Do you want to be more adept at expressing your love to your spouse?
Here are 10 suggestions. by Victor M. Parachin Reprinted with permission from the February, 1997 issue of The Lutheran Witness
During an interview, Joseph Hodges Choate, former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, was asked whom he would like to be if he could come back to earth again after he died. Without hesitating, the man who enjoyed a spectacular career as a trial lawyer and diplomat responded, “Mrs. Choate’s second husband.”
Surely that simple, sincere compliment was a great source of pleasure to Choate’s wife. Obviously, Joseph Choate knew how to convey love and appreciation for his spouse. He, along with others who manage to maintain lifelong closeness and intimacy with their spouses, was apparently quite adept at demonstrating the gestures of love. He knew the prime importance of saying, speaking and showing love.
How might you become more adept at expressing your love to your spouse? Here are 10 suggestions:
Seize every opportunity to compliment, commend and congratulate your partner. Apply to your marriage the advice of St. Paul: “Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
Caroline, happily married to James for 30 years, stresses the importance of paying compliments. “Study your partner until you know him better than he knows himself,” she advises. “Watch carefully as he relates to friends and observe what kind of compliments he responds to. I try to remember to tell James anything nice that someone else says about him, because I know those words are greatly valued. Never forget, a sincere compliment is a tremendous gift.”
Most couples are extremely busy, especially those where the husband and wife both go off to work every day. This can lead to serious strain when it comes to homework; children’s sports and other extracurricular activities; household management; and responsibilities and service to church, school and community.
Nonetheless, such couples, particularly those with children, obviously have precious little discretionary time to spend together. And when they do get a few moments together, they sometimes make the sad mistake of flipping on the tube.
“For years, Harry and I would walk into the house after work and automatically switch on the TV to catch some news as we made dinner,” says Jennifer, a teacher in California. “Then we got hooked watching the shows that followed. Before we knew it, it was 10 or 11 o’clock, and we were too tired to do anything but drift off to sleep.”
Though Jennifer and Harry were conversant on the latest political scandal or international conflict, they did not know how the other was doing. “We knew more about Whitewater and Bosnia than we did about each other,” Jennifer recalls.
Their solution was to turn off the set. “Of course, we still watch some TV,” says Jennifer, “but now we deliberately leave it off while we make dinner, eat and clean up. During that time, we talk about our day, our worries and share happy occurrences.”
With more and more couples working outside the home, it’s only fair that household chores be shared more equally. Resentment can build fast when one partner feels the burden of doing virtually all the shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.
Consider the example of Denis Thatcher, British businessman arid husband of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. When the Thatchers moved into 10 Downing Street, a reporter asked Mr. Thatcher, “Who wears the pants in this house?” His reply? “I do—and I also wash and iron them!”
“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open,” says author Arnold Glasgow.
While you may not always understand your partner’s actions or appreciate her attitude, you can at least try to extend the courtesy of patience during those times. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt. No matter how close you may be to your partner, you may not always be completely aware of all the struggles he or she is wrestling with.
The Scriptures encourage us to adopt a posture of sympathetic love and unselfish living: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1).
Most people are more comfortable giving than receiving. They find it hard to ask for special favors. A good way to cut through that obstacle is by being a genie—by granting your partner his or her wishes.
A man asked his pharmacist for 52 of the druggist’s largest empty pill-capsules. He then thought up 52 things his wife would love to do or have done, wrote them out on small slips of paper, and then rolled up the slips and filled the capsules with them. Then, over dinner that Saturday evening (and for the next 51 Saturday evenings after that), he had her pick one for him to do.
“Raised voices lower esteem. Hot tempers cool friendships. Loose tongues stretch truth. Swelled heads shrink influence. Sharp words dull respect,” writes William Arthur Ward. Behind his observations is the reality that words can be weapons. You can choose to have them injure (rather than inspire) or hurt (rather than heal).
Do your best to spend your words as wisely as you spend your money. While it is right to let your partner know how you feel, choose your words carefully. Think before you speak.
Small gestures often convey large meanings. Express your love through small acts of kindness, tenderness and gentleness. Here are some ways to send love signals:
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” notes the Bible (Prov. 17:22). In a similar vein, author Tim Hansel writes: “Laughter adds richness, texture and color to otherwise ordinary days. It is a gift, a choice, a discipline, an art.”
Hansel’s observation is validated through a study done by Finnegan Alford-Cooper, a sociologist and gerontologist at Long Island University. Recently, Alford-Cooper studied 576 couples married at least 50 years. Ninety-three percent of these long-term spouses described their marriages as “happy.” Alford-Cooper discovered
that one key to their marital longevity was a sense of humor. Seventy-nine percent said they laughed together every day. One 83-year-old man, married 64 years to the same woman, said: “We laugh at each other’s jokes we’ve heard a million times. We have a great rapport.”
When your partner is upset, let him or her express his feelings freely. Don’t correct her inaccuracies. Don’t refute his logic. Don’t explain how unreasonable she is. Don’t pick away at details. Just listen. The only appropriate comments are those that seek clarification and understanding. Later—when there has been time to process the information and when feelings have cooled—is a better time to respond.
10— Be generous with forgiveness.
Fred Piercy, a marriage and family therapist at Purdue University, is often asked if a relationship can be saved. His standard response is: “No, but you can build a new relationship, and forgiveness will allow that process to begin.”
Piercy knows that generous doses of forgiveness can unclutter a relationship and pave the way for deeper satisfaction. “Forgiveness involves letting go of anger, restoring respect and offering acceptance,” he explains.
“If you can find a way to offer the gift of forgiveness, you will have discovered one of the strongest circuit-breakers of all, one that allows you to put down the burden you’re carrying. With your hands and heart free, you and your partner can begin building a new, more fulfilling relationship.”
Victor Parachin is a counselor and free-lance writer in Claremont, Calif.