If character is the quality of response we have to people or situations there is no doubt that marriage gives us plenty of opportunity to respond (or react)! The question is – do we connect how we respond with the values that we say we hold onto.
Character is based on our value system: what we think is important, what we deem right or wrong. One of the foundational concepts to my value system is that people are important, people are precious. I believe this because I believe that God made people in his image, God loves all people and Jesus gave us the command to love others as he has loved us.
The challenge is though, to live by this value in my marriage day in and day out. Somehow the love we have for our spouse gets clouded by the emotive love we have (as in falling in love) and we forget that ultimately our spouse is made in the image of God, loved by God and we were commanded by Jesus to love them.
Every year as Valentine’s Day comes near our social media is blown up with the ideas of love. Everyone knows, of course, that Valentine’s Day and anything we do on that day does not really maintain our relationship long term. We need to show our love, celebrate our love, be committed to our love every day of the year and we do that by the way we respond to them in daily situations. I need to see my husband as a person with value, a person who is precious in God’s eyes, and a person who is precious in my eyes.
I need to see my husband as a person of value, a person who is precious.
7 Character Traits for Married People:
These 7 Character responses should be in every marriage. Of course we will all be growing in our ability to respond with this type of love – so maybe I should say: these 7 character responses should be growing in every marriage – I certainly want them to be in mine.
Benevolence is giving to other’s their basic needs without expecting a reward. Benevolence is a love that only wants what is good for the other person. When we show this kind of love we put them before ourselves. It is a very giving response. The world tells us to look out for number one – to make sure that the marriage is 50-50 but that is a lie. Marriage is 100-100: we need to give to the other person. When we resist this response we get snarky and want to keep score, make sure everything is even, make sure we aren’t being taken advantage of. And though there is the issue of abuse in marriages, I’m assuming that we are talking healthy relationships* where we can make the choice to show a selfless love.
(*If this is not your situation, then please talk to someone about healthy relationships and how you can make healthy choices that includes boundaries and caring for yourself. Expedition Marriage would be a good place to start.)
Forgiveness is letting go of the wrongs others have done. We often go through the motions of forgiving – we say the right words, we may even patch things up, but the key word here is ‘letting go’. Forgiveness gives the opportunity for new beginnings and we can’t have a new beginning if we are holding grudges, or always being anxious about the past being brought up. Forgiving is letting go. Forgiveness takes away bitterness and lets kindness happen in your relationship again. Of course, there are some hurts that take a while to heal and some consequences that you will have to work through but an attitude of forgiveness, a heart for forgiveness means that you keep your heart soft towards the other person as you walk that path of rebuilding trust.
Co-operation is having a desire and ability to work together. Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do. NIV
When we are in something together then we are able to achieve more than we can do when we are in it alone. Co-operation is about being a team player, working together with a common goal, each player with its purpose, strength and contribution. The opposite of co-operation is self-focused individualism where you focus on your rights and make sure that your light is shining. Co-operation starts when you have a common purpose, when you recognise the strengths and abilities in each other, and you are committed to working together as a team.
Honesty and truthfulness is about telling the truth – but it’s more than that. As we consistently tell the truth people will trust us. That trust is the foundation of all relationships – relationships will be as strong as the bond of trust. In marriage we can say we are being truthful by accounting all the facts, but at the same time holding back some of the story; maybe holding back our feelings or holding back certain aspects of the story. We haven’t been untruthful but neither have we been completely transparent. There is an aspect of honesty, especially in intimate relationships that means transparent – that we bare it all, that we become vulnerable, that we are honest about the rawest of things. This of course will only happen where there is trust – where we trust the other person to hold our inner heart with respect. So there are two aspects to this – one is being open and honest ourselves, and second is being trustworthy with our spouse’s vulnerability. Developing both attitudes will strengthen our marriage in due course.
Attentiveness is giving my undivided concentration – so in terms of my marriage, being attentive is giving my husband my undivided concentration. We get so busy these days that this is hard to do. When they enter the room, we are busy so we may greet them, but we keep on working. When they speak, we have 100 other things going on in our heads so we listen, but we keep on thinking about mental to-do list we have going on. At the end of their day we are so exhausted about our day that we don’t give them any care. Even as I type I can hear objections rising in my head – but what about me! That’s the thing about character based responses – it is about the other person. Of course we can’t ignore our own responsibilities (keep on reading and I talk about that next) but by being attentive to another person’s needs – big and small, we can show them respect and we have the opportunity to help them in various areas of their life.
Responsibility is knowing and doing what is expected of me. The thing is we often focus on what other people expect of me (and get tied up being people-pleasers) but the real issue is what does God expect of you. God has given each person choice – and he holds us accountable for the choices we make: including the choices we make in our marriage. We are responsible for ourselves. We are responsible for the things that we do, say and the attitudes that we hold. It is not healthy to be in a relationship where we either blame the other person, or we are made to do things beyond our personal choice. I find though it is more often little things that creep in and I forget to be responsible for myself: I need to look after my spiritual well being, my physical, emotional and social well being, I need to be obedient to the things God has put on my heart, and use the gifts and talents he has given me. But I’m also responsible to love my husband.
Contentment is realising that true happiness does not depend on material conditions. What makes you truly happy? Contentment to me is like a deep hum that I’m happy, at peace, and like what’s going on. Like I said a deep hum deep in my gut/heart! Back in the 80’s-90’s it was said that we lived in a material world – stuff was so easy to accumulate. Even though we may describe ourselves more in terms of technology and information these days it is still a material world. Contentment is realising that true happiness does not depend on material conditions. We may have little, we may have much – but our contentment comes when we focus on relationships not stuff. Can we say, like Paul, I have learnt to be content with little and with much. Paul’s contentment came because He had a relationship with Jesus and that contentment affected how he dealt with every earthly situation. Can we say the same?
This is not a Conclusive List
Benevolence, Forgiveness, Co-operation, Honesty, Attentiveness, Responsibility, Contentment.
These are by no means an exhaustive list. I can think of peacefulness, patience, wisdom, sincerity that are all needed in a marriage as well. The key here isn’t that if you learn these 7 key responses your marriage will improve – it’s not that simple! The thing is that we are to respond to our spouse in a way that reflects the value that Jesus puts on them as a person. He is precious and I want to respond accordingly!
So as you reflect on your responses in your marriage – choose one to work on. Pray about it. Consider small habits that you can introduce to help you grow in that area. Journal about your challenges and growth. As you intentionally think about how you can respond better, respond in ways that are consistent with your value system – you will see a change in your heart as you life life beside your spouse.
Over to you
Just as we do when looking at our children’s behaviour – if we look at how we are responding and see which character issue is lacking in our responses? Which character trait do we need to grow in when it comes to relating to our spouse?
Do you Need Unique Skills for a Successful Marriage? Do we need unique skills for a successful marriage or do the same relationships skills we already have apply?
Our Personality does not Excuse us from Doing the Right Thing: Jesus’ command to love God and love others was not limited to particular personality traits – it was a command for us all.
You need to be a Healthy Whole Person before you can be a Healthy Parent: To be a healthy parent, you need to first be a healthy person. It starts with self-awareness so you can grow to be the best parent you can be.
My Husband won’t Change – and what you can do about it! We all know we can’t change our husband but it doesn’t mean we don’t try! But there is only one thing we can really do and that is look after our own heart.