Last year, after I had been married for three days, I wrote about what I have learned about love. Today, I have been married for 1 year and three days, so I thought I might revisit that list, and see if there was anything I might add. I think it holds up ok, but certainly I have learned more. A seminary professor of mine, Tom Breidenthal, who is now the Bishop of Southern Ohio, wrote a marvelous book called 'Christian Households', the subtitle of which is 'the Sanctification of Nearness', and from him I learned that so much of being a Christian is learning to be a neighbor, one who is 'nigh', or near, and that this matters in everything from our most intimate relationships to the ending of wars and disease. It has had a profound effect on my life, and my own relationships, and most certainly my marriage. In the past year, I have learned a few more things about love:
Listening is an act of love
I don't think I have learned anything more important than this, to really listen to my beloved. It doesn't matter if I know what he is going to say, or I have heard the story before, or even if what he is saying is wrong or makes me upset. I try to just be present and receive his thoughts. I can sort out my response later, if there is one. And when I talk, I always tell him, 'I just need you to listen to me,' and he does. Even when it is hard for him not to have an action plan.
You really don't need to 'do' anything
This goes with listening, and I think it goes against our grain, especially in relationships. We really want to fix things. But I have learned we don't really have to. This is especially true when we share our feelings. If I say, 'I feel scared when you drive fast,' this is not my way of saying 'slow down'. I just want you to know how I feel, and what you do with that information is up to you. If I feel like it is unsafe to drive with you, I won't do it. All I want when I express my feelings is to be heard and understood. If the exchange feels like you can't drive because I will be afraid, then this feels like emotional manipulation, like I am trying to control your actions with my feelings. And in my experience, if you slow down so that I won't be afraid, all this does is breed resentment. If, instead, you express sympathy for my feelings, while doing what you do, then I feel safer and more loved. Again, if I feel what you are doing is dangerous, I will move away. Learning to love is learning to let others have whatever feelings they are having and not having to fix them.
My beloved is innocent
This is something I learned early on, because when we are first in love, we see the other person with rose-colored glasses. They would never do anything to hurt us. But sometimes we can lose this feeling and suddenly think our most dear partner is whistling between his teeth just to annoy us! I don't believe this is true. This person who adores me is just doing what he is doing, and if he is late for dinner, it is not because he is disrespectful, it is because he got caught up in something at work and he came home as soon as he could. We have the power to frame how we perceive what others are doing, and thus we have the power to frame it in a lens of love. If we really believe that the person we love most in the world is intentionally doing things to harm us emotionally, then that is a very serious conversation we need to have. If not, it changes so much to keep those rose-colored glasses on and to see that person as being motivated by the best of intentions.
Opinions are not facts
They just aren't. There is no 'right' way to load a dishwasher. My husband loves the process, it is his profession, and he has strong opinions about doing things with maximum efficiency. Me, not so much. But since I know he feels strongly about, say, which way the bowls go, I do it his way because it makes him happy. Not because it is 'right'. And he appreciates it all the more.
Some of the things I have learned about love are the tiniest things, the every day stuff of life. But I really believe that if we can learn to live in peace in our most mundane and intimate moments, we can learn to live in peace in our biggest and most fraught ones. And we follow a Lord who says things like, 'turn the other cheek' and 'go the extra mile', and to me it is as important to remember these things in the every day things as in the grand ones.
I can't wait to see what I learn in the next year!