How to see your spouse with new eyes

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Guest Post: Janel Breitenstein is a married mother of 4 who writes frequently for FamilyLife. Janel and her husband John currently serve with eMi in Uganda. You can visit her blog at www.agenerousgrace.com

Remember the ’99 Julia Roberts flick, Runaway Bride?

Roberts’ character has a bad reputation for landing at the altar and, well, taking off. (Spoiler alert, here–) Turns out she’s been a chameleon of sorts, being “supportive” to the point of wholly adopting her not-so-future mate’s preferences, hobbies, and lifestyle: She likes her eggs the same way. She dons a large (fake) tattoo. She prepares to climb Everest for one of her (not-gonna-happen) honeymoons.

The fiancés are left clueless and bewildered as she turns from each of them, minutes from matrimony. I adored her! And yet, apparently none understood how little they’d actually sought out her soul, or cherished her uniqueness apart from what she contributed to their own interests.

At one point, the movie finds Richard Gere’s character, a reporter getting the scoop on her follies, tinkering at a piano with his ex-wife.

“Is that what happened?” he asks her. “Did I just…not see you?”

“No,” she responds quietly. “No, you didn’t.”

It’s easy enough, I think. To not really see this person we’re married to.

Such a generous percentage of us rise in the morning with our thoughts on one person …Well, us. We’ve got our agenda, our to-do lists, our stresses, our phones, our kids staring at us in the face.

Our desires settle in like an elephant on a bench, mildly oblivious to whatever or whoever might get a little squashed in the process (What is under my leg? Get that outta there!). Then, after a long day, our sights might be occupied by shooing the kids into bed, or whatever it takes to finally. Rest.

Sometimes it’s hard to pry ourselves from the thick layers of history and assumptions we make about our spouse. There’s pride, even, that keeps us from really seeing where our spouses have been, and what’s valuable to them at the moment. What would the world look like if I walked a mile in your jeans today?

I realized this not too long ago when my insides were bound together in an elaborate series of twists, the result of a conflict with my mom—with whom I’ve always had, and still have, a great relationship. If anything, that made the knot within me more tense and complex. When I asked a confidante for advice, she gave me words that someone had given her decades before, with her own mother: “Try to see your mother not as your mother, but as a woman—with all her desires and hopes and concerns.”

Not a bad piece of advice for marriage, either: to see our spouse outside of our own intense yearnings, fears, and preoccupations; outside of that person we so want them to be.

Maybe it starts with a few questions. What was that like? What do you need tonight? What’s the best way I can pray for you today? Maybe it’s some appreciative observations. Hey, thanks for doing that. Sometimes I take for granted all the ___ you do for our family. Maybe it’s a small, generous gift. Can I rub your shoulders? What if you took the night off and got a little time away by yourself? Maybe it’s taking the time to bear their burden with them, or just a sympathetic, quiet I’m sorry.

Ultimately, truly seeing our spouse is a representation of what God did for us. He saw us, sees us, in our sorrows and difficulties, sympathizing with us, understanding us, carrying our sorrows—and then, laying His life down for our own. To see us that much.

I, for one, have a new appreciation for blind Bartimaeus’ complex wish: Lord, I want to see.