Q. My wife talks too much about things I feel are private. I've spoken to her about it, but she doesn't think it's a big deal. Am I making too much over this?
A. The issue isn't whether or not she thinks it's a big deal. The reality is that whenever one spouse has a concern, it affects the marriage and becomes something both spouses need to address. If one spouse thinks something is a big deal, then it's a big deal.
But merely telling her you don't like how much she reveals to others may not be a message she can understand. Before you bring up the subject again, take several days to think and pray through your feelings. What is it about her sharing that bothers you? Are there certain topics that are more sensitive than others? What do you feel when you overhear these conversations? Embarrassed? Exposed? Exploited?
Let your wife know that when she talks about issues that concern your relationship or you personally, you feel she's inviting others into a place that belongs only to the two of you, and that feels invasive and disrespectful. Explain that if she's comfortable talking about herself, that's her choice. But when she shares things that involve both of you, she compromises your ability to trust her, which in turn affects your intimacy level.
Here's a fair rule many couples have adopted that reflects respect and healthy boundaries: "If something involves personal information about me, then I decide how much is to be shared, and with whom. Likewise, my spouse is free to share whatever she wants about herself."
Love, but not in love
Q. I'm married to the most loving and understanding man. I love him dearly; however, I feel no physical attraction toward him. I'm sad to admit I was in a sexual relationship before my husband and I met. While that relationship was physically and intellectually satisfying, he wasn't a Christian and not committed to me.
When I met my husband, I hoped the sexual side would follow. Now I find myself fantasizing about my previous relationship. While I don't want to destroy my family, I long for the desires described in Song of Songs. Especially since I've experienced them before.
A. One of the many unfortunate consequences of being sexually active before marriage is that the abnormal and transient high we get can become the standard for everything that follows. It's like enjoying the thrill that comes from going down the first big dip of a roller coaster and then spending the rest of your life searching for the same feeling.
When the apostle Paul describes God as one who wants to do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20), we believe that includes our sexual relationships. God designed marriage between a man and a woman to be the place we can experience the greatest joy and fulfillment.
The first step is for you and your husband intentionally to cultivate ways to enjoy the deepest levels of intimacy—those that come by allowing God to knit your hearts and bodies together in love.
Have you prayed about your sexual relationship? Do you spend couple time together asking God to bless this dimension of your marriage? Have you read any of the great books on sex, such as Celebration of Sex by Doug Roseneau?
The second step is for you to direct your thought life. There are some key biblical truths in which you need to immerse. In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter challenges us to "prepare [our] minds for action," and in 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul exhorts us to take "captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Don't let yourself even think about how great sex was with this other man. Instead, you can set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2), and on what is good and healthy (Philippians 4:8).
Here's the bottom line: When you set your mind on pleasure, you won't experience much of it. When you set your mind on allowing God to help you become all he purposed for you "before the creation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4), you'll be in a place to experience pleasure with your spouse.
He wants to leave church
Q. Recently, my husband decided to leave our church because he doesn't feel spiritually led there anymore. I see this as a division in our family, because I haven't heard God tell me to leave our church and go with my husband. I like our church and don't want to leave. Any advice?
A. The Bible tells us about unified decision-making in Acts 15:28: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us … " So it's our understanding that a decision of this kind is most appropriately made by both husband and wife. There are actually two decisions to be made: 1) should you leave; 2) where should you go.
Your husband sounds as though something upset him and he's resolving his hurt by leaving. In this difficult situation it might be helpful to ask him some key questions. Be careful not to interrogate him; instead ask if he'd be willing to tell you what led him to make this choice for the family. If you have children, has he thought about how this decision will affect them? Does he have a church in mind he'd like to visit? If he's committed to leaving, would he be open to making the transition slowly, keeping some contact with your present church while searching for a new one?
Agree to spend the next three months praying about your church home. Find at least three couples you'd feel comfortable asking to pray for you daily regarding this important decision.
There are a variety of healthy reasons why God would lead a couple to change churches. Unfortunately, there are an even greater number of unhealthy reasons.
Usually, God leads us to something and not just away from something. Keep open to the possibility that God may be leading you to a new church, and pray that your husband will be open to the possibility that he may be wrong about his decision.
He shuts me out
Q. Every time my husband's upset, he shuts me out for days. I've told him this hurts me, but he keeps doing it. He tells me he doesn't want to say things he'd regret. But by the time he's cooled down and ready to talk, I'm aloof.
I can handle arguing. But ignoring me for days as if I don't exist humiliates me and destroys any passion I have for him. What should I do?
A. The good news is you and your husband aren't alone in this pursuer-avoider dance. For the first several years of our marriage Gary would react to disagreements by heading for the safety of his "cave." Unfortunately,
I (Carrie) didn't understand clearly the difference between how men and women handle conflict. I assumed that my way of dealing with our differences—immediately talking things out—was the normal and healthy one, and tried to force him to respond appropriately.
Many women expect our husbands to respond like we do, and think that something must be wrong with them when they don't. We can become angry, then calm down pretty quickly. When men don't want to talk immediately about the issue, it's easy to interpret their quietness or distance as a rejection or as holding a grudge.
But many men have a different physiological and emotional reaction to conflict from women. During conflict, the male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female's, and is slower to recover from stress. Since confrontation takes a greater physical toll on the male, it's no surprise that men are more likely than women to avoid it. On a more emotional level, during conflict many men become uncomfortable with how frustration and anger make them feel, and they may fear losing control.
Tell your husband you love him, and you want to deal with conflict in ways that honor both your needs. Let him know that when he gets upset, you understand his need for time and space, but at the same time would like him to appreciate your need to acknowledge the issue and not be ignored.
One thing that helped us was to realize that we could disagree on a specific issue but still agree on our desire to improve communication and deepen our relationship. If one of us didn't feel like engaging in an immediate and extended problem-solving discussion, we could at least verbalize the concern and agree to think about and process it at a later time, usually within 48 hours.
We also agreed that since we were committed to loving each other and growing a Christ-centered marriage, we could pray together about conflicts. Prayer has an amazing ability to soothe troubled hearts, calm upset emotions, and provide a fresh perspective.
Remember that you love each other! Build on what you can agree on and what you have mutually committed yourselves to. Let that be foremost as you learn to deal with conflict in ways that honor each other's uniqueness.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver Ph.D., is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
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