Should We Separate?
Q. Ever since our daughter was born four years ago, my husband has left all child-care responsibilities and housework to me. What's worse is that every time I bring the subject up and tell him how overwhelmed I am, he refuses to listen. I'm at the end of my rope, and I'm resentful and angry. I don't want a divorce; I just want things to change. I know that the Bible says divorce is wrong, but what about a separation to get your spouse's attention?
A. One of the most exciting and, at the same time, most challenging seasons in any marriage relationship is when a man and woman are blessed with their first child. Most couples have no formal preparation for the enormous transitions that first-time parents experience.
Most new moms read books and talk with other moms about this transition. Unfortunately, most men have little to no input. Few fathers talk with their sons about becoming a dad. Few men read any books on the subject. Few churches offer any classes for new parents. The situation is rough on you and it's tragic for him, because he is losing an invaluable opportunity to bond with his daughter at a time he can never get back.
However, separation is not the solution. Separation is not something you do as an attention-getter. Research tells us that the vast majority of couples who separate end up getting a divorce. The only time we recommend separation is where there has been abuse, unfaithfulness, or when it is the only other option to divorce. Even then, we only recommend a time-limited separation for the purpose of growth and reconciliation. During this time couples are involved in regular counseling that includes homework and other relation-building activities.
It's understandable that you would respond to your husband's irresponsibility by experiencing fear, hurt, and frustration—all of which are primary emotions that can lead to the secondary emotion of anger. Unfortunately, when we speak with an anger that we have allowed to control us, we often come across in ways that make it less likely that others will hear us. People are rarely open to change when they are told that they are selfish, lazy, not carrying their load, or that they'd better change or else. All of those things may be true but that approach rarely helps.
Is there a couple in your church that you and your husband are friends with that are a bit further down the parenting path than you are? Perhaps you could ask the man if he would be willing to do something with your husband and, in the process, give him some hints on being a partner in parenting. Also, your pastor might know of a seminar or workshop that would provide a new perspective.
I'm Getting Crushed During Sex
Q.When we married, my husband was a little heavy and I stressed to him how important it was to me that he lose weight because of my endometriosis, which causes painful sex. Well, fifteen years later he is at least 100 pounds overweight. Now sex is painful for a whole different reason—I'm getting crushed! Positions are getting very boring, foreplay is challenging, and the sight of him at times is repulsive. I've tried gently encouraging different eating habits. I've tried talking to him, but I feel bad because he always looks so helpless and discouraged when I talk to him about it. I've put on weight myself just because I have no desire to look too good—I don't want him to want me. How do I handle this?
A. While there is no easy way of handling this problem, there are several good solutions that can help you move in a new direction. This situation gives you a unique opportunity to take your commitment to a new level and experience the difference that faith can make.
From what you've told us, gentle encouragement hasn't helped. Backing off from confrontation hasn't helped. The time has come to get his attention. The lifestyle choices your husband is making are, according to the Centers for Disease Control, shortening his lifespan and compromising the quality of his life and the lives of those he loves. It is robbing him of health and hope and you of a healthy marriage relationship.
First of all, involve your physician to rule out a medical cause to the problem. Encourage him to get a complete physical. If it's not physiological, it is probably emotional, spiritual, and psychological. In our experience, apart from a medical cause, emotionally and spiritually mature people don't become obese. Overfeeding the body is often a sign of an attempt to numb emotional pain and nourish an insecure and hungry heart.
You need to talk with him to communicate your concerns. Before you do, be sure to have a few trusted female friends who will intercede for you in prayer. James 5:16 tells us that "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." Don't underestimate the power of prayer.
When you do talk to him, don't let your interpretation of his response keep you from "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). He has reason to be discouraged. He is probably depressed, dejected, disappointed in himself, and fearful that he won't be able to change. Tell him that you love him and that you want to desire him. Let him know that his health and longevity are important to you. Let him know his lifestyle is killing him and you can't sit back and let that happen.
Here are a few more questions to consider that may be part of the solution: Are there any men he could talk to? Is he part of a covenant or accountability group? Is he friends with your pastor? How do you both eat at home? What kinds of foods do you buy? Are there any community health classes you could take? Would he be willing to go on walks with you? Finally, you may need to go to a licensed Christian counselor who is trained to work with these kinds of issues.
He Tells His Siblings Everything
Q. My husband comes from a family of seven siblings. Whenever he talks to them on the phone or in person, he tells them too many things. I do not like having so much of our business discussed among them, particularly since it almost always includes criticism from them. I have spoken to my husband about this and he says he understands my feelings, but he continues talking too much. What else can I do?
A. In Genesis 2:24 God said, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." According to the text and our professional experience, you can't cleave until you leave. From what you say it sounds as if your husband hasn't emotionally left his family of origin.
There are two other possibilities here: either he understands how important confidentiality is to you and won't change or he still doesn't "get it." The odds are good that he still doesn't get it, even if he says he understands.
Another contributor to the problem might be your different personality types. If your husband is an extrovert who doesn't understand what responsible extroversion looks like, he is likely to speak before thinking. If you are more introverted and private, any personal disclosure could be uncomfortable for you. We would encourage you to learn more about personality types by taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and having a trained counselor discuss the results with you.
Nothing can take the place of learning new ways to communicate your heart to your husband more effectively. In Communication: Key to Your Marriage (Regal Books), Norm Wright shares specific ways you can help your husband to see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and feel with your heart.
You have legitimate concerns about trust, safety, and intimacy. We're glad you haven't given up and are reaching out for help. God can use your working through this problem to increase your understanding of one another, deepen your appreciation, and knit your hearts more tightly together in love.
We are not able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a marriage question you'd like us to address in this column, send your question to:
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188
Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D., is the author of numerous books and is executive director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Carrie Oliver, M.A., is a clinical therapist at the PeopleCARE Clinics, specializing in marriage and family and women's issues. She is a seminar leader and co-author, with Gary, of Raising Sons … and Loving It! The Olivers have three sons.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.