A second in an occasional series (Part I here).
But sooner or later it will dawn on us: my spouse is as human as I am. Yikes! (Of course this thought, if we are lucky, might be tempered by the realization that our spouse has already figured that out about us.)
Since we’re human, we will make mistakes. All sorts of mistakes. We’ll do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, think the wrong thing. We’ll hurt one another’s feelings (whether we mean to or not), and we may take offense, even when none is intended. We’ll be judgmental. We may even try to change one another.
How do good marriages survive those kinds of mistakes? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have one: Charity.
Before you hit the delete key, thinking you’ve stumbled on another Sunday School answer, let me explain. If ever there were a place for charity (that is, the pure love of Christ) it is in our homes with our spouses. And (if my experience is any measure) it may the hardest place to have charity.
Why should we have charity? Well, we’ve spent weeks, months, maybe years trying to convince our spouse during the courting years that we were in love. That love should not peter out after the wedding, but should continue to grow. And that love should grow beyond the romantic and sexual love that are so prevalent during courting. (And if we nurture it, it does grow!) We’ve made covenants with that spouse of ours and part of honoring that covenant is to foster the development of love in the relationship.
What good does charity do in a marriage? Plenty! I have a friend who signs off her emails with the words “Assume the best.” Not a bad motto, and especially not a bad motto within our families. In a family with charity, I could assume that whatever my lovely wife says to me is said with love and concern for me. If I choose to hear everything that way, I am much less likely to take offense or feel the need to defend my position. And if I am always assuming the best about my spouse, then I am much less likely to offend in the first place, because I’m more likely to put her needs above mine in the relationship. (The fact that I understand this intellectually should not lead you to a conclusion that I actually do it all the time; I fail often, because I’m human.)
President Kimball taught that the best marriages are not 50:50 affairs in which each partner loses half the time. Instead they are 100:100 unions in which each spouse looks out for the good of the other, and each spouse finds joy in helping the other to succeed. That’s a risky proposition if the relationship is unhealthy, because one spouse who gives 100% to another spouse who gives nothing is a recipe for therapy at best, and maybe even ending the marriage or worse. But in a healthy relationship, giving ourselves to one another is a valuable component of a successful marriage.
But even in the most charitable marriage, there may be some moments that are not perfect. In those instances, charity leads to forgiveness. (Forgiveness is my letting go of the offense, not my excusing the other party from the consequences of that offense, by the way.) I’m grateful for the charity that my lovely wife shows toward me when she overlooks my flaws and forgives me for mistakes. Interestingly, that does not mean she suffers silently while I do things that annoy her. It means that she has learned over the years to speak to me in a kind, yet assertive, way that communicates her needs in our relationship, so that I have an opportunity to step up and do my part. She speaks from her point of view (which is all she can do). She does not dictate how I respond, and she does not demand that I do certain things. But she tells me what she thinks, what she sees, and what she needs. And she does it kindly.
It’s up to me, then, to determine how to respond. When I respond with charity, I seek to understand her point of view, to understand her needs and to sort out where I’m not meeting those needs. And to change what I’m doing. Our marriage is one where we seek to support one another and to meet one another’s needs. I win when she wins. And she wins when I win. (Some days the kids win, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.)
In the next installment (whenever that is) I’ll talk about how we get people to change.