I am not married so this could be a train wreck. Here goes nothing…
Saint Pope John Paul II is one of my favorite homies! He has inspired me in more ways than one to understand more about sharing the truth, authentic love, chastity, and sex. How could that be the case? A celibate man, who was by all accounts of the world, out of touch with anything relating to marriage… False. He was a genius and had many insightful things to say about the way of intimacy.
I want to bring up a quality that I feel like often gets overlooked, or misunderstood, in terms of relationships: tenderness. Does anyone know how to specifically define that word?The best I could come up with was the scene from Tangled of Rapunzel’s mom brushing out all of her flowing, long, golden locks. Meaning: tenderness is simply when someone is gentle with another person.That’s it. I, myself, did not even know how limiting that definition is.
Saint Pope John Paul II says, “Tenderness is found in the tendency to make one’s own feelings and mental states of another person.” So, in relationships that are based on love, it is an unsurprising adjustment to move from the self to focus on the other, feeling closely involved with the inner life of the beloved.
The action of tenderness naturally seeks outward expression. In marriage your spouse essentially becomes a part of you so much that they are another “I” as you are united together in the bond. So you want to communicate this sense of closeness… “I feel the need to let the other “I” know that I take on his/her feelings and his/her state of mind to heart, to make this other human being feel that I am sharing it all, that I am feeling what they feel." Hence we persons show our affection by holding hands, a kiss, drawing someone into our arms etc.
Even with the lens of just how beautiful dating and marriage can be, the devil is at play trying to distort the way the world views both. We all can recognize the ways our culture has fallen into use of the other, even mutual use. I don’t need to go into specifics, yet we need to see the effects of expressing this tenderness too soon. If tenderness is premature in a relationship, it can stop authentic love from growing.
Once I dated a man in which we thought we had a good friendship foundation, only to escalate quickly towards the physical expressions of tenderness. This actually hurt us more than anything because it became the center of the relationship. Our relationship fizzled out fast and today we no longer talk at all. We created the illusion of love, a love which in reality does not exist. Our relationship crumbled by the roadblocks we ourselves put up. Often young people think the way I thought, that this physical expression of tenderness will lead to authentic love. It is a clever trap set.
If we are to grant a man or woman the ‘right to tenderness’ (to show or receive it) we must also demand a greater sense of responsibility. AKA marriage, not casual sex in or out of dating relationships. In truth, expressions of tenderness should always be accompanied by an even greater sense of responsibility for the other person.
Circling back around to marriage, tenderness should involve a participation in emotion and commitment to love. This is what brings the couple to feel the closeness of communication. Saint Pope John Paul II expands on his earlier definition of tenderness here saying, “It is the ability to feel with and for the other person.” It creates a feeling of not being alone, a feeling that his/her life is equally the content of another very dear person’s life.
My stepdad and mom, Richie and Marge, are a great example of this in my life. For the most part, they do everything together, even grocery shopping is done as a team. It is so adorable I have to fight the urge to vomit. In the midst of the challenges and joys of their marriage, I can clearly see the tenderness they express towards one another. Sometimes things are tense, as with any marriage. I can tell when my mom is hurt by something, so too does Richie feel the pain. On the same token, when a joyous occasion burst forth in our lives they both act like IT. IS. THE. BEST. THING. EVER. They are always leading the family as a team. I think the tenderness they cultivate in authentically loving the other is wonderful glue.
Curious how this show of love, through tenderness, specifically affects women?
Women not only expect this type of tenderness from their husbands, but they actually have a special right to it in marriage. Husbands must enter deeply into the emotional lives of their wives for 3 reasons:
1. Honestly, a woman’s emotional level is deeper than a man’s so they simply have a greater need for tenderness. It is also helpful to note that men may never understand this need fully, similar to how women may not get why men ‘always think about sex.’ It is not that women need their man to fix everything magically, we know you aren't superman. We just would like you to listen.
2. Woman naturally gives herself to man. In a sense, a woman feels the transition from single life to married life in an acute way. She might notice or feel the break from her family to enter married life in a deeper way, especially if she has a close-knit family. While there is excitement in a new life with her husband, she might feel the loss of leaving all she has ever known in her family’s way of life to create a new life with her man.
3. Women have to go through more in life. Ya know… the important, difficult stuff like pregnancy, childbirth, and possibly leaving a job. Some women feel very alone in these experiences so have a special need for tenderness from their husbands as they go through them.
Men have a unique challenge to be tender with their beloved. You are not doing marriage right if all you do is financially provide for your family, or fix up the house. Men are called to enter deeply into the emotional lives of their wives. You must begin to feel with and for her.
Don’t forget about the art of tenderness between the two of you.
As Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”