Q. I'm newly married and have a lot of interests that don't include my husband (playing sports, volunteering at church, taking dance lessons). But I always have to negotiate to get to do them. I know marriage means sacrifice—but sacrificing everything? I feel as if he wants me to give up all the things I enjoy! How can I do the things I love without feeling guilty or starting a major war?
A. One of the most common mistakes many of us make is to incorrectly interpret what our partner doesn't say and then function as if that assumption is truth. Has your husband clearly told you he wants you to give up all the things you enjoy, or is that your interpretation? Is it possible you've made some incorrect assumptions and jumped to the wrong conclusion? Has he really asked you to give up everything?
This may sound like a small first step, but overgeneralization and all-or-nothing thinking results in exaggeration and inflation of a problem, which leads to discouragement and frustration. The next step is to communicate to him in clear and unambiguous ways your specific concerns and let him know explicitly what you'd like to see change. What are some things you enjoy doing together? What are some things you'd like to do by yourself? Start with one or two that would be most meaningful.
Marriage does involve sacrifice. The biggest adjustment for many couples is going from "I" thinking to "we" thinking. That doesn't mean giving up our uniqueness. While it's important to maintain some of your individual interests, it's also vital that you and your husband discover things you enjoy doing together. It's easy for some couples to function as "married singles" and expect their lives to be basically the same as they were before they were married.
While marriage involves sacrifice, it also involves sharing, working, playing, and praying together. Why not try some new things? Get involved in some of his interests, or ask him to join you in some of yours. After our marriage I (Gary) went to a ballet and some cross-stitch shows with Carrie, and Carrie learned how to mountain bike and scuba dive. Yes, we still have some of our unique areas of interest, but our marriage is much richer and stronger because of the mutual interests we cultivated.
Q. For many years, I wasn't as attentive to my wife as I should have been, and I know she suffered. Though things are better now, I was thinking of giving her a gift of counseling, so if any issue comes up that she feels she can't share with me, she could discuss it with a third party. But I'm afraid she'll think I'm suggesting there's something wrong with her that needs to be fixed. Do you think "preventative maintenance" counseling would do more harm than good?
A. The best starting place for having a healthier marriage is to look always at what we can do better rather than what our spouse needs to do better. Congratulations in taking a healthy step! By acknowledging your lack of attentiveness you've made a meaningful contribution to strengthening your marriage.
It's great that you love your wife enough to want to give her a safe outlet to share her concerns. Your heart is in the right place. However, that type of present could not only be misinterpreted, it probably isn't the best place to start.
While preventative maintenance counseling is a great idea, what's more helpful is choosing to cultivate what we call a "growth-focused" marriage. In this kind of marriage, couples are proactive and not just reactive. It's not just about preventing problems. A "growth-focused" marriage concentrates on ways we can continue to grow in our relationship with God and with each other. After 25 years of marriage, we continually talk, pray, read books on marriage, go to marriage enrichment seminars, share our concerns with each other, meet with other couples, and at times, seek wise counsel from friends and/or a professional.
One of the greatest gifts you could give your wife is to offer for both of you to go for annual relationship check-ups. One or two sessions with a trained marriage specialist can fine-tune any marriage relationship and help you develop the skills to go deeper in your love for God and for each other.
He says "no" to kids
Q. We've been married five years and I desperately want to have children, but my husband says "no." I feel I've been duped, since he said "maybe" to children before we were married. Whenever I bring up the topic, he shuts down. We're at an impasse. What am I supposed to do—it's really affecting how I feel about him and our marriage.
A. This can be one of the most difficult conflicts for married couples. When we hit a brick wall in dealing with the core of our heart's desires, it's important to step back and stop, look, and listen.
How much time have you spent in prayer about this? Not just quick, fly-up prayers, but intense praying and fasting? Do you have friends who have agreed to pray faithfully for you about this issue? Pray that God would clearly reveal himself both to you and your husband. That he would be free to work unhindered in your marriage.
Talk to a couple who have faced a similar issue and discover what they found helpful in making their decision.
From your question it sounds as though the only options are for one of you to give in and perhaps be bitter, or to continue in this stalemate. Neither will help you reach a solution and strengthen your marriage.
The bigger issue here involves discerning God's desire for your marriage. It isn't just about whether or not to have children. It's about what it looks like to serve, cherish, and encourage each other in the context of dealing with an emotionally charged issue. As we've seen in our own marriage and in countless other marriages, it's in situations just like this when God can make a huge difference if we're willing to make understanding our spouse and listening for God's voice more important than merely winning our point.
Given the significance and potential volatility of this issue, we encourage you to see a trained marriage counselor. You need a safe place with someone who can be objective in helping you both walk through your concerns. Deepening your understanding of each other's desires, fears, and wants will help you reach a decision you both can embrace.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman's Forbidden Emotion (Regal), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. Visit Carrie and Gary atwww.liferelationships.com.
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