A tearful Josephine tells their priest, “I cannot take it anymore. Paul doesn’t love me, and I don’t think that I can love him after all these years of hurt.”
Paul reacts, “There you go. Nothing I do is good enough for you. I work my heart out every day for you and you say that I don’t love you!”
Josephine argues, “You work your heart out every day with or without me.”
Their priest gets both of them to evaluate their attitudes and behavioural patterns. Both realise their high expectations but exceedingly low commitment to their relationship.
Over-committed but under-connected
Being determined to climb the corporate ladder, both are over committed in the career and their children, but are under-connected in marriage. Having given their best to their profession, all to their children, what is left was for each other? No wonder their marriage suffers, because their relationship is never their priority. Both feel expendable, because everyone else matters. There is no recognition of each other as spouse.
It suddenly dawns on Paul that all this while he did not have to do any relationship work in their marriage. Josephine, like most women, got to do all the relationship work without much involvement of her husband. No wonder marriage is so lonely.
Since women work on the relationship, most of the books and marriage-enrichment programmes are designed specifically for women. Inevitably, a strong relationship means having the husband to accommodate and adapt to relate with the wife. From Paul’s perspective, all this is going overboard. A relationship itself is difficult enough, what more to relate to Josephine as a woman.
But this is the emerging trend that is taking the marriage world by storm. It is about packaging the right techniques to love and romance. All this is rooted in our obsession with the pragmatism that embraces all that works as true.
Agent of hope: being there
Remember falling in love for the first time, especially this odd mix of intense excitement and anguish, timidity and enthusiasm. Then, there is this compelling need and drive just to be with each other.
Both Paul and Josephine had this ‘just-being-there-for-each-other’ feeling throughout their courtship and their early married life. Gradually over the years they got used to each other’s absence and busy routine that they completely forgot their need just to be with each other. Now it suddenly dawned on them that because they no longer need to be there for each other, their relationship has soured.
They both realise this is more than a feeling. In fact, it is an indispensable and irreplaceable requisite for any meaningful relationship. Both failed to be physically present to each other. There were plenty of messages via the hand phone and the email, but they were seldom physically present to each other. They picked this simple, but most significant, choice of ‘just to be there for each other’ to kickstart to their diminishing love relationship. Most of us are familiar with this saying, “You can give without love, but one can never love without giving.” There is nothing magical about keeping a date with each other, or including the spouse in the decision-making. Each act can become a powerful agent of hope only as and when it is an expression of one’s love commitment. What matters most is the love behind the deed. And it is only in giving the best to such concrete acts of loving that a relationship thrives and blossoms. Such acts are a powerful means of:
affirming and valuing each other
validating the couple’s expectations and priorities
ensuring marriage is a concrete act of companionship and interdependency
developing necessary rituals and routines crucial for sustaining relationship
enabling the couple to see that having difficulties in a relationship is not equal to a broken marriage
After much deliberation, Paul and Josephine together agreed to give their best to keep these two commitments:
Non-negotiable weekly dates
Keeping this exclusive date for each other every week is vital to their plan to rebuild their relationship. Of course, they do miss the date, but their intention and effort to make their relationship a priority matters. It does not have to be expensive. Sometimes the date could be a cup of coffee, or a walk in the park. No business, or other distractions, but being there just for each other. And it works, because both of them are giving their best to value each other.
Josephine’s veto power over Paul’s schedule
This veto has more impact, for much of their fights occur in this realm. Including Josephine in the decision-making process about his schedule, Paul is actually sharing his life with Josephine. This is actually walking the talk.
Hope: Follow the design by God
The Bible, or any sacred text for that matter, is no marriage handbook. But it gives us clear insights as to its essence. Being God-designed, marriage is a human-scaled model of God’s unconditional love for us.
“Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:24).
Being founded on God’s love does not mean perfection. Over-idealising, like any false notion be it the perfect spouse or total compatibility, not only frustrates, but self-defeats. Simply put, marriage is the Christ-centred relationship that enables the couple to overcome all, including hopeless differences in order to be each other’s ‘Helpmate’.
By now you must have realised that you can never change your spouse. All the blaming, the demanding, or even the commanding won’t work. In such desperate circumstances what will always work is changing myself. Yes. When I want a loving and warm relationship I need and I can start with this hope, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:10).