life to be constantly trying to change your spouse. You must learn what is truly in your ability to control and be at peace with the things you cannot change. And I can tell you, though some may think my experience is limited, that you can only change yourself. You absolutely cannot change your spouse. Meaningful, life altering, lasting change can only come from within. Your words and actions may help persuade or encourage but nothing you do or say will have any good impact unless your spouse has a desire to make the changes themselves.
A personal hero of mine, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, had quite a lot to say about marriage and the importance of individuality, her nearly 67 years of marriage as the resource for her insight. Marjorie certainly did not lead an easy life, but managed to raise a happy, healthy, and moral family and maintained a sweet and endearing relationship with her husband in spite of their challenges. You see, she was the wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley, a former Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church). At the time of Gordon's death in 2008 at the ripe old age of 97, the 'Mormon' church, for whom he was the prophet for 12 years, spanned the globe with over 13.5 million members, increased from just 9.5 million when he became prophet in 1996. During his ministry, among his many other church related duties, he traveled the world visiting members in other countries and participating in humanitarian aid projects all while trying to raise a family and be a kind and loving husband. Though I am sure they both would have loved to be together as much as possible, Marjorie was often left for months at a time to raise their five children on her own while Gordon attended to his responsibilities as the prophet. She was ever optimistic and a role model to many women in the church. Aside from being a loving and devoted wife, mother, grandmother of 25, and great-grand-mother to 35, she also traveled with Gordon after their children were grown and spoke at many church functions, often about her life and marriage. She often counselled couples that they should not seek to control or recreate their spouse, and that doing so will only result in conflict and unhappiness. She and her husband discussed this very subject in an interview they gave for a magazine that is circulated among the members of the LDS community, here is part of the interview:
Church magazines: Why has your marriage been so happy for so long?
President Hinckley: The basis of a good marriage is mutual respect—respect for one another, a concern for the comfort and well-being of one another. That is the key. If a husband would think less of himself and more of his wife, we’d have happier homes throughout the Church and throughout the world.
Church magazines: Sister Hinckley, you have said that your husband “always let me do my own thing. He never insisted that I do anything his way, or any way, for that matter. From the very beginning he gave me space and let me fly.” How has he done that?
Sister Hinckley: He never tells me what to do. He just lets me go. He has made me feel like a real person. He has encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy. He doesn’t try to rule or dominate me.
Church magazines: President, you have said: “Some husbands regard it as their prerogative to compel their wives to fit their standards of what they think to be the ideal. It never works.” How have you avoided doing this with Sister Hinckley?
President Hinckley: I’ve tried to recognize my wife’s individuality, her personality, her desires, her background, her ambitions. Let her fly. Yes, let her fly! Let her develop her own talents. Let her do things her way. Get out of her way, and marvel at what she does.
Church magazines: What are some of the things she does that make you marvel?
President Hinckley: Oh my, many things …
Sister Hinckley (smiling): This will be hard for him.
President Hinckley: … She has run the house all these years. When our children were growing up, I was away much of the time on Church assignments. In the early days, when I had responsibility for the work in Asia, which I had for a long time, I would be gone for as long as two months at a time. We couldn’t telephone back and forth all the time in those days. She took care of everything. She ran the home. She ran everything and took care of the children.
We had a garden in our backyard. When I came home from one of my long assignments, I found that it had all been planted to lawn. She and the children had spaded up that backyard, sown lawn seed, and there was a beautiful lawn! The garden didn’t suffer, because we could plant another garden to the south of us. But that whole backyard became a beautiful patch of lawn.
That’s typical of the way she did things. She was independent and had a great eye for beauty.
So this week, continue to contemplate how you and your spouse are different, but observe your spouse whenever possible. Watch what they do, how they do it. Don't be afraid to ask them why they do things a certain way, this will help you understand them better. If you ordinarily are a bit controlling try to give your spouse more freedom to do things the way they prefer to do it... ie. If your wife is putting the cups in the bottom rack of the dishwasher, don't get on her about it, let it go, and perhaps ask her why she prefers to load the dishwasher that way. Do not correct the behavior unless someone or something will be hurt or damaged by the process. If your spouse has mentioned in times past that there is something they would like to do or have an interest in, think about ways you can encourage them to pursue it or ways in which you might be able to help them achieve their goal.
Sam Keen, an American author, philosopher and professor once said that "We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly”. In the pages of this website we often discuss how people are inherently imperfect, despite having seemed perfect when you first met them. So to search for the ever elusive Mr. Right is an impossible task that will more often than not result in you dying a very lonely and disappointed person. Even if you thought you found Mr. Right the fact that you are reading anything on this website would suggest that you are starting to realize that he is not entirely the man you thought you married. This person who once was the light of your life and all you ever thought you would need to be happy now makes you so angry that words fail you and you may even contemplate divorce on occasion. But all is not lost. The man you fell in love with is still there! At least in part.
You may want to try to get your relationship back to the way it was when you met, however this is generally impossible to recreate. Does this mean you will never again be happy with your spouse? Do you have to just settle for the way things are or come to terms with ending the marriage? Certainly not. I only say that its nearly impossible to recreate that intense 'in-love' feeling because you have been living together as man and wife. You know quite a lot more about each other now, somethings perhaps you wish you didn't know, and things that have caused great pain or disappointment. To recreate those same feelings as you had before would require you to erase all those memories and start afresh. While some people might be capable of doing this, that quality is exceptionally rare. Instead, you should strive to get to know the person you are married to as they are right now, something you will have to do periodically throughout your marriage.
You may be wondering why these changes occur, thus making this process of continually rediscovering each other necessary. The answer is rather simple. You are in a state of constant change. Your spouse is too, as well as everyone you know and everything around you. Even your cellular construction is in constant change. Each year your body has completely renewed itself, old cells die off and are replaced by new ones... and quite literally, the person you were a year ago no longer exists. Despite the fact that you and your spouse live together, having many shared experiences, everything that happens in your lives will effect each of you in different ways. Even if you and your spouse never left each other's side and experienced all of the same things at the exact same time, due to the glorious fact you are two unique individuals you will change and grow in ways that are different from the way your spouse does.
A harsh but poignant example of this would be a couple that experiences the loss of a child. One person in the relationship may take the loss very hard, become depressed, lose interest in life and curse God for having taken their child from them. As where the other becomes more spiritual, thanks God for the lessons they have learned from that experience, develops a new zest for life and would like to move forward and continue building their family by having another child. How can it be that they respond so differently to the situation? They both loved the child dearly, as any two parents should, they both grieved the loss of the child, and yet one moved on and became stronger for it and the other succumbed to their grief and was never able to move on.
I pray none of you ever have to experience the loss of a child, but this helps to demonstrate that even though you share so much of your life with your spouse you both change in ways that are unique to who you are at your core. For some these differences can be insurmountable and they divorce for reasons of 'irreconcilable differences'. This is because they either failed to or were unwilling to start or continue the process of continual rediscovery of their spouse. Through this process there most certainly can be happiness after the honeymoon. It just will be with someone slightly different than you thought you were getting. And that's ok! You may even come to like this version of your spouse better once you take the time to truly get to know them.
So your challenge over the next week is to contemplate the major differences between you and your spouse, and how those differences affect they way you handle a situation. How are your differences a good thing? What can you learn from each other? Good luck!