MENDED: How to Repair Your Marriage Before it Breaks

by | Apr 3, 2019 | Resolving Conflict | 35 comments

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The secret to a great marriage is to fix problems before they start.

It’s just being intentional–and it’s making those small choices that we talked about yesterday that can become turning points in our marriages. We decide to move towards each other, instead of apart from each other.

That’s what we’re going to be talking about for our series in April. On Wednesdays I like to develop a particular theme (which I often carry over into my podcasts) and this month I’m going to look at how we can be intentional in the little things to build intimacy. It’s going to be a super practical month, and hopefully a fun month, and I’m looking forward to it!

To set the stage, let me tell you about a book I recently read called Mended: One couple’s journey from betrayal to imperfect beauty. It tells the real-life story of Rick and Tiffany Bulman, who, 20 years into their marriage, found themselves dealing with an affair. Instead of throwing in the towel, they both fought to keep their marriage together, even though that process revealed some awfully painful truths about both of them. As they faced those truths head-on, they were able to find real healing.

I really enjoyed the book. It was raw, and it was real, and it didn’t try to minimize the pain or devastation that the affair brought. But more importantly, it told the story of how a marriage ended up that way, and how it recovered from it. It showed how Tiffany had to repent of the affair, but then also how they had to start from scratch to rebuild afterwards.

Here’s just one example: Early on in their marriage, Tiffany asked her husband to check the windows and doors before they went to bed to make sure they were locked. He brushed her off, thinking she was silly. He had grown up in the country where nobody locked their doors, and it just wasn’t a big deal to him. Tiffany, on the other hand, grew up with a dad who always checked everything every night, and it made her feel secure. When Rick allowed Tiffany to check the windows and doors every night, it made her feel unprotected, like he didn’t care about her safety or the boys’ safety, and that their safety was all on her head. That went on for years, and it was only in counseling after the affair that she was able to share how unsafe she felt and how unloved she felt. Many, many tiny incidents like these blew their marriage apart before the affair started.

The message of Mended is that, if you want to rebuild after an affair and after the repentance has happened, both partners have to see what they have contributed to cause the drift, and both partners need to deal with their stuff and commit to oneness. When only one partner has really hurt the marriage (and not all affairs are caused by two parties doing awful things), then the dynamic is different, and the book may not be as applicable. But where a marriage has been growing apart for years, this is a great book to look at how affairs do not need to mean the end of the marriage, and I highly recommend it.

But what I really want to talk about is something bigger:

How could they have prevented this drift in the first place?

This couple spent 17 years growing apart before Tiffany strayed. Is there something that could have been done earlier? Obviously Tiffany was still at fault for the actual affair, but could they have prevented the drift?

In Mended, Rick talks about all the things that he could have done: he should not have been a workaholic, and he should have put his family first. He should have realized how Tiffany felt loved, and talked to her more about why it was that these small gestures mattered to her. He should have learned his love language. All of that is true.

What I want to do, though, is to take the story in another direction, and ask, “What could Tiffany have done when her husband wasn’t considering her needs, was taking her for granted, and wasn’t engaging at home?”

I went into all of this in great detail in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, but here are just three things that can help in this situation:

Tell your husband what is important to you–repeatedly

One of the things that struck me in the Bulman’s marriage is that in many cases Tiffany had spoken up. She had asked Rick if he was going to check the locks. She had asked him not to work so many hours. She had asked him to be more engaged at home. But then, when he didn’t follow through or when he disregarded her, she often said nothing else.

This doesn’t lead to oneness; this leads to brokenness and distance. Intimacy can only grow if the spouses understand each other. If something is important to you, you have to make that clear. Sometimes we say something once, and our spouse doesn’t get it. It’s so far out of their realm of understanding that they don’t think we’re serious. So we need to push through. We don’t have to be mean about it. But we can say:

“Honey, I asked you last night if you would check the locks, and you thought I was being silly. That hurt me. It may not be important to you, but this is very important to me. When you don’t check the locks, I feel unsafe. Even if you think it’s silly, can you start checking the locks for my sake?”

Like this post so far? You should also check out:

Don’t keep hurts inside

For years, Tiffany felt alone and unloved. But she didn’t speak up. Instead, when she got to a breaking point, she would react in anger, yelling at Rick.  Reacting in anger is actually quite common, because anger is an easier emotion to express than hurt, or loneliness, or insecurity. When we don’t express what we’re really feeling, though, we can never be intimate, because we can never really “know” each other.

Those deep hurts, when not expressed, cause our spouse to know less and less about us, because they have no idea what’s happening on an emotional level. That causes real breaches in the marriage, even if you think you’re doing everything not to rock the boat. Be a peace-MAKER, not a peace-KEEPER!

Are you PeaceKEEPING or PeaceMAKING?

There’s a huge difference between the two. And if you don’t get it right–you’ll never be able to feel truly intimate in your marriage.

There’s a better way!

Right the balance when one spouse is underfunctioning and one is overfunctioning

Here’s the final scenario in their marriage that I’d like to dissect and offer a different solution.

It’s a potluck lunch after church, and Rick is making the rounds talking to everyone and being the life of the party. Tiffany is trying to manage four kids on her own–getting them food while also trying to get her own; trying to make them sit at the table; making sure they eat; stopping them from running all over the church or fighting. Trying to do all this while Rick is oblivious to it makes her infuriated, until she finally picks up a kid, throws him at Rick, and yells at him, “It’s your turn now!” Is there a better way of dealing with this?

  1. The day before the potluck, she could have said: “At the last potluck, I noticed that you spoke to a ton of people, while I had to look after all four kids all by myself. Tomorrow, I’d appreciate it if you look after the kids and allow me to socialize.”
  2. Then repeat this on the way to church: “To reiterate, today at lunch, I’ll be getting my lunch by myself and socializing with friends while you collect the four kids, feed them, and corral them, right?”
  3. If the kids come to you at lunch, send them back to their dad. Even pick the kids up and carry them to the dad, if necessary.
  4. If this still doesn’t work, then the next time there’s a potluck, you can say, “Last time we had an agreement that you would look after the kids at the potluck, but you didn’t follow through. I find these potlucks very stressful, and not a fun time for me. So what I’ve decided to do is to go out for lunch by myself this Sunday. I’ll come back with the car to pick you and the kids up when I know the potluck is over.”

Some may say that she shouldn’t take such extreme action. Here, however, is how I see it:

While it’s okay if one spouse does all of the housework because the other spouse works outside of the house, it is never okay if one spouse does all of the childcare.

Childcare is not a chore; childcare is a relationship building activity. If one spouse does not spend any time with the responsibility for the kids, then those kids will suffer.

When our children were small, I did all of the housework because Keith was working 100 hours a week in his residency in pediatrics. But when he came home, he was fully engaged with the kids. Often he would take them so I could have an hour to myself. That’s what a parent does. For the emotional health of all involved, but especially for the kids, parenting cannot be entirely on one spouse’s shoulders. And that’s why I would have chosen this issue to draw some clear boundaries and give limits on what I was willing to do.

Sometimes we believe that there’s nothing she can do when he’s not caring for her, but that’s not true.

What we really mean is that there is no magic formula that will make him suddenly start acting the way that she wants him to act without her having to risk speaking up or acting differently. Many women (and many men) are waiting for their spouse to suddenly change, but aren’t speaking up and doing the things that may most motivate that change. The more that we all speak up about little things, the more we will stop getting into destructive patterns. And the more we start setting limits on what we’re willing to do, the more we allow our spouses to feel the consequences of their actions.

I’m painting this as a negative thing, perhaps because I was thinking about it in terms of this book about affairs. But speaking up and drawing boundaries are not negative things, but positive things. They don’t have to be done in anger, and they do build intimacy. They aren’t antagonistic towards the spouse; it’s actually loving to try to build oneness.

How to Fix Your Marriage Before it Breaks: Deal with the Little Hurts

What do you think? Are we often slow to speak up? Are we often slow to draw boundaries? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Flo

    I used to get hurt when saying something important once was not enough. I thought: well, I told him, he didn’t do anything about it, so he simply doesn’t care, right? Why should I embarrass myself to repeat it if he simply doesn’t care?

    But actually often his memory was occupied with other things when I was telling him that, and he simply forgot, not because he didn’t care, but because he was taking care of something else then. He was thinking about work, or about how to install that curtain hanger, or about the board game we were playing, and did not register what I said as it seemed unimportant then.

    So I start with saying: there is something very important I need to discuss with you, let me know when your mind is free and we can discuss it carefully. Then he would have the time and focus to break it into tasks, maybe add some of them to his calendar if needed, etc.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that, Flo!

  2. Ken

    I’m having a hard time with this post. One spouse causing the others infidelity? Certainly there’s things that contribute to the other feeling unloved but that other partner makes their own choices. My divorce was caused by my partner being abusive. Certainly she could have chosen to move toward me. It seems most relationships are brought down buy the weight of years a misunderstanding and ignoring the chance to grow closer. somehow we have to keep it clean. Both have to own their own stuff.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ken, I think in SOME marriages the other partner definitely contributes to the affair (though that person is still responsible for their sin). But like I said in the post, not all affairs are like that. I know many marriages where it really only takes 1 person to derail it (my mother’s would be an example). In their marriage, it was the husband who was the workaholic and growing increasingly distant, and then it was the wife who eventually had the affair, after years and years of being neglected. But in many marriages the opposite happens–the one spouse is the workaholic who is growing distant, and then that spouse also has the affair. That’s just a very different dynamic. Many cases of infidelity (or abuse) are indeed caused by one person hardening their heart against the other, and just choosing to go their own way. I’m very sorry that your wife did that. That’s awful.

    • sunny-dee

      Causing may be unfair, but contributing — yeah. It feels mean to say, but it can happen. Some spouses really do drive their spouse to cheat.

      I have a weird marriage. (I can’t even say rocky, but it’s weird.) My husband actively hid an alcohol problem and a porn problem from me, so for the first 1+ year of our marriage, I had absolutely no idea why he was having these massive mood swings, being standoffish and acting like he despised me, refusing sex or even physical contact of any kind, wouldn’t go out with me, would forget things I’d talked about multiple times, would stay out all hours. All the fun stuff.

      About maybe 6 months into our marriage, I just suddenly realized (and I have no idea why, because I wasn’t even thinking of anything around it) that I would have to be very, very careful around men because I was so broken and so raw that even the slightest kindness could have flipped me into an affair that I didn’t even really want. I was just incredibly starved for someone to say a kind word or just have a conversation with me. I was really vulnerable to any kind of attention, and, frankly, that vulnerability was 100% my husband’s fault. I am very, very, very blessed that I had that realization on a random walk with my dog, when there wasn’t even a cloud of another man on the horizon, but in different circumstances, it could have ended very differently. And even if I never had sex with another man, I could easily have crossed a lot of boundaries with an emotional affair or a kissing affair before I realized where I was.

      Adultery, and all the relating pain, is still on the person who makes that choice — but that choice may not be as clear and easy as sometimes we think.

      Side note, my husband actually did cheat on me with one of his employees. (He claimed they just “kissed and hugged a little” — I think they slept together, but he was probably too drunk to remember and honestly probably doesn’t want to remember.) And this is an affair where I claim absolutely zero blame. I really try to be a good wife — kind, supportive, good with the kids, good in the house, I work a good job, I haven’t denied sex and also quit asking for it (since that was the bigger problem). Maybe too much so, because I don’t pressure him enough. He slept with her because he was drunk and selfish, full stop. I didn’t contribute to it and I didn’t deserve it.

      So, you know, it goes both ways.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Sunny-Dee, I totally agree with you, on both counts. There are times when one spouse seriously contributes, and there are other times when it’s just someone’s utter selfishness.

  3. Kay

    I think we need to talk to women differently about expressing your needs. I’ve heard over and over again this story of a wife who was infuriated after tripping over her husband’s muddy boots every day, but then he was suddenly killed and she’d give anything to trip over those boots again, with the takeaway lesson being that instead of nagging, you should cheerfully move those boots (or socks) yourself and rejoice that you have a husband at all.

    I am sorry, but I cannot ignore the socks and shoes without letting bitterness and resentment get to me. I just can’t. It has been FAR healthier for me to kindly ask (even if it’s a million times), “Hey, babe. Would you move your boots/pick up your socks?” Not a big deal. But staying quiet about it for years hurt my marriage.

    But this is how we are training women to just shut up and take it. “If it’s bothering you, PRETEND HE IS DEAD and it won’t bother you any more! Ta-da!” Um, what????? It’s like in Love and Respect with the wet towels for me; it’s a respect thing. It is disrespectful to me to have to trip over his shoes and socks in the walkway. It may not be a big deal to others and they might be able to pick them up no problem. But I’m not that girl. This is a respect issue for me, and I choose to tell him I need him to move his shoes. I am kind but firm. And we are all happier for it.

    But we need to teach women IT IS OKAY TO SPEAK UP. Because I have been feeling like a bad / nagging wife every time I see that boots story pop up on the internet. But asking women to PRETEND THEIR HUSBAND IS DEAD to let what feels like disrespect slide? I find this exceptionally messed up. If resentment is building, it’s okay to ask for what you need to avoid that resentment. Really.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, dear, Kay, is it wrong that your comment made me laugh? You’re absolutely right. We should not have to pretend he’s dead. I think I may have used that analogy once or twice, too, but I hope that I peppered it with others that were better!

      And, yes, just be kind but firm. If something’s important, it’s okay that it matters! (PS: I’m recording the comments section for my podcast and I already had one of your comments picked out to use for this week’s one. Now I’m thinking I have to use this one for another week!)

      • Kay

        Sorry if you’ve used it yourself! I just find those mental gymnastics to be unhealthy. I am currently sensitive (maybe oversensitive) to the ways we condition women to sit down and shut up when their needs are being ignored or trampled.

        I am finding my voice in little ways, like socks and shoes, trying to practice finding my voice for the big stuff that is starting to hit the fan. Prayers appreciated. I am trying to be more upfront and transparent with my husband about how hurt and unhappy I am at this church under my FIL. In the past, it turned into a fight every single time, so at some point I decided to sit down and shut up. I shouldn’t have.

        I confess I am terrified. Why is it so hard to speak up about the big things? Fear of rejection, maybe? That he will forever choose his dad over me? Believing that a “good Christian wife” wouldn’t cause trouble like this?

    • EM

      Bravo Kay!!! I never thought about it like that but you’re right, pretending he’s dead to ignore something that’s bothering you is seriously messed up!

    • Melly

      This seems to stem from a recent viral post on Facebook. I don’t think the post (or similar posts) are trying to say, “Pretend your husband is dead and just put up with annoying things he does.” Rather it is to emphasize the grand scheme of life and view those small annoyances through a healthy perspective.

      If something your spouse does bothers you so much and affects your mental sanity and marriage, then by all means SPEAK UP until the behavior changes. However, if you were just inconvenienced for a moment, still SPEAK UP, but also extend grace when it happens again. People don’t change overnight.

      I know I have a bad habit of leaving kitchen cabinets open. I don’t know why because I was raised to close something if I opened it. My husband brought it to my attention one day when he noticed almost every single cabinet open. I’ve tried to be mindful, but honestly I forget and still do it. My husband hasn’t brought it up since but just closes them behind me. I asked him months ago if I was annoying and he smiled and said, “Sometimes, but that’s part of who you are.” I then asked if he would miss my quirks if I died before he did and with tears in his eyes he replied, “Yeah, I really would.”

      That’s the point of the message. Not to excuse and stay silent on things that might really need to be addressed, but to put the small annoyances into perspective and realize that if your spouse has an annoying habit, is it really worth your time, energy, and emotional reaction to make it into a big deal? I’m sure you do things that annoy your husband, and he should extend the same grace to you.

      I’ve been married now almost 8 years, and I’ve learned in that short amount of time that life is more peaceful, more loving, and more fun when my husband and I point out each other’s bad habits and we both laugh about it. We try to change even though we realize those quirks are probably a permanent part of us, so we might as well just exercise our strengths where the other is weak – that’s a beautiful part of marriage.

      Women especially get so hung up on “my husband should automatically do this or that or he should know better.” I know, for me personally, having that perspective really puts negative things and my husband’s weaknesses into focus which in turn makes my attitude stink. Instead I try to think of all my husband is and does and then viewing the annoyances through that lens which makes me realize, I’ve really got very little to complain about, but I sure do have a lot to be thankful for. So I can either CHOOSE to resent my husband for quirks that he may have a hard time overcoming or I can CHOOSE to view what a great person he is and help him with his weaknesses and not make the mole hills into mountains.

  4. Phil

    Grace and I did this marriage exercise one time and I understand it is quite common for women to want security from there husband in the marriage. That was on the top of her list. Now I am pretty type A so I am not afraid to investigate a noise or make sure the doors are locked etc. We recently had a porta potty at our house during some work being done and the the wind knocked the door open slamming it over and over again. Guess who wen to check that out at 3am in the morning. Security means alot of things though. Being at home can be security. Stepping in to help your wife with a billing dispute or a jerk who is not doing the job you hired him to do at your house or even an unrully kid Etc. So what I see is these “surface” type disucssions run much deeper. Grace and I had a different kind of conversation a while back about an issue I had too. When we go to parties or picnics often what would happen is I would go my way and she would go hers. In many case we would hardly even see each other at the event. We are supposed to be freinds. Best freinds! Dont you want to hang out with me? So while we both het that its good to have freinds and 1 on 1 time with others we had teh discussion to cone find each other and talk with each other and hang out and maybe talk eith other couples too. Thaoe are justa couple areas we have been working on. I agree that if you r notnworking at togther then you are working at walking the other way and thats when things start to go astray and could lead to BErY stray….

  5. ThePhilZone

    I’m coming to this comment from the belief that from an early age, people don’t really change all that much. Their core character that is. Do you think I’m wrong? Either a husband listens to what is asked and checks the locks or he doesn’t. That says a lot about his character. He either helps watch the kids at home or in public or he doesn’t. Character again. Yes, communication is the key to change but I feel all these character “flaws” could have been foreshadowed during the dating process. Did he listen early on? Did he take action on you’re concerns? How did he treat you? How did he prioritize his responsibilities? What was the end result of early on conflict resolution? Was it a win/win? etc. All I’m saying is that it is way less painful to figure this stuff out early on than later because it is there if you look. Easy for me to say, right? So once a couple has been married awhile and issues come up, of course they need to be addressed for any change to take place. But I still don’t believe any major character change is going to happen. Little things over time sure but it’s the same person possibly acting slightly differently on the surface which I guess is a win. As far as the affair goes. To me, that’s mostly on her. They may have both chose the wrong partner based on personality profiles but she obviously chose a partner with questionable character, didn’t speak up about her concerns and let conflict fester. Her blow up came in the form of an affair? Please. She didn’t even give him a chance. He probably didn’t even think anything was wrong which is horrible but it’s his character. She slept with another man in marriage. That to me is the worse character flaw. She crossed a line in my opinion. Did he really cross a line or just sneak up on it unknowingly? Good for them for trying and work it out! I can’t say I would. Good on Sheila for bringing up the importance of an ounce of prevention being worth ten thousand pounds of cure.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I don’t think it’s that simple as people just don’t change. Most of the issues that the couple was facing in the book WEREN’T character issues, they were bad relationship habits.

      My husband is a man of amazing character. But he does forget things even after I’ve asked him multiple times. It’s that people of good character are able and willing to learn, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to pick it up after just one request. Sometimes it does take a lot of work to teach someone something new.

      The thing that I think most people miss out on in this conversation is the fact that once you have asked someone to do something, you need to stand by your request. If a wife asks her husband to check the locks before bed and he doesn’t, she shouldn’t get out of bed and go do it herself. She should say “Ok before you come to bed can you go check the locks.” and if he says no, then you have a conversation about how this makes her feel safe and is important to her, etc. But many women just sigh and figure “I’ll just do it myself” instead of just reminding their husbands to do it! Once they’ve been reminded enough, it becomes second nature.

      But we have to follow through. People CAN and DO change–but we have to give them the environment in which change is encouraged.

      • Phil

        Becca – I liked the point you made that peole with good character can change and do! The issue is often we are in long term situations whatever the issue is where there are havits so ingrained and most often no consewuences and the patterns repeat tjemselves over and over. I have found it mich easier to change when both Grace and I are working at something together. I can change and so can she but foingbit alone makes it harder. Repetition is KEY for change. In my 12 step peogram we read the same crap over and over and then we talk about the same topic over and over. Its not just for the new guys. Its because we need it repeated so we retain some of it the first time and then some more the next. Just like an Olympic trainer does as they train for their event. Soinds a little rediculois but if you look around thats howbthebworls roles. I see it here all the time as Sheila goes over the same stuff over and over etc.,,,

      • ThePhilZone

        Character: the moral & mental qualities distinctive to an individual. A persons personality, nature, disposition etc. From the story about the lock, apparently this had been going on for years. For the husband to have this level of disregard for his wife’s feelings is sad to me. It’s also sad that the husband was oblivious to his children in public. These mental and moral characteristics, to me, are character issues but that just my opinion. On the other hand, for the wife to bottle up her anger to the point of seeking something with another man, as though that’s going to solve her own personal communication deficiencies, is another character thing. Again, that’s just me. These two examples and what resulted are the extreme result of long term neglect. You are so wise to get on the same page with your husband early on. To me that shows great character on both your parts. You expressing a desire, him hearing and acting, even if it takes a little nudging. That’s great and how it should be. Now if you asked and asked and asked with no positive response, that’s a huge problem. You did you’re part, him, not so much. It’s as though he’s saying I don’t care and some people don’t and will never change. At some point, with certain things, you can’t just keep asking. If you want something done you will have to do it yourself. Fortunately for you and me, this isn’t an issue because we married people of high character. They care about us. Be proud of this wise choice, I am.

        • Kate

          Phil, characters do change. As a believer you should never say something like that. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Christ is capable of changing anyone’s heart. The Bible is filled with people who’s characters changed. Paul being a vivid example, a man who hated Christians, hunted them down and even had Steven stoned to death. He was so bad that when he became a believer Peter didn’t believe him! How can a man with such a character change? By the power of the Holy Spirit.

          ALL humans have a character change when they become followers of Christ. The Bible says so, you become a NEW creation in Christ. That is 100% character change. I can testify of this myself. Who i’m today is completely different than what i once was. To claim i’ll forever be trapped to my past by saying, people don’t have a character change, is to enslave me to my flesh. But i choose to believe Christ is able to free my from my flesh and give me a new heart.

          • ThePhilZone

            Well isn’t that special…….(lol)
            Sure, people can change through the direct influence of God. Especially if they are open to the change. Your Biblical examples are good examples. But this blog post isn’t about that nor were my words. We are talking about checking locks and child care here, not important Biblical figures. Super small in the grand scheme of things, not world changing.
            I’m happy you found Christ, that’s fantastic! I’m sure you are a better person for it. Yes, you were born anew, a new creation in Christ which is awesome. Theoretically, that’s a huge deal. Practically, it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Change, even of this significance is only as powerful as what you make of it with your own free will. Please don’t take anything I write personally, or let me strike a cord, I don’t know you or your story. Save your vitriol for someone who deserves it, it’s unbecoming but I won’t take it personally as you don’t know me or my story either.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            ThePhilZone, there was nothing in Kate’s comment that was snide, sarcastic, or vitriolic in nature. Your comment, however, was incredibly snide and patronizing for no reason whatsoever. She just stated the gospel message and you were quite dismissive of her. I personally am quite disappointed with your response here, considering how this is not normally how you respond to others on this website.

            All Kate was saying is don’t discount the role of the Holy Spirit. She wasn’t saying that you should ignore bad behaviour. You said that character doesn’t change. Biblically, that’s not true. She said so quite politely. There was no need to be so rude.

            Kate, great comment, and thank you for reminding us in this conversation that in Christ,we are a new creation.

  6. M

    I think it’s very important that childcare is shared by both parents – absolutely! As far as housework, well, that’s a whole ‘nother matter if you live on a farm! But that’s another story! Not the same as city living, that’s for sure!
    In response to Tiffany asking her husband to take all 4 kids on the next potluck…personally, I think it’s kind of extreme. I’ve been there, done that, with 5 kids. I specifically asked my husband to be in charge of 2 or 3 of them, and we still all ate together. I’d kindly divert them to him as needed but without making him feel like he was “hen-pecked”. Next time we’d try to improve on the system. Of course, this wasn’t always easy because it doesn’t come out perfectly as you’d like, but as long as it’s improving it’s a win!
    I think it’s important to draw boundaries but I certainly wouldn’t send all the kids to him. This would be far too overwhelming for a fellow who’s never taken that responsibility before, and that’s a set-up for failure, I think. You don’t want to do that. Take it slower.
    Also, suggesting you go out by yourself next time…I really don’t think so! I might be coming across a bit harsh in response to your take on it but as I said, you need to take it a lot slower but keep working on it. This is very close to my heart because, you see, there are so many things that simply take time – a whole more time than we care to give. Daily life in a marriage contains so many moments of mixed emotions that some of them, in reality, actually take far more years to figure out well, and while you both need to be working on the issues you can’t expect your spouse to make changes that quickly, depending on the issue addressed.
    One more thing I’d like to add…the reason I suggested sharing the responsibility with the children at the meal is because 1) while not absolutely necessary, it’s proper to sit together as a family so childcare is shared and simpler but, 2) it’s important that we don’t make a spectacle of each other in public (not even at home). It’s not proper to discipline your child in public let alone trying to make a point (kind of disciplining) to your husband, in public. So, having him corral the children and eat alone with them or sending them back to him without helping out somewhat, would be a disrespectful choice, I think.
    I have always found that when I’m looking solely after only my feelings/wants on any matter that I really don’t feel that victorious after all. As you’ve often mentioned, Sheila, it’s important that it’s a win/win for both in a marriage, and I know that’s what this scenario is ultimately pointing to, but my approach would be different. Of course, different strokes for different folks, but in the end we want our spouse to still feel loved and respected, as do we. It’s never completely uncomplicated!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear what you’re saying, M. I’d totally agree with you that the ideal would be that they shared it, and that’s certainly what we’ve always done.

      At the same time, if the spouse has showed you, after years of behaviour, that he will not share it, even when you ask, and that if you are there, he routinely leaves the kids and goes and does his own thing, then I think it’s okay for you to say, “I find these events too stressful to have the kids on my own, and I will no longer go to them.” It may be that you all miss the potlucks altogether; it may be that you decide to leave and he keeps the kids. But if it’s something you just can’t manage without getting really stressed out (and having a tantrum in public over it is definitely too stressed out!) then you should do something differently. The scenarios I brought up really were more “last resorts”. But I think sometimes it’s good for men to understand what it is to look after all the kids in public. It’s also good for them to have to look after all the kids sometimes at home, too. I still agree that what you should be doing is eating together and sharing the responsibility, but if he won’t do that (and Rick wouldn’t, even after other pastors came alongside him and told him he should), then I think you need to do what you need to do to protect your own sanity.

    • Lisa

      M, I don’t think it’s extreme at all to assume a father will take care of his own children for a few hours. Husbands do it daily to wives, year in and year out. When my husband needs a haircut or a doctor appointment, he just goes. If he makes plans to have lunch with a friend, he just goes. He doesn’t clear it with me or make sure I’m not overwhelmed by having all 5 of our children while he goes off for a few hours. There is nothing extreme about a mother saying, “I need a haircut, I’m going Saturday at 2. I’ll be home at 4.” Or, “I’m meeting a friend for lunch on Sunday after church. I’ll be home at 5.” I think it is extreme to act as if the average father is incapable of taking good care of his children. If he’s disabled, that’s a different scenario. But to treat men as if they are children themselves and that we shouldn’t burden them with their own children is not right.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’d agree, Lisa. There needs to be some give and take. The fact that many husbands make plans without thinking about the children, while mothers never do, is an issue.

  7. Anonymous

    Being lonely in your marriage is the most dangerous place to be. Especially when you know where your weakness is.
    Helpful I guess when you always have the kids around.

  8. Kate

    Sheila, even though i’m one of your faithful single readers, i find your tips applicable for many none-marital relationships too. I hold a lot of activities at my house both for singles and married people who come over to have a down time away from their kids/work. I had to learn a long time ago to speak up when i needed them to contribute financially or volunteer for food expenses that was costing me a lot of money to feed 10-15 people every week.

    I was becoming resentful towards them, i felt like i was giving 100% in terms of food coming from my tight budget and my apartment being used as a joyful gathering place, while i was panicking about money by the end of the month! It wasn’t until i spoke up that i discovered they were willing to contribute and they had actually felt guilty about it too and just didn’t know how to bring it up without offending me.

    Recently i read a really good article by Gottman, called, You’re Not Allowed to Complain About Not Getting What You Didn’t Ask For. Here is the article:

  9. Erin

    It seems very odd to me to rely on a husband to do things for you that you’re perfectly capable of handling on your own. For example, the woman who wanted her husband to check that the door was locked. What was stopping her from checking on the locks herself?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      A lot of it comes down to feeling like everything is on your shoulders. It’s not wrong to want your husband to do something–if him making sure the family is safe is important to you, why wouldn’t he do it?

      If you do everything that you could do yourself, often we cut out the whole teamwork part of marriage accidentally. That’s the great thing about marriage–you no longer HAVE to do everything by yourself! You have a partner you can divvy up tasks with.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, for sure. I think in this case, too, it comes down to what makes people feel loved and safe. In the book, it was clear that Tiffany witnessed her dad checking the locks every night, and interpreted that action to mean, “I care for the family and take care of it.” When Rick wouldn’t do it, what she felt was, “Rick doesn’t care about me.” It’s bears a different emotional wallop than just Rick didn’t do a particular task. Some tasks take on a greater emotional meaning to people, and that’s what’s important to understand in a marriage. What tasks communicate love to the husband? To the wife? Make sure you each understand and know, and then honour your spouse in that.

      • Lisa

        Then the only thing we could really ask of our husbands is sex. I –can– do everything else by myself. But it’s not MY house, these aren’t MY children. It is OUR house and OUR children. It is perfectly reasonable to have a division of labor. It is unreasonable to have a an imbalance in the amount of responsibilities and leisure time, as most couples with children do.

    • Lisa

      Erin, I’m trying to understand your comment. Do you mean that married people should cook individual meals, wash their individual dishes, clean their half of the bedroom but not the other half? Who washes the bedding that is shared? Do you separate bath towels in the laundry? Who cleans the common areas of the house? Who takes care of the lawn that is shared by all? What about the children? Do you divide them up? I could have stayed single if I wanted to live this way. I could have adopted a few kids and raised them myself. I am capable of supporting myself financially. I am capable of maintaining a home by myself. But I do not understand the idea that every thing I can do for myself I should do for myself. Why should one spouse do next to nothing simply because the other spouse is physically capable of doing everything?

  10. Caitlin

    What do you suggest when one does suggest what they need even if repeating that request as necessary but the spouse just gets more upset with you “nagging” or “trying to change them”? I feel like I am not a nagging personality but do feel like anytime I mention a need or express my emotions (usually very calm) I get a blown up response. Usually telling me I’m being too emotional or why do I have to fester on things for so long and then “blow” up. I’m sure I’m not crazy and I try my very best to stay calm and not get emotional I can’t even remember the last time I raised my voice. So I feel it pointless because I get such an unreasonable response to ehe. I voice what I need or how I feel.

    • Lisa

      This was our marriage for many, many years. For me, the solution was boundaries. It did not change my husband’s behavior overnight. But it gave me solution that enabled me to keep bitterness to a minimum. I kept his laundry separate and did not wash it. If he washed it and left it in a basket, I did not put it away. When he left trash, personal items, dirty dishes, or dirty laundry lying around the house, I did not put those items where they belonged. I piled them up on his desk. That way there were out of my work space, not in my face, and yet he still had the job of taking care of them when he needed to use his desk. At first he got angry that I “put that mess in his work space.” I simply stated that, as a homeschooling mom, practically the whole house is my workspace and I literally have zero time off. It was HIM who was leaving a mess in MY workspace, I was simply putting it where he could choose to handle it or not, as he chose. I also was very blunt about feeling exhausted at the end of the day from handling everything by myself. “I would have more energy for X if I hadn’t been on my feet for 16 hours. You’ve been watching TV for 2 hours so understandably, you have more energy. If you had joined me for an hour, we both could have had an hour to unwind. Instead, you took 2 hours and gave me no hours.” He didn’t like it but people don’t always like the truth. Sometimes we have to have the uncomfortable truth pointed out to us in order to see where we need to change.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Lisa, that’s pretty much exactly the approach I suggest in To Love Honor and Vacuum (the book) when a husband has been making more work for you than they should. It’s not the first thing you do, but if you’ve communicated well and you’ve been gracious and nothing has changed, sometimes we do need to do things like this. The big thing about a boundary is that it’s not about being vindictive; it’s about making life easier for you, too. It’s important!

  11. Meagan

    I stuggle with the idea of needing to remind my husband over and over. On the one hand, he is THE WORST multi tasker, so anything I say has a slim chance of retention. On the other hand, constant reminders, even if done sweetly, make me feel like his mom. And the more I feel like a parent, the less I feel like a lover.

    This inability to multitask also lands the bulk of our household tasks on me– and we have three kids 5 and under. He focuses so intently on work, that he doesn’t have room in his mind to switch to bills, or cleaning, or whatever. He’s not lazy, just insensitive.
    I don’t hold things inside if they bother me either, but he does under the guise of “keeping the peace and letting go”. Except that all that rug sweeping just makes me look like I’m never satisfied, and therefore the problems are all mine. He won’t seek counsel, even though he would agree our communication stinks. What to do?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I understand the frustration at having to ask multiple times. And that’s a conversation that has to be had–for me and my husband, it was the conversation that he needed to take more ownership of the household tasks because since he didn’t see them as “his” thing, he didn’t ever actually take the time to memorize it/think about it. But once he took ownership of these tasks, he started doing it on his own.

      I think for men who can’t multitask, having a list written out is a REALLY good tool. Neither my husband nor I multitask well and get distracted really really easily, and so putting our chores list into our reminders app on our phones as recurring tasks has helped tremendously. We finish one task, then go to the next one. It’s much easier than trying to remember the 7 things without them being written down.

      But no matter what, it’s about figuring out what in your life you can change so both of you compromise a bit but both of you also feel like it is fair. Is he organized at work? If so, there’s no reason he can’t be organized at home. Are there things that you do when cleaning/expectations that you have that he simply doesn’t agree with? Maybe there’s some room for some compromise there. Those kinds of conversations can be hard, but are important. I’m sorry he won’t see a counselor, and I hope that by having more of these conversations he starts to understand how important this is to you.


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