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Q & A

Married Roommates, a Parenting Conflict and Feeling Devalued

Things are okay between my husband and me, although we don't have sex as much as we'd like. The biggest problem is that we feel like roommates; things are kind of flat, separate between us. Meanwhile, a man at the school where I teach has been paying a lot of attention to me. I've started thinking about whether he'll notice what I'm wearing or how I'm doing my hair. I'm praying that these feelings will go away, and I don't do anything to encourage him. But I can't seem to stop noticing his attention.

You are wise to be concerned about the way you're noticing this other man's attention. That kind of attention is actually the most common first step toward an affair. Sex itself is usually a secondary issue; it's the sense of being considered important, attractive and affirmed that draws men and women into trouble. This man at work has his own intimacy needs, whether or not he recognizes them. And the combination of two folks who could both use some attention can be lethal.

You describe a sort of "flatness" in your marriage, so it's not surprising that a bit of male attention is capturing your imagination. Your desire for love, acceptance and affirmation is normal. But, of course, the right place to have those desires met is at home.

You don't sound too discouraged about your marriage. That's good, because it's common for intimacy needs to shift as partners change and their relationship matures. As you hit different stages, you'll want to keep talking about how you feel and what you need from each other. So sit down and talk with your husband. Tell him you feel the need for more intimacy with him. Perhaps he will express his own need for more affirmation or attention. Maybe the two of you could read Chuck Swindoll's Strike the Original Match (Zondervan), a short book with lots of "easier than you think" ideas for how to rekindle some excitement between you and your spouse.

It's the sense of being considered important, attractive and affirmed that draws men and women into trouble.

Meanwhile, go ahead and take some initiative in the sex department. Most couples fall into regular routines when it comes to physical intimacy. Shake things up a bit. Very often, men harbor secret thoughts about how their sex life could be improved, but they're too shy or polite to broach the subject with their wives. If you convey your willingness to try something new, your husband may be delighted that you're comfortable with change.

As things warm up at home, you'll probably stop caring about this other man's attentions. But if he keeps it up, try to deter him by mentioning your husband and talking about your marriage in positive terms.

My wife is really hard on our 16-year-old daughter. I think our daughter is respectful and responsible. She makes good grades and helps with cleaning and taking care of our younger kids. But every time she wants to go somewhere, my wife grills her unmercifully. This has become a real source of conflict between my wife and me, and I don't want it to affect our daughter. What should I do?

I get a lot of letters from teenagers in your daughter's situation. Usually I tell them, "Be glad you're overloved and not underloved." Better an overprotective parent whose attempts to show love are fumbling than a parent who doesn't care. So when you discuss this problem with your wife, be sure to affirm her obvious love and care for your daughter. If you acknowledge your wife's pure intentions, it will be easier for her to listen to your concerns about her "smothering" behaviors.

It's a sad fact that good kids whose parents convey suspicion and distrust eventually get the message that they aren't trusted. Often they'll respond, "If you treat me as if I'm irresponsible, I might as well become that way!" Try to help your wife see that she's working against herself when she communicates lack of trust in a daughter who has, so far, proved herself trustworthy.

Many times when a mom reacts this way to a teen daughter, she's telegraphing something from her own experience growing up. Maybe when she sees her daughter wearing a certain item of clothing she thinks, "Uh-oh! I know why she's wearing that!" But in reality, what she knows is why she would've worn it at that age. Your wife might have done some things she regrets, and now she worries about your daughter. But here's the hard truth: times are different, and your past feelings or experiences are not transferable truths. Your kids are growing up in a different generation. Three earrings in one ear may not mean what it did when you were 16. Reminisce with your wife about the things that influenced and affected you as a teen, and ask her about her own experiences. Does she see any of those personal experiences affecting the way she confronts your daughter?

As you affirm your wife's love for your daughter and talk about experiences from her own past, she may feel more comfortable with your suggestions for trusting your daughter.

I recently lost my job when my company downsized. I still feel really upset, but my husband acts as if it's nothing. He says, "We can do fine on my income; don't worry about it." With scrimping, we can get by without my salary, but he's made me feel as if my work isn't important. It shows how little he understands me. How can I get some real sympathy?

There was once a little boy at a school open house who dropped the ceramic dish he'd made for his mother. The child began to cry uncontrollably as his mother picked up some of the many pieces. To comfort him, she said, "Honey, it doesn't matter. We can put it together again." The mother thought she was helping and offering comfort, but her comfort belittled her child's gift to her.

Your husband probably thinks he is offering you sympathy and comfort. He'd likely be surprised to find that his comments have hurt your feelings. He isn't saying that you don't have value or that your job isn't important. He's trying to tell you, "I don't want you to feel bad, and I don't want you to feel like you're letting the family down."

Of course he's missing the point, and you should gently talk with him about it. There's no substitute for talking about real feelings. Tell him you understand his comments are well-intentioned, but that these paternal pats on the back aren't helping. Tell him, "Honey, thanks for trying to make me feel better. But the point is that I've worked hard to be confident and to be a breadwinner, and my self-worth has taken a blow. Maybe my self-esteem shouldn't be tied to my work, but the feelings are real. If you want to help me feel better, please acknowledge my hurt instead of saying it doesn't matter."

Once you point out the discrepancy between how he has tried to comfort you and the type of empathy you're really looking for, your husband will probably do his best to show the kind of understanding you need.

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 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:

Q & A
Marriage Partnership
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188

If you subscribe to an online service, you can e-mail your questions to:mp@marriagepartnership.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Infidelity; Marriage; Parenting; Work
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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