Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MARRIAGE CHALLENGE: Working to Understand Each Other Instead of Changing Each Other

I had a vivid dream last night about a young married couple I know. Basically, they were struggling with something I would say was a very common problem in relationship. The wife is a go-getter, capable in many ways. She is focused, organized and lives life fully. The husband is fun loving, out-going, always makes you laugh and is the life of the party. He is also responsible, but maybe not as driven as the wife. In the dream, they were beginning to get very disconnected because all his charm was now annoying her. She couldn't laugh with him anymore because her needs of being taken care of were not being met. She was starting to feel like the mom in the relationship, instead of the lover. He was beginning to feel resentful that he couldn't be himself anymore. It was like all of a sudden she wanted him to change personalities. Also, his parents were beginning to feel like the wife was trying to change their son, and they didn't like it one bit. They were feeling protective over him and they were accusing her of being controlling and bossy.

When I woke up I thought "what would I say to them if they were sitting here having coffee with me this morning?" And that's when I decided to write a blog to address this issue as I feel it is something that so many people struggle with.

When the honeymoon stage wears off, we suddenly realize that the thing that attracted us to our spouse to begin with is now scaring us. His fun loving ways now feel childish. You begin to wonder if he can ever take anything seriously? Why can't he keep a budget? Why can't he be on time? Why can't he grow up and drive this ship with me instead of me having to come behind him and constantly clean up his messes?

He's thinking why can't she be spontaneous? Why so serious all the time? All those things that irritate her are not a big deal. Let's save the nit-picking for things that really matter in life. I'm faithful, I'm a good guy, why can't I earn her respect? Why do I always feel like I'm in trouble?

They are both right, and they are both wrong. Bottom line for her is she needs to feel safe. She needs to know her husband is capable of leading. She needs to know that if she disappeared for a week, the house and finances would not crumble to the ground. She needs to feel like she can lean on him. And when those needs are met, she loves nothing more than to kick back and laugh and have fun with him. That is what drew her to him to begin with. She actually doesn't want to change his personality, she just wants her needs met. She needs to learn how to communicate need instead of lashing out in anger or communicating constant frustration. Here is a good tool to keep in mind when communicating a need:

Right way: "I need to feel __________."

Wrong way: "I need you to __________."

When you communicate what you need to feel, you are believing that he is capable of creating a game-plan on his own, which creates a culture of freedom. But when you tell him what you need him to do, it feels like orders, which creates a culture of control.

For a man the best response when you hear what your wife needs to feel, is to embrace her and tell her that you hear her, and you will do your best to meet that need. And then if you really don't know how to go about that, here are some good questions to ask her:

1. When I have not made you feel that way?

2. Can you think of things I've done in the past that have made you feel that way?

If you still need help in figuring out how to form a plan - call in reinforcements! Do you have sisters? Do you have older couples in your life? Do you have a pastor, counselor or buddy who seems to know what he's doing with his wife? Ask more questions until you get it right. Your effort alone will mean worlds to her and you might just get those needs met along the way.

Ladies, the best way to get a man to rescue you is to be a princess in need of rescue. One of my favorite blogs on this topic is "Princes Don't Rescue Dragons." If you want him to move towards you, you can't breathe fire! Often times we skip fear and worry and move straight into anger. Speak up before you become the fire breathing dragon. Learn how to be vulnerable and communicate need instead of demands. And do your best to stay out of the parenting role. You may think you have no choice, but the more weight you carry the less he has to do. Keep putting weight on him, he can handle it. He may not get it done the way you want, but he can get it done. Take a chance and loosen the reigns, this is a partnership not a dictatorship. You can either fight to get it done your way, or you can fight for a marriage, which do you choose?

I hope you gained some insight from reading this, and I'd love to hear your successes if you've tried some of these suggestions and they worked to get you connected again.

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