It's funny, whether you read a book or watch a movie, you can find a couple where one is ultimately devoted to the other. One person in the couple will do anything to be with the love of their life. They will move heaven and earth, fight evil, and live in harsh conditions. They will forgive any past wrongs, and devote themselves to the welfare and happiness to the one they love.
Now lets be honest, my gut reaction is, "I want someone like that! I want someone to always think of me first, be what I need, devote themselves to every wish and desire I have." The hard truth, is I never think to myself, "I want to be that for someone else. I want to always love someone else above my own wishes and desires, devoting my life to their happiness and health." At the very core, my sin of selfishness reigns strongest.
This here in lies the only times when Paul and I struggle in our marriage. You can use words like selfishness, submission, miscommunication, independence, expectations, it doesn't matter. When one or both of us stops looking out for the other, then we have a hard time communicating, living, and helping each other. our marriage hurts in these times.
I noticed this trend about two years ago. Paul and I were miscommunicating a lot. He was hurt by things I said, I was hurt by things he did, and when he was arguing with me about how I wasn't appreciating him, my gut reaction was to "nicely" point out how much I did around the house and all the things that go unnoticed. He was feeling unloved and I was feeling unloved. We were both needing and missing attention from the other person. He was coming to me saying, "I need..." and I was thinking and feeling, "I need...". We were both in so much need we couldn't give to the other. And for some reason, in that moment, a light bulb went off. This conversation wasn't about me, he was trying to share his needs, his frustration, his hurt. My job was to listen. He needed me to listen. And so instead of speaking my piece about my hurt, I waited. My hurt and my opinions were screaming to be heard. I remember squeezing my hands together as I listened to my husband communicate how he felt unseen and unappreciated and I wasn't supporting him. (Clearly he wasn't noticing the children were still alive, the house was semi cleaned, the laundry done and dinner always made. I felt I was supporting him plenty by taking care of all the house duties and he wasn't appreciating me!) But that wasn't what was happening. Paul needed to be heard. He needed me to put his needs first for a change. He needed me to listen and support him.
And so I did.
What I noticed was by the end of the conversation, he got around to verbally affirming all that I do. He recognized my hard work and thanked me for it. What he said he needed in that moment was just my listening ear and support. In that discussion I was able to see our pattern.
And here is our pattern: Paul and I get busy. Life happens, he goes out on gigs with the band, I travel to go speak, he gets a few acting gigs that take up the next couple weekends, our kids have swim lessons and field trips, people visit or we go visit people. In that kind of life, date nights, quality time with spouse and kids falls away to chores and life responsibility. We both ending up giving so much to our jobs and chores and our children that we have nothing left over for each other. Then our response turns selfish toward one another.
I think, "Can't you see all I am doing? Please affirm me, and help me and pull your weight around here."
Paul is thinking, "Can't you see all I am doing? Please affirm me, and understand and don't put expectations me and just listen and support me I am doing everything I can to find extra work to pay our bills."
When both of us are feeling empty, one of us has to step up. One of us has to man up and think of the other person first. (We both try to communicate to each other about what we need, but when our hearts feel empty, someone has to act first.) I usually fall in the immature camp waiting for Paul to be mature and do it first.
Paul and I fell into this pattern again recently and I noticed we were arguing and feeling unnoticed and not cherished. So I put the theory to the test and tried to love as God loves us, unselfishly. Even though I was feeling deeply unappreciated I tried hard to be the person in the movie that everyone wants. I choose to organize my days so that when Paul came home, I could spend time with him. I wanted dinner ready and the kids and I would cheer for Paul when he came home. Instead of doing chores in the evening, I would sit with Paul and we would talk. I would listen and affirm him. I tried very hard to devote myself to making sure he knew he was loved.
I knew how to do this because yes, Christ poured himself out for all people, he spoke of loving God and loving others. He spoke and lived to love others. But my real life example really is my husband and Christ in him. I would say that when we married and even today I struggle to love like he does. Every decision he makes, I and the kids are at the forefront of his mind. When he knows I have had a long day, he brings me a coffee or puts the kids to bed to give me a break. He won't buy new running shoes so that we can use the extra money for groceries. He has taught me in the daily grind of life what it means to love others and put their needs first.
Day in and day out he is my real life romantic comedy and the man I dreamed of wanting to spend my life with. One who finds his joy in my happiness and fulfillment.
I have learned from him to love him that way.
Now I'm not gonna lie, when we do this for one another, our life together is filled with so much more joy. When I put Paul ahead of my myself it sounds selfless, but truly in the end, he feels filled with love and thus in return can love me. Can see beyond his own need to help out around the house, to see me, and make sure I feel loved. So I guess you can even make it selfish to love someone this way if you wanted to but that really is the wrong motive. I want my husband to know he is loved, cherished and appreciated.
As I write this I feel like you might get this impression that Paul and I have this whole thing figured out. Let's be clear that I have made a living emptying my pride and inviting others into all my mistakes and learning experiences. I write this to remind myself of how to love my husband and those around me. I write this to share with you what I have learned in my marriage. To remind myself that loving someone else deeply and wholly truly is a wonderful gift.
This is not my idea, nor am I first to write it, but living it every day is hard and we could all use a little reminder every now and then.