Love takes time to develop. Love between spouses grows at different times and in different ways. Because of the "baggage" we each carry, the ability to trust the other, to believe in the relationship, can grow at different rates in each person. Pope Francis offers wise advice:
"Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other's freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart."
If we want to have a love-filled marriage, we need to begin by understanding the word "love." Love is not a mere "feeling." The Hebrew verb "to love" is "to do good." St. Ignatius of Loyola said "Love is shown more by deeds than by words." And deeds stem from loving attitudes towards our spouses.
First, have an inner attitude of accepting your spouse as he or she is. Do not inwardly or outwardly negatively compare your spouse to others. Especially in how he/she expresses love. I know men who surprise their wives with lovely presents which delight them. My husband is afraid of making mistakes when trying to please me. So he takes me shopping with him so I can choose something which I'd like. It takes the surprise out of Christmas and birthdays; on the other hand, we have very enjoyable shopping trips. However, to balance this, he tells me he loves me every day. Other men may not say those words easily, but they express them with their actions. In my opinion, any man who'll routinely take out the garbage, hang pictures, or do remodeling is worth his weight in gold.
Be patient with one another. St. Paul begins his beautiful hymn to love with the words "Love is patient." For every couple, there are habits, faults, or idiosyncrasies in the other that always and automatically "set us off" like a fingernail on a blackboard. So we begin the comparisons or the self-pity scenario, telling ourselves "my best friend's spouse doesn't do that" or "why does he do that when he knows it annoys me so much!" Pope Francis says
"Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression, or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds."
He continues "Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like."
The Pope's insights make me realize that often when I am maddest at my husband for his habits, faults, idiosyncrasies, or actions, it's because I wouldn't do that that way! My anger really stems from not being able to re-make him in MY image. And that is not love. Love respects the differences. Love accepts that others have different ways of doing things, just as valid as our own. Love demands compromise when each person has a different"take" on how to do or accomplish something.
St. Paul also says that love is not jealous or envious. Husbands and wives accomplish different things well; sometimes one receives honors and the other one does not. Pope Francis observes
"Love has no room for discomfiture at another person's good fortune. (cf. Acts 7-9; 17:5.) Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another's prosperity; it shows that we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person's achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs."
Do we really believe in ourselves as being gifted persons? Do we realize that each one of us is indispensable to God's plan for the world? If we truly, deeply do, there is no need to be envious of our spouse. If we are the more extroverted, and complimented spouse, do we actively seek to compliment and affirm our spouse on his/her just-as-valuable gifts and accomplishments? Do we see him/her with the loving eyes of God?
"Love is not boastful," continues St. Paul. He's telling us not to be haughty or pushy. Pope Francis comments "Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the center of attention....Love is not arrogant....
"It also points to something more subtle: an obsession with showing off and a loss of a sense of reality. Such people think that because they are more 'spiritual' or 'wise,' they are more important than they really are." (Pope Francis.) Knowledge can "puff up" our egos; love, on the other hand, builds people up. If we like the bumper sticker "My Child Is An Honor Student" or we consider ourselves perfect teachers, authorities, or spiritual gurus, we might need to do a "reality check." True love doesn't lord it over others, including one's spouse or family: true love understands, is concerned, and embraces the weak or less knowledgeable.
It's important to not be arrogant about sharing our faith within the family. This is especially important if we hold "positions" in the Church: Deacon, Priest, Religious, Dres, Pastoral Associates, etc. Oh, tread delicately and carefully! Pope Francis observes "It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions. At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant. Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility..." We are called to WALK WITH others on their journey, not try to "push them along" or condemn them for not sharing our views or understandings. True faith does not seek to dominate; it seeks to serve others.
"Love is not rude." I know from experience: It's so easy to be "street angels, house devils," polite to acquaintances and discourteous to those who live in the same house. Just our tone of voice can be rude! Pope Francis says "Love is not rude or impolite; it is not harsh. Its actions, words, and gestures are pleasing and not abrasive or rigid. Love abhors making others suffer. Courtesy 'is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness' which requires a person 'to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet.' It is not something that a Christian may accept or reject.'"
The greatest word to describe and sum up "love" is "generosity." It's true that we need to love ourselves well before we can love others well. But "Loving ourselves is only important as a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others." (Pope Francis.) St. Paul tells us that "love does not seek its own interest." He says "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil. 2:4.) The Bible makes it clear: "generously serving others is far more noble than loving ourselves." (Pope Francis.) This truth is a blow to the excessive and hyper-individualistic attitudes so prevalent today.
Love requires self-sacrifice! I learned all about this when my husband felt the call to become a Permanent Deacon. I knew our lives would be radically changed, that he would be acquiring a much larger "family," a parish family. It has not always been easy. Perhaps for others, self-sacrifice requires supporting another in trying for a new job, getting a better education, moving to a new city to pursue employment. But allowing the other to be truly "who" he or she is demands generous love. And when we give love generously, we are repaid beyond measure. Generosity empowers our commitment to the other and to the relationship to grow exponentially
When we have an inner attitude of generosity, of accepting our spouse as the unique person that God has created him/her to be, a gift to us, to our family, to the world, - we will continually grow in love for our spouse, fall into love more deeply every day. We will not overlook the other, or take our spouse for granted because we live in the same house. As Pope Francis says, we will enter unreservedly '"into the life of another, even when that person has a part to play in our life." Our sensitivity and restraint, our patience, kindness, humility, lack of destructive competitiveness, politeness, and willingness to serve will daily renew our trust and respect for each other. Such deep reservoirs of love will build the trust that empowers each spouse to open the door to his or her heart! Once we own each other's heart, our relationship becomes enduring and - PRICELESS!