By Ethen Gillespie
What if I were to tell you that you are responsible for your spouse’s happiness? Sounds very difficult, right? No, it is downright
impossible, but you can work towards building mutual joy in marriage by learning to serve each other.
It has long been said that we “lift ourselves by lifting others.” This according to Dr. John M.R. Covey is a habit of a successful marriage. In his book, The Eight Habits of a Successful Marriage, he identifies and discusses ways to lift; such as help, inspire, teach, encourage, listen, validate, bring hope, affirm worth and impart a feeling of value. The opposite of that includes put-downs, tearing apart, cruelty, criticizing and holding grudges.
Covey states that service is the definition of “lift yourself by lifting others.” Bryant S. Hinckley said, “service is the dividing line which separates two groups of the world—those who lift and those who lean, those who contribute and those who only consume.” To give encouragement, to impart empathy, to show interest, to banish fear, to build self-confidence and awaken hope in the hearts of others is, in short, to love and serve them.
To lift someone requires love, patience, kindness, caring, and selflessness. It is difficult to lift or serve someone if you have an unkind feeling toward yourself or others. It is in letting go of unkind feelings, regrets, or resentments toward yourself and others that you are able to lift and serve.
Kindness will lift your spouse. Kindness is what intimacy and companionship are made of. Only when you lift your spouse with kindness will you be lifted. In marriage, the little things are the big things. Kindness is not only found in what you do, but what you say and how you say it. To show kindness in your marriage, you need to choose kind words, speak and act with a soft tone and give rather than take. These according to Covey are the three elements of kindness.
To further understand the elements of kindness, think of a time when someone chose to use unkind words and a harsh tone toward you. Think back to when someone said something cruel, mean and extremely hurtful to you. How did you feel? This demonstrates the power of words. Words are powerful. Mother Teresa said “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echo is truly endless.” Words can either lift or crush your spouse. Words can either soothe or scar your spouse’s memory. The choice is yours. What words and tone are you going to use with your spouse today? Remember it is always good to stop and think about your words so you don’t become the person who scars your spouse’s memory. When you speak kindly to your spouse, you lift one another and create a greater level of intimacy and companionship.
Another way to lift your spouse with kindness is to choose “Gives vs. Takes.” Dr. John Gottman believes that the success or failure of a marriage comes down to a simple mathematical formula; no matter what style your marriage follows, you must have at least five times as many positive moments (GIVES) as negative moments (TAKES) if your marriage is to be stable. When you are kind and give to a relationship, it grows. These are called “gives” or things you give to a relationship. When you give to a relationship you are lifting your relationship.
Being unkind in your marriage relationship takes away from the relationship. These are called “takes” because you hurt or take away from the relationship. When you take from the relationship you are choosing to be reactive. You are acting in the moment rather than pausing, thinking and choosing to give.
Finally don’t wait for your spouse to be the lifter. Why not take the initiative and commit to doing all that you can do to serve them today? Refuse to let your “lifting” actions be determined by their “lifting” actions. Consciously live in such a way that your spouse knows you put their wants above your own. Decide that whatever happens you will give all you can give for the joy of your marriage – a joy you will share together.
For more ways to lift your spouse and strengthen your marriage contact Ethen Gillespie at the Building Strong Families office at 662-615-0033 or 662-769-1723. Building Strong Families is a federally funded grant awarded to the Starkville School District’s Department of Family Centered Programs.