In the famous musical My Fair Lady one of the characters sings an impassioned love song: "Speak and the world is full of singing and I am winging higher than a bird ..." The song goes on and on (and on) in many poetic declarations of undying love ... until the heroine stops it. "I'm sick of words" she complains. "If you're in love, SHOW ME!"
Although Eliza Doolittle was responding partly in frustration to her lessons in the English language, she hit upon a valuable insight. It's the secular adage, "Actions speak louder than words." Or as Judaism puts it, "Righteous people say a little and do a lot." Or the slogan in our home, "Less talk of love and more taking out the garbage."
The slogan in our home is: "Less talk of love and more taking out the garbage."
This is a philosophy crucial to a successful marriage. It's through our actions that we build our marriage.
There is a popular book on relationships by Bill O'Hanlon and Pat Hudson titled "Love is a Verb." It emphasizes that real love is only demonstrated and developed through practical actions. Relationships are built on deeds not words.
This is an essential Jewish idea. There are many commandments regarding acts of kindness and caring. We are legislated to visit the sick, comfort the mourning, be hospitable to our guests, even to love our neighbors. Why does the Torah mandate all these actions? Because if you do it, love will come. If you act like you love your neighbor, you will love your neighbor. And if you act like you love your spouse (even in those moments when they make it particularly hard for you), you will love your spouse.
Of course you have to speak too. I don't need to emphasize the importance of good communication. That's Marriage 101. But the words must be accompanied by practice. As romantic as it is to sit and stare into each other's eyes, talk won't build the relationship in the same way that action will.
Action doesn't mean activity. A shared bike ride is very nice. I'm all for it. But the actions I'm referring to are the ones you do for your partner. It's the act of giving to your mate that will produce a strong, intimate connection. Love is indeed a verb.
DON'T WAIT, JUMP IN
One common mistake we make is waiting for the other party to go first. "If he only ... then I'll ..." Don't wait, jump in.
Susan was very frustrated that Greg never bought her flowers. Her friends' husband bought her flowers. The secretary at the office received a beautiful bunch the other day. Susan grew more and more resentful. One day on the way home for work she noticed a sale on roses. On a whim she bought them for Greg. (A practical tip: many men like flowers too!) It worked. Greg was so touched and pleased that he bought her some lovely orchids the next week. And the pattern continued.
Don't stand on your pride. Don't be exacting about who takes the first step. Act and you will reap the benefits.
While there are exceptions to every rule, it's the rare person who doesn't respond positively to acts of kindness. Sometimes we have to get past the cynical "what does he/she want from me now?" But it's worth going beyond because that's such an unpleasant way to live your life, and certainly destructive to forming a bond of trust.
Frequently I find that if one spouse reaches out to help the other, that spouse is more inclined to get involved as well.
If one spouse reaches out to help the other, that spouse is more inclined to get involved as well.
Shelley and Jeff had just had a large dinner party. The kitchen was a mound of dirty dishes and pots. Shelley was resting, feet propped up on the couch. Knowing how hard Shelley had worked, Jeff put on an apron, grabbed a sponge and began to clean. Touched by his thoughtfulness and inspired by his activity, Shelley jumped up to join him. Not only was the kitchen spotless in record time but they enjoyed themselves in the process. Their intimacy was enhanced and their relationship deepened (although the moment when he thwacked her with the wet towel was a slight setback!)
Even when you're tired, even when it's not your turn, get up and do. Do it for each other and do it together.
IT APPLIES TO INTIMACY TOO
This principle can be applied to even the most intimate area of marital relations. Perhaps it's most relevant there. Physical intimacy has the potential to be either a very selfish experience or a very selfless one. Take a moment to introspect. What kind of partner are you? Are you focused on your needs or your partner's? Your satisfaction or theirs? Your mood or theirs?
Tim and Marci seemed to have an ideal marriage. Their friends and neighbors envied them and they smiled brightly at all. No one saw the pain beneath the smiles. No one witnessed their struggles in the intimate arena. They weren't struggles of drama and passion; just small conflicts that were slowly eroding the foundation of their marriage. When Marci was tired from watching the children or from being up at night with the baby, she wasn't as available to Tim as he would have liked. On the other hand, Tim worked very long hours, went to the gym after work, watched TV in the brief time he was at home and then was surprised when Marci wasn't receptive to his amorous advances.
They both had a lot to learn about what it really means to give to others. Perhaps marital intimacy is the arena where the resolve to give is tested the most.
Yes, Marci was tired, and "no" had to be an option sometimes. But to keep a marriage alive it's often necessary to rise above exhaustion and distraction.
To keep a marriage alive it's often necessary to rise above exhaustion and distraction.
On the other hand, if Tim wanted that ultimate oneness, he also had to put in some effort. He couldn't be busy and self-centered all day and then expect to push a magic button that turned on the intimacy moment. He had to be more focused on his wife -- her needs and wants.
When you're both "in the mood," intimacy is easy. But when you're not, yet you focus on giving anyway, a deeper connection is forged.
THE LITTLE ACTIONS COUNT
The true tests for any marriage are in all the tiny opportunities to give or not. And our commitment is really tested when we're tired or distracted or frustrated or under pressure –- when we're coping with life's daily challenges. In those stress moments, are we still able to put our spouses first?
My husband was in a friend's office listening to a heated discussion about a particular business agreement. In the midst of this conversation, the friend's wife called. He took a deep breath, picked up the phone and spoke to her in the most warm and caring way. That's someone who truly put his money where his mouth is.
Love is a verb. Our marriage will be defined by our actions. You need the appropriate words to suit the actions, but as it says in Ethics of Our Fathers, "He whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom will not endure." The same is true of marriage. Help make yours one of the lasting ones.