Express Affection in the Family Circle

“BURN it if you can! Burn it!” Tohru dared his wife, Yoko. * “I certainly will,” she retorted and lit a match to burn the photo taken of the two of them. She then snapped, “I’ll burn down the house!” Tohru responded by slapping his wife, ending the argument with violence.

Three years earlier, Tohru and Yoko started their life together as a happily married couple. What, then, went wrong? Although Tohru appeared to be a pleasant man, his wife felt that he did not show affection for her and that he rarely cared for her feelings. He seemed to be incapable of responding to her affection. Unable to cope with this, Yoko became increasingly resentful and angry. She developed such conditions as insomnia, anxiety, poor appetite, irritableness, and depression and even experienced panic attacks. Yet, Tohru seemed unconcerned about the tense atmosphere that prevailed in his household. It just seemed natural to him.

“Critical Times Hard to Deal With”

Such problems are common today. The apostle Paul foretold that our time would be characterized by people who have “no natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) The original Greek word here translated “no natural affection” is closely related to the word depicting natural affection found among family members. Our time has certainly seen a lack of such affection. Even if affection exists, family members may seldom express it toward one another.

Many parents today do not know how to express love and affection toward their own children. Some have grown up in a family environment lacking affection and may not realize that life can be happier and more pleasant if only affection is felt and expressed. That seems to have been the case with Tohru. During his childhood, his father was always busy at work and came home late at night. He rarely talked to Tohru, and when he did, he was abusive. Tohru’s mother also worked full-time and did not spend much time with him. The television set was his baby-sitter. There was neither commendation nor communication in the family.

Culture may also be a factor. In some parts of Latin America, a man has to go against the prevailing culture to express his affection for his wife. In many Oriental and African countries, it goes against tradition for one to express affection in words or in deeds. Husbands may find it awkward to say “I love you” to their wives or children. Nevertheless, we can learn a lesson from  the foremost family relationship, which has stood the test of time.

Exemplary Family Relationship

The best model for the family is found in the intimate relationship between Jehovah God and his only-begotten Son. They express love toward each other in a perfect way. Over countless thousands of years, the spirit creature who later became Jesus Christ enjoyed a happy relationship with his Father. He described the bond this way: “I came to be the one he was specially fond of day by day, I being glad before him all the time.” (Proverbs 8:30) The Son was so sure of his Father’s love that he could declare to others that Jehovah was specially fond of him day by day. He felt happy before his Father all the time.

Even when on earth as the man Jesus, God’s Son was given reassurance of his Father’s deep love. After Jesus was baptized, he heard his Father’s voice: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17) What an encouraging expression of love at the beginning of Jesus’ mission on earth! It must have touched his heart to hear his Father’s approval as he regained the full memory of his life in heaven.

Thus, Jehovah sets the finest example in expressing love for his universal family in the fullest measure. If we accept Jesus Christ, we too can enjoy Jehovah’s affection. (John 16:27) Although we will hear no words from heaven, we will see Jehovah’s love expressed in nature, in the provision of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, and in other ways. (1 John 4:9, 10) Jehovah even gives ear to our prayers and answers them in our best interests. (Psalm 145:18; Isaiah 48:17) As we cultivate an intimate relationship with Jehovah, we deepen our appreciation for his loving care.

Jesus learned from his Father how to show empathy, consideration, kindness, and deep concern for others. He explained: “Whatever things [the Father] does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father has affection for the Son and shows him all the things he himself does.” (John 5:19, 20) In turn, we can learn the art of expressing affection by studying the example Jesus set while he was on earth.​—Philippians 1:8.

Affection in the Family​—How?

Since “God is love” and we are created “in his image,” we have the potential both for feeling and expressing love. (1 John 4:8; Genesis 1:26, 27) Yet, that potential does not bear fruit automatically. In order to express affection, we must first feel affection toward our mate and children. Be observant, and note likable qualities in them, however trivial those may at first seem to be, and dwell on such thoughts. ‘There is nothing appealing about my husband [wife or children],’ you may say. Those who are in an arranged marriage may have felt little affection for their mates. Some may not have wanted children. Still, consider how Jehovah felt about his figurative wife, the nation of Israel, in the tenth century B.C.E. While his prophet Elijah concluded that there were no other worshipers of Jehovah among the ten-tribe nation of Israel, Jehovah carefully scrutinized them and found a considerable number of people​—7,000 in all—​who in his eyes had appealing qualities. Can you imitate Jehovah by looking for the good in the members of your family?​—1 Kings 19:14-18.

 In order to let other members of the family feel your affection, however, you must make a conscious effort to convey it. Whenever you notice something commendable, put your appreciation into words. In describing a capable wife, God’s Word notes an interesting characteristic of her family: “Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner rises up, and he praises her.” (Proverbs 31:28) Notice how freely the family members expressed their appreciation to one another. By verbally praising his wife, a father sets a fine example for his son, encouraging him to be generous in commending his mate when he marries.

Also, parents do well to commend their children. That can help instill self-respect in the children’s hearts. After all, how can a person ‘love his neighbor as himself’ if he has no respect for himself? (Matthew 22:39) On the other hand, if parents always criticize their children, not commending them at all, the children can easily lose their self-respect and may have difficulty showing affection for others.​—Ephesians 4:31, 32.

You Can Find Help

What if you were not raised in a loving household? You can still learn to express affection. The first step is to recognize the problem and appreciate the need for improvement. God’s Word, the Bible, is a great help in this regard. It can be likened to a mirror. When we examine ourselves in the mirrorlike teachings of the Bible, the defects, or flaws, in our thinking are reflected back at us. (James 1:23) In harmony with Bible teachings, we can readjust any inappropriate inclinations. (Ephesians 4:20-24; Philippians 4:8, 9) We need to do so regularly, never ‘giving up in doing what is fine.’​—Galatians 6:9.

Some may find it difficult to show affection because of their upbringing or culture. However, recent studies indicate that such obstacles can be overcome. Dr. Daniel Goleman, a mental-health specialist, explains that ‘even the most deeply implanted habits of the heart learned in childhood can be reshaped.’ Over 19 centuries ago, the Bible indicated that with the help of God’s spirit, even the most entrenched heart inclinations can be transformed. It admonishes us: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality.”​—Colossians 3:9, 10.

Once the problem is identified, the family can study the Bible with their needs in mind. For instance, why not look up the word “affection” in a Bible concordance? You may find a scripture such as this: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.” (James 5:11) Then consider the Bible account of Job, focusing on how Jehovah was tender in affection and merciful toward Job. You will no doubt want to imitate Jehovah in being very tender in affection and merciful toward your family.

Being imperfect, however, “we all stumble many times” in our use of the tongue. (James 3:2) In the family circle, we may fail to use  our tongue in an encouraging way. This is where prayer and reliance on Jehovah come in. Do not give up. “Pray incessantly.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Jehovah will help the ones who seek affection in the family as well as the ones who want to show it but who are inhibited in doing so.

In addition, Jehovah has kindly provided help in the Christian congregation. James wrote: “Is there anyone [spiritually] sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah.” (James 5:14) Yes, elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses can be of great help to families whose members are having problems in showing affection to one another. Though not therapists, the elders can patiently help their fellow believers, not telling them what they should do, but reminding them of Jehovah’s viewpoint and praying with them and for them.​—Psalm 119:105; Galatians 6:1.

In the case of Tohru and Yoko, Christian elders always gave ear to their problems and comforted them. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) On some occasions, an elder and his wife visited so that Yoko might benefit from the company of an experienced Christian woman who could recall Yoko ‘to her senses to love her husband.’ (Titus 2:3, 4) By showing understanding and sympathy for the sufferings and heartaches of fellow Christians, the elders become “a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.”​—Isaiah 32:1, 2.

With the assistance of kind elders, Tohru came to realize that he had a problem in expressing his emotions and that in “the last days,” Satan attacks the family arrangement. (2 Timothy 3:1) Tohru decided to face his problem. He began to see that his failure to express love came from his not experiencing love while growing up. Through serious Bible study and prayer, Tohru gradually became more responsive to Yoko’s emotional needs.

Though she had been angry at Tohru, when Yoko understood his family background and saw her own frailties, she made a serious effort to see the good in her husband. (Matthew 7:1-3; Romans 5:12; Colossians 3:12-14) She earnestly begged Jehovah for strength to keep loving her husband. (Philippians 4:6, 7) In time, Tohru began to express his affection, to the delight of his wife.

Yes, even if you find it difficult to feel and express affection in the family, you can certainly overcome that problem. God’s Word gives us wholesome guidance. (Psalm 19:7) By recognizing the seriousness of the matter, by trying to see good in the members of your family, by studying and applying God’s Word, by relying on Jehovah through earnest prayer, and by seeking the help of mature Christian elders, you can overcome what may seem a formidable barrier between you and your family. (1 Peter 5:7) You too can rejoice, as did one husband in the United States. He was encouraged to express his affection toward his wife. When he finally mustered up the courage to say “I love you,” he was surprised by her response. With tears of joy in her eyes, she said: “I love you too, but this is the first time in 25 years you’ve said it like that.” Do not wait that long to express your affection for your mate and your children!


^ par. 2 Some names have been changed.

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Jehovah provides help in his Word, the Bible