I pushed him away and slammed the door, making it very clear to Tim that the flowers he just brought me were not what I wanted. With a despondent yet agitated look on his face, he turned around and threw the flowers on the floor. They were Tim's gesture at a peace offering for a fight we'd just had. Instead of accepting it, I overreacted, causing him to do the same. We had a wonderful "in the Spirit" together, if you know what I mean.
The early years of marriage teach us a lot. In a way, it's like learning to dance. If you watch the show Dancing with the Stars, you see finesse and rhythm as the dancers delicately glide together with the music. But the beauty in the dance doesn't happen overnight. It takes practice. Hours upon hours of practice.
Early on, the man will step on his partner's foot. She in turn may head left when he is leading her right. Only after dancing together awhile and learning one another's idiosyncrasies will they begin to accurately anticipate what's next on the dance floor. Marriage is similar—it takes two parties moving in the same direction and anticipating each other's moves to be successful.
But stumbling blocks litter the way—things we do that take the stride out of the dance. And when we can't get it right, we become frustrated and irritable. If our partner blames us for the breakdown, we get defensive and blame back. Dissension creeps in, and the relationship is divided.
Recognizing obstacles is important to the health and vitality of your relationship. Some obstacles include expecting your husband or boyfriend to be a mind reader, not clearly stating your needs, holding onto unrealistic expectations, and putting children ahead of your marriage.
Men are not mind readers. But often, we expect them to be. I expected Tim to know that flowers wouldn't be enough to patch up the fight we'd had. I wasn't being fair by expecting him to know that. And I'm not being fair when I expect him to know when I think he's not carrying his own weight with family matters, or when I need a break from my household responsibilities, or when I disagree with a decision he's made if I haven't articulated my concerns.
Over the years, I've heard many women say, "I shouldn't have to ask" or "If I have to ask, it doesn't count." Maybe it's clear to you that someone needs to take out the trash or empty the dishwasher. But your man is a waffle who compartmentalizes each aspect of his life, so he may not notice these things easily as you do. You're naturally able to think about more than one thing at a time. Getting Angry isn't nearly as effective as developing a method of communicating that works for both of you.
Your man cannot meet your needs if he doesn't know what they are. This seems simple on paper, but in reality, many of us expect our spouses or significant others to be mind readers, and because of that, we don't take the time to verbalize what we need or want, leading to the second threat of not clearly stating your needs. Expecting him to meet your needs but keeping them a secret isn't fair. The whole idea seems ludicrous when you see it on paper, doesn't it? Yet expecting men to "just know" is exactly what many of us do every day. Then we're surprised and angry when our husband or boyfriend misses the non-verbal clues we've been dropping.
Instead of keeping things to yourself, get in the habit of using the "I feel… when… because…" formula for communicating your needs.
When you wish to state a need or ask for change in your spouse, simply fill in the following blanks: I feel ___________ when______________ because_____________. Here's how it works. You say:
"Honey, I feel frustrated when you read the paper immediately after dinner while I clean up because it feels unfair to me. I'm usually responsible for meal preparation, so could you help me clean up so that we could sit and read the paper together?"
By starting with an "I statement," you lessen the chance that your spouse will immediately feel defensive. By stating what you feel and why you feel it, you help him understand your emotions. When you clearly articulate your needs, the people you love are more likely to meet them.
Your spouse could possibly refuse to help and continue reading the paper after dinner, but at least he knows how he's making you feel. If he's unwilling to help, other, more serious issues could be putting your relationship in jeopardy.
In the example above, not much is being asked of the spouse, and the expectation to help clean up after dinner is not unrealistic. However, if he grew up in a home where food preparation and clean-up was "woman's work," this might be a big deal to him. If so, perhaps the couple could negotiate another solution to the situation. Instead of reading after dinner, perhaps he could agree to take the dog for a walk or to spend time helping the children with homework so that her burden for the evening is relieved in some way. Then, before bed, the couple could read the paper together.
This is a simplistic example, but I think it demonstrates the problem: Expecting sudden, big changes in your spouse simply isn't fair. If he hasn't been helpful or romantic the first 15 years of marriage, he's not likely to start now. Change is possible, but you need to ask yourself if what you're expecting is realistic. If not, lowering or changing your expectations makes more sense than walking around mad all the time because he isn't meeting them.
Unmet expectations are a cause of much distress in marriage. But another stumbling block can also cause distress. Sometimes, you don't even know you're guilty of doing it, but when you do, it has the potential of building a wall that blocks the intimacy between you and your husband. The stumbling block is this: consistently placing your children ahead of your marriage. Doing so can destroy the very foundation of a healthy family.
Please don't confuse what I'm saying here. I'm not saying you shouldn't be invested in your children; on the contrary. Rather, I'm saying is that you shouldn't be exhaust all your resources of time and energy on them and sacrifice your relationship with your husband. God calls us first to be wives. Then he gives us children. This is by design so that children have the security of being parented within the context of a healthy partnership, not at the expense of it. A healthy marital relationship fosters a safe environment for children. And when a child's world is safe, he or she is easier to parent. This places less strain on your family and adds more blessing.
Overcoming these obstacles is not always easy. Living by 1 Peter 3:8 (NKJV) is a great way to start. "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous…"
Be of one mind. Even though you and your husband will not agree on everything, you should work toward having one mind. Compromise is essential in living this out.
Have compassion. When you know you truly care for one another, you're able to share your deepest thoughts and feelings with each other.
Love. This seems obvious, but love can be the most difficult thing to maintain. Know the love described in 1 Corinthians 13.
Be tenderhearted and courteous. Have an attitude that puts your husband's needs ahead of your own—even when you're exhausted.
Practice these principles and I bet you'll be dancing with your husband in ways you never dreamed possible.