Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Gary Thomas, M.A.
Excerpted with permission from Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage by Gary Thomas. © 2017 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. Want to read more? Purchase here!
A husband and wife sat in front of me at church—the husband was also seated next to a male friend. Every time the pastor said something that was funny or insightful, the husband looked toward his friend and shared the moment. At the exact same time, the wife looked to her husband with a palpable expectation in her eyes that melted when she saw he was turned the other way.
This went on three or four times.
By the fifth time, she stopped looking.
She stared straight ahead with a fixed expression on her face that could have frozen the planet Mercury.
Still, the husband didn’t notice. He was having a fantastic time sharing moments of insight and laughter with his friend.
I’ve talked to enough couples that I could easily imagine the conversation on the way home.
“What’s wrong, honey?” “Nothing.”
“You seem angry.” “Why would I be?”
“I don’t have a clue. That’s why I asked you.”
This answer, of course, makes her even angrier. Which makes him angry in turn and think she’s being even more unreasonable.
Here’s why she’s angry: She doesn’t feel cherished. She wants to share life with you, and you’re (perhaps unintentionally) sharing it with a buddy instead. It sounds so innocuous to you: “I’m just sharing a moment with my friend; am I not supposed to have any other friends?” But you know she wants you to have other friends.
She also wants to be cherished. You ended up ignoring your wife, treating her as if she wasn’t even there. Making a spouse feel invisible is the opposite of cherish and creates feelings of alienation instead of belonging.
The issue isn’t your friend any more than the issue isn’t ultimately a hobby, a job, a video game, a child, or even an addiction.
The issue is honor. The issue is being noticed.
If we want to cherish our spouses, we have to keep noticing them, which is another way of saying we have to keep honoring them.
If you asked most men to define emotional abuse, 90 percent of us would say, “Yelling, shouting, screaming out cruel things, using hurtful words.”
And we’d be half right.
Emotional abuse is also the withholding of love, encouragement, and support. It can be a sin of deprivation every bit as much as a sin of commission. Look at it this way: if a man responds to hurt with the silent treatment, he could say he’s not doing anything wrong because he’s not saying anything mean, but in that context the silence itself is hurtful (deliberately so, in most cases). That’s emotional abuse.
Since the vast majority of us promise on our wedding day to “love and cherish” each other till “death do us part,” a man or woman’s desire to be cherished by their spouse is reasonable, so withholding cherish can rise to the level of emotional abuse. It is a reasonable (not “needy”) desire to be noticed and honored by our spouses, just as it is a reasonable desire for a young child to be fed by her parents.
Every time a wife or husband looks at their spouse to share a moment and sees their lover preoccupied with someone or something else, it feels like they’ve taken a relational ice bucket over the head.
It kills intimacy.
University of Washington professor and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman writes, “Without honor, all the marriage skills one can learn won’t work.”
Honoring our spouses is an essential part of what it means to cherish. To honor someone is to hold them in high esteem. When a queen greets you, you bow or curtsy. When a judge enters the courtroom, you stand. When a cherished spouse enters the room or says something, you honor and cherish them by taking notice.
You can honor someone without cherishing them, but you can’t cherish someone without honoring them. When you fail to cherish a spouse, you are essentially dishonoring them.
Dr. Gottman insists that without honor, we won’t have happy marriages. We won’t have intimate marriages. We won’t have successful marriages. If we try to apply brilliant marital “tips” (communication exercises, love languages, conflict resolution) but leave out a focus on honoring and cherishing each other, it’s like lighting a candle and then depriving it of oxygen. The flame will have a very short life. No strategy will work with- out being fed by the fresh air of cherishing.
Gary Thomas is Writer in Residence (and serves on the teaching team) at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas and author of 18 books, including Sacred Marriage, that have sold over a million copies worldwide and have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his wife Lisa have been married for 30 years.