Legitimate self-concern versus “unconditional love” in marriage Part 2

Legitimate self-concern versus “unconditional love” in marriage Part 3 - Field of Red Tulips

This is the second part to an article posted last week
Part 3 of this article is available here
The three parts of this article have now been compiled into a single free ebook, available in a wide variety of ebook formats

I dream of a marriage where love and joy and smiles and kindness are liberally poured out – not stingily measured out with scientific precision, depending on previous actions.  It is not about “give and take”, rather it is about “give and give”  or rather yet “give and give – and pray”.  Now I can be confident about my chances of getting such a marriage – because I myself am going to be doing everything I can, by the empowerment of God, to make this happen!  Obviously it will work best for both of us where we are both cultivating this attitude.

Some people are really not all that bothered about marriage.  They would be more than happy to simply get a spouse who ticks all the right social boxes, and “get on with it”.  However as a person I am strongly affected by the attitude of people around me.  If I am surrounded by negative people then I feel miserable.  This is a large reason why I always struggled with the work environments at different jobs.  For me I literally need to be enveloped by love and kindness from the people around me. Perhaps this is why marriage for me is such a big deal and why I know that personally speaking, I simply cannot afford to get it wrong.

The meaning of marital needs
Whenever (Christian) people start talking about “meeting a husband’s needs in marriage”, this usually makes me cringe, because almost invariably, they will be referring to his sexual needs. That is included in these consideration, but it goes far beyond that.  Rather when I am talking here about needs, I am talking about all the needs that either spouse might have, as far as it is possible to meet them.  Pray as I might, God has not seen fit to grant me 25 hours in the day (although He has enabled me to be more efficient with the time He has given me). Through time or other constraints,  I may not be able to deal with everything, but I can certainly do what I can.  Here I am talking about giving myself 100% to doing what I can do, what is within my grasp.

Loving him unconditionally does not mean that I cannot pray for my husband about the ways he might be falling short, or lovingly discuss these areas with him as necessary. Trust me, I will do both of these things.  (For all I know, the man I will eventually marry, hoping I do eventually get married, is already praying desperately for my own inadequacies!)  Rather it is about not trying to force him to act in any certain way, even if these are things that he actually does need to do, even if the failure to do them represents an unacceptable failing in his life.  It is about letting the impetus for positive change in his life and his actions come from the spirit of God, rather than my own nagging.

I know that even within marriage, there can be a  constant fear of being rejected by your spouse.  What if I give my one hundred percent, or even my one thousand percent, only for him to throw it back into my face?  I hope that this is not an expression of my unmarried naïveté, but I am thinking that if I genuinely do it for him, not tying his acceptance to my own self-esteem, not tying his behaviour to my self-esteem at all, then that would make this situation easier to bear.  That said, I think I would actually be crushed if someone threw all my efforts back at me.  I would have to handle this situation with much prayer so that God Himself would act to rescue my self-esteem.

Re-igniting a marriage from a place of staleness/stagnation
I always think that a big part of the difficulty in considering a stagnant marriage is the mutual vulnerability that the spouses must take on to get back to a place of marital vibrancy. What if I do everything to express love to him, and I go out of my way to expend lots of time, effort and money only for him to just laugh at me, or throw it back at me?

What if you concentrated on doing your own part, continuing to pour out love no matter what – and you left the rest to God?  What if you cried out and pestered God with the frustration that you would rather direct at your spouse, until God gets fed up and finally moves the hard heart of your spouse?  Believe it or not, pestering God, or “twisting His arm”, as some Christians like to put it, is a totally Biblical and legitimate way of thinking about prayer. This is the pragmatic advice that Jesus Himself gives us in Luke 18 verses 1-8, that we should pester God like a desperate widow pestered a reluctant judge for justice against her enemies – until the judge finally got fed up and acted in her favour.
I’m thinking that if your spouse married you in the first place, that indicates that they are not totally immune to you (although I appreciate that the dynamics of marriage can change this greatly).  However, even if they are now in a place where they are immune to your biggest efforts, then try as hard as they might, they cannot remain immune to God!

So what, Tosin, you mean you are going to use prayer as a means of manipulating and controlling your spouse?  Joke response – with my eyes and  mouth wide open in shock that anyone would even bother to ask “Of course! That is what prayer is there for! In fact, I have already started…”
More serious response – this is not actually manipulation, because God is the One who is acting. Try as I might, I will never actually be able to control God, or “twist His arm”.  This is after all God we are talking about.  He’s kinda big!  And have you seen how powerful that arm is?!  It created the whole universe!  He will only do things that are in accordance with His will, and that will promote His holy purposes.  So it is not that I am using God to get my husband to act as I wish.  Rather, in the act of prayer, I am making myself available to God so that He God will use my prayers to achieve the purposes that He has.  For some reason, God often ties His action to our prayers.  So I am the one who is being used. Even the act of prayer is an expression of love for my spouse, and obviously also myself.

Love is only going as far as the other person needs, or requests. Now I am really excited about the prospect of showering my husband with unconditional love. It might just be easy to try to bombard him with various expressions of love. However, it occurred to me that this might not be a successful strategy. It may be that for whatever reason, he is not in a place where he can accept these self-less gifts, or he might just not want them in the format which I might most readily think of. I think that love is being attuned to the other person’s requirements and needs. I have personally been in situations where people have seemed determined to bombard me with “niceness” and sincerely, I cannot tell you how eye-rollingly tedious it can be. It seemed as if it was more about their having a chance to express their niceness, than about what might actually have been relevant to my own requirements. As a person, I genuinely have no need for people to go out of their way to be “nice” to me. All that I require is for people to be sincerely friendly and to treat me as a human being with full human capabilities, discretion and judgement. (Many times, despite the “niceness”, this was consistently missing). However, as I write this, it occurs to me that I have also done exactly the same thing to other people, over-emphasising the “nice” thing. So I guess you have to listen carefully and observantly to the other person, listen to what they say, as well as what they don’t say. It is not about emphasising the chance to express my own niceness, rather it is about carefully and diplomatically presenting what they might need, or want, in the way that is most accessible to them.

Bible Verses:
1 Corinthians 13v5-6:
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth…;

This is the second part of this post.
Read Part One here
Read Part Three here
Red Tulip image by Petr Kratochvil at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net
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