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.