Q. I think my husband is avoiding me. He spends all his time at work or with his friends. I asked him this morning if he'd like to do something with me on Sunday and he asked if he could get back to me because he didn't know what he had going on then. When he's home, he watches TV, gets on the internet, cooks, sleeps—anything but hang out with me.
A. You must be weary and feel frustrated and discouraged trying to get his attention! Healthy relationships require continuous cultivating and nourishing, but with time pressures, jobs, family, and other activities, it's easy for all of us, but especially men, to allow the tyranny of the "urgent" to crowd out what's important to the marriage.
Find a mutually good time, sit down with him, look him in the eye, and let him know how much you love him and desire a great marriage. Then both of you can share your perception of where your marriage is on a scale from 1-10 with 1 being horrible and 10 being ecstasy. Each of you can also share one thing you're willing to do and one thing you'd like your spouse to do that might take your relationship to the next level.
We don't know what's going on with your husband, and if his actions are significant. It could be simply that he's apathetic in the relationship and needs to be reminded that he really does enjoy you. You can encourage him and be with him on his terms for now. Or you two may have built some walls and he feels unsafe with you. Being a safe person to another means "accepting" him where he is, meeting him in his space.
Men are more open to their wives when they participate with them in activities they enjoy. If he's watching TV, sit in the room with him and watch but don't initiate a conversation. Often, with time, a spouse who seems as if he's rejecting you begins to enjoy your presence and starts to come out of his shell.
You didn't mention how your sexual relationship is, but that's a vital part of a healthy marriage. I (Carrie) and many women we've worked with have benefited greatly from learning more about male/female differences. What Could He Be Thinking? by Michael Gurian is a secular book that has great insights based in part on brain and other physiological research.
Find a few wise and godly women you can share your concerns with and who will commit to pray for you and with you. Ask God for wisdom, discernment, and patience, and realize that building safety and nourishing a relationship takes time, prayer, and love.
She's mothering me!
Q. Since we had a child three years ago, my wife has gone overboard on being a mother—to the point where she's mothering me. She talks to me in the same voice she uses with our son. Plus, whenever he's around—which is constantly—she insists I call her "Mommy," while she calls me "Daddy." It's creeping me out. How do I make her stop?
A. Unfortunately, you can't make her stop. But you can help her understand your concerns and use this as a springboard to create a stronger marriage and healthier parenting habits. This must be difficult for you, but don't miss her intentions. It sounds as if she loves your son and wants to be a good mom, but she has some distorted ideas of what that looks like.
Numerous studies show that marital satisfaction decreases significantly after the birth of the first child, which involves a redefinition of roles, new decisions, and a place where the different parenting styles we brought from our families of origin can collide head-on. Unless couples understand this challenging stage in the family life cycle, they can set themselves up for years of heartache.
Why is she so attached to your son? In many cases (though not every) it's because the husband and wife didn't have a lot of intimacy before the child was born and now there's someone she can love and receive love from. One of the most important gifts parents can give their kids is a great marriage. Make sure your wife knows she's precious to you. Look for opportunities to cherish and nourish her. Tell your wife you love her and you miss her. Let her know that an important part of being a great dad is being a great husband and that's what you're committed to.
Some women assume they are, by virtue of being female, the parenting "experts" and that men, by virtue of being male, don't know much about parenting. Let her see how important being a great father is to you. Get up at night with your son. Rock him to sleep. Read books on being a dad.
With God's help you can turn every frustrating thought and feeling into a reminder to pray for your wife, your son, and your marriage, and to put your good intentions into action.
She says I'm not romantic
Q. I do everything I can think of to show I care for my wife, but she tells me I'm not romantic. What does she want me to do?
A. I (Carrie) have struggled with the "my husband should know all my needs and meet them" syndrome. It wasn't fun for me, and Gary will tell you it wasn't fun for him. Since one of a husband's greatest needs is his wife's approval, we wives can get our dear husbands running around in circles and not understand that we're doing just that—especially in the area of romance.
We don't know how open your wife is to looking at her side of the problem, but if she is, one of the first questions we have women ask themselves is, How realistic and healthy are my expectations? Those who spend too much time watching too many television shows or reading too many romance novels often have unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.
The two of you could benefit from a talk about this dilemma. Before you talk, though, ask her to write down a couple things:
What says romance to you?
If I was more romantic, what exactly would that look like?
Let her know this is important to you because you love her and desire to please her. If she says she's communicated these things before, agree with her but tell her you really want to be more intentional about being romantic.
Listen to her as she shares. Don't interrupt her, don't explain, don't justify. Just listen. At the end ask her if she can think of anything else. If the list seems outrageous, too long, or overwhelming, tell her you feel insecure about trying to meet all those romantic needs and ask her for the top three to five.
Then try one or two. Let her know that for change to take place, it's essential that she lets you know when she notices you doing one of the romantic things she shared with you. This will motivate and encourage you to keep on being romantic.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver Ph.D., co—author ofA Woman's Forbidden Emotion (Regal), is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.