Jane and Charles Perryman continue their series about Marriage.
When Pope Francis discusses the next characteristic of love that Paul highlights in 1 Cor 13: 4, he refers to 1 Cor 8:1 where Paul says that “love builds up”. Francis comments, “Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them. Yet what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak”. (AL 97).
No parents are perfect – even the best parents! As a result we grow into adolescence and adulthood with some emotional hurts. Those hurts may be soothed or added to in other relationships before we come to marriage. We all want to feel good about ourselves and we all want the approval of other people. These are two fundamental emotional needs. If a child is constantly being compared unfavourably to a brother or sister; if a child is never praised and only receives criticism, then they will grow up believing that they are never going to be good enough in someone else’s eyes; that they are unlikely ever to get the approval they desperately need. They are also unlikely to feel good about themselves because they will have come to see themselves as failures.
In those circumstances, what people do is to try and cover up or deaden the pain. They often do this by trying desperately to promote themselves, sometimes exaggerating their achievements or by becoming overbearing. This is not very attractive but it is understandable. John Powell SJ, a well-known spiritual writer in the 1980s, asks in one of his books, “Did you ever have a toothache?” He is pointing out how difficult it is for someone who is hurting badly to be able to reach out to others.
In one of his earliest homilies about marriage and family life Pope Francis spoke of the importance of “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry”. In the context of the comments of Paul saying love builds up, it is the “thank you” that is important and the one that we focus on here.
In the inevitably busy lives that most married couples live today it is very easy to take each other for granted; to overlook the effort that our spouse has put into the work that they do day in and day out. For those who are unsure of how valued they are, the failure to find any appreciation hurts. On the other hand those who feel secure about their sense of self-worth need less appreciation. Because they don’t need the appreciation it is easy for them to overlook the needs of their spouse. In last month’s article, we referred to Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love languages” and we gave the example of how very often when we need to be loved in a particular way by our spouse we model that behaviour for them. A person who needs appreciation will often show their appreciation in the hope that their partner will notice. Relationships thrive on appreciation. Being appreciated confirms that we are important to our partner.
Marriage provides a wonderful opportunity for healing. If, over the years, a person is constantly affirmed as lovable, desired and appreciated then it is possible that all of the doubts about themselves, all of the hurts of the past, can be transformed. Then the temptation to boast about oneself and to push oneself forward and become overbearing will diminish.