The Words of the Reese Family

Husband and Wife Love

Andre Resse
May 17, 2009
District 6 Ohio

Love - Love - Love. That word is powerful is it not? It applies to a wide range of positive feelings and commitments from the pizza I ate last night to the woman I stood with at the altar to the baby we brought home from the hospital a few years later. It is powerful, but its power just happens to be its potential undoing. Love means different things in different situations. Loving pizza oozes a tasty, juicy love; whereas loving my wife can take the juice right out of me!

Yes, varying situations call for different kinds of love. What happens, though, when we throw into our mix the fact that people are different, with different backgrounds and make-ups? While that is certainly a whole host of rabbit trails we can get lost in, let us in this sermon simply consider the idea that love means different things to men and women generally.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets
(Matthew 7:12; ESV).

We are very familiar with our own likes and dislikes. We certainly want other people to respect them. Therefore we should become very familiar with the likes and dislikes of others… in order to respect those likes and dislikes as defined by other people. Yes, this takes a bit of work, yet this directional process is one major facet of what builds a healthy happy marriage. Being mindful.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once quipped, “Anyone can become angry -- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way -- that is not easy” (from The Nichomachean Ethics, in Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, p. xix).

Mindfulness is not so much the ability to pick out a frowny face and a smiley face and label them appropriately. Rather it is more like knowing what is going on in the situation, knowing what is going on inside you, managing what is going on inside of you, and responding appropriately. It is good internal emotional self-discipline. It is not the stuffing and stamping out of one’s emotions. Rather it is the proper channeling of them for proper and good personal interactions.

What can make a marriage work is surprisingly simple. Happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer, or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones. They practice mindfulness in their marriage. The more mindful a couple -- the better able they are to understand, honor, and respect each other and their marriage -- the more likely they will indeed live happily ever after. Mindfulness is a skill that couples can easily learn. As simple as it sounds, it can keep husband and wife on the positive side of life.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets
(Matthew 7:12; ESV)

Practicing mindfulness between husband and wife helps them gain the ability to know and manage their relationship appropriately in any given situation. Being mindful allows us to read and know other people individually and work appropriately with them, understanding their particular emotional needs. Emerson Eggerichs (Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs), has given married couples a wonderful model to illustrate the truth that most fights are not about content (i.e. money, the direction of the toilet paper roll, etc.). While most fights might begin with content issues, most escalate out of control because one or both parties are disrespecting the emotional needs of the other. Simply put, “without love she reacts; without respect he reacts.” Each partner has an emotional air tank. The wife’s air tank is love and affection. The husband’s is respect. Fights spin out of control and go into “The Crazy Cycle,” when one or both partners step on the others air hose.

John Gray has done more than most to popularize the idea that men and women are fundamentally different with fundamentally different emotional needs (Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus).

According to Dr. Gray the ”primary love needs” of women are:

1. Caring
2. Understanding
3. Respect
4. Devotion
5. Validation
6. Reassurance

According to Dr. Gray the “primary love needs” of men are:

1. Trust
2. Acceptance
3. Appreciation
4. Admiration
5. Approval
6. Encouragement

While every man and woman is different even within the genders, these represent solid tendencies. Dr. Willard Harley concurs and has developed a list of his own from his therapeutic practice: “Our Most Emotional Needs in Marriage.” While his list is a bit different from Gray’s list, the common thread is that women and men tend to have different emotional needs that are fundamental to each person. Thus, according to his book, His Needs Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, it would behoove us to learn and minister to the deeply held emotional needs of our significant others. Such a consistent practice is powerfully nutritious preventative medication against affairs. His lists are as follows: The Most Emotional Needs of Women in Marriage:

1. Affection
2. Conversation
3. Honesty and Openness
4. Financial Support
5. Family Commitment

The Most Emotional Needs of Men in Marriage

1. Sexual Fulfillment
2. Recreational Companionship
3. Physical Attractiveness
4. Domestic Support
5. Admiration

Gottman teaches that there are four relational patterns to watch out for and avoid. So deadly are these patterns, when they are present, Gottman can predict an eventual divorce 91% of the time (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

1. Harsh Startup. When disagreements happen, what is the emotional overtone the begins the “conversation?” Avoid the “Harsh Startup.”

2. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. During conversations, discussions, spats, and fights, if the following present: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, Stonewalling… then your marriage may be about to go “through the big D, and I don’t mean Dallas.” The presence of these spikey attitudes renders the emotional environment toxic. Gottman is not saying that couples should never discuss problems. In fact he says that fights are not even the problem at all, so long as both partners are not feeling criticism and contempt and are not being defensive or stonewalling. A complaint is different from criticism. A complaint would be “Honey, the trash wasn’t taken out.” A criticism would be “Yeah, just like I figured. You didn’t take the trash out… again! Some man you are!” A complaint alerts attention to the deed. Criticism draws fire on one’s character.

3. Flooding. “Flooding means that your spouse’s negativity -- whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness -- is so overwhelming, and so sudden, that it leaves you shell shocked” (p. 34).

4. Body Language. “Recurring episodes of flooding lead to divorce for two reasons. First, they signal that at least one partner feels severe emotional distress when dealing with the other. Second, the physical sensations of feeling flooded -- the increased heart rate, sweating, and so on -- make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion” (p. 36).

It is one thing to give people what you like and respect. It is an entirely different thing to do the hard work of learning other people and loving them on their own terms… because that is ultimately what you want others to do for you.

Couples should better utilize the challenges of marriage to work on themselves and smooth those sharp edges.

When rough rocks are put in a tumbler and ground together eventually they become smooth and lustrous stones.

Marriage is a tumbler where we can work to perfect ourselves by surrendering to the sovereignty of each other. The psychologist M. Scott Peck appreciates this aspect of marriage as a arena for spiritual growth, "Marriage is generally the best vehicle for whittling away at our narcissism... The tentacles for narcissism are subtle and penetrating and must be hacked at one by one, week after week, month after month, year after year."

This experience of true conjugal marriage manifested by God's expression in the love relationship will help them deal with the roughness of character and differences of personality, taste, views, etc. which are sources of conflict, and later, divorce. Love should increase and transform the couple as they grow older in grace to become parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents in love, and after, to continue their eternal union in the realm of the spirit.

Suggested Reading:

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: by John Gottman

The proper Care and Feeding of Marriage: by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

Suggested Video: Mark Gungor -- Laugh Your Way to a Happy Marriage 

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