Learning to Love in All the Wrong (to us) Ways

You met somehow. You fell in love. You couldn’t help but share with your friends and family how amazing this person was and how you just have SO MUCH IN COMMON! and how it all just seemed to click. Remember that? Then the years pass and you get closer and know each other more and more and the differences begin to be clarified and become maybe just a little bit more glaring. And despite the fact that from a distance there are far more similarities and congruencies, it sure becomes easier and easier to see the areas where you differ.

It seems to be a common theme. And while of course there are certainly couples who diverge from that storyline, from discussions with other women and men I know this seems to be more the norm than the exception in married life. I’ve learned it’s especially true when it comes to giving and receiving love. We find ourselves wed to someone who feels and experiences love in an entirely different way than we do. If you’re like my husband and me, you then often end up loving “past” each other and entirely missing the mark, growing frustrated and resentful when our efforts at love go unappreciated or when our own valid need for love doesn’t feel fulfilled.

It sounds like it should work differently. But maybe? Maybe that’s part of the plan. Maybe there really is something to the idea of opposites attracting. Not in the big stuff of life necessarily, but in the little things. The ways that we feel love and give love. Perhaps God sometimes needs to bring people together who love in completely opposite ways to help us learn what real love is, the sort of love that dies to itself and is pulled out of comfort zones.

The Five Love Languages is a popular book by Gary Chapman that expounds on this idea further. According to the premise of the book, there are five different basic love languages: Physical Affection, Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, and Acts of Service. None of the love languages are inherently better than the other. Every person, however, has one or two languages in which they primarily experience and feel love and often people naturally offer their own love in the way that they feel the most loved, even if that is not the way in which their partner feels loved. The challenge for a happy and joyful Marriage then becomes seeking to love the other in the way that the other feels loved rather than how you want to love your spouse. The converse challenge is recognizing and appreciating the ways that your partner is trying to love you even if you don’t feel it as love.

It sounds simple but it can be hard to do. When the way that this other person needs to be loved is entirely outside your comfort zone or when we want to place our own love language on our tongues because we feel that’s they way they SHOULD want to be loved, loving — true selfless loving — becomes hard. It becomes a death to our own desires and temperaments, wishes and emotions. It can hurt but as True Love showed us clearly, there is no greater love than to offer yourself as sacrifice for the sake of the beloved.

How do you experience love? How does your spouse? Is it the same? If you’re like many couples, maybe you vary wildly in this and God is placing before you a chance to offer them the gift of yourself, free of self interest or ulterior motive. Perhaps in the interest of building up your Marriage loving your spouse means stepping out of that comfort zone or preferences and learning to love in a way that feels foreign to us. It might mean mopping a floor when you’d rather grab him for a kiss or it might mean looking right into her eyes and sharing how proud you are of her when you’d rather just take care of the laundry.

Saint John Paul II tell us that “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Cardinal Raymond Burke even recently boldly stated “There’s no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in Marriage.” What if that’s true? What if one little way that we can respond to the evil we see all around us is through loving our spouse better? It won’t be immediately apparent (as the way God works so often aren’t) and we might stumble along the way. But perhaps in our own little ways of learning to love our spouse and availing ourselves of that sacramental grace He wishes to pour down upon us, not only might we change ourselves and our families but maybe, just maybe, we might change the world.

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