I've been married two years, and during that entire time, my husband's sister has lived with us. She moved in to finish college and is now looking for a job, but seems content to stay in our home. She has no social life, so she's always around. My husband and I have no intimacy or privacy! What can I do?
A. How much have you and your husband talked about this situation? Does your husband know how you feel about this? Does he agree that you have no intimacy or privacy as individuals or as a couple? Does this concern him at all? Do you both agree on what needs to happen?
Invite him to share with you what he thinks. Listen to what he says regardless of whether you agree or disagree. Then share your feelings with him. He needs to know how you're perceiving the situation with his sister, what you feel, how it impacts your ability to be spontaneous and open with him. Be careful to keep perspective and not to put your husband on the defensive. At this point you both need to seek understanding.
This situation may take a few conversations before you and your husband are on the same page.
When the two of you are unified in your plan for change, then you can have a conversation with his sister. She needs to hear how you both care for her and that you want both her and your marriage to succeed and that there will need to be some changes.
She doesn't need to work
Q. After ten years of marriage and rearing our three children, my wife wants to get a job outside our home. Although I reluctantly agreed, I'm having a difficult time adjusting. When I was growing up, I lived in a one-income family where my father worked outside the home to provide, and my mother dedicated herself to the home and everything in it. My wife doesn't need to work; I make enough to support our family well. But she says she wants to "be someone" outside the house and to contribute to the family.
A. Clearly there are needs and concerns your wife has that don't make sense to you.
In our premarital counseling we always spend time with couples discussing their understanding of male and female roles. Where did they come from? Their biological family, the Bible, the church, their community, their personal preferences, or a combination? While most would like to believe their view comes from the clear teaching of Scripture, in most cases it comes from a combination of sources.
Adjusting to change can be difficult, especially when it involves change from a value we've allowed to define, at least in part, an important aspect of who we are. It sounds as though a part of your definition of a good husband is that your wife doesn't have to work. While that's a noble goal, we'd encourage you prayerfully to reconsider that assumption.
Maybe she doesn't "have" to work for financial reasons. But like the woman in Proverbs 31, perhaps God has given your wife abilities and interests that involve things outside the home. Be careful not to allow your bias to limit who God has created your wife to be. Just as you've been able to be a good dad while wearing other hats, your wife can be a great mom while nurturing and developing other areas of her life.
Negotiating roles can be a challenging part of any relationship, especially when one or both spouses enter the marriage with strong ideas of what prescribed male and female roles should be. In our marriage I (Carrie) was able to be a stay-at-home mom while our boys were in school. As they grew older, I started to take some classes at a seminary, earned my counseling degree, and now in addition to being a wife and mother, I have a great ministry counseling, teaching, speaking, and writing. This involved some changes for us, but in this process Gary saw gifts and abilities in me that he didn't know existed.
In marriage one of the most profound ways we can express intimacy is to learn more about how to get into each other's hearts and to know more about what goes on there. Do that with your wife and let her see your fears about this adjustment period. Your fear is more about the unknown than anything else. This kind of role definition wasn't your experience so it feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and that may bring fear.
She expresses that she wants to be known as a person outside the home. It is important for you to understand more of what that means for her. Is she feeling she doesn't have an identity? As you and your wife talk about these emotions, listen to each other's innermost feelings and pray together that you will discover new levels of intimacy and oneness in your marriage.
Whether you are a man or a woman, working outside the home requires setting priorities that place "relationships" at the highest level. We work constantly with couples where the wife feels abandoned by a mate who finds most of his fulfillment in his job and doesn't seem to be aware of, or at times even care about, what the family needs. Perhaps in your adjustment you might be concerned about this with your wife. The best thing to do is to have a conversation about how you both are attending to the marriage and to the family. It isn't the wife's job to make sure that all goes well. She cannot possibly do that on her own even if she were at home full time. Both of you have made a commitment to your marriage and to your family.
He keeps moving us
Q. We've moved 16 times during our 18 years of marriage. My husband says each move is to find a job with more opportunity. When I bring up my desire to settle down, he promises we can stay, so I become involved in church and the community. Then we move again. I can't get attached to any place, I'm depressed, and I feel as if I can no longer function. What should I do?
A. Your first step is to make sure you're taking care of your spiritual, physical, and emotional health. Seek several wise, mature Christian women to pray and talk openly with. Make sure you eat healthy and exercise.
At what point will you need to establish a boundary and say that enough is enough? While we're not encouraging you to threaten leaving him, you may need to decide if and where you will draw a line.
There are numerous issues your husband needs to address. His behavior indicates he's struggling with a kind of addiction, and he'll need help in understanding his "running" behavior.
There are several marriage issues that need to be addressed, not the least of which is marital roles and how decisions are made. Who makes the decisions in these moves? Are you and the kids involved in the process? How much prayer goes into each decision? It sounds as if they're unilateral decisions your husband makes, and that the criteria is more "opportunity," which usually means more money. Is that the best criteria? Is that his value or a couple value? How much time has been spent discussing what's best for you, your husband, your marriage, your family, and your future?
Remember that change happens one step, one conversation, one decision, one prayer at a time. We'd recommend connecting with a professional counselor who can help both of you get to the root of the problem and begin to function in a healthy way.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman's Forbidden Emotion (Regal), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
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