Have you ever given your wife or husband a gift only to have them not appreciate it the way you had hoped? I live in a house with a 2 car garage and when my wife Brandi and I were dating she would come over often with her dog and if it was raining or icy out and they would be a mess, so I thought, “hey her birthday is coming up I’m going to give her something thoughtful, something considerate…a garage door opener!” This has gone down as one of the worst gifts she’s ever been given. See, we don’t all value affection in the same way and that’s what we’re talking about today, love-preferences.
Marriage Bank Account
There’s a fantastic book by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcek called, “Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving the First Five Years of Marriage and in it they discuss the fact that our level of fulfillment in our marriage can be thought of like a bank account meaning the relationship has a balance and there are things you do for one another that are like making deposits into this account, but if one person or the other isn’t really giving into the relationship, then the account can go into a negative balance. I really like this analogy and often refer to it. Once I sent Brandi flowers and even wrote a little note on a bank deposit slip to point out that I was intentionally making an effort to do something nice for her. Sometimes though you do and do and do and the other person just doesn’t see any of that effort you are making to enhance the relationship. That can lead one to think, “well what’s the point?” or feel unappreciated and this is actually one of the most difficult things for couples to change about themselves. Honestly, it is the biggest reasons why relationships don’t work out. According to the Popceks, the leading cause for marital breakdown is when people aren’t willing to love their spouse more than their comfort zone. It’s not that couples aren’t compatible, they’re just unwilling to do what it takes to make their spouse feel loved.
Recently, Fr. Tom during a homily said that love isn’t a feeling, love is a choice. I think that’s a great segway to what we’re discussing here. I’m sure that at some point you have heard the term “love language”. In the Popceks’ book they use the term “lovestyle” which is a good way to think about it. They identify three categories of styles that people tend to fall into in the way that they receive affection:
- Visual – all about the love notes, flowers and gifts. I can see that you love me.
- Auditory – tell me you love me, let’s talk so that I can hear that you love me.
- Kinesthetic – show me you love me by doing something for me. I need to feel loved.
One of the activities in their book is to sit down and write out 25 specific things that your spouse has done or could do that would make you feel loved and then share it with your partner. I have to admit that this exercise is really challenging. Brandi is direct and literal as she’s an engineer, so there have been times in our marriage where she’s said, “Ray obviously you’re upset that I didn’t do something, just tell me so that I can do it next time.” I’m the kind of person that’s like, “I shouldn’t have to tell you, you should know me well enough to figure it out and do it.” There have been times where she’s pointed out that sometimes I don’t even know what I really need in order to feel appreciated causing her to throw up her hands in exasperation and say, “How can I love you when you don’t even know how you want to be loved?!?” Obviously I have the wrong approach and it’s no wonder I’ve been through a divorce! In an attempt to avoid a second, I finally wrote out a list for her and she did the same. It was eye opening. A random “I love you” text for no reason makes her day. Text me in the middle of the day and I’m like Scrooge “Bah! Why are you bothering me while I’m trying to work!” She’s a words person, a little auditory and a lot visual. I’m a kinesthetic spend time with me kind of person. It means the world to me when she or even our kids hang out with me in the kitchen after dinner rather than retreating to their rooms.
You could think of these different love-preferences as your currency. If you want to make a deposit into your marital bank account, you need to do it in a way that you’ll get credit for by your partner. Just like banks don’t always accept bills from foreign countries, our spouses don’t always receive our efforts because of their style.
Time For Reflection
One thing that can make or break a marriage is taking time to reflect on your relationship and discuss how you both are doing. It sounds awkward and it can be at first, but setting aside time to say, “hey I noticed that you brought me coffee this morning and I really appreciated it.” goes a long way and reinforces that you both are making effort to go in the right direction. So, when are you going to do this? People talk about the importance of date nights, but that’s not regularly all that practical for many of us especially with small children…or older children with activities…or people who take business trips…or those with no children but lots of volunteer activities… (see where I’m going with this? There’s always something.) A great way to guarantee time to reflect on your relationship is to participate in a marriage retreat. We are putting one on this October 7th here at the parish and it’s just a one day deal. Come in the morning, listen to Fr. Alessandro share some insight into God’s plan for our marriages and have an opportunity to reflect on what is going well and what could go better. We will have time for prayer and reconciliation and end the day with a private Mass followed by a candlelight dinner.
Taking time to figure out your own love-preferences and then sharing them with your partner is a relationship changing experience. And it’s important to note that this isn’t just something for people who are on the verge of a break down or anything like that. Everyone’s relationship gets better when you make intentional effort to be more of what your spouse needs you to be. Troubled relationships can be saved, but great marriages can get even better.
I promised some examples of good Catholic parenting and that’s what we’re going to talk about next time when we turn our focus back to practical things you can do to pass on our faith to your kids. See you then!