David Dawson, Family Life Apostolate
One of the most difficult things about being a spouse is the fact that love cannot really be love unless it expects nothing in return. No one wants to say it out loud, but when we offer ourselves (our gifts, our time, our energy) to our spouses, it’s usually with the hope that we will get something out of it. However, we are usually disappointed. So, we end up giving less and less over time, holding back until they start showing some of the same effort that we have so generously been giving. When we don’t get return on our investments, we pull back into preservation mode, and brooding resentment follows. It’s like when we put money into a vending machine and nothing comes out.
At some point in most marriages, both spouses find themselves in a self-preserving holding pattern, keeping score and waiting for the balance to level, but it never does. The truth is, it never will. Ultimately, the issue lies in two facts about love: first, our desire to be loved is infinite, and can only be truly fulfilled by God alone; second, true love is defined as “self-gift,” and a gift, by definition, must be given expecting nothing in return and received without it being owed. This can be pretty frightening. If we give expecting nothing in return, we may actually end up with nothing, and if we’re waiting for God, we may be waiting until after we’re dead!
The good news, however, is that this does actually work out, but only if we give ourselves to our spouses for the sole reason that we think they are worth it, free from any “vending machine” mentality. If we are able to cultivate an appreciation for our spouse, recognizing that we really don’t deserve them, this kind of free self-giving will be a more natural response. It is a battle, especially if our hearts are hardened by unmet expectations. But, if we can squeak out a few victories in this battle and give ourselves with no expectations, we will probably be surprised by the results.
The truth is it is very difficult to give oneself to a spouse who has heavy expectations and who will most likely be disappointed, anyway. Our spouses must be free to receive our love without having to wonder what it will cost them, and only then will they be free to give love in the way that only they can with sincerity and joy. This can only happen if we are willing to be courageous! We must courageously let go of what we think our spouses owe us, offering it to God out of love for them and trusting that He can handle it. Only then will our love be sincere and our spouses free to truly love us in response.
To love as Christ loves, to die to ourselves trusting that His Resurrection can actually do something in our marriage, may feel impossible, but more often than not it mostly comes down to being willing to let go of our expectations, to love expecting nothing in return, and trusting that God is faithful and will not leave us alone in the tomb.