Giving Your Partner a Voice…

In the marriage class I teach (a 9-week course on developing and maintaining healthy relationships) we regularly do breakout groups of men and women to discuss a certain question of issue. It’s often amusing to see how men and women differ in their approach to issues. There was one question from the last session that caught me off-guard because both men and women had the EXACT same answers.

The question?

What are your top 5 areas that you would like for your spouse to ask you about before acting?

This particular night we were discussing the issue of sharing power and decision-making within the marriage. And yes – the men and women all wanted their spouses to dialogue before acting in the same areas of life.

 

Any guesses what they came up with?

 

1. Making major purchases or big financial decisions

This was #1 for both men and women. Face it – when we work hard for our money or towards a financial goal we’d like some input before our spouse goes off and makes a major purchase or a big financial decision that will affect the whole family. Sadly, many of us lack impulse control and the understanding that we should consult our spouses before making such decisions. Sometimes we fall into the “It’s my money and I’ll spend it however I please!” mentality.

That’s true if you’re single, but not if you’re married. I’ve never yet met a happily married couple that maintains separate accounts. Separate accounts indicates that couples have not understood the biblical concept of two becoming one. Separate accounts means that you’re withholding part of yourself from your spouse, and relationships cannot grow in intimacy if you’re forever holding part of yourself back. It’s not YOUR money and MY money – it’s OUR money. We will decide together how we will live, spend, save, and give.

Why don’t we consult our spouses sometimes? It’s basically selfish. Our spouse might veto what we want, so we don’t even ask. If you stop to think about it you find it’s really a juvenile and selfish mentality. It does not help build trust and respect in the marriage. Intimacy in marriage means that you both work together towards common goals. It means you give your partner an opportunity to veto and a voice in the process.

2. Making plans to do things

Both men and women disliked when their spouses made plans for them without checking with them beforehand. I understand that some opportunities have to be acted upon immediately, but usually there is time to consult with our spouses before we pull the trigger on making plans.

A good practice is to tell the people with whom you want to make plans, “I’m not sure of our schedule yet. Let me check with my spouse and I’ll get back to you soon.” Giving your spouse a voice in making plans really is about respect. It tells your spouse, “I care about your opinion and what you want to do more than I care about the immediacy of making plans.”

3. Making spiritual decisions for the family

This is gender-neutral – we each have the capability of making spiritual decisions for our spouse. Which church will we go to (or place of worship if you’re not Christian)? Which spiritual activities are we going to participate in? Since tastes, abilities, and personalities differ so much from person to person it is unwise for one person to make decisions for the couple. Talk about it and decide together the how, where, and what of practicing your spirituality.

4. Making a major job change

“But it’s MY job! Why do I have to talk to my spouse first?” It’s really about doing life together. When you are single you are only looking after yourself. You make decisions for the good of one, and when you shift course the only one affected is you. In a marriage, every course you take is going to affect your partner. Making a major job change can affect the family situation, housing, cash flow, reaching goals, and a handful of other issues. Give your partner the respect of discussing major job changes before acting on them. Remember – this isn’t about MY life…it’s about OUR life (yes, that was supposed to be singular).

5. Household issues like child discipline and paying bills

Let’s be honest, you don’t have to have a committee meeting every time there is a bill to be paid, but both partners should be aware of the bills. Both partners should have a say in parenting goals and values and how to achieve those through discipline/rewards. Passive spouses, don’t just surrender control of household issues to your partner. Aggressive spouses, don’t just seize control from your partner. Share life together and mutually decide the who, how, and what of managing household issues. While you won’t always see eye to eye you can still be on the same page.

In the end, our goal is to create a oneness, a unity within the marriage. It is not about two roommates doing life individually under the same room and sleeping in the same bed. Marriage is about leaving the two behind and moving forward as a single entity. No longer ME but now WE.

How about you? What would you like your partner to ask you about before acting?

What Men Wish Women Knew

So the marriage class I teach has breakout sessions where the men and women split to discuss a question or issue. One of the group tasks was to come up with a list of the top 5 things you wish the other gender knew about you. My last post was what the women wished their husbands knew about them. As promised, today is the other half of the coin: The Top 5 Things Men Wish Women Knew (and only fitting being that it’s Father’s Day).

 

What do you think they came up with? Men, come up with your own “top five” list. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute…

 

Here’s what the men in the class said:

 

  1. Sometimes we’re really thinking about nothing. Okay, I’ll grant that ever living, waking human being has something going through his head. There is never “un-thought.” But some thoughts are simply meant to be just that – a private thought. We don’t always have something that needs to be shared with the entire class. If I’m looking at my steak and look lost in thought it’s probably because I’m wondering if they cooked it medium or medium well. If I’m watching the ball game and look pensive it’s probably because I’m wondering how a professional sports team could have made such bone-headed draft and coaching choices when obviously I could be doing a much better job at a fraction of the cost. But just because we have those kinds of thoughts doesn’t mean that we consider them “share-worthy.”  It’s no big deal so, if asked what we’re thinking about, we answer, “Nothing.” It’s not about not sharing – it’s about the fact that it’s a fleeting thought about something insignificant. Don’t sweat us on the thinking and feeling question. Sometimes it’s like you turn on the spotlight and act like a detective in some cheesy film noir. If we agree to talk about the important stuff will you agree to ease up on the throttle when we say, “Nothing”?
  2. We don’t need to “engage” to be together. We are not women. We connect in different ways (yes, these are generalities, but they often hold true). I went to hang out with some friends for this year’s Superbowl. There were 12-15 couples there. It was interesting to see how the couples naturally divided during the evening. The women all gathered around the table to chat, share, eat – whatever they were doing. Engaging meant social interaction and dialogue. Not so much with the men. We were all sitting facing the same direction – the screen. There wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but there was camaraderie. We were together. While we men need to do a better job at connecting with you in ways that are meaningful to you, please recognize that we don’t need to be socially engaged to think that we’re being together with you. Sometimes it’s enough to be in the same room at the same time (even if we’re not doing the same thing).
  3. We love you but we don’t need to be joined at the hip. You don’t have to wait until our schedules coincide so that we can go to Wal-Mart together. Seriously. No…SERIOUSLY! Please go run the errands you need to run without us. It might make the marriage smoother if we had different tasks that we accomplished privately.  And, just like you need “girl-time” with your friends, please stop giving us grief about our buddies. Hear me now: marriage does not get strong without quality time, and you cannot get quality without QUANTITY time. We have to do our part to build into the relationship. That is why my family is very big on family meal time. It’s intentional time to build into family. But please let us surgically detach ourselves every once in a while for our sanity and yours.
  4. You never have to ask about sex – we’re in the mood. We’re men. Cliché? Yep. Truth? You betcha! There is actually a biblical principle in play here – the Apostle Paul tells married couples not to deprive each other sexually unless it is by mutual consent for spiritual purposes (even then, he tells couples to get back together). The Bible also says that marriage is not about individual ownership but about co-ownership. My do not belong to me, but I belong to my wife. Similarly, she belongs to me. God created the marriage relationship to be sexually fulfilling, and he seemed to create men with a stronger libido than women (not always, but we’re talking generalities, remember?). So you don’t have to ask. Yup – we’re ready.
  5. Just because you “need to talk” doesn’t mean “WE” need to talk. One of the most dreaded phrases to a man’s ears is the “we need to talk” phrase. It automatically puts us on the defensive and we ask ourselves, “What did I do this time?” But an issue you’re having isn’t necessarily one that needs to be discussed AT THAT MOMENT. Find a good time and a good place to talk. When you finally discern when that time and place is choose your words wisely to initiate conversation! Do not ever begin a conversation with words that put us on the defensive. Start with calming words, not inciting words. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman calls this the “soft start-up.” By beginning wisely you have a better chance of having a successful conversation with us.

 

Well, there you have it. I’m sure there are other things men could come up with, but this is what the men in the class thought of. What about it, women? Think you can help make our lives easier by learning these things and adjusting your behavior to fit? Can you be as sensitive to your husbands’ needs and desires as you are to your girlfriends’? Can you be the godly, biblically grounded wives  that we need you to be?

 

Men – what else would you add to the list?

What Women Wish Men Knew

Men and womenOne of the things I love doing is teaching relationship enrichment classes (there are some great materials out there for developing strong and healthy relationships and I’d be happy to direct you to some that I use and have found helpful). I lead a 9-week marriage course called “Happily Ever After”.

Every week we would have gender breakout sessions where the men get together and women get together to discuss a specific question. One of the questions we asked women: What are the top five things that you wished men knew about women?

What would you say? Women, come up with your own “top five” list. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute…

Here’s what the women in the class said:

  1. We are sensitive – so be more compassionate. This has nothing to do with the “weaker sex” argument that so often comes up in gender discussions. This is about a normal tendency for women to be more sensitive (and intuitive) than men. Are there women who are insensitive? Yes, of course. Are there are men who are tender and sensitive? Just meet my three year old and you’ll meet a VERY tenderhearted male. But generalizations often exist for a reason, and the women agreed that they tend to be more sensitive than their counterparts. My own associate pastor has jokingly (lovingly?) nicknamed me “Captain Insensitive”.
  2. We’re not attacking you – don’t be so defensive. Whew, I’m so glad I’m not the only man who gets defensive when his wife starts attacking…I mean criticizing…I mean trying to help us become better men! It often comes down to perspective. While women see their behavior as “helpful” men often perceive it to be threatening and attacking. And the natural response when being attacked is to become defensive. We change the subject, raise our voices, or storm out (none of which is helpful for healthy relationships). So men – let down your defenses a little bit and recognize that her “help” isn’t necessarily an attack. Women (HEAR ME NOW!) – how you initiate your “help” goes a long way in our receiving your words as help or as attack. Choose your words wisely, kindly, and softly and you are far more likely to have positive results in the conversation.
  3. We want you to show initiative and take responsibility for things that need doing. It seems that women don’t want another kid around the house unless that human being is actually a kid. Men, it’s time to grow up. That means assuming responsibility and doing things that need doing. I preach to myself here – I would love to live the perpetual juvenile life. Video games, movies, someone else cleaning up after me…. That is not the way to create and sustain a healthy marriage, though. Grow up. Do what needs to be done. Last night our church softball team had a late game. I didn’t get home until shortly after 10 p.m. The undisciplined, selfish juvenile in me wanted to kick my feet up and turn on the t.v. But things needed doing, so I didn’t turn on a show. I washed the dirty dishes at the sink and did a load of laundry. There will be time for video games and fun, but balance it with initiative and responsibility around the house and in your marriage.
  4. We feel underappreciated! Recognize how much we do in our roles. This should be a no-brainer. Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they contribute. This is true for sports teams, businesses, and, yes, marriages and families. It is all too easy to take our spouse for granted. We live with the person day in and day out. Life becomes routine. We forget exactly how much our spouse brings to the table. Even Dave Ramsey talks about the value added from a stay at home spouse/parent – HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS! It is important to regularly and frequently communicate appreciation to your spouse. This goes both ways – I’m not just picking on men. Women, you need to do your part to communicate appreciation to us.
  5. We don’t want you to keep score about who did what. It’s not a competition. The Latin expression is quid pro quo and means “this for that”. It’s about an exchange. You did this for me so I will do that for you. That kind of scorekeeping does not foster healthy marriages. It keeps us from acting on the other’s behalf unless they’ve acted first. This isn’t the Christian attitude. The Bible tells us to act in the interest of others and to prioritize others above ourselves. No such thing as quid pro quo in Christian relationships.

All said and done, marriage is hard work. I’m sure there are many other things that women wished we knew, but this list of five is a good place to start. So men – are you up to it? Can we treat our wives with the care and understanding they want from us? Can we become the godly, biblically grounded husbands that our wives need us to be?

Women – what else would you add to the list?

Next time: What men wish women knew!