Within marriage, each partner holds the power to destroy or build their love. Not long ago, I observed a handsome young couple for a few minutes. You could tell that they were married, because she would not have talked to him like that if they were just dating. She berated him relentlessly for something trivial. By her words and gestures (she knew how to roll her eyes), she told him that he was worthless. He didn’t look worthless to me. In fact, they both looked intelligent and successful, but she commented negatively on everything he said or did.
I wanted to go over to the young woman and ask, “What are you trying to achieve?” Maybe she thought that by criticizing him, he would realize the truth of her words and suddenly straighten up and become a wonderful person. What she was actually doing was creating a person who could not love her. No matter how strong he is or how fervent his love was during their courtship, that kind of treatment will someday weaken or destroy his love for her.
Some young people say, “Our love is strong enough to stand a few spats.” Yes, wounds do heal, but the healing of wounds leaves scars, and too much scar tissue allows little room for love to grow.
Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we can be conditioned to respond—emotionally and physically—to repetitive events around us. If every so often you received a violent shock when you touched the handle of the refrigerator, and if those shocks continued day after day for several months, you would come to hate the refrigerator. You would even have a feeling of revulsion when someone mentioned the word refrigerator.
The same thing happens to once-loving couples who criticize each other by their words or actions. How can love continue to take that kind of abuse over the years? I believe that love is an emotion that causes us to want the other person to be happy. When we make comments that hurt our spouses, we are essentially saying, “I don’t care about your feelings. I don’t love you.”
I know a couple who have been married for several years. Both are college graduates and charming individuals. But whenever she makes a comment at a social gathering, he is quick to belittle her remarks. What does that do for her feelings of self-esteem? Does he think that she has no feelings? What does that tell her about his love for her? Over the years, what has that done to her love for him? There is no place for any kind of one-upmanship in a marriage, even if such comments are made in a joking manner.
Sometimes, when we have a disagreement with our marriage partner, we try to place blame on someone. After we have passed judgment, we feel that the guilty one deserves some punishment—and usually we mete out punishment in the form of harsh words. But if we demand justice in marriage, we may lose the blessing of love.
When we meet that special person, a beautiful feeling blossoms—a sweet gift of God. We can tenderly nurture it, as we would a lovely flower, and it will grow in freshness and beauty through the years. Or we can mistreat it, ridicule it, and neglect it—and then we will wonder why it wilts and fades. Flowers are like that. Love is like that.
If we really love our marriage partners, we will care so much for their happiness that we will not say anything to diminish it. Indeed, our verbal expressions will be filled with praise, admiration, and gentleness. Then love will grow.
It is our choice. We can spend our lives hammering away at our spouses, defending our rights, protecting our egos, pointing out mistakes, uncovering faults, letting them know our hot displeasure. But in the years ahead, if we choose this, we will find that a spouse’s love will be badly tarnished and that he or she will not be thrilled to look into our eyes and will not be warmed by our presence.
Or we can make a wiser choice. We can expend the effort to change ourselves so that our words continually reflect true love. If we do so, it is more likely that we will reap the reward of continually seeing our companion’s eyes light up every time we enter the room. We have only one life to live, and it offers us the chance to build our marriages into an eternal love. What will we choose?