by the Rev. Peter K. Stimpson

QUESTION: Married couples say “I love you” so freely, or perhaps I should say “loosely.” I don’t think many people know what those words really mean. As a priest and a marriage counselor, what would be your explanation?

ANSWER: Large books have been written on this topic. Here is a small answer.

1. MIND & HEART: Love is an attraction to what is perceived as good. Your mind has to see the worth of a person before your heart can express your affection. Love, therefore, is not a whimsical emotion, but rather a reaction to the depth and majesty of the other.

2. THE EYES OF THE OTHER: To drive my point home, when a person feels insecure, I often ask them why their spouse loves them. Could it be your spouse is just stupid and cannot see what a loser you are? Or, could they see what a nice person is hiding underneath that rough exterior? My facetious comment makes a person see their own value reflected back to them in the eyes of their lover.

3. A COVENANT: Love in marriage is not a boring, stagnant, legal contract carved in stone that locks you into a relationship, but rather a living breathing commitment to ongoing growth with one another. Your vow is like a protective bubble, keeping interference out and intensity in.

4. BRAVE: Love means having the courage to ask the other person to grow. Perhaps that means learning to argue with sensitivity instead of aggression or to be humbly yourself instead of wearing a mask of superiority.

5. PATIENT: As long as a person is genuinely receptive to your sensitive call for them to grow, the speed of that growth is less important. They may be weak where you are strong, and so have to grow according to their time clock, not yours. Remember, your spouse will have to be patient with you too!

6. KIND: Growth requires sandpaper and blankets. Sandpaper for the growing edge, but blankets for kindness. If you come across as arrogant and demanding, trying to control and manipulate, all you will get is defensiveness, procrastination, and broken promises. Your spouse does not want a teacher, just a lover.

7. FORGIVING: In this journey prompted by love, all of us make mistakes, say insensitive, sarcastic, and cruel things to win arguments or in retaliation for feeling hurt. What should you do? Punish the other, extracting your pound of flesh? No. The punishment for being selfish is to be selfish. Instead, if the person is truly sorry, give them another chance as forgiveness is based more on the fact that your spouse can really change and less on that you are a nice person.

8. DON’T BE ENVIOUS: If your spouse showers your children, family, and friends with love, that is not taking anything away from you. Love is not a quantity, so that you are getting less of the pie. It is a quality. The more your spouse exercises his or her love for others, the better able they become to love you.

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