Eros and Reconciliation
By Charles Rush
February 13, 2011
2 Cor. 5: 18-21 and Rm. 12: 9-18
(mp3, 7.8Mb) ]
ere are certainly plenty of cynics on the subject of romance. Richard Lewis said, “When you are in love it is the most glorious two-and-a-half days of your life”. He echoes, the Latin poet Catullus, “I hate and love. You ask, perhaps, how can that be? I know not, but I feel the agony. As Ernest Hemingway put it, “If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it”, spoken like a man who knows that over and over and over. Or I think of the haunting words from the great blues singer Billy Holiday after disappointment, heroin addiction had made her cynical at mid-life, “Don’t threaten me with love, baby.”
ample reason to be jaundiced about love, no question. At the same time,
researchers today are documenting what makes for human fulfillment and they can
now put some statistics behind the benefits of developing substantive
relationships in all dimensions of your life. Getting better at being a people
person is the key towards becoming happy.
last decade, we’ve done over 200 studies on over 275,000 people. At the moment,
researchers divide the what we mean by happiness in three broad categories that
rather remind you of Aristotle back in your Intro to Philosophy class: it is
pleasures ( our sex lives remain pretty important to us), but also engagements
(our relationships- spouses, family, friends, community, work), and finally
meaning (the realm of spirituality/philosophy).[i]
like Aristotle, we figured out pretty quickly that genuine fulfillment, or a
deeper happiness comes from all three. As one of them put it, real happiness “is
the joy we feel striving after [and partly actualizing] our potential.”[ii]
surprising that you can correlate deeper happiness with great friendships and a
solid love life because it is so often the case that these are the very people
that have inspired you towards your potential day in and day out. Or put it the
other way around, what a great joy to live around people that encourage you to
be your best and, on the whole, bring out the best in you. That is about as
much as you can ask for out of this life.
are warming to this subject in general because we’ve correlated the fulfillment
you feel out of realizing your potential with a lot of other positive things.
Happy people tend to also be healthier, also friendlier, also more involved in community, also creative
in what you are doing, more productive, better in leadership, better performer,
you tend to make more money, have more job security, miss fewer days to illness
and are less likely to get burnt out and quit.[iii]
Of course, being
happy is also more fun.
a vested interest in developing solid relationships, solid marriages, plain and
simple. Or as we Christians used to say, love is the better way. St. Paul tells
us, let your love be genuine; out do each other in
affection, honor, zeal, hope, patience, payer… Live in harmony. And insofar as
it is up to you, be at peace.
And our present round of research
bears out the wisdom of Paul’s understanding of the Christian life, the
profounder spiritual way of living in the world. Likewise, the present round of
research bears out Paul’s other insight from 2nd Corinthians. He
says, we are Ambassadors of reconciliation to each
other. The spiritual way of being in the world is the way of reconciliation.
Become a reconciling presence as you mature.
the thing. The single most important thing you can do to improve your love
life. The primary way you can put some zip back in your romance, according to
the research is… be a reconciling person. Practice that until it becomes
subconsciously grooved. That is the long answer, the life answer.
not to say that some flowers tomorrow might not be a bad idea, a dinner out, a little
bling. There is nothing wrong with a poem or some perfume… But it turns out
that reconciliation is the single best give you can give your spouse to spruce
up your love life.
Curmudgeon’s I cited at the beginning were half right. That flash of lust that
you feel at the beginning of romance doesn’t have to last long before you run
up against the cold, difficult fact of the actual person that you are trying to
love. New relationships experience it as a block of impassable stone that is
just there in between sessions of canoodling.
fairly short order, after you get to know each other, you have arguments with
your spouse. They just don’t see things the way you do, you just don’t live the
same way, a lot of small things that you step over quite a bit. Your spouse
feels they need to attend every extended family event,
you would rather be more independent. You’d like to have a baby in the near future,
the person you are seeing isn’t ready yet and isn’t sure that they ever will
be. You think your spouse is too strict with your oldest child, and they think
they have about the right approach to parenting. You’d rather plan ahead and
your spouse waits until the last minute.
the thing that we have discovered. That argument that you first had from before
you were engaged…. In all likelihood, you will be having that same argument in
a different version 15 years later. Let me quantify. When we studied married
couples and the arguments that they had by actually taping them in hours of
daily living, 69% of all the arguments that these couples had fell into this
the conclusion of one researcher, Dan Wile. “When choosing a long-term partner…
you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that
you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.”[iv]
the other thing that we discovered. You don’t have to solve these problems to
have a great relationship. You just have to cope with them. As it turns out,
the key to being able to cope well, is doing the things in the bible that we
are told make for reconciliation.
more creatively. Couples that have advanced skill in reconciliation can
tolerate a lot of difference. It turns out that the spiritual disposition that
keeps you focused on reconciliation and the skill set that makes you
emotionally competent to diffuse tension and repair relationships that are
injured are the fundamental tools to promote intimacy, love, contentment.
to the tape to fairly accurately depict what we don’t want to happen. We don’t
want our arguments to degrade into gridlock. The signs we have detailed.
conflict makes you feel rejected. You talk but make no headway. Both of you
become entrenched. Now you start feeling more frustrated and hurt. And these conversations
start to become devoid of humor, affection or amusement. You start to vilify
each other on this subject which leads you to become
more entrenched, extreme, and less interested in compromise. And then you start
to just… you know what… withdraw emotionally and then physically.[v]
a lot of tape on what you don’t want. Fortunately, we now have whole books that
give you good insights on resolving conflict productively. We won’t go through
love a couple of John Gottman’s observations after
reviewing not hours of tape but years of tape. He says that good arguments, big
or small, over things you can resolve or bigger stuff you will probably never
really resolve, is essentially the same in
orientation. You have to “communicate a basic acceptance of your partner.”[vi]
If you create a chemistry so that either or both of
you feel judged, misunderstood, or rejected- you just punted the ball. You
might score some points in the argument but your partner is under siege and
will dig in to protect themselves, plain and simple.
why people who study these matters often make the observation that in most
intimate arguments, there is no right or wrong, there is only the two of you-
two subjective realities. When you are in the middle of any argument, you will
invariably be thinking internally, ‘what is wrong with my boyfriend that he
doesn’t see the impeccable logic that I have just laid out?’ But if we could
zoom out, and it gets easier to do with maturity, so the researchers claim, it
is not really about the logic, important as reason is,
it is always about the two of you checking in with each other also, more
we are younger, we are more likely to say something like, “Honey, you’re going
50 in the left hand lane on the Turnpike, are you trying to kill us? Oh my God,
you got your license at Wallmart.” After a while, you
realize that this only makes your spouse angry and hurt, but with no real
change in behavior.
have figured out that acceptance is more fundamental, you are more likely to
say something like. “Honey, these cars passing us on the right make me nervous.
Any chance you could slide over a lane or two to make me feel safer?”
taught us to put ourselves in one another’s place. The Good Samaritan sees a
person hurt on the side of the road. “But a
certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he
had compassion on him” (Luke 10:33). St.
Paul suggested the same idea in Galatians when he says, “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will
fulfill the law of Christ."(Galatians
6:2). Again, in a letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul says, “For there should be no division in the body, but that
its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every
part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
(1 Corinthians 12:25-26). In the first step and
in the last step, mutually, reciprocally we have to communicate this
fundamental acceptance of each other, whatever your concerns are, whatever you
need to have changed.
When our researchers observed those couples that were
really clicking, and some of them had been married for decades, what they
noticed was that they communicated to each other a pervasive, fundamental
fondness and respect.[vii]
could also express anger, irritation, disappointment and hurt but they did it
in this context of a basic fondness and respect. And then???
This fuller range of emotions can actually be heard. It
mistakes will be made and emotions will get the better of us. There is good
news for those of us who know we have issues with controlling our temper or
engaging our emotionally mature sides. It turns out that researchers observed
quite a few of us who fall in that category but their relationships remain
fairly stable and productive.
so if… you were particularly effective at repair attempts. Things are getting
out of control… Can you de-escalate? Can you put on the brakes? Can you stop,
re-frame, maybe just take a break? Can you find a
place to re-connect? Can you soothe yourself and your mate?
thing that they noticed is not that these repair attempts are witty or clever
or manipulative in any fashion. What makes them work is that they get through.
You know what your spouse needs in these moments and you can deliver it. No
put it like this in Ephesians, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
(4:6) Anger is part of our life. It erupts. But we’ve recognized its danger
from ancient times. Put the brakes on that. Don’t let it stew and fester, or if
you do, you can fairly well predict that it will start to poison your
Paul, said, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:7). There is a way to be
responsible with your anger. And it is balanced with a spirit of forgiveness.
James 1 says, “be slow to anger and quick to forgive”.
Don’t let it get carried away. Anger is likely pointing you towards something
deeper in your relationship or in you that you need to reflect on. But in your
intimate relationships with your spouse, in your family, with your closest
friends, in the church, keep it in mind to practice an understanding
forgiveness of others as Christ has already forgiven you.” Or the Lord’s Prayer
that daily reminds us, “forgive us our debts (our shortcomings and mistakes) as we forgive one another.”
thing is the relationship. The key thing is keeping love flowing in and around
us. As our text reminds us this morning, “Live in harmony with one another… if
possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Amen.
[i] The distinction is from
Martin Seligman. See Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005) Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41.
Shawn. The Happiness Advantage (New York: Crown Publishing, 2010), p.
[iv] Dan Wile, After the
Honeymoon How Conflict Can Save Your Marriage but the ideas for this sermon
come from John Gottman’s & Nan Silver Seven Principles for
Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers, 2002), chs.
7 and 8.
[v] Ibid. p.
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