By Dr. Shera Thiele (First printed in Homelife Magazine’s March 2008 issue. Please do not reprint without permission.)
My Grandparents embraced a love for each other that’s hard to describe. They teased and flirted back and forth as long as I can remember. Their affection sweetened the air. Love relationships such as theirs confirm Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you – this is the Lord’s declaration – plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God made us relational, not to hurt each other, but to sweeten life for one another, even during the tough times – especially during the tough times.
How can life partners demonstrate love and intimacy even when they hurt? My grandparents’ effective management of their mutual pain and loss left an invaluable legacy. As Granddaddy’s battle with cancer ended, Nana’s life alone in her house began. In her grief she frequently recalled significant moments with him, rich with both sweet and bittersweet intimacy. And there is one poignant memory she shared that I carry close to my heart: One night Nana was spinning around the house cooking, cleaning, and waiting on her terminally ill husband. “As I dropped into bed,” she told me, “I let out a long’ deep sigh. Under his breath Granddaddy responded, ‘I’ll bet'”
As she recalled that moment in time, Nana wistfully exhaled and then said, “I really wish he hadn’t heard me sigh like that.” Her expression intimated tender, loving remorse. My Nana longed to protect and care for her husband’s core needs. Her remorse reflected a connection she made with emotion and meaning that rested in one simple comment. She wanted to validate her husband’s contribution to their relationship, despite his compromised health, to reassure him that he was not a drain on her or the relationship.
Embrace the Mystery of Your Mate.
Love relationships like that of my grandparents require a humble desire to intimately know and participate in responding to the needs of another person. Creating a meaningful love relationship begins by identifying your partner’s core needs. Tapping into these can lead to intensifying passion and deepening intimacy.
Core needs are shaped by childhood dreams and desires, positive and negative relational experiences, trauma, and loss; they are unique to a person’s life story. Understanding these needs provides a lens through which you can interpret your mate’s behavior. Search diligently for core needs because they produce behaviors in your mate, behaviors that tell an intriguing, mysterious story. This shift in perspective breeds compassion and connection. You can choose to reframe offenses as an opportunity to explore the human complexities wrapped up in you and your partner.
What tender approach will help you identify and attend to your mate’s core needs?
- 1. First identify your own needs. Explore your soul. Listen to it. Recall significant life events. Embrace your raw emotions. Write them in black and white, or vividly illustrate them with bright colors. Sift through these emotions while you run or shower. Generally, we first experience surface emotions that protect our vulnerability. Stare long enough and you may find deep hurt or loss. These are more difficult emotions to experience, but the wisdom revealed by the journey is worth it. Find constructive ways to expel your strong emotions.
- 2. Listen to your spouse’s story. Ask him or her to identify pivotal life events. Listen for the emotions experienced during those events. Explore the lasting impact of the experiences. Empathize with experiences when applicable, but remember that human differences add color and flavor to life. Choose to embrace rather than criticize your mate’s responses. Consider your spouse’s choices in the context of who you know him or her to be and identify core needs. You are one of the privileged few who know your mate’s unique and mysterious story. His or her behavior tells you important information and will help you find compassion and humility if you let the behavior speak.
- 3. Examine your spouse’s potential. Focusing on repeated shortcomings, redirect your thoughts to the significant efforts your spouse has made to grow. Envision the fullness of your mate’s potential. Look at your mate the way God sees him or her: as a prince or princess of possibility. Deal with relational offenses, mistakes, and pain in the context of your spouse’s core needs.
- 4. Explore new approaches. Risk vulnerability by sharing your feelings with your spouse in a direct, peace-building way. Learn to use “I” statements: “I feel like a lousy provider when our expenditures outweigh our income.” Express your desire to listen, to learn what your mate needs and to understand his or her views.
- 5. Choose your attitude and actions. Even years after my Granddaddy’s death, my Nana chose to focus her attitude and actions on surrounding herself with the sweet mystery of their loving relationship. Regularly recalling their special moments kept her attitude sweet and made her a tender teacher for me about the miraculous power of love.
Choosing loving attitudes and actions toward your mate will make an incredible difference in your marriage, too. Has your relationship been bruised by hurt? Choose a day to actively forgive your partner. Make the day a memorable point of reference by commemorating your forgiveness in some physical way. Offenses often accumulate and intensify over time when they are neglected. According to family therapist Dr. Fred DiBlasio, “Forgiveness is letting go of the need for vengeance and relinquishing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment.”
The strength of your marriage, and the sweet mystery of an abundant life together, is dependent on faith in God, connection, passion, and the ability and desire to meet each others’ core needs. Hold tightly to the mysterious and miraculous sweet life.