14 October 2011

Learning to Love My Wife

My wife and I just celebrated 12 years of marriage. About two years into our marriage I began to see who I really was. I vividly remember brushing snow off my car in the morning and asking two questions "why do I live in New York" and “why did we have that argument last night.” The second one was obviously the more pressing question. I began driving to work haunted by something much deeper about the reason for that argument we had the night before. For some reason I had an epiphany on that bitter cold snowy morning, “Dan you love yourself more than you love her... really, you do.” I remember realizing this and not being able to get away from it. All day it pressed on me. It was like steam on the mirror was evaporating and I was starting to get a better look at myself. The more I saw the more that sad reality about myself sank in. I had gotten into rut of interaction were I was first looking out for my own needs, my own desires and my own concerns. Sure, I loved her, thought of her, cared for her but I realized my energy was first being spent on myself. She in essence was getting leftover love.

I don’t know how it happened. It wasn’t just about arguments. It was the framework of how I existed in our marriage. I was overwhelmed by how self-oriented I was, how selfish I was, how much concern I had for myself. I began to recognize its present effects: I couldn’t just sit and listen to her for long periods of time, it was an exception when I asked her if I could serve her in some way, I didn’t do the work to learn how to sexually please her body and mind, I did not encourage and empower her to tackle something she uniquely enjoyed, I was afraid to give her freedom because I was afraid my own wants wouldn’t be met, I didn’t work to converse and download with her first, I was unsympathetic to her pressures, I drew hard lines between what she did and what I did in our relationship, I precisely critiqued her instead of being patient to coach her through weaknesses in her life, I was automatically defensive when she asked something of me, I expressed insecurity that she wasn’t giving me the emotional attention I needed and the list could goes on. The shame that overcame me seemed unbearable. How could I kill this me-monster?

I truly wanted to love her like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-23). Christ loved with self-emptying love, self-sacrificing love, self-humbling service for the sake of raising up the beauty of the church. Love like this does not come natural.

I could not just kill my own self-love and selfishness. I had to begin a journey of redirection. To be honest, in the beginning it became a psychological game to me. I was challenged to see how often I could heap active love on Tonya. I realized I wasn’t just going to shut off the self-obsession. I had to wean myself off of that addiction by giving myself a new one. That new one was her. I took an act-as-if approach; I worked on practical concrete ways of loving her over myself before I felt genuine emotions or motivation. I was hit or miss in my consistency, but something was transforming in me. I began to find joy in watching her feel contentment and joy. I really started to get an emotional return from her heart fulfillment. All the while I was becoming less conscious of my own internal voice clamoring for attention and wants to be met. I didn’t realize it at the time but learning to love is learning to enjoy someone else’s needs being met. I’m convinced that because I toiled to submit to the life giving truth in Ephesians 5:22-23 God’s spirit began to change my character.

This next aspect isn’t talked about much but men struggle with issues of feeling inadequate and insecure in their identity. Most men when confronted with inadequacy or feeling like a failure turn in on themselves and become even more of a narcissist. I see this by how we amp up indulging in what gives us pleasure or personal excitement. I additionally see this play out in how we try harder to prove to others we are something to be reckoned with or pouring ourselves into succeeding at work. I stumbled into discovering that the beast of inadequacy had less power on me because my sense of self-esteem received an adrenaline boost by learning to be a lover. In a weird way it felt powerful to know my wife was satisfied, secure and deeply cared for. In my marriage, the most intimate and vulnerable place in my life, I was finding a rich sense of satisfaction in knowing she was well loved; she felt like the crowned jewel of creation.

I learned a theological lesson because of this. Being a lover leads to honor. Jesus was exalted and honored by the Father because of his self-emptying love for humanity. In many ways learning to be a serious lover leads to restored honor.

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