Q - My wife had two children when I married her, and back then I agreed that our family was complete. But lately my desire for a child of my own has been growing. My wife feels angry and threatened when I talk about it. How can I get her to want another baby?
A - I can't advise you to do anything to get your wife to "want another baby." You can, of course, make it a matter of prayer that God might put that desire in her. But breaking your earlier agreement and forcing your wife into a parenting situation that she doesn't desire is a prescription for future trouble.
When you married, you knew your wife had two children. You accepted the "terms" back then, so why are you reneging on the agreement now? If you are feeling a sense of personal emptiness, or if there's an emptiness in your marriage, a child won't fill that gap. If anything, children exacerbate any existing marital problems.
Ask yourself, "Why do I feel incomplete?" Do you feel you have contributed less to your marriage because your wife brought in children, but you did not? Look for the roots of any feelings of inadequacy, impotence or poor self-esteem. Working on these is a better plan than trying to get your wife to change her mind about having a third child.
Then remember that your wife chose to marry you as you were. Enjoy that relationship, keep your promises and see what develops.
Q - My husband and I got married 11 years ago and immediately had four children in six years. Our kids are doing great, but we're not. I often feel overwhelmed, and I'm depressed about the distance in our relationship. Though I want to be close to my husband, I don't know where to begin. What should I do?
A - To begin with, let's agree that you are tired! Most couples are blindsided by fatigue and the effect it has on their relationship. But the fatigue is understandable. When couples marry, they begin the emotional, sexual and spiritual task of making two into one. At the same time, they are trying to get established financially in a difficult economy. Add to the mix pregnancy and childrearing—and all the nurturing and support that kids require—and it's no wonder a husband and wife have no energy left for their marriage.
And even if it seems like your relationship is hindered while everyone else is doing just fine, think again. Inside their homes, where you can't see, other couples are struggling with fatigue just as you are.
Now, what should you do? First, it's helpful to recognize the connection between fatigue and difficulties in your relationship. You're only human, after all, so lighten your load by cutting back on the stressors wherever you can. And remember that this time of life with young children is only one stage of your marriage.
Second, get a physical examination. I've known several women who felt overwhelmed and depressed, as you do. A doctor's exam showed that pregnancy and childbirth removed trace chemicals from their system that were never restored. When this chemical imbalance was corrected, their lives were changed.
Third, consider whether your marriage has fallen into resentment and resignation. Many couples find their former freedoms crowded out by a growing list of obligations—jobs, mortgage payments, their kids' needs, ministry responsibilities—and they begin to live with resentment. Sometimes a husband will react by "disengaging," getting heavily involved in golf or some other hobby. When that happens, his wife is stuck with more than her fair share of family responsibilities.
Women also struggle with resentment, but they are less likely to disengage from the family. Instead, their resentment often turns to anger and depression because they are saddled with duties night and day. After a time, resentment moves into resignation, a feeling that "being married and having children make for a miserable existence. We'll just have to accept it and put up with the drudgery."
Fourth, guard against resignation by realizing that commitment is a far better response. Commitment acknowledges the difficulties of your current stage of life, but it diligently looks for what's good about it. Commitment says, "Sure, we're exhausted and living under a lot of stress, but let's enjoy being a family in spite of our circumstances."
Half the battle is to deal with your challenges together. Perhaps your husband feels as overwhelmed and as low as you do. Tackling the problem together will build unity, even if the stressors in your life don't let up. Talk about fatigue, resentment and resignation. Together, search your schedule to see what can be eliminated or what can be enjoyed together instead of done separately.
Find new ways to put some zing back into your life; and begin enjoying those things soon—together.
Q - My husband and I have a terrible time working on shared goals and dreams. I grew up in a family that emphasized achieving goals, but my husband says he doesn't even know how to dream or what his ideal "what ifs" would be. He is generally laid-back and unmotivated unless he's under tremendous pressure. How can I encourage him to dream and attain those dreams without getting frustrated when we're getting nowhere?
You and your husband have two different personality types. People do change, but not very much—especially in the area of basic personality.
Keep in mind that "different" doesn't mean "wrong." Many people in our driven society would enjoy being as laid-back as your husband is. At the same time, I understand how his approach can feel frustrating to you. But remember, there are a great many folks like your husband, and they survive just fine in our culture. Abraham Lincoln's wife felt that he was lazy and undermotivated, and she pushed and goaded him. He became quite successful—but not because of her goading. At his own pace, moving in the direction he wanted to go, he eventually succeeded. He wasn't wrong in his approach, just different from his wife.
There are three directions you can go. First, you can push your husband toward your goals. This will frustrate you more than it does him, because his laid-back nature will help him withdraw from the stress. The more you push, the more he'll withdraw.
Second, you can move ahead and try to bring him along with you. But it's always going to feel like you're the leader and he's the lagger.
Third, you could set some independent goals and work to reach them. You may not get a lot of help from your husband, but at the same time, he probably won't stand in your way.
I also recommend that you check out a terrific book called Please Understand Me, by Keirsey and Bates (Prometheus Nemesis). It deals with the pluses and minuses of 16 personality types, and you and your husband will almost assuredly find yourselves described in it. This book can help you value the benefits of your husband's personality, instead of fighting against them.
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.
Copyright © 1997 by Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership Magazine.