By Anne Gagliano
There is nothing as delightful as tucking that secret special gift under the tree for your beloved. Identified and sought and purchased, it is carefully wrapped then stowed with anticipation of seeing it revealed Christmas morning. This is the joy of giving—be it Christmas or any other day of celebration—to someone you love. It truly is more blessed to give than receive, as the fun and accomplishment of success are its own rewards.
“Make every day like Christmas” is a goal we all aspire to as the holidays come to a close; we wish to keep the memories of joy and delight alive throughout the upcoming year. And this should be especially so in marriage, as a tone of self-sacrifice is set for each and every day. In an environment of unselfish giving, acceptance, security, and strength flourish. This is agape—a love that gives unconditionally. As I defined it in my last column, agape love is unchanging, inexhaustible, generous beyond measure, and most wonderfully kind. It is my goal to give this type of love to my husband this year, and he to me. But how is it done? Being unselfish goes against human nature. Hence, nature must be suppressed and agape achieved in this three-step way: choice, knowledge, and action.
Agape, the choice. The word choice means you have options. You can choose each day how you will treat your spouse. This day will you choose selfishness, or will you fight your nature and choose to be unselfish? To put the needs of your spouse ahead of your own? This is a matter of sheer will.
In making this choice, ask yourself these questions: Does my spouse’s performance determine the degree to which I will love him? Will I only show him love as a reward for good behavior? Does he have to give to me before I will give to him? If he doesn’t change, will I withhold my love? If you answer yes to these questions, you are not choosing agape love.
Selfish love is “reactionary” or, in other words, it is dependent on someone else. It may seem like you have control, but the opposite is true. If you are constantly reacting to another’s behavior, you become a slave to that person, allowing him to choose your course of action. Agape love is the antithesis; it is proactive, it chooses to give and love freely despite what others do. It is the mature, adult choice that leads to ultimate happiness because you are in charge. You are the captain of your own ship.
Agape, the knowledge. Knowledge means wisdom, a depth of understanding, a gathering of information on a topic. The topic? Your spouse. Agape love seeks to have an intelligent, intimate, perceptive understanding of the unique individual that you are married to. It desires to know his highly specialized needs and does this through careful, deliberate study–to become a Ph.D. on “what makes my spouse tick.”
Study your beloved the way you would for a promotional exam, or for anything else at which you hope to excel. Pour your life into it, daily, as he is ever-changing. You can never know too much about your spouse. Knowledge is power–the power to be excellent. The more you know, the better you’ll be.
Agape, the action. Agape love is not just a “benign attitude.” You may think, “But I do love my spouse and always will.” This is a good place to start, but the real question is, does he know this? Your spouse is not a mind reader. The only real way for him to know your love is for you to show it. This requires involvement, not comfortable detachment. And it is a permanent commitment, till death do you part.
A truly beautiful example of agape in action is the aging senior couple. The husband who cares for the physical needs of his beloved wife, even though her mind is lost to the horrors of Alzheimer’s. When asked, “Why do you tend to her? She no longer even remembers who you are. Why not put her in a home and be free to live your life? After all, she won’t know the difference.” He replied, “But I know who she is.” Agape in action. Unconditionally.
Firefighter couples, show your spouse agape love this year in your actions. Do the tough stuff and expect nothing in return. Give and give and give again; it never gets old. With this mindset, your marriage will flourish and you’ll experience happiness as never before. Here are a few explicit examples just for you taken from our marriage:
Firefighter: Though tired and blasted after a 24-hour shift, enter your home with an attitude of “What can I do for my spouse today?” Firefighter spouse: When he walks in the door, give him re-entry time and say, “I got this; you chill for a while.”
Firefighter: I’m jammin’ at the station, hardly a moment’s peace, but I’m going to call my wife as she has told me she loves to hear from me and it helps her sleep. And when I get home, I will share with her my day and chat with her for as long as she wants, without even a hint of irritation. Firefighter spouse: When he gets home, I’ll greet him with passion and fun and all the good stuff he likes.
Firefighter: It’s a gruff, tough job, but I am going to check my harshness at the door and speak to my wife in the tender, affectionate way she prefers. Firefighter spouse: I will not “take the bait” and snap at him or pout if his speech is more abrupt than I like.
Firefighter: I had a tough run and I want to suppress this from my wife, but she needs to know what’s going on with me, so I’ll tell her about it. Firefighter spouse: I’ll react to the tough run in the way my firefighter likes best—less words, more physical comforts.
Firefighter couples, things like hobbies, possessions, friends, achievements, and money all vie for your time, passion, and attention. You only have so much to give. What will your choice be this year? What will you give to your marriage? May I make this humble suggestion: Choose to unselfishly give your energy first and foremost to your beloved by gaining knowledge of his deepest needs, and then take action to meet those needs as best you can, every day. This is agape love in three steps, and I believe it is the very best gift you can give each other this year and every year to come. Hide it in your heart and under your Christmas tree, then open it together. You’ll both be utterly and completely delighted!
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 32 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.