I had a conversation with a friend recently, who is going through a really rough struggle with her husband. I listened empathetically to the sad (and familiar) difficulties. I have been married before. It was the most difficult years of my life. There are many reasons why it failed and how I think about the marriage now.* Today, I want to focus on what I learned through it.
I felt convicted after the conversation and followed up with an email. An updated version of my email to my friend is below:
I am so grateful for you and our conversation. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I wanted to apologize because I may have not been very truthful.
When you asked me if my husband, D, and I are very connected and feel we have a deep understanding of each other, I said “yes”. But, I don’t think I was honest about the back story. I am very different with D than I ever was with my ex. In sum, I guess it is because I realized I didn’t want to mess this up as I did before. I am much more careful with D, I want this relationship to be lifelong and I had to realize without significant effort on my part, it won’t be. My ex made serious mistakes, but so did I.
In doing some reflection, I’d summarize the major ways I have changed into the four major reasons below.
Show Him Respect
a) As a man, D’s highest value in our marriage is to feel that I respect him. On a daily basis, I try to take out everything that spells disrespect to him. When I raise my voice as I get upset, interrupt him (especially during a heated discussion), or argue with him in public, it makes him feel very disrespected. These make him feel the greatest frustration & anger towards me. Instead, I try to honor and show him that I respect him even in overt ways, because I know that means a great deal to my husband.
Seek to Understand Before Being Understood
b) I try to really listen and understand him when we talk. Before I even formulate how I am going to respond, I am intentional about understanding him first. Since we are not from the same cultures and our native languages are different, this one is key. But it may be even more important for those with the same background, because the assumption of understanding is even stronger.
I used to get upset and respond angrily at my ex very quickly. If he used a phrase that had a negative connotation to me, I didn’t even try to get at the root of what he meant. I just got angry and responded that way. Many times, in retrospect, after a hurtful and screaming-filled argument, I found out that I had misunderstood him from the very beginning.
With D, if I think I heard something hurtful, I try to calmly ask him what he meant first. Then I spell back what I understood him to mean. Just beginning in a calm, kind, and empathetic way could completely avoid an argument and actually provide an avenue for greater connection.
Making Love A Priority
c) In the past, my feelings dictated whether or not I was willing to make love. I am not saying this is bad. But if you’re in a rut and haven’t made love to your husband in a while, we women don’t generally spontaneously feel the need. At least we don’t to the level that our husband does. I understand now that even if I don’t necessarily feel my body wanting the experience, I know it is important for our marriage.
Women often need to commit in their mind to the experience before their body begins to get in the zone. I know my husband needs this more frequently than I generally do, so I try to make sure we make love at least a couple times a week. I often am the initiator. I know that if I start things off it guarantees I am fully engaged. Frequent lovemaking is vital to men, so I really try to prioritize my husband’s needs in that arena.
A Time and Place
d) The last key that I never used to pay attention to is: timing. I used to get angry about something and blow up immediately, regardless of where we were or what was going on. I used to say things like, “I cannot go on pretending,” or “I’m not going to fake being ok when I’m not”. I still am a big believer in authenticity. However, we can be authentic AND be considerate of when something is addressed.
Now, I try to be very intentional about addressing things calmly and when we both are in a good physical and emotional place. For example, just the other day I found something that I wanted to ask D about. It was a question that could have easily turned into an argument. He could take it as an accusation, if not handled carefully. When I happened upon the concern, he was going to leave for work in a couple of hours and we had already planned to watch a movie together (something that comes less and less frequently since kiddos).
I felt that we both just needed an enjoyable and relaxing experience together. So, I didn’t bring it up and it was a great movie and cuddle time. The next day, when we were at a good place, I said “Honey, do you mind if I ask you about something that concerned me?” He said “sure”. He was open to the conversation. When I calmly explained, we talked, and got to the bottom of it. It turns out that (thankfully) there was no reason to be concerned at all. Because of timing, we were able to turn my potential accusation into a positive and connecting experience.
I’m A Different Person
My dear, I just didn’t think I gave an appropriate answer as to why my other marriage failed and this one thrives. Yes it’s a different person, but more, importantly, I’m a different person.
There really is hope for your marriage. And before throwing in the towel, why not do everything you can to save it? Do everything so that in clear conscience you can look back and say “I tried everything to work it out with my husband”. Who knows what will be the end of that story?
Look At Marriages That Have Turned Around
I just was talking to J from Hot, Holy and Humorous, who described her husband as Spock because he basically shows no emotions. She described how completely awful their marriage was in the beginning years. And then she talked about how she changed and slowly so did her husband. It took some time, but now they have an incredible friendship and marriage. The depth and fulfillment she feels now in her marriage was so evident in how she talked about it.
I say all of this without judgment and in love. I think you’re a wonderful, strong lady and I truly want what’s best for you and your life.
*If you have been through divorce, I want you to know I do not condemn you. I believe God hates divorce (Mal 2:16) but He also hates, murder, rape, lying, stealing, and many other sins that I have also committed. The beauty of the gospel is that he takes our sins on himself at the cross. If you accept that gift, you are fully forgiven and your sin is wiped away and He remembers it no longer (Is 43:25). Be encouraged, my friend, God has forgiven you and set you free to walk in His love, grace, and truth! You are His beloved daughter.