Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Changing Our Marriage by Changing Me

I wrote this over ten years ago. Our marriage keeps getting better and better each year.

In the early years of our marriage I believed my husband loved me, but I sure didn’t feel very loved–  now I do. What has changed? Is he really very different–  am I? Sure we have shared a lot, but have we really changed all that much? What is different now?

A friend mentioned that she thought I have learned to relate better with my husband. I think she is right. I can remember an instance several years ago. I had packed up some Christmas decorations and placed them in the doorway informing my husband that they were ready to go up to the attic. For the next twenty minutes I watched in mounting frustration as my husband walked around the boxes. Finally I blurted out, “Why aren’t you taking the boxes to the attic!?”

He calmly replied, “You haven’t asked me.”

I thought I had. I thought I had been very clear.

But upon reflection, I now realize that what seems clear to me may not even be noticed by him. While I am a very sensitive person who feels all the implied meanings and puts them together into a whole picture, my husband has a very linear, logical, and concrete approach to life. He also has an incredible ability to concentrate on whatever he is doing.

Now, if I would like him to do something, I start by making sure I have his attention and that he sees the boxes; then  I’ll ask, “Garrett, could you take these boxes to the attic right now?” To this specific request he promptly complies, but not because he has changed. It is me that has changed. As I have learned to ask clearly and exactly ask for what I want, I no longer feel constantly angry and frustrated.

I regret all those hours I wasted sulking and feeling depressed.  I was so sure that we would be happy if only HE changed. Finally, I realized how unfair I was being in expecting my husband to relate in the sensitive, emotional way to which I was accustomed with other women. Instead of seeing each act, or lack of one, as a sign that he didn’t love me, I began to trust him. I came to believe in his good intentions and, even though he occasionally goes into “thing mode”, or has a bout of “Foot-In-Mouth Disease”,  know that he really does love me.

Though I wasn’t very happy, it had been easier to blame my husband than accept that I needed to change. I wasn’t doing it consciously, but still I had been doing everything I could to avoid responsibility for my own life–  sulking, complaining, and even, with heavy martyr steps, trudging along on my own separate path; shutting him out of my life.

As I have come to trust in his love for me, our relationship has deepened. Often, convinced that he just didn’t understand me and would reject any of my ideas, I tried to do what I wanted before he found out about it. Of course this didn’t help matters. Many confrontations later, I finally understood that it wasn’t a fear of change that was causing him to reject my every suggestion, but his need to feel in control of his life. I had been so focused on myself that I had been oblivious to his needs. As I allowed the Lord to change my heart and started trusting my husband and including him in my life, sharing my reasons for change and planning together, he felt in control once again, and was able to give me the support I needed.

It still took me many years to learn that this support doesn’t just happen. It only comes when we are aware of the other’s needs and are united in our goals. Studying the scriptures and praying together certainly helps create a feeling of unity and peace, but it takes more than that. I couldn’t just passively follow along, filled with a false sense of righteousness while I retreated into a safe emotional cave. Simply declaring that he “holds the priesthood” and begrudgingly murmuring, “Whatever you want,” wasn’t enough. I had to change. I had to be courageous and committed enough to share my needs with him and explain why something was important to me. I used to mention something, then mope when he didn’t immediately and enthusiastically accept it. What I didn’t realize then was that I hadn’t supplied enough details for my husband to even understand what I was talking about.

Now when we take a few moments to plan together on Sundays, I’ll ask him if he has any commitments for the week and what are his goals. Also, I let him know what I want to accomplish and of any help I might need from him. For example, trusting in his desire to help me, I’ll let him know that I want to get the Christmas things packed up and back  to the attic, but will need help carrying the boxes to the attic. After that, I’ll tell him when I was planning to pack things up and ask whether another day would be better for him to help me.

As I came to accept how much my husband loves me, I saw how much he wants to help me be happy. Instead of viewing him as my adversary, I saw a man who desires to please me and give me support. He just didn’t know what I wanted or how to help me, and he would never know unless I told him; but I had to tell him in a way that he could understand. A vague murmured request wasn’t going to do it– he needed details. I really hadn’t realized how much stress I was causing my methodical husband by not giving him all the facts ahead of time. Adapting to change comes so easily for me that I didn’t see that my husband needs time to be prepared for something different. Also,  I came to recognize that  not only does my husband want, but he needs to be given all the information for a situation in a complete step-by-step manner before he can get the whole picture. It has been challenging for me  to slow down and give all the details, but worth it. I know he appreciates my efforts to help him know how to give me support and to be prepared to meet situations which might come up during the week.

Sharing our abilities also enables us to make far more effective plans. As I  contribute my ability to keep a clear focus on eternal goals, we are able to set good priorities for the week. As he shares his superior ability to see details, we are able to make more realistic plans. Trusting him and allowing him to help me has also saved me from many potential problems, such as when I  hadn’t noticed that I had double scheduled appointments.

It feels great to unitedly face the week, but it takes effort. Unity is an exciting power which only comes when we are both whole-heartedly committed to making OUR goal a reality. It only comes when we both want righteous things, and I had been giving up too soon– before he had a chance to get the big picture. Unity requires communicating until you  both really want the same thing, and I was letting my fear of being hurt stop me from sharing how I really felt. Finally, I came to realize that there is no room for “winning” or “losing” in marriage. We either both win or both lose.

As I have trusted my husband more and felt his support, I have been able to help him be more successful in areas which are difficult for him. Knowing that his heart is good, but accepting that relating is difficult for him, I help him  understand emotional situations and give him suggestions on how he might respond.  For example,  I’ve found that there is a lot I can do to assist my husband build better relationships with our grown children and grandchildren. I  can help him by identifying things which need to be discussed, reminding him of any struggles they might be having, and mentioning any potential problem situations.

Instead of responding with anger when he makes an insensitive comment, I’ve learned to humorously retort, “or you could say– ” giving him a more positive pattern to follow next time.  Other times I might ask him,  “Did you mean–?”  to help him to clarify his thoughts and feelings. I used to feel sure that his not telling me how he felt was evidence that he didn’t love me and a refusal to “open up” to me. I’m grateful for a change of heart which allowed me to view my husband with compassion and see his struggle with understanding and expressing his feelings.

Trusting him has not only allowed me to help him be more effective in relating, but has given me a greater sense of  security. Sometimes, to me,  the world seems full of overwhelming details, but I know I can handle them because he is there to help me. Giving up the notion that everything must be done perfectly and my way, which of course  can only be done by me,  I’ve come to appreciate the help he can give in even small things, like dust mopping. Though I appreciate his ability to help around the house and fix things, far more than that I’m grateful for his enabling me to do things I could never have done on my own. He has spent many hours patiently helping me learn to use computer programs, proofreading my writing, explaining finances, and helping me finish projects.

This sharing our abilities has given us both the courage  and skills to accomplish far more than we could ever have done alone. We haven’t been able to give this support to each other, though, until we were able trust each other and  accept the other person’s different strengths and needs. At first I felt he had to be like me so before we could understand each other. When this didn’t happen, I was frustrated and felt unloved. What I’ve had to remind myself is it was his differences that attracted me to him. I don’t need another clone of me–  I already have me. What I need is to someone to help me in the areas in which I am weakest and, fortunately for me, those are the areas where he is the strongest.

Now, instead of fearing what I felt was his “constant criticism”, I invite it. I express my idea, then ask him if he see any problem with it, using his superior ability to see details to help me perfect my thought. He, in turn, has come to appreciate my ability to communicate and problem solve and accepts my suggestions.

Have we changed? Who we are hasn’t changed. We are still two people who are very different from each other. We are basically the same people we always were, with the same talents and weaknesses we have always had.  He still struggles with relating and I always will with details.

No, in some ways we haven’t changed, but in other ways we have changed. Our hearts have changed. We can now laugh at our clumsy attempts to communicate and, instead of feeling threatened by the other’s differences, we accept and share our different abilities. To my surprise this trust did not come after he became  “my ideal man”.  Instead, trust came quietly as I allowed the Lord to change my heart so that I was able to love and nurture my imperfect mate, appreciating him for who he is, a son of God.

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