By Gary Moore
I recently took my radio audience through Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s book, “Trading Places.” Much of this column comes from them. Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked about the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture. Her answer surprised many. It was a healed femur. She went on to explain that a healed femur showed that someone cared. Someone had to do that injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed. “The evidence of compassion,” said Mead, “is the first sign of civilization.”
Caring about something or for someone compels you to take action. Just think about it for a minute. What good is it if your spouse knows what is going on with you and feels it deeply but doesn’t do anything about it? And what good would it be for your spouse if you did the same?
What happens in and to a relationship when one party says, “I guess I just stopped caring”? Once a person moves to the point of not caring, the relationship is hanging by a thread and the prospect of survival is grave.
When you remove care from any relationship, it’s basically over. There’s nothing left to discuss. Marriage, in any meaningful form, cannot survive without care. Care is so essential to a marriage that it often goes unnoticed. Ask people what matters most in marriage and care won’t make the list. But when you put this quality on a list of traits and ask people to rate its importance to a marriage, you’ll see it quickly rise. Why? Because without care, marriage is impossible. Three little words – “I don’t care” – are like a deadly stab in the heart of a marriage.
When was the last time you took time to consider what “taking care” really means? The word “care” comes from the Germanic “kar”, which originally meant “sad”. It alludes to the idea that a caring person feels sad when you feel sad. In other words, care is a kind of compassion that allows someone to enter your world and feel your pain. Care is directly linked to mutual understanding. It says that whatever happens to you happens to me. When sadness hits you, it hits me too. It also says that when something terrific happens to you, I rejoice. Your life makes a genuine difference to my own life.
When we truly care for our spouse – at a deep and meaningful level – we involve both our heart and our head. We think our spouse’s thoughts and feel our spouse’s emotions. When we care for our partner, we listen and watch for ways to be helpful. We take notice and attend to her world as if it were our own.
All of us practice caring instinctively on occasion. We’re careful with things we value – like handling a costly crystal vase. If your spouse has had to cope with a serious accident or life-threatening illness, you don’t need a book to show you how to care. But the normal humdrum of life, when we tend to take each other for granted, doesn’t do much to jump start our care quotient – unless you’re consciously practicing empathy and mutual understanding.
When couples sidestep empathy and mutual understanding, they become clueless. Quite literally, they become ignorant of each other. These couples who lack empathy and mutual understanding don’t necessarily lack love. They still want a better way of living and loving together. They’re simply baffled by their spouse’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. They’re clueless. They have no mutual understanding.
The more mutual understanding you have, the more you care.
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say that with a little effort, even the most clueless couples on the planet can become unimaginably smarter when they do three things: (1) set aside their own needs (temporarily); (2) turn on their emotional radar; (3) demonstrate concern and care.
Many of us are sympathetic to our spouse’s needs, but not empathetic. Sympathy is standing on the shore and throwing a life ring out to a person who is struggling in the water. Every decent human being would do this.
Empathy (truly caring) is much riskier. Empathy is diving into the water and thrashing around in the cold waves with that person to bring them to safety. Not everyone does that. In fact, it is so rare that we call the people who do it “heroes”.
I challenge you to become the hero in your own marriage. Empathy, true caring, and mutual understanding are risky. They will change you. Once you immerse yourself in your partner’s predicament or situation (with your head and your heart), you won’t look at him or her the same way. You’ll have a new perspective that makes you more patient, more grace-giving and more caring.
Dare to really care. Protect your marriage from “marital drift”. Demonstrate your care.
Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He does a weekly radio program called Life Point Plus on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. Monday mornings at 10 a.m. he does live relationship teaching called MUM Live on his Facebook page Mutual Understanding Method. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.