Jane and Charles Perryman continue their series about Marriage
In last month’s Hallam News, in the first part of our consideration of how Pope Francis reflects on 1 Cor 13:4, we saw that jealousy does not arise always out of self-centredness, but often from a genuine anxiety that arises from fear or a sense of insecurity.
Jealousy can be understood as a feeling that arises within us when we judge that another person has something that we want. Last time the feeling that we wrote about was fear. This time we concentrate on sadness and disappointment. Pope Francis says, “Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity.” (AL 95) This is true but it is not the whole story. It is especially not the whole story in relation to certain fairly common situations between married couples.
Most married people will be engaged in activities which keep them separate both physically and emotionally. Obviously, unless they work together, their jobs will keep them apart for large parts of the normal working week. Outside of paid employment, many will be involved in other activities – sporting, charitable, political, religious, social and so on. All of these can be good in themselves. These activities can, however, start to take up a disproportionate amount of time and attention.
Marriages need constant and careful nurturing. Maintaining a close and intimate marriage requires spending time together. When one spouse starts to feel as if they are playing second (or third) fiddle to some particular activity of their spouse it would not be surprising if they felt disappointed or lonely. This sadness and disappointment, or loneliness, arises because the one thing they desperately want and expect and are unable to hold onto is that they hold prime place in their spouse’s priorities. In an earlier article (January, 2014) we said that one of the key factors that holds couples together over the long term is the conviction that they hold first place in their spouse’s priorities.
There are all sorts of reasons why we take up activities outside of our prime relationship in marriage. We enjoy them. We get a sense of exhilaration or satisfaction or achievement. We may also find that we are greatly appreciated in that other activity. Those good feelings that come with our activity may cause us not to hear the concern and disappointment our partner may be expressing to us.
One of the things that nurtures this conviction is appreciation. We all want to know that we are appreciated by someone important to us. When we are not receiving enough appreciation from our spouse there is always a temptation to look elsewhere, or simply to spend more time where we know we will get appreciation. Of course, not all activities take us outside of our homes. Excessive time spent on home based hobbies – such as watching TV, using computers or social media – can have a similar effect on our relationship with our spouse.
It is a useful exercise to write down in order a list of what we regard as our priorities, and to compare the priorities with the actual amount of time we spend on them. It is also good to review from time to time what commitments we have undertaken and think about whether they meet our real needs. This is an exercise that couples should do together so that they can decide together if how they actually spend their time is how they really want to spend it.
But what if only one partner starts to believe that their spouse is spending too much time on some activity and they start to feel lonely and disappointed? They need to raise the problem but it is best to do that in terms of how they feel. “When you are spending so much time on … I feel sad and lonely. It seems that we are not as close as we used to be. Is there something we can do about this?” This brings about the opportunity to explore what you both want in terms of time together and time on separate activities. The goal is to work out a plan so that both of you can ensure that your relationship needs are met. These needs are things like; to feel secure, to be supported, to be appreciated, to be seen as important to the other and so on.
In his book, “The Five Love Languages”, Gary Chapman identifies five different ways in which we express our love for our spouse. Each of us has one or two of those ways which are particularly important to us. If our partner does not express their love in those ways then, whatever else they may do, we will not feel their love. The five ways that Gary Chapman identifies are words of appreciation, spending quality time together, giving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Experience shows that small changes to provide the way of loving that our partner needs pay huge dividends. How do we decide which is our main need? A good clue is that we do the one that we want. If, say, our big need is for words of appreciation we will always praise our partner and tell them how important they are. It’s as if we are saying “Look, this is what I really want and need.”
We need to be jealous of our marriage relationship. If we see that we are drifting apart, it is critical that we take action to rebuild the closeness that we want and need to sustain us for the long term.