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Q & A

Why can't he be there on time?

Q. My husband and I have a great marriage. Really, in five years of marriage, only one problem has been a perpetual struggle. While punctuality seems very important to me, my husband has no "internal clock". He wants to be on time, but he never is. I've tried just letting him be late—but it drives me crazy. It seems so disrespectful to others. I've tried helping him, but he reacts badly because I remind him of his overbearing mother. Besides, I hate nagging. We'd both like to see this problem resolved, but neither of us can find a solution.

A. You and your husband do have a great marriage. After five years, you have only one problem that's been a perpetual struggle—and it's a common personality difference that many couples encounter. Don't be discouraged; personality differences can become God-given opportunities for both of you to learn and grow.

You've already made two good discoveries. You've learned that what you've done so far hasn't worked, which puts you in a good position to try something new (since a good definition of crazy is "to find out what doesn't work and keep on doing it"). You've also learned what some people take years to learn: that nagging doesn't help. Here's our favorite definition of that unproductive pastime: "Nagging is like being nibbled to death by a duck."

So, instead of viewing your personality difference simply as a problem to solve, try to see it as an opportunity for growth, a chance to understand each other better, to increase your marital satisfaction, and to model to those around you the difference Christ can make in a relationship. After all, more important than the issue of being early or late is the challenge to handle your difference in a way that honors each other's uniqueness in the context of serving each other.

Here are a few practical suggestions. First, both you and your husband might want to read up on the subject of differences in marriage—both male and female differences and basic personality differences. It's easy to interpret your spouse's being late as thoughtlessness, laziness, and intentional disrespect. But more often than not, your spouse isn't trying to drive you crazy. Norm Wright and I (Gary) wrote a book called How to Bring Out the Best in Your Spouse; it might help you realize that some people are by nature more time- and schedule-conscious.

Next, you might try brainstorming, on paper, what each of you see as the implications of being late. How does being late affect your husband, yourself, your family, your friends? What does being late say to others about your respect, or lack of respect, for them? Is he comfortable with the negative messages being late can send? This could open up some good discussion.

Third, look for the exceptions. No one is late to everything all of the time. What's different when your husband is on time? For example, on days when he makes it to work on time, how is he motivating himself to get there? What is he doing on those days that could be put to use on other occasions?

Fourth, don't fall into the all-or-nothing trap. Don't say, "If you can't be on time (to everything all of the time), then you must not really love me." That sets your husband up for a no-win situation and erects a wall where you want to build a bridge. Instead, identify your "big ticket" occasions—the times when it is most frustrating for you when he is late. Maybe it's Sunday mornings, getting to church on time. Or maybe it's weekday afternoons, when he's supposed to pick up the kids from school. Choose one or two specific occasions, and ask your husband to agree to work on being on time (or even ten minutes early) just for those times for the next month.

Finally, if you can do it lovingly, be on time yourself. One woman we know told her husband in a kind and positive way that because she valued being on time and also didn't want to coerce him, she'd be leaving for church at a certain time. She told him she'd love to go together, but that if he wasn't ready she'd save him a seat. At first he continued to be late, but she didn't make him pay for it; instead she made an extra effort to show him her love. In a matter of weeks, he was perpetually ready on time for church.

Keep working on this issue with a view to honor each other's uniquenesses. Your new patterns of listening and loving will demonstrate "I love you."

He's Such a Wet Blanket

Q. My husband will not do anything with me, except have sex. He won't take me out on a date, go for a drive in the car, go to the movies—nothing. We're young, and we live in Hawaii! But when I say I'd like to do something, he just says, "Go ahead." Sometimes I beg and he does go, but then he's such a wet blanket it would've been better just to leave him home. He wasn't like this before we got married. I have friends, but I want to do things with my husband. Can you help me?

A. Good for you. You haven't given up wanting to be with your husband. We hope that, despite your disappointment in his lack of get-up-and-go, you'll choose to communicate with him, encourage him, and affirm the good things you see in who he is and what he does. While it is appropriate and right for you to communicate your needs and desires and disappointments to him, you don't need to fall into the common trap of focusing on what isn't going well and ignoring what is. We've never worked with a man who has suffered from too much encouragement and affirmation.

Meanwhile, we'd encourage you to find a couple of friends who will agree to pray daily for you and your husband, praying especially that your discouragement will not lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness—because there are some potential solutions.

First, try to recreate some of the conditions that existed when things were better. What kinds of activities did you enjoy when you were dating—golf, tennis, sailing, scuba, movies? Where did you go? What made you both laugh? Back in those days, was your husband close to your pastor or any other guys in your church, maybe through a Promise Keepers or Cross Trainers group? Maybe the friendship of one of those guys would come in handy right now.

Maybe you'd benefit, post-wedding, by getting reacquainted through a marriage-enrichment conference like the Family Life weekends (with Gary Smalley) or the I Still Do one-day conference (with Dennis Rainey and his associates). If he's not willing to go away for a weekend, you might try watching Gary Smalley's wedding video series.

You indicate that your husband has changed since your wedding. It could simply be that because dating is an extroverted activity, you didn't discover his more introverted side until after the honeymoon. Or it could be that your husband is feeling stressed, overworked, or even depressed. Have there been significant changes in his job or any deaths or other emotional losses? How about changes in his health? If you suspect that excess stress or depression are factoring in, ask your pastor to help you find a licensed Christian counselor who understands men and marriage and is trained in these issues.

There are some guys who come home and zone out in front of the TV, especially those who are more introverted. While giving him some zone-out time, try to discover something he would really enjoy that you could join in (that's join, not nag). Dave and Claudia Arp's delightful book Ten Dates for Mates has helped thousands of couples turn a corner in their marriage, helping them have fun with each other again.

Meanwhile, hang on to your own same-sex friends for support. Keep setting goals and finding activities you enjoy. Remember, God's promise in Romans 8:28 that he will "cause all things to work together for good" applies to your marriage.

Her Church or Mine?

Q. My wife and I have been married six months—both of us for the second time. We have her two children all the time, and mine on the weekends. Our problem is that we can't choose which church to settle into—hers or mine. I want to keep my kids in the church where I've always taken them, especially since my ex-wife no longer attends. But my wife and her kids love their church. Theologically, either one is fine. It's more a matter of continuity. So far we've split up on Sundays. Is this a submission question, and she should come with me?

A. This is a common challenge for previously married couples who are bringing two sets of children together. The good news is that many have found a win-win solution for both parents and kids.

It isn't a theological question—and it's not a question of submission either. It's not even primarily a matter of continuity or convenience. First and foremost, for you, it's about being a servant leader and discovering how to love, honor, serve, nourish, and cherish in this situation with your family. It's a challenge to make the most of this opportunity to model Ephesians 5 for your wife and both sets of kids.

Assuming that you and your wife are both mature enough as believers to have your spiritual needs met in a variety of ways, you might want to focus together on your kids as individuals. What are their needs right now, their preferences? Is the church question more important to one or two of the kids? Where are the various individuals in their walk with God? Would a change of churches put any one of the kids at risk spiritually? How has each been adjusting, dealing with the divorces and remarriage?

Obviously, there's a lot of variables to talk about. Continuity is good, but it isn't the only consideration. Some couples choose one of the churches they're already attending, but others choose a fresh start for the whole new family with a new identity. In a family meeting, they choose two or three new churches to visit, making a list of things they value in a church family. The adults make sure each of these churches has a strong ministry to children and youth, then the family visits each of the churches a couple of times before the family makes a decision.

It's almost a given that not every member of your family will be happy at first. But as you work through this dilemma, you'll provide a model for your kids of how Christians resolve difficult issues, let go of the past, consider the needs and concerns of others, and function as a real family.

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.

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:

Marriage Partnership

465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188

Or e-mail your questions to: mp@marriagepartnership.com

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Conflict; Differences; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2000
Posted September 30, 2008

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