Marriage requires kindness. That’s a no-brainer. We all know it, we all get it.
Putting it faithfully into practice: a whole other matter.
TIME Magazine recently had a piece called “How to Stay Married” in their June 13, 2016 issue. SJ asked me to read it, and he wanted to discuss it later. It is worth a read.
There are multiple truths in this article, no surprises. The biggest one of course, is that marriage is hard work.
“The things we don’t know about what keeps people together are legion. But here are some of the things we do know: if people get married after about the age of 26, have college degrees, haven’t already had kids or gotten pregnant, and are gainfully employed, they tend to stay married. If individuals form romantic partnerships with individuals who are similar to them in values and background, they find it easier to stay married. And the devout, by a slim but significant margin, get divorced slightly less often than people for whom faith is not a big deal.”
Gary Chapman and his 5 love languages was cited (if you haven’t read this, GET IT NOW!). Again, we all know this– 1) we need to understand not only how we feel loved, but how to make our partner feel loved; 2) learn to apologize and to forgive. “Resentment is one of contempt’s chief co-conspirators.”
Now to the part that I know SJ wanted “to discuss” with me. I’m sad to say, that even during this discussion, I was mildly contemptuous.
“One constant is to avoid contempt at all costs. By contempt, therapists mean more than making derogatory remarks about a partner’s desirability or earning power. It’s also communicated by constant interruption, dismissal of their concerns or withdrawal from conversation.
Contempt, say therapists, sets off a lethal chain reaction. It kills vulnerability, among other things. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for intimacy. Without intimacy, commitment is a grind. And without commitment, the whole enterprise goes pear-shaped.”
Guilty. When I am stressed, my mood shifts easily to impatience and contempt. And these past months have been rife with it. As much as I feel I am trying to be patient and forbearing (often by going silent in an attempt to not be derogatory, and “withdrawing from conversation”), I’m not doing a very good job. And I know my contempt is thinly veiled.
SJ asked, even though he knows I know the answer,
“What is the way in which I give love?”
“Acts of Service,” I replied glibly, feigning boredom (aka contempt) over being quizzed.
“And, how do I feel love?”
Ah, I know where he’s going with this. I have too often confused that I need to “do” acts of service to make him feel loved. Nope. “Words of encouragement,” I responded reluctantly, fully realizing I don’t do this often enough; or when I do it, it sometimes sounds hollow and false. I’m pretty simple: my love language, both giving and receiving is physical touch and closeness. I feel love with ALL of the love languages, but most intensely with physical touch.
Back to the fruit of the spirit, a scripture I long ago memorize because I really need to be reminded of it CONSTANTLY:
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
I speak several languages, a few fairly fluently. I can communicate with pre-schoolers and diplomats alike (by virtue of careers in both fields). But a language in which I’m very deficient in my closer relationships is words of encouragement/affirmation. They were painfully absent in my own childhood, and I just never developed an innate sense of speaking that language outside my professional requisites. And then I didn’t practice it thereafter enough to make it fluent. Words of encouragement involve patience, kindness, and gentleness.
The article goes on to state:
“Another helpful adjustment is to drop the idea of finding a soul mate. ‘We have this mythological idea that we will find a soul mate and have these euphoric feelings forever,’ says Chapman. In fact, soul mates tend to be crafted, not found. ‘There are tens of thousands of people out there that anyone could be happily married to,’ says Gottman. ‘And each marriage would be different.'”
And how do you make a soul mate? Practice, practice, practice. Pillemer observed that long-married couples he interviewed always acted as if divorce was not an option. ‘People really had the mind-set they wanted to stay married,’ he says. They regarded their partnership as less like buying a new car and more like learning to drive. ‘Marriage is like a discipline,’ he says. ‘A discipline is not reaching one happy endpoint.’
Of course the article touches upon other important mainstays of good marriages: family dinners, couple time without kids, saying thank you, friendship, common interests, and active intimacy (once again, we only get to intimacy with vulnerability, and vulnerability only happens when there is trust and not contempt). Bottom line: hard work, but worth it.
So, what is the opposite of contempt? It IS the Fruit of the Spirit, but most of all it is kindness. Starting with kindness seems to pave the way for all the others. I need to flex my kindness muscle, which at its root requires patience and gentleness in my spirit. It’s a discipline I need to work on daily.
Practice, practice, practice.
Source quoted: TIME Magazine, June 13, 2016, “How to Stay Married.”