I fell in love with my wife again today
I fell in love with wife in church this morning. that makes at least twice this week. I first fell in love with Helen in 1975, the year I met her. But in the 29 years we have been married I have fallen in love with her afresh hundreds of times. Today, it was the way she looked when she sang a song. Sometimes, it's the funny thoughts she comes out with, or the way she kisses me hello when I come home from work, Sometimes, even, it's the tears she cries ... for one of us, or for a friend having a particularly hard time.
But most of all, it's at the times when I discover something fresh in Helen that is just beginning to emerge. A gift, a talent, a skill, a growth in character that is beginning to bloom, like a spring flower that suddenly pops out, having just received the right combination of soil, sun, temperature and nurture to bloom. Just as I love to stop and admire the new flowers when they appear, so I love even more to delight in the new things I find in Helen, or that she finds in herself. And with each one that appears, I fall in love afresh.
Ever since we have been married, I have been trying to encourage Helen to experience new things, develop new skills, to stretch herself in new directions. Often, in the process, she has discovered things in herslef she never knew were there, and out of it new interests and even new ministries have developed. There were so many qualities and talents I could sense in Helen that were just waiting to burst out. And it has been a delight over the years to see them unfolding one by one.
I say my delight, because in the process I discovered something wonderful happening: that I was benefiting as much as Helen. As she has become a more richly graced person, so my life has been equally enriched. In helping her to grow, I have been provided with a more interesting friend, companion and lover, and each stage of growth gives me fresh cause to fall in love yet again with my wife.
Of course, there is a huge challenge in this, because it is a double-sided coin. It is not fair for me to expect Helen to grow, without being prepared to do the same myself. I do not find this easy, but what am I saying about our relationship if I am not prepared to accept from her the same encouragement I would offer; if I want her to change but I am not prepared to do so?
A word of caution: This is not to be coercive, to try and make Helen into something she does not want to be or cannot be. Nor is it an attempt to remake Helen in my image. Therein would lie great conflict and heartache. There have been times when Helen has rejected suggestions of things I thought it would be good for her to try. Then, it is important that I hear what she is saying, and give her the freedom not to do something. If in the process I still believe it would be right for her, my part then is simply to pray and leave it up to God to move her in that direction if it is right. (Nagging is counter-productive.)
You sometimes hear the complaint, "She is not the woman I married". Of course she's not. If she were, some questions should definitely be asked. To put it one way, how dare we ask our partner to stagnate, to not develop, to become a living fossil? We all change. Life forces many of these changes on us. Some seem for worse, rather than better. Because of the huge influence that partners have on each other, if my wife's development appears to be going backwards, that she is deteriorating, then I should be asking those hard questions of myself: what in me is causing this reaction? There may be other causes, of course, but no matter what, my role should be encourager rather than critic.
Some men feel threatened when their wife develops new interests or skills, and try to block or criticise her. By doing so, they probably don't realise they are actually impoverishing their own lifes as well. If we rejoice with our wives as they try new things, we will be twice enriched. And in the process, we will be unable to help ourselves constantly falling in love afresh.
As a teenager, I "fell in love" lots of times. How fervently I prayed over each one! Mind you, not many of them took any notice of me! Some did, but the stars in my eyes, and theirs, soon faded. In 1973 I emigrated from England to New Zealand and about 18 months later met John. We will draw a discreet veil over the fiasco of our first date.
I married a romantic. John's creative talents being large, romantic gestures can come on the grand scale. For one anniversary he secretly organised an al fresco meal on the daffodil lawn of the city's Botanic Gardens. As we dined amid the daffodils and almond blossoms, cabaret artists entertained us with music and dance, before John rowed me down the Avon River to the movies. But the weeks of nervous tension as he worried that it might rain did rather take the gilt off the gingerbread.
Perhaps you think me ungrateful. Don't worry, I cried when he sang me a long song of his own composition as a Christmas present.
But it wasn't John's romantic nature that drew me to him. Our friendship blossomed as we co-wrote some articles on being single - at our age. We were 25 and 30 at the time (in those days, that was counted as being on the shelf). Then after three articles we disqualified ourselves from writing more!
John became smitten fairly early on, but I failed to register. He was no more than a good friend. On a practical level we fitted together very well. We enjoyed a similar sense of humour, something we would need! We had similar goals in life, to serve God wherever He would call. We had similar values. We shared a love or and talent for music. We enven squeezed the toothepaste in the same place. At 25, I was able to think beyond the stereotypes of "tall, dark and handsome". I'd make do with two out of three. So what were the attractions?
John was a man with a sense of fun, creativity, music, hard work, a man who could listen to and take advice, a man with a heart to serve God, a man of integrity and vision. I knew he would make a good husband. We agreed that marriage would be a lifelong commitment - but where were the lights, the music in my heart, the starry eyes? They just weren't there.
Even worse, there was another contender for my hand, and in terms of emotion I couldn't differentiate between them. This time when I prayed, I really wanted God's will. He answered. On the following Friday, I was overwhelmed with as much music and starlight as I could stand. I now felt "qualified" to tell John that I loved him. We were married six months later.
Over and above our marriage vows, we promised each other several other things:
For the most part we've been able to stick to our word. John's willingness to be under God's authority was a major factor in my agreeing to marry him. This, above all things, gave me a sense of emotional security. There have been occasions when we've needed help to resolve some difficulty. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to find we were both wrong!
While I needed some feelings for emotional reassurance, they were transient. Frankly, I find them too closely tied to the fluctuations of my hormone levels to trust. Our feelings can lead us to wonderful expressions of love from time to time, but life isn't lived on that level. The real basis of our marriage is commitment, trust, openness, accountability and a commitment to healing our own past wounds.
(c) Copyright John & Helen McNeil, all rights reserved. Apart from the purposes of fair review, this work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, physical or electronic, without the express permission in writing of the author. He may be contacted at jandhmcneil<a>paradise.net.nz