How to Really Love Your Spouse (Part 2)

This month we celebrate our 12th Wedding Anniversary. Marriage has not been easy; but despite the ups and downs, I know that I love my wife deeply, and there are 10 precious principles I have held close to my heart. 
A stolen kiss in Helen, Georgia, 2018. Taken by our younger son and aspiring photographer E. After 12 years, I still love my wife deeply and we still go on many adventures together!
1) Listen to her heart. Consider important what she considers to be important.
2) Nourish her soul. Feed her with memories and experiences she will cherish.
3) Allow her to be herself. Do not seek to change her to be someone she is not.
4) Encourage her to pursue self care. Clear her schedule and make it happen.
5) Love is in the small things. Small surprises, gentle touches, little acts of service. Love her in the here and the now.
6) Believe in her. Encourage her to pursue her dreams. Walk with her during moments both happy and sad.
7) Respect her friends and family. They matter to her and should matter to you too.
8) Marriage is forever. Choose to look at the big picture rather than on small differences.
9) Consider her needs above those of your children. The spousal relationship is at the heart of the familial relationship.
10) Remember that without God, nothing would be possible. He is the cord that binds your marriage together.

I have discussed the first five principles in a previous article. I will now share my thoughts on Principles 6 to 10. 
Washington D. C., 2018. We have had many adventures during our 12 years of marriage. This photo was taken almost towards the end of our epic 40-day road trip to the Eastern United States. 
6) Believe in her. Encourage her to pursue her dreams. Walk with her during moments both happy and sad.

From my vantage point as a counsellor, I have observed that not enough people support their spouses. I have met a number of women, whose husbands look down on them because they are seen to be doing valueless work such as cleaning the house and washing the laundry. And there are an equally significant number of husbands, who tell their wives that they are stuck in dead-end jobs and would like a career change, only to be dismissed by their spouses, who tell them that it is more important to earn money than for them to chase an elusive dream. From my perspective, I feel both these groups miss the big picture of what it means to really love your spouse.

For if you want to really love your spouse, you need to believe in her. You need to listen to her heart; to understand and her innermost wishes and dreams, and then you need to believe in her. Believe that her desires can become a reality. Encourage her, affirm her, walk the journey with her. 

Sue and I talk a lot; sometimes she complains that I talk too much - that all the three boys in our family expect her to listen and don’t give her enough peace and quiet. We spend many hours talking about our life, our family, and about the people in our heart. 

I first met Sue while we were both serving in youth ministry in church. She will tell you that her first impressions of youth ministry were of a bunch of noisy boys, who had disrupted her monthly humanitarian trip to one of the neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia, where she was involved in food distribution and medical work. Another memory for hers was on Youth Sunday, when she saw a bunch of young people jumping on stage. They were leading a time of worship, and their hearts were on fire for God. At that moment she could not have imagined being one of those crazy young people. But she was drawn to the love that they expressed for God; and she wanted to nurture them to love God. And so she joined youth ministry. She would never have known then that the person she was to marry was a mentor to those crazy young people jumping on the stage. And he was also the leader of that bunch of noisy boys on her humanitarian trip.

And so we talked for hours about the young people under our care; how to help them, nurture them, and how to help them develop their relationship with God. It has been that way for years, many happy moments sharing about what matters most to us; about the people closest to us.
Sue and I have shared our lives with some very precious young people. It's such a joy when those you love get married and begin their own journey of a lifetime!
And there are the sad moments too.

Looking back, the first half of 2010 was one of the saddest moments in our marriage. We had gone through a couple of rounds of fertility treatment, and had our hopes dashed each time. Both of us yearned to have a child to call our own, and each round of fertility treatment represented a fresh hope. But to have our dreams crushed each and every time was like enduring a roller coaster of emotions. I knew that no matter what, that I had to cling on to Sue as we experienced each heart-stopping moment, and each time when we felt we were being flung into the air, I knew I had to be strong for her, to be there to catch her and hold on to her. 

Looking back, we still regard 2010 to be one of the most difficult years in our marriage. But we were thankful that we had each other to hold on to; and we were thankful that at the end of the day, it was God who was the safety net in our marriage.

7) Respect her friends and family. They matter to her and should matter to you too.

As counsellors, we always tell our clients that who we are as a person is inadvertently shaped by our family of origin. We are shaped by the physical makeup of our family - whether we are born into a single child home or into a large family with four or more kids; by the emotional makeup of our family - whether we come from a stable two-parent household or a tumultuous divorced family setting. And that does not even take into account cultural factors such as ethnicity, religion and philosophical differences etc. 

As marriage counsellors, we know that extended family issues account for many of the problems faced by a couple. And while Sue and I seemed to come from families of similar cultural origins - Peranakan, English-speaking, Christian backgrounds, there have still been many differences in the practices of both families. And this has contributed to various tensions. However, at the end of the day, I am thankful that both our families love each of us deeply; and we continue to work out our differences knowing that no matter what, that our extended family loves us, and has our best interests in their hearts.  
Sue's extended family has become my family too. There may be differences in terms of family culture, but I know that at the end of the day that all of them love us very very much!
8) Marriage is forever. Choose to look at the big picture rather than on small differences.

As Christians, we are of the perspective that once we make the marriage vows to each other and to God, that these vows are binding, and that they are irrevocable. We have therefore stated clearly very early in our marriage that no matter what happens, that we would never consider divorce as a “way out”. That said, we are aware that there are several perspectives on divorce, and questions are raised as to whether couples should divorce if there is sexual immorality or abuse. To these questions, I can only say that divorce was not God’s intended purpose for any marriage, but that He has permitted divorce in various cases, and that any couple facing a difficult situation should seek help as soon as they can. 

When you rule out divorce in your marriage, you begin to look at points of connection rather than points of disruption. You consider the big picture of what you want your marriage to be, and focus on ways that will help you to get there. This is in contrast to zeroing in on the differences in your marriage and finding ways to “prove” that your spouse is more “wrong” than you are. 
My special birthday "cake". When you focus on the big picture of what you want your marriage to be, all the differences become small in comparison.
9) Consider her needs above those of your children. The spousal relationship is at the heart of the familial relationship.

Consider this scenario. A man meets a woman and falls in love with her. They go on dates and spend lots of time together. Then one day the man gets down on one knee and asks the woman to marry him. She says yes. They spend the next year planning their wedding together. They get married. The newly-minted husband and wife enjoy the next few years together as a couple. They go on long holidays together. They visit many new places together. Then one day she gets pregnant. Both husband and wife are ecstatic. The husband spends the next nine months caring for the wife, making sure she gets the best nutrition and bed rest. And on one eventful day, the child is born. Now both husband and wife spend all their waking moments caring for the child. And as the child grows older, they look for the best kindergarten, the best enrichment classes, the best Primary School, the best tuition teachers. And the wife even takes a year off work to help the child prepare for the all-important Primary School Leaving Examinations, the PSLE. 

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because this is not unlike what happens to many families in Singapore. Once children come along, husband and wife devote all their waking moments to their children. In some cases, the woman takes her role of being a mummy to an extreme, sometimes neglecting her role as a wife. This can lead to husbands feeling neglected and they then seek solace in their work, or they end up seeking emotional and physical intimacy elsewhere.

From my perspective as a counsellor, I believe it is crucial for us to consider the needs of our spouses before those of our children. I often share in parenting talks that if the spousal relationship is strong, this builds a foundation for a strong family. I counsel a number of kids from broken families, and they tell me they wish their daddies and mummies still love each other. Kids choose to forget their past familial hurts and focus on the happy memories spent with both parents. It is therefore imperative for us to remember what it was like during our dating days, and choose to love our spouses in the way that they appreciate. 
Our special "teh tarik tower". Taken during a celebration of our wedding anniversary in Batam, Indonesia. Every year without fail we go away without our kids to celebrate our love and recalibrate our marriage goals.
10) Remember that without God, nothing would be possible. He is the cord that binds your marriage together.

No one is perfect. When we get married, we bring our imperfections into the marriage. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect marriage; in contrast, marriage brings out the imperfections in each person. Having been married for more than 10 years, I can say that it is not easy to remain married. There may have been times when we could have decided to walk away and go back to our separate lives. But because we firmly believe in the eighth principle - that marriage is forever, we have not even considered such an option. Moreover, as Christians we believe that without God, nothing is possible. We believe that when times are difficult, that we should not walk away from each other; we should instead turn towards God. For when we turn towards God, we will focus once again on the source of our hope; and that would cause us to again choose to focus on our commonalities and not our differences.
God has brought together our family. We love our two boys very very much, and they are so precious to us.
I wrote a song years ago when I first proposed to Sue. I then added a verse on my wedding day. This year, I added one more stanza:

"Oh my Dear
I know it's sometimes difficult
When we walk this road of life
There are times we make
Each other sad
And times we make
Each other mad
But I know my Dear
The girl I love
Is 'ever in my heart
You're the one I met
The one He prepared
To walk with me all the way

And we'll
Walk together in this life
Through the years
Come what may
I'll be there though it's tough
And yes I know, you'll be there too.

Dear, walk together, hold my hand
Keep our eyes on God above
For we both know
He'll be our strength
He'll keep us walking
Together hand in hand."

After 12 years of marriage, we become more circumspect in our views about love and romance. But at the end of the day, we need to remember that only God is eternal, and our only hope is if we continue to focus on Him as the source of our love.
This is an article in 2 parts, with the first part discussing Principles 1 to 5. It is intended to be one of my chapters in an upcoming book on honour. Part 1 of my article can be found here.

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