Monday, 30 September 2013

Let us oft speak kind words...

What was the last thing your spouse said to you before you started reading this?  Can you remember it?  What was the last thing you said to your spouse?

For most couples, husbands and wives spend some time apart from each other most every day.  There is work, church meetings, going off to buy groceries and taking care of other chores. One thing I try to always remember is to never part from my wife without an expression of love.  Even at 5:50am as I quietly exit the bedroom to drive my daughter to seminary I softly whisper an 'I love you' to to her.  She might hear it, it might just sink into her dream in some way, or go totally unnoticed, but I say it.  If she is awake when I'm going somewhere I'll be sure to give her a kiss on my way out.

Part of it is just having an excuse to hold her in my arms for a bit and indulge in some osculation which is always a pleasure, but another part of it is that I want to be on her mind a bit when I'm not around.  I want her to always remember that I love her, that she means the world to me and it is easier to part from her is I share an intimate moment with her first.  Not to be morbid or overly dramatic, but should something happen to make it our last parting in mortality, I want her last memory of me (or mine of her) to be something loving.

Affection should not be saved for parting however.  Compliments, appreciation, affection, praise, and admiration should not be given out sparingly or grudgingly.  If you have only been saying 'I love you' to your spouse in response to them saying it first, then perhaps it is time to step up and show them that you think things like that without having to be prompted first. 

The more specific a compliment is, the more powerful it is.  I knew somebody who would frequently say 'You're the greatest!' to people he worked with, but it was so general and so over used that it came to mean very little to those he said it too.  If you are going to pay a compliment or give praise then name a specific quality of theirs, cite a specific thing they did or accomplished.

Even if you have to think long and hard to come up with an honest compliment for your spouse (and they must be honest) it is well worth the effort to do so.  The power of a kind word at the right time can be miraculous.  James said:
James 3: 4-5
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.
James was giving warning to the Saints of the strife that can result from poisonous words, but the principle works the other way around also.  The tongue has as much power to heal as it does to destroy.  Or in other words:
Let us oft speak kind words to each other
At home or where'er we may be;
Like the warblings of birds on the heather,
The tones will be welcome and free.
They'll gladden the heart that's repining,
Give courage and hope from above,
And where the dark clouds hide the shining,
Let in the bright sunlight of love. 
Oh, the kind words we give shall in memory live
And sunshine forever impart.
Let us oft speak kind words to each other;
Kind words are sweet tones of the heart.
       -- Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words, Hymn 232
Have you given your spouse a compliment today?  Have you told them you love them?  Have you praised anything about them or anything they've done lately?  If not, perhaps it is time to stop reading and go do it.  If you have, why not go do it again right now? 

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Facing the need to change.

One of the things I love about my relationship with my wife is that she welcomes it when I follow my manly impulses.  It doesn't matter if it is a discrete but daring display of physical affection when out in public, a risque text message, wanting to hold the remote control, letting my inner 10 year old out to play, cooking up a pot of super spicy chili, or whatever.  She is fine with me being me and enjoys it when I express my feelings for her in my own way.  She is my partner in all parts of my life, joining me in watching mindless action movies, target shooting (actually I think I was joining her for that) or even going to ComicCon (in cosplay even).  She doesn't try to retrain me, change my interests, mould how I express myself or otherwise reshape me into something I'm not for her comfort.  She will reign me in if I start to go too far but that's a good thing too.

Likewise I don't quash her unique character.  When her fearless optimism sweeps her into starting projects I would never dare to dream of, she knows I won't be one of the obstacles she will face.  I'll watch chick flicks or even play board games with her.  We have expanded each other's horizons many times.  I would have never seen Casablanca were it not for her.

The one area where this did not go so smoothly was in the bedroom.  When we got serious about creating a mutually satisfying marriage we ran head first into the fact that how we act as a lover stems from our sexual identity, and changing our behavior and attitudes about intimacy can't happen without changing something basic about ourselves.  It took a lot more than tagging along to a movie you wouldn't normally choose to watch.

It doesn't work very well if you passively sit back and cheer on your spouse in their pursuit of a better marriage with you, it's your relationship too.  If you don't share a common vision of what your marriage should look like,  what changes would improve it, or if one of you is unwilling to work towards that vision, then that may be the first thing to work on changing.

Sometimes when we are trying to change our marriages for the better it can wind up with one spouse feeling like they are being rejected or not loved for who they are.  It is important to be clear that there is no emotional blackmail going on and your love is not conditional on getting your own way.  The objective is to create a closer bond and stronger attachment that will bring greater happiness to you both, not gratification of your own desires at the expense of your partner's feelings.

Often the 'you want to change who I am' accusation is followed by the the 'why don't you change instead?' question.  And it is a valid question.  It is also a complex question as each situation is unique, and often change is required on both sides.

I would say a good rule of thumb to follow is that change should be in the direction of moving towards each other AND moving towards what God wants marriage to be.  One spouse changing to accommodate the selfishness or other unChristlike characteristics in their spouse is not a good change. Likewise, good change does not create an imbalance so the happiness of one spouse comes at the expense of the other.  If your spouse is challenging you to rise to a higher level of oneness where intimacy with each other and with God is increased, accept the challenge, find a way to rise to meet it, and enjoy the blessings that come as a result.

There are times when serious issues (past abuse, health situations etc.) can make positive change very hard to achieve, or ever make some changes impossible for a time or for all of mortality.  If however the couple is committed to a common vision of what it should be like without such obstacles, then there can be unity in the relationship as they work around them as best they can and look forward to the day when those limits are gone.

Both my wife and I have had to make changes of course.  We have each felt the temptation to push back and try to get our spouse to change so we wouldn't have to improve ourselves, but by ignoring that and making changes for the better we have found a closeness we never would have otherwise.

The Book of Mormon teaches:
Ether 12:27 
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
I believe that this applies to our marriages as well.  If emotional intimacy is a weak area, together you can make it strong, likewise with sexual intimacy or any other part of your relationship. What is required is the humility and faith from both of you to work at it with the trust that God will keep his promise and help make it a strength.

Do you and your spouse share a common vision for your marriage?  If you each made a list of what things you would like to see change, are there any things that would be on both of your lists?  Does your spouse know what would be on your list and do you know what would be on theirs?  Change can be scary, but either you pursue it, or you stay where you are until other forces change things for you.