Last time we covered: To Inspire Love: A return to modesty
This chapter is funny because I think it makes all of the women who read it, say, “Alleluia!” and all of the men who read it, say, “Uh. Oh.”
Why do they have those reactions? Because in this chapter Blessed John Paul II says that in marriage, “Tenderness is the ability with and for the whole person, to feel even the most deeply hidden spiritual tremors, and always to have in mind the true good of that person.” He goes on to say that “women not only expect this type of tenderness from their husbands but that they actually have a special right to it in marriage.”
In trying to help men to realize that women seem to have a different tenderness need than men, one guy repeated a simile that he heard once: Women are like slow-cooking-crockpots. Men are like microwaves. So men, if you are wondering why women seem to need so much more time, effort, and love than you do, it’s because we’re wired differently!
The chapter first clarifies however, that there is danger in being prematurely tender with one whom you are not married to. In the dating or friendship realm, premature excessive tenderness can lead to confusion and even lead to the demise of a love that may have been quietly blooming.
Sometimes in the dating phase we are eager to reach this sort of spousal tenderness and we slip into being either physically tender, emotionally tender, or spiritually tender at a level that really is only appropriate for spouses.
In the large discussion I brought up that this reminds me of 6th grade behavior. You know, like when Bobby said to Susie, “Hi – do you want to go out with me?”, Susie said, “Yes.”, and then Bobby and Sue hold hands. They hold hands tightly from the moment they are “boyfriend/girlfriend” until the moment they break up. In fact, it’s only when they stop holding hands that you know that they are no longer an item.
Bobby and Sue don’t take time to get to know each other or have the relationship and friendship deepen. They simply quickly move on to this public display of (premature) tenderness that declares to others, “Back off. We’re inseparable!” It gives the illusion that they have a deeper relationship than they really do. It gives the illusion of tenderness that simply is not there.
For one thing, it’s not being honest to each other about how they feel about each other. It gives them the secure feelings of a deep relationship – perhaps even for altruistic reasons, but it’s false. For a second thing, it wards off any other suitors that are perhaps more properly matched for them.
In the larger discussion a guy commented that the above dynamic seems to be happening in the dating scene again – even though we’re not in 6th grade anymore. 😛 People seem to quickly rush into showing tenderness for the other only to realize, “Wait! It’s only the end of the first date. Perhaps I should get to know the person.”
Janet commented that she felt that premature tenderness or excessive tenderness or even an inability for tenderness (so either there’s too much or too little) seems to stem from dating that is not “purposeful dating.” Rushing into concern for the other (care-taking when someone has the ability to care for themselves) or rushing into spiritual tenderness with someone stems from the idea that “this is just what is supposed to happen when you are dating someone” instead of allowing those feelings to actually develop for the other person. OR You might hang out with a group of friends to “get to know someone before you start dating them” only to sort of stay in this friendship zone once the dating phase starts. But dating with purpose – purposeful dating to discern if God is calling you to DATE THIS SPECIFIC PERSON (not just if you are supposed to be dating in general) and then leading to discernment on if you are called to the vocation of marriage with that specific person helps ensure the balance of tenderness.
I think that this is probably in part to the fact that if you are discerning (focusing on what God is calling you to do in that instance) then it assists you in being more aware of whether or not you are balanced, in tenderness or other areas of your life as well. If you are asking yourself, “What does my tenderness or lack of tenderness toward this person mean?” then you are probably less likely to be reckless or lacking in your tenderness.
This may leave women saying, “Wait. I thought you said that I had a right to tenderness – deep tenderness?”
Yep – you do – as a married woman. Indeed you, and every human, have a right to tenderness at some level. But spousal tenderness is something that women seem to be predisposed for and so they often, it seems, fall into wanting that sort of spousal tenderness in a budding dating relationship. For women, our challenge is to fight the urge to create this spousal unity in tenderness when we are merely dating the person.
For men, their challenge is to fail to be fully united in their tenderness with their spouse once they are married. Perhaps they became accustomed to the level of tenderness that they are comfortable with while they were dating? This may be fine during a budding relationship, but as the relationship progresses, the tenderness should also increase, until in fact it is complete unity in spousal tenderness: emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Why does this type of tenderness need to wait until marriage? Simply put: because you aren’t spiritually united with your spouse until you say, “I do.” Why does it need to progress and grow during marriage? Simply put: because the relationship and demands on the relationship progress and grow in the marriage.
One of the questions asked, “Have you ever witnessed a marital relationship where true tenderness was evident, and in contrast, one where it was not?”
Happily and sadly this brought my parents to mind. They are Catholic and have been happily married for almost 40 years. (How awesome is that?!?!? It makes my 2 years seem quite shabby!) I’ve seen my parents show tenderness towards each other: holding hands, smooches, flowers on an anniversary or birthday, and chicken soup and foot rubs on days when there’s been illness or bad allergies. In these times I see how united they are as a couple.
Sadly, I’ve also seen times when their patience has been drawn thin and they’ve gotten snippy with each other instead of using words of kindness. (Hey – it happens to the best of us.)
During those snippy moments – those lack of tenderness moments, it’s almost as if I see their spousal unity divide and suddenly there are two individuals standing there. One person is saying, “I need something of you.” and the other is saying, “I don’t care.” 😦
It’s my personal opinion that lack of tenderness during a fight is the cause for most divorces. It’s not infidelity or financial woes, it’s lack of care for the other person’s feelings.
Thankfully my parents aren’t headed for divorce, but those snippy times help me realize just how fragile love and marriage can be. If you aren’t careful, you can crush the love that is there. That’s why tenderness is so important.
One woman related that her parents had gone through a divorce and that it was only after she went to a friend’s house and saw her friend’s parents being affectionate and tender towards each other that she realized that this had been missing in her own home.
Nivi then offered that we all can take part in making sure that this does not happen in a marriage. From the example that her mother gave her, Nivi now implements acts of tenderness to her husband like dropping everything and greeting her husband as he walks through the door. Awwww!
It seems simple, but this act of being fully present to the person as they enter the room says, “I care that you are here and I want you to know that I noticed!”
Nivi went on to mention that we are often affected by the family experiences that we have grown up with. (Psychologists usually refer to this as Family of Origin “stuff”.) If you are aware of those experiences and dynamics you can try to avoid the areas where your family’s actions fell short and work to implement those family actions that helped strengthen the marriage, family, or acts of love toward others.
Nivi mentioned that one of the good things that she learned from her Family of Origin was a good way to end a fight. She said that when her parents have an argument and then one realizes that they have been wrong, they kiss the other’s wedding ring. This shows a re-commitment to their wedding vows of honoring and loving the other and gives them a signal that the surrender flag has been sent up.
Another question asked of the group was: “What do you think tends to keep husbands from entering the emotional lives of their wives? How can men live this out better? And how can women make it easier for their husbands to do this?”
My answer was: The thing that tends to keep husbands from entering the emotional lives of their wives the most is THE NOTHING BOX. Basically, they are simply wired differently then women.
If you aren’t familiar with what the Nothing Box is, watch this hilarious clip from “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage.”
If men aren’t careful, they can end up staying in their nothing box for too long. They can claim, “Well, this is just the way I am.” and refuse to come out of their nothing box, especially when it’s at the request of their spouse. If men are in their Nothing Box they can’t be fully present to the women in their life. If they remain in the Nothing Box then they lose the ability to show tenderness to another.
If women aren’t careful, they can end up expecting men to be like women and request that the men somehow throw away their Nothing Box. These types of women end up wanting men to be fully present for them at all times of the day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But this would be asking the men to be something that they are not! God, in his wisdom, designed men to have a Nothing Box so that they can regroup and be refreshed.
Our job as women is to be aware and respectful of the existence of our men’s Nothing Box. Once they’ve had a reasonable amount of time (whether that’s 20 minutes or an hour) in the nothing box, then we know that we’ve allowed them to be who they are and we ask them to meet us where we are now and where we need them to be.
God creates these differences in us so that we can be encouraged by the other – so that we are stretched as persons into growing into a better person.
God is asking us to be better persons by showing tenderness towards other people. It might be tricky to keep it in balance and to anticipate the needs of the other person, but the good news is, we have a lifetime to figure it out.
That’s all for now. Up next: How Contraception Harms Love!