“And maybe love is letting people be just what they want to be,
The door always must be left unlocked…
To love when circumstance may lead someone away from you,
And not to spend the time just doubting.”
(Howard Jones, “What Is Love?” c1983, Elektra Records.)
Once again it’s dies Solis. It’s a day for reflection, contemplation and enrichment. Actually, every day should be like that.
Earlier today, a friend of mine came to me with a personal question. He asked if my wife and I had ever had any “big fights”. I replied that indeed we had, as I’m sure almost every new couple does within the first few years of marriage. Then, in the process of thinking about his current dilemma, I decided to compose an open letter to both him and his spouse; advice for a newlywed couple, from one that has been married for a quarter of a century so far. What follows here are my musings on conflict resolution in a marriage, and on love itself.
Entering a marriage at a young age assuredly has both advantages and detriments. The advantages include the fact that both parties are young, hopeful, with the entire world and future laid out ahead. The detriments however, include the fact that they may have not yet learned and mastered things like tact, patience, and that most important of interpersonal skills; learning to “agree to disagree”, and to “disagree agreeably.” Stubborn pride is a real pain, and can wreak havoc in a relationship.
Whatever the subject of a couple’s disagreement, they’re both going to have disagreements. This is a fact, because they come from different backgrounds, have differing views on the reality of any given situation. These things however, should not be cause for discouragement! Disagreements don’t have to be “deal-breakers”, because couples can always compromise. (The trick is that both parties have to go into the disagreement, willing to compromise.)
Before I digress any further, please allow me to relay some basic “Rules of Engagement” for marital discussions on disagreements:
- No name calling.
- No “guilting”
- No finger pointing.
- No bringing up past grievances, if they’ve already been settled.
- No hitting / biting / shoving / spitting / kicking…yadda yadda yadda.
- No belittling or demeaning.
- No “standing over” the other person.
Moving on, sometimes love and marriage means saying you’re sorry, even if you don’t think you were the one in the wrong. Don’t let stubborn pride hold up healing.
When disagreements pop up, another important skill that couples develop over time is “de-escalation”, or knowing when and how to definitively say, “I’m not going to fight with you over this, because it’s just not worth fighting over.”
Sometimes in the heat of the moment, things get said that later, one or the other spouse regrets even thinking. This is just my own opinion, but one of the most dishonest things one can do is to say, “I didn’t mean what I said.” Sure you did, when you said it. It might not be what you’re all about now, or have been what you were all about before, but in that particular instant, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth spoketh.” (Here’s where loving enough to forgive (and forget!) comes to the fore!)
Of course, Howard Jones and I are far from the first people to muse on the nature and expression of love. One of the earliest and best descriptions of what love really is, can be found in the Bible. (Yes, my fine young readers, I am about to paraphrase the Bible, so for those of you who happen to be atheists, try not to be too terribly put off by this.) 1st Corinthians 13:1-13 have often been referred to by believers as, “The Love Verses”, because they describe what love should be, and how it should be expressed. I’ll break it down into the “Coles Notes”:
- Love is patient.
- Love is kind.
- Love doesn’t express jealousy.
- Love doesn’t brag or boast.
- Love doesn’t express vanity or pride.
- Love doesn’t bring dishonor to others.
- Love is not selfish; it’s selfless.
- Love is not easy to anger.
- Love is being able to forgive and forget.
- Love doesn’t delight in bad and harmful things, but seeks honesty and integrity.
- Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and has “staying power”. Love never quits.
I have a sneaking suspicion, that one of the main reasons why so many marriages are failing these days, is because either one or the other party, or both parties, don’t have a firm grasp or a mutual understanding of what true love is…and more’s the pity. If more people, especially those in the high places of power, could embrace and express this in the world around them, then that world would definitely be a better place.