Charity-There is a particular truth that we teach at our Couples Retreats that always creates a significant stir in our couples: Research shows that at any given time in a reasonably happy marriage you will like or admire about 85% of everything about your partner. That means that generally speaking there will be around 15% that you might find irritating or frustrating about their actions, habits, practices, words, etc. Those percentages might be higher for some, lower for others; the important thing is that you will never live with a marriage partner who is perfect. There will always be something that, if you had a magic wand, you might wave it at your partner to change the way they squeeze the toothpaste tube or how they are always late for appointments.
Upon reflection it is a good thing we don’t have that magic wand. Marriage is meant to be the great classroom, the finishing school in the development of our character–and character is developed most thoroughly as we grow in patience and forgiveness of those around us. Could we shape our spouse to fit our particular version of perfection we would grow flaccid, jaded, and even bored. Worst of all, we would never develop the key principle of Charity in our lives.
Charity is utterly indispensable in a marriage. It allows us to let go of harsh feelings. When charity has been abandoned, when the principle of forgiveness is traded for retaliation, the light of hope in a relationship becomes ever dimmer.
Without charity and accompanying forgiveness, the weight of real and imagined offenses grows ever greater, eventually crushing both partners and the relationship. It’s something like a house that is never cleaned. Eventually the dirty dishes, laundry, garbage, and junk overwhelm the home and whoever has the misfortune to live there. If we don’t have a way to remove the refuse that might build up in our marriages, represented by hurt, bitterness, and mistakes, the relationship will eventually cease to function.
Charity will be the great challenge in most marriages, but it also brings with it the sweetest rewards of peace, growing love, and mutual respect. These are gifts beyond compare.
The Three Baselines- A couple has the responsibility to work out many issues in their marriage. Finances, children, careers, in-laws, and a hundred other things will demand our problem solving skills. But we have seen many successful marriages in which partners did not quite see eye-to-eye on money or how to discipline their children. But we have never seen what we would define as a happy marriage that existed outside the boundaries of basic Civility, Fidelity, and Charity.
If you find yourself in a relationship where one or more of these areas is showing signs of decay, don’t panic. The good news is that awareness is half the battle and experience has shown that committed couples can quickly make real progress in turning things around in these baselines, and as they do they always experience an enormous upturn in happiness and fulfillment in the relationship.