January 31

Spectrum of Loving

January 31, 2018

Marriage

One day I was watching an interaction between Matthew and his wife, Louise, who was critical and attacking toward him and toward many other people who were not present. If words had an odor, we'd have been in an outhouse.

Not once did Matthew defend himself, and when Louise left the room, I asked, "Why didn't you say anything? Why didn't you point out the obvious errors in what she was saying about you and other people?" I was not suggesting that he should have spoken, only asking a true question, to learn more about Matthew.

"I didn't say anything," he said, "because I thought my silence was better than picking up a wrench and splitting her skull with it."

You might suppose that during his interaction with Louise, Matthew was simply suppressing his anger, which might not appear to be loving. Certainly he didn't express his understanding of her, or touch her gently, or kiss her on the forehead. But he recognized that he wasn't capable of that level of loving. What he did recognize was that he and Louise had experienced a great many bitter, contentious arguments in the past, and he had learned that they never, ever led to an increase in love or intimacy. So he made a conscious choice to do the most loving thing he was capable of in that moment: he simply shut his mouth.

Rarely are we capable of being perfectly loving, even for moments. So there's no need to make ourselves feel guilty about our failure to attain the nearly unattainable. It's not usually productive to motivate ourselves with stern reminders of what we "should" be doing. It's much more realistic—and far more consistently satisfying—to focus on being as loving as we're capable of being in any given moment. For Matthew, that meant closing his mouth instead of smacking his wife across hers. For you that might mean listening instead of arguing. It might involve a gentle smile or touch. It might even mean simply leaving the room instead of beginning or continuing an argument.

Be aware of the spectrum of loving, and that you can't be at the extreme loving end all the time. Enjoy what you can do. Be grateful for it. Gradually improve on it. That will be enough.

Real Love in Marriage

Find genuine happiness now and forever.

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