The Value of Pretending

The Lord has a chapter in the book Married Love called ‘Reasons in Marriage for Apparent Love, Friendship and Favour’. It is a striking chapter because it focuses on the times when we need to pretend in marriage and how honourable it is to do so.

We can all see the need for pretence is social situations. Much of what we consider to be good manners involves not saying exactly what we think, or doing exactly what we want, but adjusting ourselves to the other person. We show greater interest than we actually feel in the story someone is enthusiastically telling, we send a gracious thank you note for the present we didn’t particularly enjoy, or we adapt what we might have preferred to do for the sake of the other person’s needs. The underlying theme here is that we are less concerned with the external matter at hand and more concerned with the person’s comfort or well being.

In our deeper relationships we would like to be more real. It is such a relief to be able to have relationships that move past pretence, so we can be our most authentic self and where we are able to express our own needs without it being considered an imposition to do so. In our deepest relationships and particularly in our marriages, one of the greatest joys is that lack of pretence – the utter authenticity we can have with our best friend. And yet, even in marriages, there is pretence.

The first heading in the chapter (no. 272) reads like this:

‘Nearly all people in the natural world can be associated together in respect to their outward affections, but not in respect to their inner affection if these differ and become apparent.’

The chapter’s main focus is on the ways people who are internally dissimilar need to learn to get along, despite an enduring dissimilarity of inner values and how, in fact, they can have quite happy marriages in doing so. Married people who have different faiths, or some differences in core values, can learn to get along and to experience true love by focusing on their friendship, on kindness and on respect – in other words, by getting along despite the values that are at odds.

Having just read this chapter, I was struck again by how this is a skill that everyone needs, even in the best of marriages and even when we share values in all the core areas. Human nature is such that our love waxes and wanes and our weaknesses sometimes come suddenly to the fore. During these times, even in good marriages, we are in what the chapter calls a state of inner coldness. And in these times, the Lord calls on us to ‘fake it til we make it’ – to show the love we would like to be feeling, to show the respect and the valuing of that other person’s opinions that we wish we had, so that we can build bridges that will allow our spirits to find a connection again.

I think it is an act of love to show consideration regardless of what our feelings are. And in fact it’s often a truer statement of love to show kindness in those times, because it’s easy to be nice when we feel like it, but much harder when we’re feeling grumpy or selfabsorbed. The Lord calls these politenesses commendable, useful and necessary (Married Love 279). In fact they are something that a spiritual person practices as a matter of inner conviction (no. 280). And when we are in more natural states, such simulations are matters of expedience because they grease the wheels of daily interaction (no. 281).

We get married because we want to be authentic and share our real selves. Yet the path to true authenticity often detours through periods of needing to be polite and thoughtful in ways that feel like acting, but which express something higher. I love the idea that what may feel like pretence, is often not pretending at all but is actually an expression of a deep love.