Jane and Charles Perryman continue their series about Marriage
In this article we shall be considering Pope Francis’ exposition of a phrase in 1 Cor:14:4 “Love is never jealous.” He starts by explaining the specific meaning of the phrase, “Saint Paul goes on to reject as contrary to love an attitude expressed by the verb zelói – to be jealous or envious. This means that love has no room for discomfiture at another person’s good fortune (cf Acts 7:9; 17:5). Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows that we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being” (AL 95).
Pope Francis goes on to show how this phrase of St Paul is an encouragement to value and celebrate the gifts, talents and achievements of others. In doing so we fulfil the requirements of the ninth and tenth commandments, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s” (Ex 20:17). It is also a call to gratitude for our own gifts and talents and to use them in the service of others. It is normal that from time to time we might think it would be nice if we had a little more of something. It becomes more serious when we start to dwell on what we do not have.
If, however, “love is never jealous”, how is it that only a few verses earlier, God is described and proclaimed as a “Jealous God? (Ex 20:5) This statement is repeated at several other places in scripture (Ex34:14, Deut 4:24, 5:9, 6:15, 32:16, Jos 24:19, Ps 78:58, 79:5). All of these refer back to Exodus 20:5. In chapter 20 of the book of Exodus, God proclaims the Ten Commandments. This is in the context of the initiation of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. In essence the covenant agreement is that, “You will be my people and I shall be your God” (Jer 30:22). The people of Israel swear an oath to observe God’s law. God will then protect his people. An important part of observing God’s law is, “You shall have no gods except me”. (Ex. 20:3) God is therefore entitled to expect that the people of Israel will worship Him only and no other god. He is a jealous God.
On their wedding day the couple freely enter into the sacred covenant of marriage with one another. The covenant establishes between them “a partnership of the whole of life”. (Catechism 1061) One consequence of creating the covenant is that each spouse is entitled to expect that they will come first in their partner’s priorities. In an earlier article (January 2014) we said that one of the key factors in enabling marriages to thrive over the long term was that each was confident that the other held them as first priority. This is an important finding of modern research into adult relationships. In the same way that God is jealous to protect the special relationship with the people of Israel, so married partners should be jealous to guard the primacy of their married relationship. This is why a man (and a woman) leaves father and mother to be joined to their spouse. This then becomes their most important human relationship.
As we grow up, from infancy onwards, we form two very important judgements; how lovable we believe ourselves to be; and how trustworthy we believe other people to be. These are not necessarily conscious judgements. They start to be formed well before we are able to talk. People who believe that they are lovable and that others are trustworthy will find it relatively easy to form secure relationships in adulthood. On the other hand, those who are less sure of their lovableness or of other’s trustworthiness will find that their anxiety about the security of their relationship will be aroused more easily. For example, a person who is less sure of their attractiveness or of the trustworthiness of others will become anxious if they see their spouse getting friendly with a person of the opposite sex. That relationship may be perfectly appropriate but it will not necessarily allay their partner’s fears.
When someone gets wrapped up in their own anxiety it is hard for them to see the whole picture for what it really is. It is also very difficult to raise the matter with their partner in an appropriate way. If the person is able to say something like, “When I see you talking with … I get a bit scared.” What the partner needs is not a bland reassurance that there is “nothing to worry about”. What they need is, “What can I do to help you?” The fears are real. They cannot be wished away. The “there’s nothing to worry about” response is actually likely to increase the anxiety as it will be a signal that they are not being taken seriously.
In the covenant relationship of marriage one of the important ways that we show that our spouse comes first is by taking all of their fears and worries seriously. Here actions speak louder than words, although the words are important too. We can help to allay our partner’s fears by asking them what they need that will provide reassurance.