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Q & A

Q. My husband thinks there's absolutely nothing wrong with our marriage, while I'm slowly dying inside. There's no romance, very little sex, no conversation (not even about the children), no doing or learning new things together. Is this all we were meant to have? Short of threatening to divorce him, how can I convince my husband that we do have problems?

A. Sometimes I hear the frustration you're expressing from mothers who are very tired—whether they're at-home moms or moms balancing family concerns with an outside-the-home job. There are a lot of tedious, repetitive tasks involved in mothering. When there isn't time for spontaneity in the schedule, the insistent demands of the job and the kids take precedence over the marriage—and soon both partners are dissatisfied.

However, it seems more likely that you and your husband simply have different personality types. Your husband is, perhaps, the kind of person who finds security in routine—life without a lot of surprises. Then there's you—a person who craves some excitement, some serendipity, some variety. The things that make your husband feel secure seem like a rut to you.

The best way to find out about your personality types is to take a diagnostic test, like a Myers-Briggs. if you discover that the difference is simply your personalities, that knowledge may help you feel less frustrated with your husband. It may also open the door to discussing how both of you can make adjustments to get more of your needs met.

You and your husband might also seek some outside help, such as attending a marriage-enrichment weekend. You could also read and discuss a book on a marriage-related topic that interests both of you.

Whatever you do, make sure you attack the problem together without threatening divorce. You can let your husband know that the condition of your marriage is a serious problem for you. You might even tell him that you were frustrated enough to send a letter to an advice columnist. It might be just the wake-up call he needs.

Meanwhile, ask God to give you grace and some creativity in your relationship while you wait for changes. True compatibility grows out of your mutual faith in God. As both of you grow closer in relationship to God, intimacy will grow between you. Without your spiritual center being God, all the variety and spontaneity in the world won't keep your marriage from having a hollow feeling.

Q. My wife is a negative person, always seeing the bad or dangerous side of everything. Plus, she continually finds fault with me and the kids. Ask her something and she automatically says no, even though once she's thought about it she'll go ahead and do it. My idea of heaven on earth would be a wife who offered encouragement and was generally positive. What should I do?

A. Your wife's negative spirit could be related to a mild depression, and it may have a physiological cause. So encourage her to get a medical check-up. Childbirth can upset a woman's normal chemical and hormonal balance. That, combined with the wearing-down work of caring for children, can leave a woman struggling to find anything positive in the world around her. So help lighten her burden by pitching in on household tasks, and make sure she gets some rest and time for herself.

Her habit of responding with a "no" to every request may stem from her feelings of being overwhelmed and fatigued. She's protecting herself from having to accept one more task or responsibility. The reality, of course, is that once she gets started on a task, she'll get more energized and enthusiastic—at least to a degree.

Your wife may also just have a negative bent in her personality. If she can acknowledge that, she can begin to make specific changes in her behavior that will lead to changes in the family situation around her. The trick would be to help her see that she can get more of what she wants through kindness and rewards than by demands and criticism. A man who used to work for me had a phrase he liked to use: "There are more sugar horses than whip horses." That means people are motivated more by your praise and positive reinforcement than by harsh words and negative actions.

I remember a book called Happiness Is a Choice, which is not only an excellent title but sound advice. Short of clinical or biological causes, your wife does have the ability to choose between positive and negative behaviors. This is something you can model for her by responding positively to her whenever she acts kindly or gets involved with you or your kids.

Q. My husband started smoking a couple of years ago, and I've begged him to give it up. Aside from the fact that it's bad for his health, it's bad for our relationship. We don't have as much sex because I'm put off by the smell of cigarette breath. But more important, I can't get past feeling hurt that he won't give up something that bothers me so much. Smoking is proof that he loves himself more than me and the kids. What can I do to get through to him?

A. It sounds like you've confronted this issue a number of times already, but try tackling it again. One issue to bring up is the health factor. Perhaps you can persuade your husband by appealing to his care for his own health (there's no doubt that smoking is connected to lung cancer, emphysema and other life-threatening conditions) and the health of you and your children.

Ask him why he's making this choice. One reason may be just to spite you, which could help you open up a discussion about his feelings about your marriage and point the way to positive changes. But no matter why he chooses to smoke, the issue has become a battle of your wills. Neither of you wants to lose the battle, which makes it harder to solve the problem.

Help defuse this test of wills by presenting your concerns in the context of being on your husband's side. You want him to stay healthy, and you want to stay married to him. Also clarify what he's choosing between. He can have cigarettes on the one hand, or he can choose four positive gains on the other: the health of his children, his own health, a happier wife and a much more successful marriage.

This could be a long process, so be prepared to continue encouraging and supporting him in his search for satisfaction apart from smoking.

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
e-mail mp@marriagepartnership.com

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

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