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How to Really Love Your Spouse (Part 1)

One night, as I lay next to my wife in bed and considered why and how I loved her, I became overcome by a deep sense of love. This was something I had experienced years ago when I was convinced she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It was the same feeling I encountered when I looked into her eyes and declared my wedding vows in front of God and a body of witnesses. And it was this deep love from which I drew upon 10 precious principles I have held close to my heart. 
Our wedding day. I will always remember that moment when I declared that I would take her to be my lawfully wedding wife from that day forward, to be parted only in death.
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.

God is the centre of our marriage & our family. Always has been; always will be.

1) Listen to her heart. Consider important what she considers to be important.

As men, oftentimes we “happen” not to hear the things that our wives tell us. Sue and I went for a relationship workshop, where we learnt that we men are very sensory in our responses towards things. This stemmed from the male role in hunter-gatherer society, where men used to be fixated at hunting for their prey. For a woman to win the attention of a man, quipped our facilitator, she has to walk in front of the man left and right repeatedly. Only then would the man respond to the woman, treating her as if she was like a “prey” prancing in front of him from left to right.

In order for us to really honour our wives, we would need to take their words seriously. But more than that. We would have to listen not only to what is said, but to what is unsaid; what is hidden within the depths of her heart. I honour my wife by becoming aware of what is important to her, and ensuring that it becomes my top priority. 

For Sue, people are the most important; specifically those who have been marginalised - girls who have no fathers and no homes to stay, children who have no parents to love and care for them, youths who sail aimlessly across the open and stormy waters, like ships without a compass… I share these priorities. Although we didn’t know this when we first met each other, both our hearts have always been for the lost and the vulnerable; and over the almost-12 years of our marriage, our priorities have been aligned more closely; and we are both seeking to make a difference in the lives of these special groups of people. 
Fostering little R was something both of us really wanted to do. It was also one of the most difficult things we had ever done. We still love her very very much.
2) Nourish her soul. Feed her with memories and experiences she will cherish.

Our soul is hungry for life-giving material. All too often we get bogged down by day-to-day experiences, and looking back, we just cannot seem to remember what we do during this point in our lives. And it gets particularly telling at the end of a year, with most people dropping comments which seem to say, “What has happened to the year? Why has it gone by so quickly?” We don’t want our wives to only remember the mundanity of everyday life. We also want them to live a life filled with many precious experiences and memories. So take long walks in the park; go for a long drive together; take her to her favourite dessert place.  

For us, we are adventurers, and our lives are punctuated with numerous travel experiences - like how we drove along Germany’s Romantic Road during our honeymoon, and wandered around the fairytale town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, its houses painted with murals from the classics; or how we enjoyed a magical ferris wheel ride in Osaka, Japan, with our first child, who was still a toddler then, and how he was so enthralled by the entire experience; and of course our latest adventure - our 40-day road trip in Southeastern America, where we had to scuttle our travel plans due to the rampage of a hurricane… All these memories have been etched forever in our memories, and we will cherish them all the days of our lives.

Our epic road trip in the US. This is our family in Helen, Georgia, a town we had never planned to go; but a place we had grown to love.
3) Allow her to be herself. Do not seek to change her to be someone she is not.

When we start dating, we notice certain physical and character traits in the person we like. There are things we like, and others that we don’t. But in the dating phase of our relationship, we have a tendency to accept everything about our partner. After we get married, things start to change. While our spouses’ habits remain the same as before the marriage, we change the way we view these attributes. And the longer you remain married, the more some of these characteristics begin to appear annoying or irritating to us. We long to change the way our spouses behave; and often take great lengths to either insist that they change, or to “hint” to them on a regular basis. What we forget is that our spouses have always been this way; the only person who has changed is ourselves; we have changed the way we view our spouses, either becoming less tolerant of them, or allowing the stressors of life to affect our feelings towards them. 

To really honour our spouses, we need to allow them to be themselves. Additionally, if we were to also consider this principle in tandem with the first principle - to consider as important what she considers to be important, we will take note of how she feels about our habits; and make the conscious desire to change ourselves. This is different from changing ourselves because we want to stop our spouses from their continuous nagging. This is about changing ourselves because we love our spouses and want to become a different person because we love them. It’s all about the heart. We change ourselves because we love; and make the conscious decision not to expect any changes in return.    

When we choose to marry our spouse we choose to love them just as they are.
4) Encourage her to pursue self care. Clear her schedule and make it happen.

When we allow our wives to be themselves, we want them to be the best that they can be. As a counsellor, I know that for our wives to continually feel refreshed, they have to engage in the practice of self care. What is self care anyway? How do we care for ourselves? One of the key components of self care is to learn something new. And another aspect is to enjoy the company of like-minded soul mates. My wife decided to embark on her own self care journey some time last year. She read up about the concept of schole - this was discussed by Josef Pieper in his seminal work, Leisure, the Basis of Culture:
The Greek word for leisure (scholĂ©) is the origin of Latin scola, English school. The name for the institutions of education and learning mean “leisure.”
Hence, to embark on a schole journey, you would have to view education as a form of leisure. And what better to do so than with a group of like-minded friends? So my wife got together a group of fellow homeschool mums who wanted to spend time learning something new each time they got together. She called them her Schole Sisters, and this group of soul mates would meet once a month or once in two months to just spend time together and learn something new. And they would meet without their children. This meant that the husbands would have to take care of the kids, in order to enable their wives to spend time together. 

For me, this personally meant that on the evening of her Schole Sisters’ outing, that I would ensure that my schedule is free. I would then plan something special to do with the kids - like to take them for a picnic dinner in the park. And then I would bring them home and send them to bed, allowing my wife to stay out as late she wanted to; without worrying that she needed to be back home to take care of the kids.

I’ve realised that by clearing my wife’s schedule each time for her Schole Sisters’ gatherings, that it releases her to seek refreshment with other like-minded friends. And the look in her eyes after she comes home - that is priceless; and it makes everything worthwhile!
Pasir Ris Park. This is one of the places I take my kids when my wife is out for her Schole Sisters' Outing. Precious time with the kids in the absence of Mummy.

5) Love is in the small things. Small surprises, gentle touches, little acts of service. Love her in the here and the now.

I remember our first big date after we got together. I knew that Sue loved taking walks, and that she loved nature; and so I planned a huge evening walk at the Botanic Gardens; all complete with candles to make the occasion more romantic. And yes. We did enjoy the walk - the Botanic Gardens is a really lovely place to be in. But after awhile, Sue got hungry; and I realised that we were walking around in the huge Gardens with no food in sight. And the candles? Yes, they were romantic - for one brief instance before they got blown out by the wind. So we were walking round and round the Gardens looking for somewhere to eat; and Sue was getting hungrier and hungrier… and I was getting more and more stressed…
One of our first dates - our favourite haunt of Sentosa. Things are so different now; and it's almost impossible to have such long and luxurious dates!

Looking back we still laugh at that moment. I’ve since learnt that I need to feed my wife first before thinking of anything else - after all a hungry wife does not make for a romantic night out. And when the kids came along, out of the window went all my elaborate plans for romantic dinners and the like. 

These days, I know that she’s happy when I just do small things for her without her having to ask me - like washing the dishes, or taking out the trash, or throwing away dirty diapers (during the time we had our foster baby). Not to say that she does not appreciate planned romantic outings; but I know she’s happy when I surprise her with a simple cup of mango milk bubble tea from my workplace, or when we go out, and my hand gently brushes against hers - like what it was like during our dating days.

These days I’ve realised that love is in the here and the now; it’s also in the small things we do to express to our spouses that we love them. 

For we need to love our spouses in the everyday, and through the small things we do for them. Only then can the love we have for them be understood in a big way and be something that will stand the test of time.
Can our love stand the test of time? Only if we love in the here and the now; with the perspective that love is meant to last a lifetime.

This is an article in 2 parts, with the second part discussing Principles 6 to 10. It is intended to be one of my chapters in an upcoming book on honour. Part 2 of the article can be found here.  

You can also read my article on How to Really Honour Your Child here.
                              

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