"It's okay to cry," Leslie whispered.
We were having lunch at a favorite restaurant, talking about how work was crowding in on our social calendar, as well as our marriage. Then out of nowhere, or so it seemed, Leslie's eyes flooded with tears.
"I know it's okay to cry," I confessed, "but can't you wait until we get in the car?" My request only heightened the emotion I was trying to stifle. Leslie dabbed at her eyes with a napkin, trying to preserve her mascara, but the tears were soon flowing again.
I can't tell you how many times we have experienced similar scenes, and often neither of us could tell you what the issues were. But tears are a part of every marriage, and it's a good thing. Research has shown that tears contain chemicals related to stress. More than a decade ago, a Minnesota biochemist conducted the first landmark research on the chemical composition of tears. He was able to isolate prolactin, which is released by the pituitary gland during times of emotional intensity.
Today, specialists agree that when we cry we are actually "washing away" harmful effects of stress. William Fry, in his book Crying: The Mystery of Tears, suggests that women, whom society allows to cry more freely, are able to excrete their "stress waste" more readily than men, who are conditioned to block this natural cleansing system.
While scientists are only now discovering the benefits of crying, God understood them from the beginning. Did you know that God keeps a record of our tears? The Psalmist says they are listed on a scroll (Ps. 56:8). Our tears reveal the depth of our pain, and God cares when we are suffering even if we can't express it in words or articulate it in prayer.
Consider who God chose to be his messenger at the most critical time in Israel's history—Jeremiah, "the weeping prophet." Jeremiah didn't always have the words to describe his feelings, but he wasn't ashamed to bury his head in his hands and sob. When words fail you, can you, like Jeremiah, let the tears flow? Can you identify with him when he said, "My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees" (Lam.3:49-50)?
I'll admit that I'm not totally comfortable with tears. When Leslie cries, I still cringe. But I have learned that tears, hers and mine, are essential to a growing marriage.
Not long ago, while we were driving, Leslie was reading an article to me about a child who donated one of his kidneys to his brother. Maybe it was the strain of the day compounding the fact that we were deeply moved by this courageous boy's action. We both broke down. The mental picture of an innocent child giving of himself so generously called both of us to re-examine our selfish side.
Tears present an opportunity for deeper intimacy, giving us a chance to show empathy, extend comfort or recognize a mate's unmet need. Part of becoming soul mates is learning that there is no shame in tears. I'm still learning this lesson, but more than ever I value my wife's tears. Sure, crying in the middle of a restaurant is nobody's idea of a good time. But if an onlooker doesn't understand the tenderness of tears between a husband and wife, that's their problem!
Leslie Parrott, Ed.D., and Les Parrott III, Ph.D., are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the authors of several books. Their latest is Relationships(Zondervan).
Copyright © by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine.