This is an article about marriage, but I’m going to illustrate it with a parenting example.
Don’t you wish that when you ask your kids to do something extra for you (clear the table, pack up their little sister’s bookbag, go grab something out of the storage room), that they would always want to help and have sheer delight in doing so? “Yay! I get to help Mom or Dad by bringing up the extra bag of kitty litter from the storage room!” “Oh good, I’ve been wanting to fold the laundry instead of shooting hoops outside!”
Of course, it usually doesn’t work that way! So what we mostly work toward, explain the need for – and eventually applaud!– is when our son will heave himself off of his “gaming spot” on the couch, or our daughter will step away from her Lego tower, and willingly do something that we’ve asked without grumbling. We’d still love delight, but we will take willingness. We will take the fact that they have built a habit of helping because they (hopefully) love and respect us, know that these actions are part of being in a family, and that building this habit is important to us.
And that habit actually matters a lot, right? Their willingness to leave what they want to do, and instead tackle what you want them to do, says, “I care.”
In fact, what would we think if we saw a parent who said, “It doesn’t count if when my son mowed the lawn, he wasn’t also eager to interrupt his gaming session to help me”? What would we think if we saw a parent who said, “If my daughter really loved me, she would want to leave her Lego project to go walk the dog?” We would probably be very concerned. Because that parent has some potentially damaging expectations.
So if we would never have that expectation of our kids, why do we have it of our spouse?
Would it surprise you to know that there are multiple ways most of us have damaging, subconscious, “it doesn’t count if . . .” or “if they loved me, they would . . .” expectations of our spouse? Let me share just two.
When He Has Downtime, A Man Would Rather Watch TV Than Listen To His Wife
Yeah. Gulp. To all the women reading this, take deep, calming breaths. This is a hard one to hear. I promise there’s encouragement soon, but first, in order to build a healthy and truly grateful understanding of men and marriage, we need to know the real deal.
Most men I have asked, have said that all else being equal, they would rather do a whole lot of other things to relax than listen to their wife. Watch TV, work out, play video games, read the latest news, etc. Listening in the way we women need (“Tell me all about it”) is important, but it doesn’t always come naturally for a guy. And it certainly isn’t relaxing at the end of a long day. It takes work. It takes intentionality.
So ladies, why is it hard to hear that our spouse has to make this effort? Well, because we’d much rather that he would just want to do it, right? Our subconscious thought is, “If he really loved me, he would love to listen!” We’d love for our life partner and best friend to be absolutely eager to hear about the issues in our lives and connect with us in that way. It’s disappointing – even a little sad – to hear that our man can love us but still need to force himself to ask how our day was. Not that he doesn’t care, but it has to be a habit that he develops.
Now, there are some exceptions to this, of course. But many of us have an expectation of wanting on his part that simply may not be realistic.
But guess what – we’re not the only one with an unrealistic expectation.
When She Heads For The Bedroom, She’s Willing – But She Doesn’t Necessarily Want You
Guys, your turn to take deep breaths. Your beautiful wife, whom you feel such desire for and can’t wait to tumble into bed with . . . probably doesn’t initially feel that sense of desire for you. (Unless, of course, she is the higher-desire spouse in the marriage, which is the case about 18% of the time.) Being intimate with you is important, so she is probably willing, but it isn’t necessarily something she’s thinking about. She isn’t giving the kids a bath or finishing up that work deadline and thinking, “Two more hours and I can rip his clothes off!” But because she knows it is important to you, she’s probably either open to it, or intentional about it.
Guys, I’ve talked to enough of you to know that that’s probably a bit hard to hear. Because you want your wife to just want you, right? Your subconscious thought might be, “It doesn’t count if she has to think about it!” Because you want your life partner and best friend to be absolutely eager to rip your clothes off and connect with you in that way. It’s disappointing, even a little sad, to hear that your wife can adore you but still need to make herself think about sex with you. Not that she doesn’t care, but it has to be a habit that she develops.
Now, there are some exceptions to this, as noted. But many of you have an expectation of wanting on her part that simply may not be realistic.
What Matters Is Not The Initial “Wanting,” But The Initial “Trying” – Because Our Spouse Cares
I know that for some of us, those parallel truths are a lot to process. But here’s the encouraging truth that we must always keep in mind. Our spouse’s willingness to try to do what matters to us – even if it doesn’t come naturally – should make us feel MORE loved and appreciated.
Once we see it that way, we can see that it is actually really lovely that your husband, who really doesn’t feel the same pull to listen as you do, is willing to try to do so. Or that your wife, who may not feel the same physical pull toward sex as you do, still wants to be with you. In both those cases, it is because of you and because of the relationship.
And the good news, thankfully, is that when each of us do step out and make that effort, our feelings will usually follow. He will get interested in what she is saying as they sit and talk in the kitchen, and she will get “in the mood” as she gets going in the bedroom.
Let me close with this. When Jeff and I first became aware of the need to confront these subconscious, unrealistic expectations, Jeff raised a really, really important point for all of us to consider in our marriages. I’ll leave you with his words.
We need to flip our thinking. The fact that neither spouse is naturally inclined to engage in the behavior that the other really needs, but they still try to do it, should make us MORE satisfied and MORE grateful. Because even though it is outside of my spouse’s inclination, they are doing it because they love me!
After all, is that not what God wants when it comes to Him? Our natural tendency is to want our own way, but He wants us to choose Him – even when we may not feel like it. He could have made us robots, but He gave us a choice about whether to love and worship Him.
And I’m wondering if that is just woven through the universe. Certainly, God could have designed a woman to just crave a man’s body and crave sex. And certainly, God could have designed a man to just crave to listen to his wife. But I think He wants both of us to CHOOSE the other person in an area that is really important for them, even if it is not as much of an inclination for us. And for it to become important to us, because it is important to them.
Find Christ-focused wonder in the midst of everyday life no matter what your situation might be. Pick up a copy of Shaunti’s latest devotional, Find Joy, available in major bookstores.
And check out her latest book (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
This article was first published at Patheos.