10 April 2006

Showing love for our spouse

Starfoxy has an interesting post on The Prayer of Faith blog entitled Change which probes the question of how we should deal with changes we may observe in our spouse. Here are my comments (slightly modified) on Starfoxy's post and follow-up remarks by another person:

One of my father's favorite sayings is "Nothing in life is certain except change." And hopefully we can concentrate on dealing with change (in ourselves and in others) in a positive, rather than a negative way, especially as change may affect marital relationships.

[Commenter E], I think you have a good point about spouses trying to be their best for each other. If we knew President Hinckley was coming to visit us, we would probably take care in our grooming and dress, and be on our best behavior, out of love and respect for the prophet of the Lord. Would it not enhance our relationship with our eternal companion if we showed similar love and respect for our spouses? Of course our bodies and personalities change over the years. But in my experience, if we continue to try to (as you put it) "[do] the best you can with what you got (within reason)," our spouse will see us through the lens of love, which blends the past and present to increased advantage.

As a child, a noticed that my mother always combed her hair and freshened her lipstick just before my father arrived home from work. She and my father always spoke and acted respectfully to one another, even in times of disagreement. Those ways of acting communicated to me that they were in love; and that it was just as important for them to look nice for each other, and behave well towards each other, as to look and act well for a public appearance.

When my mother was ninety, bedridden with Alzheimer's, shrunken in frame, and wandering in mind, my father lovingly cared for her, dressing her tenderly in inexpensive, but attractive nightgowns, combing her sparse white hair and putting a touch of lipstick on her lips. To him she was still beautiful, forever his beloved queenly wife. And although she lost all short term memory, she was blessed to retain her recognition of her adored and adoring husband until her dying day.

Now in my sixties, as I look around at the older couples I know who have been happily married for over forty years, I notice that most of them have continued to take some thought for their appearance, and also work on improving their relationship, rather than taking it for granted. As my daughter (in her 30's) observed, why wait until you are divorced, and seeking a new mate, to suddenly sharpen your looks to be attractive to the opposite sex? And why not care enough for your spouse (and your children) to try to overcome a quick temper, a sharp tongue, or a sullen disposition which may be new or longstanding barriers to familial unity.

None of us are perfect, but a sense of humor combined with a generous spirit generally seem to help happy couples to come to terms with irritating habits, increasing pounds and wrinkles, and personality changes due to coping with babies and toddlers, work-related stress, illness, or age. And a special added measure of joy seems to grace the lives of those who make the effort to put their best foot forward, whenever they can, for the person with whom they hope to spend all eternity.


Stephen said...

I think you've got the point exactly right.

RoAnn said...

Stephen, thank you. Your good opinion is very much appreciated.

JKS said...

There is definitely a delicate balance of unconditional love vs. conditional love for one's spouse.
There are conditions in marriage. Fidelity is one obvious example, as you get further down the list, it gets iffy. We feel justified in reasonably expecting our spouse to meet certain conditions.
Almost all spouses fall short of any list. Who could fulfill our needs 24/7? Sometimes he or she might be selfish, or tired, or clueless. There is work, children, health and other conflicts that distract or prevent perfect spousal behavior.
I think that concentrating on your spouse's performace is one of the worst things you can do for your marriage...even when we feel justified because of church standards. "Heavenly Father wants me to have a wife who is temple worthy, is a good mother, works hard, doesn't yell, and doesn't.....(fill in the blank with whatever sins they are guilty of)."
We should instead be thinking, "Heavenly Father loves my husband. It is his work and his glory to help my spouse have eternal life. He put him on earth in order to reach his potential. What kind of spouse does my Heavenly Father want me to be in order to help him in this work."
Changing yourself is far easier and far more effective than attempting to change your spouse. Anyone who read Starfoxy's post and started thinking "my spouse should...." instead of thinking, "Maybe I could...." needs to stop and rethink. And I don't care if the spouse hasn't bathed in a month!
(Changing yourself sometimes does effect the changes in your spouse you are hoping for).

RoAnn said...

JKS, thanks for some excellent points. It is all too easy to make ourselves unhappy in our preoccupation with all the motes we think we see in our spouse's eyes.

Changing our goal to becoming a better helpmeet, rather than a sharper critic, will probably raise the happiness quotient significantly for both spouses.

annegb said...

I've sort of fallen in love with my husband again as we have navigated this first year of the empty nest. His commitment to me amazes me. I didn't grow up like that. You're very lucky, Roann.

There is a book by Anne Tyler called The Patchwork Planet that really explores the love and devotion of older couples. It's my favorite.

RoAnn said...

I'll have to check out that Anne Tyler book, annegb. We hear too much about all the failed marriages, and not enough about those that have endured well.