Q—My husband and I fight constantly. When I express the hurt and anguish I am feeling, he starts defending himself. He also accuses me of mothering him. How can I communicate my hurt and anger without becoming more hurt and angry? And what can I do to get him to listen to me?
A—It's a common marital conflict for one spouse to want to talk about problems (the confronter) while the other prefers to avoid problems (the withdrawer). This often happens when opposites attract. People from two different backgrounds get married and then run into trouble in the area of communication.
It sounds like you're a confronter. It's likely that you grew up in a family where problems were brought out into the open and worked through. If your husband is a withdrawer, it may be that his family swept problems under the rug in the hope that time would take care of them.
As painful as this problem is, it is exactly the kind of relationship snag that a counselor can help you both get past—maybe in only a few sessions. So my initial advice is to get some help identifying your communication styles and learning to talk and listen in ways that work for both of you.
However, if you're not able to see a counselor together, you can still work on improving the communication with your husband. You say he feels like you're "mothering" him. Think about what that means. A mother checks up on a child because she lacks the confidence and trust that the child is mature enough to get things done. Whether or not you actually think your husband is trustworthy and mature, something (perhaps his own insecurity) is making him feel mothered.
In light of that, a good rule for communicating with your husband right now would be: a lot of affirmation, a little confrontation. If you can provide big assurances of your love for him and your trust in him, then give only small doses of criticism, you may find him more receptive to what you really are saying. He would understand that you are not attacking him or his competence, but that you just want to deal with a particular irritation or problem.
Eventually, as your husband feels less threatened and more assured of your confidence in him, he may be able to handle bigger doses of "reality"—talking about problems and your painful feelings.
Q—I love my husband, but he spends way too much money. I've thought about starting a savings account that he knows nothing about. I wouldn't do it so I could spend on myself, but just to help us save for the future. Would that be a betrayal of our trust?
A—As a long-term solution, keeping a hidden savings account would be a betrayal of your trust. Long term, you and your husband need to agree together on what you'll spend and what you'll save. So if he is willing to work on it with you, I'd recommend reading Answers to Your Family's Financial Questions by Larry Burkett (Focus on the Family) or Ron Blue's Master Your Money (Thomas Nelson). These books explain the value and importance of savings, from both a practical and a biblical standpoint.
In the short term, your idea of saving a bit of money on the side could have a positive effect. Our money styles tend to reflect the influence of the family we grew up in. Savers were taught that setting money aside is important, and that it makes a big difference. In contrast, spenders generally feel that saving is futile. Expenses are so great that what can actually be put into savings each month looks like pennies that will never amount to anything. Switching to a different money style is usually not a matter of knowledge about finances; it's a matter of the will.
On a short-term basis, if you are able to squeeze some savings dollars out of each month's paychecks or grocery money, go ahead and do it. Then present it to your husband as cash in hand for some long-awaited family project or plan. This would show him it's possible to save, and it would demonstrate how gratifying and money-smart it is to pay for things up front instead of on credit.
But long-term, you and your husband need to confront the issue together and come to a mutual understanding about putting away money for the future.
Q—Last year my wife left me and our children for another man. I've been praying constantly that she'll come back, but recently she filed for divorce. How long should I continue to hope for a reconciliation with her? Is it ever time to give up?
A—In this painful situation, you've been forced into a somewhat helpless and reactive position. You can assure your wife that you're willing to receive her back. You can offer forgiveness and love. But you can't make her respond. It's an extremely difficult position for anyone to hold, but I think the Christian must—as you have done—stay in that position for a period of time. Perhaps for a very long period.
My most important advice would be to bring your pastor and church leadership into your decision-making. Their counsel is more meaningful than what you can receive from this column because they have a more personal view of your marriage and a better sense of how these decisions will affect you and your children.
If I were facing a similar situation, I would hold out as long as possible—perhaps until your wife actually married someone else. Miracles happen. There are the rare times when a divorce or separation acts as the trigger mechanism that brings a couple back together. Sometimes the wayward spouse feels satisfied by having "declared independence" and shown everyone she was serious about the problems she saw in her marriage. Even after a divorce goes through, reconciliation and remarriage (to one another) can come about.
However, if your wife takes the step of marrying someone else, your wait will be over. Perhaps at that point you could also remarry. I have seen cases of second marriages resulting in a redemptive situation for both adults and children.
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 40 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:
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