This is the final article of a brief series of articles posted earlier addressing the notion described by Dr. David Ferguson as “Blending Four Ingredients for Marital Closeness.” As we briefly explore this specific ingredient of “Grateful Giving,” it is very important that the foundational work of the previous three ingredients be understood and experienced. I hope you will consider reading them.
More importantly, I hope you will join me in slowing down your life and allowing God to interrupt you with these simple relational principles. The intentionally repetitive work that is necessary for learning and living out compassionate care, trust, and joint accomplishment in marriages and relationships are the cornerstone from which authentic and grateful giving come.
To superficially and/or pretentiously attempt behavior that is incongruent with what you are internally experiencing will lead to frustration, emotional distance, greater conflict, and feelings of futility.
Additionally, it is imperative that you understand that this is not a formula or action steps for conflict-free relationships. In fact, the opposite is true. These ingredients make room in our minds, emotions, and attitudes for experiencing healthy conflict and greater intimacy in your marriage.
Intimacy Issues: Mutual Giving vs. Selfish Taking
As you move slowly into a lifestyle of authentic intimacy in marriage (knowing one another), vulnerably trusting one another, and expressly needing one another, you will find yourself emotionally engaged and desiring to serve one another.
Based on your experience, this feeling may be counterintuitive, but you will find yourself desiring to mutually give to one another. Pardon the cliché, but “it is a beautiful thing.”
It is important to understand that mutual giving with a grateful mind-emotion-attitude communicates, “I love you.”
What does this practically mean? Grateful, mutual giving means to think more highly of our spouses than ourselves – giving to our spouses rather than trying to get them to give to us; giving regardless of the response or our own feelings.
Here are some practical suggestions:
- Initiating a 30-second phone call just to say, “I love you; I am looking forward to seeing you tonight.”
- Asking your spouse how you could be most helpful during a stressful time.
- Taking the kids in order to give your spouse some time alone or with friends.
- Taking the initiative to help your spouse with some unpleasant task.
Also consider how you would complete these sentences:
One way in which I can unselfishly give to my spouse is:
I appreciate it when my spouse gives to me by:
Unfortunately, our natural tendency is to think of ourselves before caring for others. It may behoove us to consider our ways throughout the day. Some of us help ourselves to a cold drink or a cup of coffee and fail to realize as one man said, “It is just as easy to bring two cups of coffee to the table as it is one.”
In fact, it is almost too simple to believe that many problems can be alleviated by becoming aware of a simple truth: “The primary hindrance to grateful giving is selfish taking.”
Join me for some self-reflection:
I sometimes fail to give to my spouse because of my selfishness concerning:
Although this is of an individual nature, it certainly speaks to our condition if we are alone and relationally isolated. More importantly, it speaks to the transformational work of God as we choose to experience an encounter with Him. In this encounter, we can viscerally understand the significance of the aforementioned marital ingredients and their implications.
If you will, imagine yourself in a community where you made a career of exploiting and taking advantage of people and their struggles. Maybe you struggled with what it means to experience genuine intimacy with your spouse, or that you aren’t quite sure what it means to be a parent and your hidden insecurities seem to drive you into increased duty and performance-based behavior.
You may find it is painfully easier to stay away from home than to cross the threshold of the home you feverishly work to pay for, at the expense of your own spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical detriment. You may be finding ways to medicate your private anguish through chemicals, gambling, destructive sexual behavior, overeating, contempt, or overt, chronic criticism toward others (especially at home).
You find yourself awkwardly moving through the community, but the facade of selfish pride, arrogance, condescension, and presumption keep your secret life of fear and the insecure need to manipulate and control under wraps. You progressively grow blind to your spouse’s relational needs and are unable to understand why they seem so desperate for connection or some type of interaction.
Through the years and with much financial success, you find yourself asking a lot of questions about the world, family, career choice, and perhaps a serious self-examination of what is truly important in life. You look around and wonder why people have removed themselves from you.
Imagine yourself attempting to engage in a community event because you know something is missing. There is a buzz in the city. You want to see what this is about. You’re not that tall of a person, and it is difficult to see what all the activity is and what people are getting lathered up about. The people around you recognize you and recall how you betrayed them, their families, and friends for your own personal gain.
There isn’t anyone in sight who cares, trusts, or will allow you to join their tailgate party as they wait for the big event. You may for a moment feel confirmed and even rationalize the history of your behavior toward others. You find yourself finding a tree to climb to see the big show. You may feel nervous because you sense something is different. There is an excitement you haven’t felt for a long time. The feeling is unexplainable.
It almost reminds you of the memory of your grandpa or grandma and the wonderful stories they would tell about a man that would soon visit, who is full of kindness and acceptance. You recall, with tears in your eyes, the expectation and excitement with which they would talk about a new way of living. A way that seems so foreign at this point in your life.
As you work to see what this event is, you don’t see floats with the latest hit band or movie stars, you don’t see a parade of the latest world championship team and all their trophies. What you see is a lone man walking through the crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. He seems to be so casual but so intentional.
Even though he is pressed on every side, he keeps his cool and shows kindness, especially to those who seem so unlovable. You even see him stop and shake hands with Larry and Furdy. People in worse condition than you. He is actually smiling and demonstrating a care that you have not seen in a while. There is something powerful but gentle about him. He is in charge but doesn’t need to be.
This man locks eyes with you as you sit perched in the tree like a dove. He comes to you and calls you by name. You look around and double check to see if you are the person he is addressing. He reaches his arms out and calls your name again. There is boldness and love simultaneously instructing you humbly that he’s going to your house for lunch.
You can’t believe it, and before you know it you are sitting at the feet of Jesus, one on one. As you sit together sharing a meal, you feel the gentleness, respect, meekness, and an authentic presence that only Jesus can bring. You sense the empty place in your heart, the sadness, the turmoil, the longing for peace begin to calm you.
There is a confidence that there is no condemnation from this man named Jesus, just simple acceptance and kindness. You can feel your blood pressure drop and all those heart burdens fade. Jesus respectfully asks if he may speak with you alone. In your joy, you clear the room and remain attentive to what Jesus wants to say. It is amazing that the kindness and compassion ushered in your ability to hear the truth that Jesus is determined to share. Time passes. You don’t even pay attention to the clock, you are absorbing the concerns Jesus expresses in his loving yet truthful manner. No one knows the discussion except the two of you. However, one thing is for certain: you can feel your heart changing.
Imagine yourself in Zacchaeus’s seat, humbled by the moment, confidentially sharing your heart, your thoughts, your life with this “Wonderful Counselor.” He isn’t shocked or drawn back, he leans in even closer to you. His warm embraces and forgiveness permeate your entire being, so much so that you are ready to explode with joy and excitement.
You find yourself so grateful and without guilt or expectation you are gripped with a desire to restore, recompense, and generously give to those you have hurt. What is amazing is the grace that so floods your heart, you are not looking for anything in return. You have locked into the heart of Jesus and simply desire to be an extension of his heart.
Now imagine you are Zacchaeus and this is how Jesus feels about you and your spouse.
Blending Ingredients for Intimacy in Marriage
The greatest counselor the world has ever known gave us an incredible example to follow. His therapeutic modality includes the ingredients discussed in this article series. Although his style may not seem clinical to some, I believe the marital ingredients we explored are the bedrock for long-term relational intimacy, not to mention sound relational counseling.
His continuing education is a fluid process that must not be used as a formula or steps. Each one of the ingredients are significant on their own, yet enhance one another as we practice them as a lifestyle. God expressly states, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, as a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2).
Before I close this article, I would like to briefly review the four ingredients discussed in this series (including the three previous articles) and their implications for long-term relational health.
I will borrow the framework used in the aforementioned Intimate Encounters Workbook.
1. The first ingredient is Compassionate-Affectionate caring. When we affectionately care for our spouses, we communicate the message, “I care about you.”
2. The second intimacy ingredient is Trust and Vulnerable communication. When we vulnerably communicate with our spouses, we express the message, “I trust you.”
3. The third intimacy ingredient is Unity and Joint Accomplishment. When we accomplish something together with our spouses, we communicate the message, “I need you.”
4. The fourth and final intimacy ingredient is Mutually Grateful Giving. Mutual giving between spouses expresses the message, “I love you.”
Finally, as stated in the Intimate Encounters Teaching Curriculum for small groups, “it is worth observing that these four ingredients are linked together, both positively and negatively. How so?
On the positive side, if I feel you authentically care for me, I will be more inclined to trust you with vulnerable communication. If I trust you, I will allow myself to need you more, which willlead to increased unity and joint accomplishment. Finally if I need you I will be more able to believe you honestly desire to give to me and our relationship, which will cause me to feel loved and motivate me to give in return, thus producing grateful hearts and mutual giving.
On the negative side, if I do not feel you care for me, then I will be less likely to trust you and communicate vulnerably with you. If I do not trust you, I will tend not to rely on you, which decreases the opportunities for joint accomplishment. Finally, if I come to feel that I do not really need you, I will not be as willing to allow you to give to me, I will not feel loved, and, as a result, I will probably not seek to give to you.”
I hope you will read the four articles, each standing on their own and certainly demonstrate a healthy process, not a formula for living a lifestyle of an imperfect, healthy marriage.
ReferenceFerguson, David. Intimate Encounters. Relational Press, Cedar Park Texas.
“Sunset Romance,” courtesy of rabiem22, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Cherry blossoms,” courtesy of Chungkuk Bae, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Together,” courtesy of Rob Bye, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happiness,” courtesy of Alvin Mahmudov, unsplash.com, CC0 License