Q & A
Q: Ever since a new man joined my wife's company, she has been dressing up a lot more for work. I used to ask her to wear certain outfits that I really like, but she always said it was too much trouble. Now she often wears those outfits to work, and she has been spending more money on clothes and her hair than she used to. Am I wrong to suspect she's trying to attract the attention of this man at work?
A: Don't be too quick to jump to conclusions. Your wife's renewed interest in her appearance could be attributable to any number of reasons. Maybe she's just now realizing how important her appearance is to you. Or perhaps a comment at work sent signals that she needed to take better care of her appearance. Or it could have been something as simple as looking around at a professional conference and realizing her clothes and make-up weren't up to standard.
Your suspicions may have more to do with your own inner conflicts than with your wife's behavior. Maybe, without realizing it, you feel insecure about her role in the business world. If that's the case, any hidden anxieties would feel more threatening as your wife begins to look more successful.
I don't recommend mentioning your doubts to your wife. Instead, tell her you appreciate the greater care she is taking with her appearance. Then start paying more attention to her. Compliment her; tell her you value her accomplishments; and give her the kind of affirmation we all need from our spouses.
When a married person becomes interested in a coworker, it's generally not as much about sexuality as it is a hunger for attention. Combat your suspicions by actively loving your wife. Your renewed attentiveness could turn her attention to you in positive ways that would ally your fears and reinforce mutual commitment.
Q: My husband watches way too much television—sports, sitcoms, cop shows or whatever happens to be on. Meanwhile, I'm left to carry the emotional load of parenting and managing our home. I've talked to him about this problem again and again, but I fear he's never going to change. I feel pushed aside and trivialized. If I'm going to be emotionally divorced, why shouldn't I be legally divorced?
A: Obviously, since you've stayed in your marriage to this point you know there are many good reasons why you should not be "legally divorced"—among them the fact that your marriage affects many people other than yourself and that divorce is far more devastating than our society likes to acknowledge. I hope you will put away even toying with such a dangerous idea.
Although you're frustrated with your husband's unresponsiveness, I encourage you to try again. Pick a time when the TV's off and the two of you are sharing some good feelings, perhaps right after you've enjoyed a special evening out or a time of sexual intimacy. When you broach the subject, tell him right up front that it's not about TV so much as it is about loneliness. Your word "trivialized" captures your feeling of emotional separation very well.
You might probe to find out what your husband thinks is going on inside him. Is he facing a major problem—personal, spiritual or work-related—that he can't find a way to verbalize? In such cases, people often seek the escapism of TV. Periods of personal struggle generally ebb and flow. Your acknowledgment that there's probably a reason for his viewing habits could help free him up to begin dealing openly with some important problem.
Be open-minded as you discuss a reasonable compromise. The answer probably isn't to burn your TV set. But it could be important to discuss why your husband finds television to be such an appealing means of relaxation. Recognize his need for some escape, but encourage him to see how much you and your children need his time and attention. It could take some creativity and trial-and-error, but perhaps the two of you can find activities that you can do together that would meet his need to escape or relax and give you time together as well.
This might sound boring, but my wife, Janie, and I connect through reading the same books and then talking about them. We also enjoy movies. Afterward, over coffee, we talk about the scenes we enjoyed the most and what ideas in the film we found intriguing or, at times, objectionable.
Janie and I do this, in part, to avoid the kind of loneliness—the "emotional divorce"—that you have described. We want to be united as husband and wife, so we find ways to develop oneness. I hope your husband will sense your desire for this kind of shared life and will rise to the challenge of finding ways the two of you can relax together.
Q - Our small group of young couples was recently shocked when Chris and Mary told us they were separating. The problems they described seemed to be pretty normal marital disagreements to us. Chris doesn't want out of the marriage, but Mary is pushing for a divorce. We suspect she is reacting to her abusive childhood. We're trying to be supportive of both of them. How can we encourage Mary to get the help she needs to heal as an individual but also confront her with her lack of faith in God's ability to restore their marriage?
A - You're right that Chris and Mary both need the support of concerned friends. I hope you will encourage them to get into marriage counseling. At the same time, be careful about judging what is taking place between them. It's hard to analyze other people's emotions and to know what goes on in their homes. In this instance, their marital struggles may or may not be related to Mary's past. And what seem to you like "normal marital disagreements" may not be so easy for Chris and Mary to resolve.
Perhaps Mary is the type of person who tends to seek a quick escape from painful situations. If that's the case, she might view divorce as a reasonable solution. This is where you and your group of friends become important. Your encouragement, love and suggestions of options other than divorce can help give Mary confidence that her marriage is worth working for.
Even when Chris and Mary find it hard to believe there is hope for their marriage, you can communicate your own hope and faith in God's power to heal. I'm a big believer in delaying proceedings toward divorce as long as possible. If you as a group can help Mary and Chris keep their options open, your affirmation and support can act as a sort of "splint" on their marriage. Circumstances and feelings change. With counseling and God's help, anything is possible.
Jay Kesler is president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was formerly a pastor and also served as president of Youth for Christ. Jay and his wife, Janie, have been married 39 years.
Jay is not able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a marriage question you'd like him to address in this column, send your question to: Questions & Answers Marriage Partnership 465 Gundersen Drive Carol Stream, IL 60188 E-mail address: MPedit@aol.
Copyright © 1996 by Christianity Today/MARRIAGE PARTNERSHIP magazine.
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Q & A
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