I’ve been thinking a lot about a story my mother used to tell me. She told it to me often enough that she must have thought it was important—that it might be of value to me in the future. Although it didn’t involve people she knew personally, she seemed to believe it was a true story.
This is how it goes:
A woman sat nervously across from her husband as he was drinking his morning coffee. She gathered her courage and quickly said, “I don’t love you anymore.”
She watched him intently as she waited for his reply. While he quietly considered what she’d said, a range of subtle expressions passed over his face. When at last he spoke, he asked his wife this unexpected question:
“What would you do today if you did still love me?”
She thought for a moment. This time it was her face that displayed a range of expressions—from surprise to bewilderment and finally to sadness as she softly said, “I guess I’d bake you a chocolate cake.”
He looked at her with tenderness and made this request: “Then bake me a chocolate cake.”
She was dumbstruck. She had expected him to be angry, but instead he responded with kindness. How could she say no?
So when her husband left the house to go on about his day, she set to work baking his favorite cake. While she sifted and measured and mixed, she found familiar old emotions surfacing. As the batter swirled in the mixing bowl, memories swirled in her head and in her heart: memories of the many times she’d baked this cake for him because she actually did love him and wanted him to know it.
A strange phenomenon occurred as that cake took shape; by the time the woman was spreading the icing on it, she realized that she still had feelings for this man, after all.
She still loved him, she was just out of practice at showing it.
The story ends there, though I like to imagine that as they sliced into the cake, a new beginning took place—which is something much sweeter than any dessert. I like to think that after that, no matter where they were or who they were with, whenever the words “chocolate cake” were mentioned, the two would look into each other’s eyes and share a knowing smile.
(To be honest, I like to think the story never really ended at all.)
So why do I think my mother told me this story so often? And why am I telling it to you?
Because it contains some important and timeless truths:
The relationships we treat with value keep their value—and even grow in value.
For example, when I go out of my way to do something nice for my husband, it reminds me that Bill is a good man who is worthy of my kindness. It builds him up in my eyes and makes me feel grateful for (and protective of!) what we have together. It makes me feel good about myself, too, and when my self-esteem is in good shape it’s easier to be nice to other people—including Bill.
But the opposite is also true—
The relationships we treat carelessly (or even callously) diminish in value.
Treating your significant other with disrespect can eventually cause that person to seem less desirable to you. (And it won’t make you seem very desirable to him/her, either!) In fact, many relationship experts agree that contempt (which includes sarcasm, eye-rolling, making jokes at the other’s expense, etc.) is a strong predictor of divorce. Unfortunately, these behaviors have become commonplace in our culture. Because they are often made to seem funny in commercials and sit-coms, they are easy habits to pick up. But if you want a happy, long-lasting relationship, they are habits that need to be broken.
And one final thought,
I heard a simple saying in a wedding toast recently. I think it sums up this post perfectly:
“Pick your love. Love your pick.”
(Forever and ever. Amen.)
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