Q. I desperately want to have children. While my husband has a nine-year-old son from his previous marriage, he doesn't want to have kids with me. He says he does but then makes excuses for postponing any attempts each month. I think it's really because of his strained relationship with my mother. He's mentioned recently he's reluctant to have kids with me because he doesn't feel my mother cares about him and he'd resent her involvement in our child's life. What should I do?
A. The core issue here isn't whether or not to have children. It's how you and your husband are going to make decisions and what things you're going to allow to influence your decision-making process. It's about your ability to communicate, to feel safe enough to express fears, and to hear each other's heart.
It's unhealthy for your husband to allow his interpretation of your mother's opinion to become more important than the desire God's placed in your heart. A man who allows a mother-in-law's (or anyone else's) attitude to determine a major marital decision is abdicating his God-given role. He's giving your mother way too much power. But perhaps his concern with your mom isn't his only issue. As a man I know that many men struggle with the emotional, spiritual, and financial responsibility of having additional children and with the concern that another child might take away from time together as a couple.
The first and simplest step is to make this a matter of consistent and focused prayer. Confusion, weakness, lack of courage, negativity, fear, and indecisiveness are all fed by neglecting to pray regularly. In our marriage we've learned that the increased time invested in listening to God—that small voice within that speaks biblical truth—translates into a better ability to hear each other and find clarity in the midst of confusion.
A critical part of the process of "becoming one" is learning how to share our deepest desires and in return to set aside our personal stuff to hear the heart of our beloved. As you talk with him about your needs, let him know you want to understand the fears and concerns he has regarding this decision. You might even suggest that you set aside a time when he'd talk and you'd just listen and ask questions that help both of you clarify his concerns. For this kind of conversation the agenda would be understanding and not necessarily agreement.
This "problem" is a great opportunity for you to improve your communication, cultivate new listening skills, better understand when your emotions can and can't be trusted, deepen your trust and intimacy, and increase your oneness with God. Then you'll be able to make a mutually satisfying decision.
I Dream About Other Men
Q. Often I have dreams about being unfaithful to my husband. The dreams aren't sexual in nature and don't involve specific men I know. They usually involve a faceless "mystery man" who's perfect in every way. He's kind, loving, gentle, and attentive to my feelings and needs. These dreams then end with me thinking, Okay, I've found the perfect man, now how do I get rid of my husband? I can't tell you how much this disturbs me! I haven't told my husband about the dreams. How can I? Should I?
A. Even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that God uses dreams as one way of speaking to people. At the same time we also know that the Evil One can use dreams to plant thoughts and feelings in our minds and hearts. Spending a lot of time in dream interpretation can be dangerous, especially when it's clear the dream didn't come from God. And whenever you have a dream that breeds dissatisfaction and encourages a fantasy relationship that involves emotional and/or physical infidelity, you can be sure it didn't come from God. But the same dream that disturbs and distorts your perspective can actually, when put in God's hands, become an opportunity to develop deeper levels of trust and intimacy between you and your spouse.
We can't control what we dream but we can control what we do about our dreams, so be careful how much "power" you give your dreams. Challenge the thoughts you have right after your dream. Ask yourself how intimate you and your husband are. Do the two of you spend adequate time together? Do you know your husband's needs and wants, and does he know yours?
Your fear of telling your husband about this dream suggests it may be hard for you to talk about vulnerable things in your marriage. We work with many couples who've spent years stuck in the rut of never feeling free to talk about their deepest needs with each other for fear of criticism or rejection! If you don't cultivate this ability, your marriage can't grow and you'll miss out on much of what God designed a Christian marriage to be.
What would it be like to tell your husband that you dream sometimes about men and this is bothersome to you and you need his help in praying about it? We've seen situations in which the simple act of sharing the truth with a spouse lifted some of the power of the dreams. Just talking about it, realizing you're among many people who experience senseless dreams, and challenging your thoughts concerning the dream may help to alleviate the problem.
You can choose to apply 2 Corinthians 10:5 and take the thought (dream) captive. Choose to count your relational blessings. Choose to tell your husband, to let him know how the dreams disturb you and how grateful you are for all that's good about him and your marriage. Choose to join hands and pray together. Choose to experience what it means to "overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37, NASB).
Q. My husband's had bad experiences with physicians and had cancer in the past. Now he won't go in for check-ups. Plus he eats horribly! With his current eating habits, I'm afraid for his health. I've voiced my concern on a few occasions and understand his resistance, but he isn't doing anything about it! How can I help him?
A. This issue like other issues can take on the face of a power struggle—and power struggles rarely bring positive results to a relationship. We applaud your concerns about your husband's health. In more than 20 years of marriage, I have had more than one conversation with Gary about getting regular checkups.
We encourage you to think about how you've approached your husband about his health. You may have tried every angle to get him to see what you're feeling and to get him to do something different. From your perspective nothing's changed in terms of his self-care, so we can say safely how you've communicated with him hasn't motivated him to eat differently or see a physician, and perhaps has left you feeling even more fearful and frustrated.
Perhaps there are some ways of talking to him you haven't tried. Have you ever invited him out on a dinner date and at a special moment taken his hands in yours, looked him in the eyes, and then slowly and deliberately expressed your love for him, your need for him, and your desire to have a long life together? Have you told him that one of the ways he can love you and the kids is to take good care of his health?
Here are some suggestions other women have found helpful. Write him a letter in which you express the things we've just mentioned and send it to him at his office. If your children share your concern, have them write a personal letter to him in which they share similar affections, thoughts, and concerns. Does he have any good friends who'd talk with him? Would your pastor talk with him? Are there any articles you could put on his desk or send him through e-mail that highlight the need for and value of good medical care? Have you tried using humor—in a positive and not degrading way?
Sometimes in relationships there's a delicate line between what feels critical as opposed to what feels encouraging. You might ask him how you could be more encouraging and what that might look like. Consider telling your husband you've learned that challenging the way he eats or encouraging him to see a physician hasn't motivated him to take care of himself, so you've decided not to do that anymore. Let him know one more time you love and care about him and that you want to spend many more years together, but this time acknowledge that he alone is the one who controls his choices.
As you look at your experience with your husband you might ask yourself, What can I control and what's out of my control? Since you can't control his health habits or how long he lives it would be valuable to spend more time focusing on what you can control. Look at the "one another's" in the New Testament and ask yourself, How can I nourish, cherish, edify, and encourage my husband? It's painful to watch someone you love make unhealthy choices. Over time and with some encouragement and prayer, your husband just might come to terms with his choices. In the meantime seize opportunities to present your fear to God (1 Peter 5:7 says to "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you") and to cultivate interacting with your husband in ways that give you both more joy.
Carrie Oliver, M.A., is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The Olivers have co-authored Raising Sons … and Loving It! (Zondervan). Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
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