Women’s magazines are filled with relationship quizzes (right after the “perfect diet” pages). For good or bad, women seem obsessed with taking the temperature of their partners. Does he rate a 3 or 5? How are we doing on this happiness scale? On that marriage evaluation?
I was particularly struck by a questionnaire I saw recently. It began: Please list 10 things that your partner does that please you.
I knew we were off to a bad start. If the relationship is viewed from the perspective of what my partner does for me, it will never be enough. The judges will never hold up that magical 10. This is a distorted and backwards way to look at relationships.
The first directive should have been: Please list 10 things you do that please your partner. That would be the more appropriate focus, the more productive angle.
The rest of the questionnaire would then be adjusted accordingly:
List three things you need to work at doing more of in your marriage.
What one special kindness can you do for your spouse today?
As you went through your day, whose needs took precedence?
Are your activities contributing to your shared goals? (Have you established shared goals? Have you updated them?)
If you have children, is your parenting a shared and consistent effort? Do you discuss strategies together? Do you make sure not to contradict or override your spouse’s directives? (In front of the kids anyway!)
Do you plan leisure time activities with mutual preferences in mind? (Leisure time? Who has any?!)
Pursuant to the last question, do you make sure to set aside time regularly (even a small bit of it) just for the two of you?
What character traits can you work on that would improve your marriage? (I’m thinking of patience, flexibility, letting things go…but that’s my marriage!! What about yours?)
Are you constantly working on growing – both as an individual and as a unit?
This is a serious accounting of the state of your union (bad pun intended). This is the real spiritual work your relationship requires – not lofty principles and esoteric concepts but real, down-to-earth actions and honest introspection about your own behavior, not your spouse's.
The way to evaluate the relationship is to look at how giving you are, how thoughtful you are, how considerate you may be.
What can I do today for my spouse that will give him or her pleasure?
It’s not about expectations. It’s not about taking. It’s not even about passion or emotion. It’s about your spouse – in every way, shape and form.
I have a friend who was one of those relationship-obsessed gals we referred to earlier. Very emotional, she married a more taciturn man. Countless times a day she would ask him, “Do you love me?” and he, clearly without the benefit of “Making Marriage Work” classes, would answer with an accurate description of the emotion he felt at the time, not always the one she wanted to hear. She is now remarried to a more responsive man and I don’t presume to know if her first marriage could have been saved. But I do know she was asking the wrong question.
Instead of constantly begging him to tell her and show her that he cared, she could have been demonstrating her own love. It’s possible (I provide no warranties) that through her caring and nurturing, he would have relaxed and bloomed. Maybe not. But one thing's for sure – it definitely was not going to happen with the nudging approach.
So ask yourself this morning: What can I do today for my spouse that will give him or her pleasure? Ask yourself tonight: did I succeed? How can I do better tomorrow?
We are in the midst of preparing for the High Holidays. What better place to start than in our own marriages? Giving and growth, like charity, begin at home.