The point of yesterday’s post was that you should find ways to love a spouse as a unique specimen of humanity. So here is one way to do that.
Love According to Knowledge.
In order to love your spouse, you have to know your spouse. In fact, one of your main goals in marriage is to become the leading expert on your spouse. You should know how they take their coffee (or tea, or hot chocolate), you should be able to look over a menu and see things that they would like (especially if they can’t make a decision—like me:-). You should know if they are morning or night people, what a relaxing day is for them, what will upset them, and what will delight them. Know what stores they like to shop at; know what video games they like to play; know what is stressing them out; know what makes them laugh or cry (even if it doesn’t make you laugh or cry). You should know how they communicate anger, fear, frustration, joy—pretty much any emotion. You should even know what kind of physical touch gets them in the mood, and what kind provides comfort. And the list could go on.
Now, obviously all this takes time (just like any normal research program:-), and some information we can’t help but discover (didn’t take long after we were married to realize that Liz has some pretty set ideas about the way her home is organized). The problem is that sometimes we can miss very helpful insights just because we aren’t paying attention. If you make data gathering a serious task, you’ll find that you can gather large amounts of information about your spouse fairly quickly. The key is realizing the importance of this research to actually loving your spouse better. We don’t forget stuff that is important to us. Neither do we forget stuff that we use all the time. The same will be true of the knowledge about your spouse. Below is how I actively think about my spouse.
The Love Map
I’m not sure how mind mapping took over my life, but it did. It works the way my brain does. (Note: If mind mapping is not how your brain works, a simple outline will do…I can respect people with linear thought processes…I happen to be married to just such a person).
Resources you will need:
2. Just get a piece of paper, turn it landscape (so it’s wide) and write your spouse’s name in the middle. Circle (or if you can think of a more appropriate shape use that) the name. From the left side draw a line and write the word “Knowledge.” From the right side draw a line and then write the word “Action.” See Below:
From here, draw lines from the [Knowledge] box and start listing everything you can think of about your spouse, from favorite restaurants to worst dates ever to favorite memories, etc. When you’re done it might look something like this (please note: I am not referring to Liz in any of these example. Purely my imagination here. She wanted you to know that she likes neither “it’s a wonderful life” nor “terminator 2.” Just to clarify :-), but more involved (don’t worry about getting the perfect categories at this point, you can refine it later):
A Little More Theory
Gary Chapman introduced “The Five Love Languages” back in 1992 and Liz and I came across it through some friends around 2003. I’m not going to get into all the specifics here, but Chapman gives helpful categories for expressing love: See here for descriptions of the categories.
Now you’re ready to move to the action part. So, we’ll start with 5 categories of Gary Chapman’s Love Languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gift Giving, and Acts of Service. See Below:
Now the trick is to move from your knowledge of the person to creating real actions that say “I Love You” loudly to your spouse. So, what you could do is have them go here to take Gary Chapman’s test (7mins tops), and they could tell you how to rank the categories as of importance to them. Or, you could just guess and start trying to love them and judge by their reactions. (E.g. some people don’t care about words of affirmation, some do.)
Then using the knowledge part of your map, you can more easily answer questions like, “What gift should I give my spouse? Where would they like to go on a date? How will they respond to the news that my hours are being cut at work? How should we celebrate our anniversary? What can I do for him/her to ease some stress?” You get the idea. Basically, what you’re doing is going to each category and asking how you can best love your spouse in light of who they are. See Below:
So now that you’ve made a love map (it takes maybe an hour to get most of it done), what should you do with it? I try to spend 20 minutes a week refining my love map’s knowledge (making sure it’s current, or adding a recent discovery) and I try to plan one big action item and one small action item for that week. Again, this is just one way of helping you love your spouse better. If it doesn’t exactly work for you, then maybe change it around till it does. Also, it doesn’t matter how long you have been married! This type of research will be helpful at any stage of your relationship. Simply living together for a long time will not naturally foster loving interactions. However you gather and store data, make sure that you actively try to become an expert on your spouse so that you can love, honor and serve them in the most effective way possible.
(If you are asking yourself, “what about the spiritual aspect? You totally left that out!” I will say this: First, since loving your spouse is loving God, then in a way all of this practical stuff can be seen in a spiritual light. Second, you are somewhat right in that I haven’t addressed what your responsibility is as a spouse for the spiritual well-being of your significant other. But no worries, practical “spiritual” applications in a later post.)