My husband and I are about to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. I often ask myself how exactly we’ve held it together this long because, even though God gave me an incredible man as a husband, things just don’t flow as easily as the storybooks might make you think they should. I screw it up, often. A specific issue my husband and I have reared up not long ago and I realized I needed to create a plan to deal with it. Let me tell you about it…
A couple of months ago my husband and I had a pretty big fight. It all went down on a very rare day when he and I actually had a few child-free hours to enjoy some time together. I think expectations were flowing pretty high for both of us. It boiled down to this… I was attempting to be submissive and let him choose our activity for the day. I reasoned in my head that my husband works long hard hours in both his profession and his ministry. He is on call for both literally 24/7. I felt I’d best serve him by letting him lead the way that day so that we could do whatever he found most enjoyable. He, on the other hand, wanted to do anything at all that involved spending time with me. What we did was of no consequence to him. He just wanted me to be happy. We had a clash of two passive personalities. I saw his actions as indifference, like he didn’t want anything at all to do with spending time with me. He saw my tight lips and irritation with his indifference as grouchiness. You’d think after nearly 16 years of marriage we’d have figured out how to communicate a little bit better wouldn’t you? If only I had opened my mouth and told him exactly what was on my mind we might have had a shot at spending an enjoyable afternoon together.
I have two modes and neither work very well:
- Mode 1 – tell him everything all of the time. And I mean everything. Does anyone else do this? I will let my husband know my every complaint, my every irritation, and my every opinion. It doesn’t matter the subject at hand. He is going to get an earful. When I’m running in this mode we tend to argue quite a bit because honestly, I’m picking fights.
- Mode 2 – I bite my tongue about EVERYTHING. I lock my lips like a vice grip and I don’t tell him anything at all. Mode 2 usually comes after I’ve been in Mode 1 for a while. I wake up to the issues I’m causing and vow to do better so I swing in the opposite direction. During my time in Mode 2 I usually grow increasingly grumpy and irritated until eventually I explode and he gets quite the earful… at in one moment. That isn’t pretty.
As good as my intentions were it is quite obvious what mode I was in during our conversations that afternoon. By the end of the night I made the matters worse by finally swinging to Mode 2. As you might imagine, that didn’t make things any better. Neither mode is conducive to a healthy marriage.
What’s a wife to do? I’m clearly not the fountain of answers here because I’m still mightily struggling with this issue. I knew in my heart I could do a better. That there has to be a better way. An idea came to me and I developed a quick three-part mental checklist to follow when I’m trying to decide whether to hold my tongue or or offer (hopefully graciously) my thoughts to my husband on almost any topic.
- Does the issue at hand have lasting consequences? Will this issue matter in 10 minutes? 10 hours? 10 days? My husband choosing to put us into debt over a purchase I don’t agree with will have lasting consequences. I need to speak up. Him choosing an outfit for our daughter that I don’t care for really doesn’t matter in the long run. I can probably keep my mind to myself.
- Is the issue at hand one that typically falls into an area he manages or I manage? For example, my husband takes on the task of menu planning and grocery shopping. He loves to do it and I despise it. What a lucky girl am I right? RARELY will I ever insert my two cents into that process unless he very clearly asks. That is his domain and I’m happy he has taken it over. On the flip side, homeschooling the kids is my area. While he is very involved and willingly lets me pick his brain when I need to, he wouldn’t dare insert his will into my process. It just isn’t his domain.
- What is my motivation for speaking up or not speaking up? This is heart check time. Am I being selfish, self-righteous, or prideful? Or on the other side of things, am I being passive and hoping he’ll just somehow KNOW my thoughts? (I’m not the first to say it – men aren’t mind readers). My husband tends to be passive my nature. Two passive people get no where fast.
These three questions, when I ask them of myself faithfully, have been working well to keep my conversations with my husband on track. I can discern when to dive into the things that really matter and when to hold back and avoid nit picking or stirring the pot when it just isn’t necessary. In the end, this is really the goal isn’t it? Productive conversations about what really matters?