I’m not sure if I really care about being patient.
Why should I? What’s in it for me?
“Patience is a virtue.”
Just what I’ve always wanted—more virtue!
Okay, I guess I do want to be virtuous (whatever that really means), but it’s not exactly the most enticing idea in the world.
The problem is that “patient” is the first word used to describe love in one of the all-time most popular definitions of love, which comes from 1 Corinthians 13.
Whether you’re religious or not, I’m sure you’ve heard it at a wedding:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Right there at the top: ‘“Love is patient.” This gives the impression that it’s important; patience matters.
Because regardless of whether you care about virtue or not, you probably do care about love.
Love is a virtue—the greatest one, in fact—but somehow no one really talks about that.
We just talk about how beautiful and incredible and life-changing love is: rainbows, butterflies, cutesy photographs, oh my!
“Love is patient.”
We want love. We don’t want patience—unless it’s from someone else, of course.
Maybe we heard “patience is a virtue” a little too often (those tired words that mean nothing to us), while “patience will save your marriage” was never spoken.
Patience matters because people are annoying and frustrating and painfully disappointing—there’s just no way around it (as someone who is annoying, frustrating, and painfully disappointing, I can attest to this).
When we’re infatuated, we miraculously overlook this fact. It often comes as a rude awakening when the rose-colored glasses fall off and we realize what we’ve done: idealized someone who’s pretty much just like everyone else.
“Patience takes root when we learn to love people just as they are, not as we want them to be. Patience accepts the other person even when he or she acts differently than I would like.”
Love Is Patient, but I’m Not by Christopher West
Your loved one can get on your nerves, and you may find that it is actually harder to be patient with them than with other people.
This makes sense as you see your beloved’s flaws up close, day in and day out. Your patience wears thin quickly because it is tested more than with someone you only see every once in a while. Additionally, because of the level of comfort you have with each other, it can be more difficult to hold back a biting comment or otherwise express your annoyance toward them.
Love is patient, we are not.
This is why, as people who hope to love, who want strong relationships and marriages, who have people in our lives we want to love, we must attempt to conform ourselves to love by striving to be patient.
Patience is not contingent on the good behavior of others. People are going to screw up, in big ways and small. Things are not going to go as planned, and we will spend a lot of time waiting. Patience demands that we not react harshly to the inevitable instances when our loved ones demonstrate their weaknesses and faults, or when our life together is different from how we imagined it would be.
Love isn’t necessarily something we are just born understanding and able to flawlessly put into practice—far from it. We learn to love slowly, one moment at at time.
Furthermore, we must remember that our desires are not demands. In other words, what we want—especially for and from someone else—should not be imposed on them. Your loved one is not an extension of yourself. We have to accept who they are and where they are, and embrace their complete otherness.
Basically, we can accept that the person we fell in love with—and possibly idealized a little bit—is not perfect. And out of love, we are invited to not merely tolerate their shortcomings, but to be compassionate toward them.
Again . . . how?
Don’t react. It is entirely normal to feel impatient, annoyed, or frustrated toward your loved one. You don’t have to be cheery about the fact that they did something which disappointed you or hurt you in some way (again). Patience comes in the space between what you’re feeling and how you react.
We have a choice whether to react or to respond. Reacting is the immediate sassy comment, eye roll, frustrated sigh, or burst of anger. It is instinctive and thoughtless.
Responding is a deep breath followed by a thought-out, gentle remark or question—or a decision to “let this slide,” because you realize it’s not a matter worth bringing up.
A reaction doesn’t take into account the long-term consequences of an outburst; it is only concerned with the release of strong emotions being felt in the current moment.
The beauty about it is that love not only allows us to be in relationship with others but also makes us a-better-version-of-ourselves.
A response is able to order the emotions to the good of the relationship by holding back angry words or other wounding actions.
A reaction does not take into account the other; it is preoccupied with self. A response is an act of love toward the other and self.
A response serves the relationship, a reaction often wounds it.
Every time you find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated with your significant other, make an effort to see it not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity to love them. What that looks like will depend on the situation. Maybe you need to bring the matter up and have an earnest discussion about it. Maybe you can let it go, or maybe you need to wait to decide what the right course of action is. If you do end up talking about it, the conversation can be fruitful and loving and lead to a stronger relationship, instead of a heated and defensive argument.
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Even if this means leaving the room to take a few deep breaths or saying a quick prayer in silence, the point is to give yourself the space you need to respond instead of react. This isn’t burying all your feelings deep down and piling on insincerity toward your loved one. It is finding the best way to handle the matter and not allowing your instincts to sabotage your relationships.
It’s highly unlikely that you will react to something that irks, frustrates, or disappoints you in a loving way. However, you will always have the choice to respond to even the most annoying of instances with love.
Pro tip: Empathy
While you’re taking time to respond, it helps if you step into your loved one’s shoes. Often we can assume the worst intentions because we refuse to simply walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.
Rarely do people do things out of malice. Honestly, most of the times people act out of what they believe to be right, habit, carelessness, or, at worst, woundedness.
If we can understand why our beloved does what they do (especially that which exasperates us), we are much more likely to handle it lovingly when we see that their motive is not to hurt us.
If you’re not sure, ask. In fact, as a general rule, seek understanding from your loved one about their perspective, and do your best to truly see them before you interject your opinions on the matter.
At first glance, it doesn’t feel like patience needs to be high on my priority list.
But when I think about it in the context of love and how patience really is woven into the greatest virtue of all, I realize that if I have any hope of being in lasting relationships with others and eventually a successful marriage, patience is indeed instrumental.
Love isn’t necessarily something we are just born understanding and able to flawlessly put into practice—far from it. We learn to love slowly, one moment at at time. But we keep trying. The beauty about it is that love not only allows us to be in relationship with others but also makes us a-better-version-of-ourselves.
Improvement is hard-earned, and sometimes the hard part is simply pausing when you feel the familiar rush of irritation welling up inside.
And remember: Patience is a virtue!
And, practice makes perfect!
And other annoying axioms.