This guest post is written by my friend Lori D. Lowe, marriage blogger at MarriageGems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, out Dec. 8, 2011.
After interviewing happily married couples across the U.S. who have overcome adversity and been strengthened by it, one of the twelve overarching lessons that emerged from the stories is that love is sacrificial, and that we need to create a virtuous cycle of giving.
This shouldn’t be a big surprise to the many Catholic and other Christian readers at Engaged Marriage who try to model their lives after Christ’s. After all, He never promised an easy road, and he modeled a life of sacrifice until the end.
Despite this spiritual understanding, most of us enter married life with a completely different view of what marriage will entail. We are in love with our sweethearts and envision a carefree life full of happiness and satisfaction and empty of pain, frustration or difficulties.
The reality is that marriage taught most of us (me, at least) how to grow up and learn to live in harmony with another human being who depends on us.
One of the couples I feature in the book is a couple married 50 years. They explained the way they live out the concept of the Paradox of Giving. The more they give—both inside and outside the marriage—the more their cups are filled in return.
Both became more focused on pleasing their partner as their marriage went on. That didn’t mean they never had disputes, but they genuinely focus daily on things that will please their spouse. And more globally, they look out for each other and make sure their partner is feeling fulfilled and successful in their life’s roles.
Sometimes that means they give in on something they wanted. Sometimes it means they sacrifice their own time or interests. However, instead of feeling put out or inconvenienced, they say after decades of this behavior, they feel more rewarded, more fulfilled than they ever hoped. They share a strong faith life and support each other spiritually as well.
Financially, giving for them has meant both tithing and charitable giving. They made a conscious decision not to accumulate too much, and not to increase their lifestyle each time their incomes increased.
They participated with their children in mission trips, providing medical and educational services as well as other forms of support. When they give time or money outside their family and community, again they feel more rewarded. Because of the relatively simple life they chose, they have no financial conflict, which we know negatively affects a large number of marriages.
In today’s world, we often view “freedom” and “happiness” as the most important ideals. Sacrifice is certainly not something our society celebrates, except perhaps in thanking the military for their sacrifice. Making a sacrifice doesn’t mean we will be unhappy, though, as we are often rewarded for working hard.
Shifting focus in our marriage from ensuring our own happiness to being sacrificial about seeking our spouse’s happiness is a major adjustment. In marriages where two people are committed to one another, giving in a sacrificial way creates a virtuous cycle of giving. You give, and your spouse appreciates you and in time gives a bit back, which makes you feel fulfilled and rewarded, so you give a bit more, and on it goes.
Instead of keeping score, focus on keeping the cycle going. Be willing to go first, and don’t act because you are hoping to get something in return. Just love.
The interesting thing I’ve learned is that couples who love sacrificially often end up the happiest decades down the line, while those who are focused on personal happiness end up leaving because all their needs are not always met.
One of the other lessons in the book is that adversity is not a killer—it can be a strengthener. This was true for many of the featured couples who experienced adversity in the form of losing a child, stranger rape, addiction, financial crises, brain injury, cancer, raising special-needs children, and much more. Their stories and their lessons can teach us that happiness isn’t dependent upon ideal circumstances, and that marriage can thrive even amidst difficulty.
Do you find it hard to give in? (I do.) Is it difficult to focus on someone else’s needs and fulfillment, or do you and your spouse feel you do this naturally? Does the word “sacrifice” have a negative connotation in your mind? Can sacrificial loving be positive?
Lori Lowe is a journalist, GenXer and marriage researcher. She has been married to her college sweetheart since 1995. They have two children together, one crazy cat, and two aquatic frogs. Lori is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It will be available Dec. 8.