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Compassionate Love
Mom with a View

Compassionate Love

Small acts, big love.


Our friends, Beth and Sam, flew across the country recently. On the return trip, Sam exhausted all the entertainment he had downloaded on his iPad and was casting about, looking for something to hold his attention for the rest of the trip. His countenance sank as he contemplated the long, dreary ride ahead of him.

His wife, Beth, on the other hand, was much better prepared. Her iPad had used up every last bit of storage and it was loaded with entertainment possibilities, a rare relaxation she was eagerly anticipating. But Beth also had some magazines and an actual book stored in her carry-on. After some inner debate, Beth handed her iPad to a grateful Sam and opened a magazine.

This may not seem like such spectacular behavior (especially if you haven’t flown recently and have forgotten how long, uncomfortable and boring flying can be!) but it fits perfectly within a new category that researchers are calling “compassionate love” – “recognizing a partner’s needs and concerns and putting them ahead of your own.” (Wall Street Journal, 02/12/13)

In Jewish life, we just call it giving. The article calls on “experts” to inform us those small, selfless acts between spouses aren’t just nice – they’re necessary. Well, hello! Is this supposed to be news? Haven’t we understood that for a few thousand years? And haven’t our parents and teachers told us repeatedly that “actions speak louder than words”? How could this idea merit a whole piece in the Wall Street Journal, let alone researchers and experts?

I think the answer lies in the fact that, even though we know it to be true, even though we all recognize that giving to our spouses builds our marriages, expresses our caring and deepens our love, we get busy.

We get tired. We take the relationship for granted. So even though we “know,” we need a reminder. Because it’s easier to just operate on automatic.

“Compassionate love” (i.e. giving!) requires thought. It forces us to break out of our habits and act differently. It necessitates constant introspection; we must always be asking ourselves “What does he need?” “What would she like?”

That’s hard work. Coasting is easier. We frequently just operate on automatic pilot. But a marriage can’t survive on cruise control. We need to keep nurturing and feeding the relationship.

We can’t allow ourselves to become complacent or, God forbid, indifferent.

The article cites the example of a man who warms up the car for his wife on cold mornings. This is the perfect act of giving (perhaps underappreciated here in southern California).

It doesn’t require money (so anyone can do it!) but it does necessitate effort. It demands stepping out of our comfort zone (that cozy, warm house) to do a kindness for someone we care about. It changes the morning for both of them – for the husband because his act of selfless caring enhances his marriage and endears his wife to him and for the wife because she feels taken care of, loved, safe and secure. And she will most likely respond in kind (even though that can’t be the motivation).

We create so many negative cycles in our relationships; wouldn’t it be nice to create some positive ones as well? We can’t give in order to get, but an atmosphere of thoughtfulness and consideration is contagious.

I’m sure we can all think of new ways to give to our partners. I’m sure we can all discover more opportunities to recognize their kindness to us and to express appreciation. If we really put their needs ahead of ours, the ideas just won’t stop coming. It can be as simple as going out to his favorite restaurant (instead of yours!) or turning the heat on because you know she’s cold (even though you’re not) or as grand as setting aside your vacation plans in New York City for hiking in Utah.

The size of the gesture, the money involved, the time and effort – none of these are what really counts – the key is that their needs come first. The article was entitled “Small Acts, Big Love” because, in the end, that’s what you get.

February 24, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 5

(4) Jackson Minig, March 1, 2013 1:51 AM

Children are blessing to the family BUT this bless can sometimes be a menace to the family

Explain how is can happen and give reasons why children turn to this way? What are some of the contributiing factorsto children's negative behaviour? Explain the importance of bringing up the children in the home/

(3) Yehudit, February 26, 2013 6:58 PM

What happened to talking?

A plane flight (or any situation) does NOT need to be boring - it's all how you look at it. That situation can also be an opportunity. Besides, what happened to actual talking to each other? I don't mean just "being entertained" either. I remember going to dinner on a date with someone, and he spent the whole time playing games on his cell phone! I tried to talk to him, but he was more interested in his cell phone games. This couple wanting "entertainment" on their plane flight is exactly the same thing. Yes, I have been on plane flights to different parts of the world, and I spend my time talking to people. I repeat, what happened to talking???

Rachel, February 28, 2013 9:49 PM

You go girl!

Yehudit, you beat me to it -- I thought the point of the first paragraph was going to be that the wife put away her entertainment and she and her husband talked! And really talking to one's spouse (or children, parents, siblings, friends) should be an opportunity to discuss ideas and feelings. Telling someone to remember to take out the garbage, do her homework, pick up the kids, etc is nothing more than a verbal to-do list. Conversation, on the other hand, is an art.

(2) Anonymous, February 26, 2013 5:37 PM

Perhaps in a world that consisted of respect, commitment and un-conditional love! Unfortunately we live in a throwaway society and everyone is replaceable. When values and a moral compass are a part of humanity, only then will these small acts of kindness and love have any meaning whatsoever! It's time to stand up and be role models for our children and those around us without role models to heal the world we live in- in fact it's our obligation.

(1) Anonymous, February 26, 2013 5:36 PM

those little actions say a lot

Taking care of someone you love is not only a Jewish value, it's a human value. It's really a no-brainer. When you love someone, you want to do things to make the other more comfortable or happy. The hard part, in many cases, is recognizing those little actions as ways of saying "I love you." Too many times, we get into a rut and forget to say those important little words, and equally sad, we forget to "hear" them in the things our spouses do for us. For example, when I make a good dinner for my husband every day, it's love; when he goes out at 11 p.m. on a rainy night to buy milk so I can have it in my coffee the next morning, that's also love. And it goes on. I often tell people to look for the love in the little things their spouses do. It's there, waiting to be recognized and appreciated.

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