Q. My wife and I have nothing in common. We've been married nine years, and I find myself wondering what it would be like if I were married to a woman who likes the same things I do. It irritates me that we can't do anything together. What should I do?
A. Come on, are you serious? You have absolutely nothing in common? You can't do anything together? It sounds like you've fallen into the all-or-nothing trap that's easy for us to slip into when we're focused just on ourselves, our needs, and our wants.
First of all, stop wasting your time in the fantasyland of being married to the perfect woman. When you got married you obviously thought you had a lot in common, so what makes you think you'll do a better job if you try someone else? Research says you won't. The divorce rate is always higher for second marriages than for first marriages.
Odds are that your wife has similar feelings. Talk about it. Listen to her needs and concerns and then share some of your own. As she's speaking take note of what brings her joy, what makes her laugh, and what she finds refreshing and interesting. Then share your thoughts.
Make a list of things you both enjoy doing. Then make a list of things you'd like to have your spouse do with you. At the top of each list mark the thing you'd both most enjoy sharing with your mate. Make sure it's not something you know your mate would despise but something she could at least endure and perhaps even enjoy. At this point you can step up and offer to do what she's put at the top of her list.
Here's the deal. Men and women are different physically, mentally, and in many other ways. You married her because she was different. Every couple has areas of incompatibility. Smart couples learn how to celebrate the similarities and leverage the differences in ways that say "I love you" and allow for discovery and new growth.
My husband and I work full-time. But when he gets home, he immediately changes clothes and parks himself in front of the tv. Meanwhile, I start supper, help the kids with their homework, clean up the dishes, and do the other chores. I've asked him to help, but his response is, "I need to unwind. I worked hard today." And I didn't? I'm tired of not having any downtime—and of my husband not helping around the house. How can I get him to start pitching in?
In the average home women spend about an hour more than men in taking care of the family and the house. That ends up being bad for you, bad for your husband, and a lousy model for your kids. And it falls far short of the servanthood standard Christ modeled for us. You have good reason to be disappointed, frustrated, and upset.
A great starting place is to make a list of all the household and parenting tasks. Include chores inside and outside of the house—yard work, car maintenance, running errands, and chauffeuring the kids. For a two-week period track who does what and approximately how much time it takes.
With those facts in hand, arrange some uninterrupted time when you can share your findings and ask him where he plans to step up in ways that honor both of your needs and give your kids the kind of model they need.
Let him know his family needs a real man. Real men don't just show up, they step up. Real men don't let their wives do the majority of the work and whine when asked to do something. Real men want to model for their kids that marriage is more than just bringing home a paycheck. In fact, coming home from "work" is when the real work—as well as the real honor and privilege of being a husband and father—begins.
If he needs to "unwind," I've found that doing dishes can be a great way to relax.
Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Mate (Bethany House), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. www.liferelationships.com
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.