Australian Bishops Urge Couples Towards “Smart Loving”
by David Gibson
St. Valentine’s Day offers an excellent opportunity “to encourage families, parishes and schools to affirm the value of marriage,” according to Australia’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference. It hopes Catholics this Feb. 14 “use the innate joyfulness” of the day “to promote and affirm marriage and life-long romantic love.”
With the arrival of St. Valentine’s Day, an opportunity arises “to proclaim our beliefs” in ways that affirm and build the “positive good” in values “shared by many in the wider community,” Bishop Eugene Hurley of Darwin suggests.
He chairs the Australian bishops’ Commission for Pastoral Life. It issued a kit for St. Valentine’s Day 2012 with tips for parishes and couples, and insights on true love.
“The pages of history bear testament to humankind’s long-standing obsession with the phenomenon of love. Love gives meaning and purpose to living,” the kit observes. It notes, though, that love often is “misunderstood and misapplied.”
One misunderstanding overlooks love’s call for each partner both to give and to receive in their relationship. “All give, and the relationship becomes very hard work,” the kit explains. “All take, and the relationship lacks the substance to endure through the inevitable tough times.”
In one tip, the kit urges couples to “make St. Valentine’s Day something special this year.” It recommends, “instead of flowers or chocolates,” that a couple give each other the gift of their presence and “make a commitment to set aside 10 minutes a day” for sharing life’s “highs and lows together.”
The kit even proposes petitions for Prayers of the Faithful at Masses Feb. 14. One petition prays for those “preparing for marriage: that they may build a relationship of intimacy and tenderness for which we all long.” Three other petitions pray:
— “For married couples: that they may rejoice with one another in moments of strength and be compassionate toward one another in moments of weakness.”
— “For those who have suffered broken promises – that they may find healing and peace.”
–“For widowed people: May the gifts of love, support, courage and hope be made present to them within this community.”
It is “surprising how often people complain that their spouse misunderstands their gestures of love, that they try really hard to love their spouse, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough,” says the St. Valentine’s Day kit. It hopes couples will consider the demands of “smart loving.”
“Smart loving” requires “knowing your spouse’s love needs” and loving this person the way he or she likes and needs to be loved, it explains. It insists this way of loving is smart “because it’s effective.”
But not only is this approach smart, it also is a “genuine” way to express love. The kit’s authors consider it genuine because it is “other-centered, focused on building up and advancing the good of the other.”
Remarks on smart loving by a man named Byron help to explain the entire notion. He says:
“Over many years, we’ve come to realize that most of our mistakes in love come from the assumption that everyone experiences love the same way. … We tend to love the way we like to be loved.
“So, if physical affection is important to us, we’ll tend to express love through affection. If affirmation or gift-giving or recreational companionship is a primary love need, then we’ll tend to ‘speak’ our love to others in those ways.”
The kit advises married couples that happiness “is not simply about loving bigger and more generously in any haphazard way. It requires us to thoughtfully eliminate the biggest ‘love busters’ – those behaviors that kill the joy and sense of connection for our spouse.”
Thus, what one spouse really needs may be the other’s respect, not just a purchased gift. Or, one spouse may need gestures of care and tenderness, intimate conversation, attentiveness, closeness.
When Infatuation Wanes
“Falling in love is a wonderful experience.” People can agree readily with the kit that when people first fall in love, they are “filled with energy and thrilling excitement.”
But it is “unrealistic” to expect “the euphoria of infatuation” to be “sustained indefinitely,” it emphasizes. Nonetheless, “we all fall for it!”
A woman named Fran apparently fell for it. After about three years of marriage, “the honeymoon period was definitely over” for Fran and her husband, she says in the kit. She adds:
“Being unaware of the science of infatuation, I was confused and worried. I didn’t ‘feel’ the same powerful feelings that I thought were the hallmark of love. … I was confused by the media portrayals of love, and I just didn’t know if this was normal or whether there was something wrong with our marriage.”
Not only is infatuation’s waning decidedly normal, it is a good thing, according to the kit authors. “This state, scientifically identified as ‘infatuation,’ is not biologically sustainable,” they hold. Fortunately, when infatuation’s euphoria wanes, “real love begins to take root.”
Then, says the kit, “as their relationship matures, a couple’s love becomes increasingly grounded in genuine care and self-giving.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.