Sometimes you just have to ask your husband for what you need!
I’ve been talking all month about how to change the dynamic in your marriage and start feeling close again. I wanted to end the month with super practical tips, and so I talked about how happy couples sweat the small stuff. Based on John Gottman’s marriage research, I showed how happy couples look for “bids for connection” and meet them so that they can build up that emotional bank account and feel cherished and loved.
Let me take you back to the first post of this series. I was telling you about Rick and Tiffany Bulman’s marriage from the book Mended, where they talk about how they recovered from an affair. But one of the things that had caused great emotional distance was that Rick didn’t understand how Tiffany felt loved and what Tiffany needed, and Tiffany didn’t know how to ask.
Here’s just one example: every night, before going to bed, she would check to make sure the windows and doors were locked. She had asked him to do it early in their marriage, but he thought that was silly (he grew up in the country where no one locked anything). She felt like he didn’t care about her safety, and that he was making her responsible for the family’s well-being. And she felt very unloved.
So let’s look at how this could be handled differently. How can you show your spouse how important something is to you?
A few quick things:
Usually when your spouse doesn’t pick up on something that you want or need, it’s not because your spouse doesn’t love you. It’s because you see the world in a different way.
Tiffany felt unloved, but Rick did love her. He simply didn’t share her need to feel safe. Growing up where everything was always unlocked, checking the locks wasn’t something he valued.
Because they see the world in a different way, they often don’t understand how important something is to you.
Tiffany did ask Rick to check the locks, but he didn’t follow through and didn’t pick up on its importance. He didn’t have the same worldview as she did, and so she asked him something, he thought about it, and figured, “No, I don’t really want to do that.” He felt it was just something that Tiffany was thinking about in passing, not something that was truly important to her, because in his mind, it wouldn’t be important.
We make lots of requests of our spouses, and not all are seriously important. Your spouse doesn’t necessarily have a way to know which ones really matter to you. It could be that your spouse is doing tons of things that don’t really register to you, but neglecting the few that really would. That’s why it’s important to communicate.
So let’s look at what that conversation may look like.
When you ask for something important, explain the significance.
Consider the conversation a chance for you to fill your spouse in on something about you that they didn’t know. So it’s not just about asking for help; it’s about sharing more about yourself.
Let’s see Joe and Jane Doe dealing with this:
Jane: Honey, before we go up for bed, can you just check and make sure the doors and windows are locked for me?
Joe: I’m sure everything’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
Jane: Hon, this is something really important to me. It was drilled into my head as a little girl that you have to make sure everything is locked, and every night my dad would check the windows and doors. If you don’t do it, I’m just going to have to do it because I won’t go to sleep otherwise. Would you mind taking care of it?
The conversation could still go south here because they could end up arguing about the thing–the locks on the windows and doors–rather than the relationship dynamic, which is really the issue. That’s why it’s important to pull the conversation back to feelings, not to debating the importance of locks.
Joe: You’ve got to lighten up and stop worrying about stuff so much. You can’t live with that kind of fear all the time! It’s really not a big deal.
Jane: I know to you it isn’t a big deal, but to me it is. Even if you think it’s silly, it would make me feel really cherished and loved if you’d check the locks rather than making me do it–because either way, it’s going to have to get done. I just want to feel like you’re taking care of me.
Joe: Are you seriously saying that you don’t think I take care of you? Are you seriously accusing me of not loving you? That’s ridiculous. Look at all the stuff I do for you!
Jane: Oh, I know you love me, Joe. And I appreciate all you do for me. But sometimes we just experience love in different ways. One of the big things I need in marriage is to feel safe and cherished. I can’t explain it; I think it’s just the way I’m wired. When you do things that make me feel safe, I feel so loved by you. But there must be some thing that you need from me, too. What makes you feel loved by me? Why don’t we talk about that, too.
Identifying the emotional need is the key to resolving these sorts of things.
Too often when we ask our spouse for something and they refuse, we do end up arguing about that thing. But there’s always, always an emotional need at work. And when we can identify that need, we can often make progress.
We all have needs, like safety and security; having fun together; feeling cherished; feeling like you’re the sole object of their affection; feeling like you’re in this together, and you’re a team (especially a parenting team); feeling like you’re respected and valued; feeling like you’re sexually desirable; feeling like you’re sexually desired; and so many more. When conversations can revolve around those needs, rather than just what the spouse is doing wrong, the conversation is often a lot more productive. Instead of saying: “You’re bad/lazy for not doing X!”, you’re saying, “I have a need for Y. One way you can help me feel Y is if you do X.” Then you’re owning the issue, instead of just blaming them, and it’s a better dynamic all around.
What if your spouse promises they’ll do it, but they don’t follow through?
Let’s say that your husband is playing video games while you’re trying to make dinner and care for the kids, and it’s too much. And you say something like,
Jane; Joe, can you take the kids so that I can get dinner ready?
Joe: Sure, in a minute.
You can ask him again, but often a better route is this:
Jane: Joe, you said that you would help me, but you’re not helping me. You’re still playing, and your children and I need you right now.
If this goes on and he still doesn’t help, or, in the above case, if she’s explained everything and he still doesn’t want to check the locks, you can say something like this:
Jane: Joe, when we married I wanted us to feel close and loved, but right now we’re growing apart. That’s not good for either of us. I have let you know what I need to feel loved. When you refuse to do these things, it makes me feel like none of that matters to you–as if you don’t really care about how I’m feeling. Do my feelings matter to you?
Joe: Of course they do! But you’re always coming up with new things for me to do. It’s like I’m never good enough. Don’t you love me?
Jane: Yes, Joe, of course I do. And I really want to talk about how we can make you feel loved, too. I care about that, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re not good enough. But let’s deal with this first issue first. Why would you not take two minutes to check the locks every night if it matters this much to me? I’m giving you this amazing gift–I’m telling you something you can do really quickly that would make me feel loved. Why would you not want to do that? (Or: Why do you think it’s okay to play video games while I’m caring for the kids and trying to make dinner all at the same time? Do you think that’s fair or right?)
Deal with these small things early in your marriage
Don’t let patterns get established that are toxic to your marriage. In those early years, even if you don’t know how to start those conversations or you feel really vulnerable, have those conversations about what you need. Push through. Neither of you is used to having to accommodate a different person. Some of this will be rocky. But the more that you can push through now, and make these things known, the easier your marriage will be later.
If you develop bad patterns, though, they’re very hard to undo. Why does my wife suddenly want to start changing everything? Why is she so upset now when she’s been fine before? What’s wrong with her? Deal with things when they’re small, and you’ll likely have far fewer big problems later!
What do you think? Would these conversations work in your marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!
This is so wonderful. You nailed how husbands tend to respond in these conversations! (At least mine anyway). Early in our marriage I didn’t know what to do when he started derailing arguments like that, and I would let him “win” because it’s hard for me to think on my feet and I felt outmaneuvered. Like when he would get angry and say, “how could you think I don’t love you?” I would feel bad and apologize for starting an argument. Which was such a huge mistake!
We were just talking about this issue with our newly married group last night, and how much work it has taken to get to a place where we can talk an issue through to its root on the first try now. He had a great insight as a husband. He said you have to remember that the other person isn’t against you, that she isn’t trying to “unravel” you. And to remember that she has your greater good in mind, even if she isn’t coming across that way. Indeed, I felt like the big breakthrough for us was one night I wanted to talk about an issue and he was stonewalling me. Instead of trying to sweetly draw him out like I normally would, I just said, “I’m tired of you treating me like the enemy,” and walked away. He was quiet for a while but finally called me back and said he didn’t think I was the enemy. He has been different ever since. It’s like he had these walls built up to protect himself, so whenever I would try to get into his heart, he perceived it as an attack. Me calling him out made him
realize what he was doing, and that he needed to accept my efforts to connect. Trust is such a huge part of it.
I love how you worded that. Unravel your spouse.
Wow. This is soooooooo my marriage! It’s like you’ve been watching us and taking notes! 😂 I don’t think my husband would call me back and try reach out though. He’d rather we stay with an issue than bring it up, he told me so. I’ve tried to explain to him how hurt and unloved I feel because of some of his actions and non-actions, but he doesn’t really care to do things he doesn’t want to do even if they’ll mean something to me. He says I’m ‘trying to change him’ and that’s not right. Sorry for the sob story😅 I think we’re at the point where we need counselling and a mentor couple as Sheila mentioned… 9 months into our marriage… I think it’s sad, but what to do… I’m really happy for you though. I hope we get to where you are, your story has given me hope.
Hang in there Stephie! We have been married for 15 years so this was by no means an easy process. I’m praying that God will give you wisdom and patience. A few recommendations. One, if he would read a book with you, I highly recommend reading “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller. It explains the intimacy of marriage in terms of the grace/truth balance in a really profound way that helped us a lot. But early in our marriage he wouldn’t read books with me because that registered as a “complaint” to him. So frustrating! If it’s to the point that you are really unhappy and he won’t ever talk things through with you, I would highly recommend going to counseling on your own, even if he won’t go. That’s what I ended up doing this year and it helped sooo much. I wish I had gone earlier.
It takes time to build trust. Like the I-know-she’ll-never-leave-no-matter-what trust. I know my husband had some dark corners in his heart that he didn’t want me to see, and that contributed to him walling off and not wanting to go to that deepest level. But now that I know everything and still love him, he has a much easier time opening up. But you’ve gotta stay deeply connected to Jesus so you are getting your strength from Him…otherwise your neediness will drive hubby away even more. They really do want to make us happy, and I think when they sense they are disappointing us they withdraw even more. It’s so hard, I know, but it is so worth it in the end.
Funny… as a husband, I read the title of this article with a different take on how this might go.
My wife and I have been married for 22 years. She is the only child of an alcoholic father who was running around on her disabled mother. She grew up shouldering most of the load of household chores. I grew up the middle child in a typical “nuclear” family with working father, stay at home mom, and 2 siblings. We all had our chores to do, but in reality, my mother did most of the housework. As a result, I don’t always see the things around the house that need to be done (or that my wife thinks need to be done!). Rather than asking for help, my wife will go about her day doing all these things, then when we are reconnecting in the evening, or as she is getting ready for bed, she will talk about how much she had to do. In the past this bottled up until it exploded into the “you don’t do anything around here!” argument.
I tell all of this to make this point: You mention that asking for help could deplete the emotional bank account. In our case, it works the other way. When my wife asks for my help, it makes me feel needed, and then when I follow through and help, it makes her feel loved. Over time, I began to see the things that she wanted done, and now, when I do the things without her asking ( and I am still getting better!), it’s just an extra deposit in the account!
Now, I agree with every one of you sitting there thinking “She shouldn’t have to ask!”, but since we came in with such different experiences, it takes that communication to reach the point that I don’t require asking.
We are getting better at asking for our needs to be met, and noticing and appreciating when the other person does things without being asked. It’s a good feeling.
The locking doors example really makes me smile though – my husband locks the door all the time, and I tend to leave it open through the day (which totally has to do with him growing up in a high crime area and me not having lived that). But at bed time? We follow each other around the house checking doors and windows. It seems that neither of us sleeps properly if we don’t remember doing it ourselves! 🙂
Something like this used to happen many times when I was a SAHM and the kids were little:
“Let’s say that your husband is playing video games while you’re trying to make dinner and care for the kids, and it’s too much. And you say something like…”
When I asked for his help he did not invalidate my feelings. No, he invalidated my request for help! For instance, we were leaving for church and I was making the kids ready: putting winter clothes on baby and two little toddlers. Meanwhile, hubby was playing the piano. When I asked if he could help me with the kids and their shoes instead of playing the piano right now, he reacted irritated and angry: “I lay the piano whenever I want.”
This was not just one incident. Similar things happened many times. I was always made to feel that my request was not valid or needed or important, or I had asked it in the wrong way.
After several discuraging replies, I stopped asking him for help and tried to be as self sufficient as possible. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do, but in those days it was the only possible solution I was able to come up with.
Today I might have better ways to cope, but a 25yo lifing for the first time does not know that much.