January 30, 2015

Newsflash: Your Spouse Isn’t Normal

Gary Thomas — 

Newsflash final

While reading a wonderful book on marriage, I came across some spectacular advice that would be very harmful in one of the marriages I’ve worked with: “I learned that the most romantic gesture I can offer Christi is simply asking about her day, how she’s feeling, and what’s going on in her heart and mind.”

I think this author is exactly right—for the vast majority of marriages. But I was invited into the lives of a couple that are heavily involved in ministry, and they don’t fit the stereotype for husbands and wives. The husband’s somewhat “advanced” understanding of relational “principles” was becoming a problem in his marriage, not a strength.

Let me explain. For whatever reason, his wife felt uncomfortable with “relational discussions.” She didn’t like exploring her feelings, she wasn’t all that in touch with them, and when her husband tried to have these discussions she felt insecure. Her family didn’t talk that way. She knew, as the wife, she was “supposed” to be “better” at it than her husband but that just created shame. So, what this author is suggesting, while helpful to the vast majority of husbands, would in their marriage be seen as a threat by her, not an act of love.

Seriously.

If this husband sat his wife down and asked, “So, how are you feeling? What’s going on in your heart and mind?” I can tell you right now what expression she’d get on her face, how she’d be wanting to hide but knowing she shouldn’t, which would make her feel ashamed, which would make her a little angry (justifiably so, perhaps) that her husband was putting her in this situation when he knew better, which would make her defensive, which would end in a predictable pattern that no one would describe as “romantic.”

Still, it’s spectacular advice—for most couples, just not this couple.

When you read books and blogs by marriage authors like me, keep in mind that what matters most is your marriage and your spouse. When it comes to marital issues like intimate relating—including sexuality, but also conversation, roles, and preferred activities—these, I’ve found, are so personal, and so often deeply stamped into our souls long before we become husband and wife, that you’ve got to start building your marriage on a “blank slate.”

Let me give another example. Let’s say one of you had a lot of sexual experience before marriage. One couple faced years of frustration because the wife simply did not enjoy what was happening in the bedroom. Her husband thought it was all her fault, since he had pleased plenty of women before they got married. It got so bad they finally sought out a counselor (a friend of mine). The husband thought something was “wrong” with his wife and finally blurted out, “But women like that” and my friend the counselor responded (wisely) “Not this woman, and she’s the only one who matters.”

For an intimate marriage, the only thing that matters isn’t how men and women are, but how your husband or wife is. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t apply even spectacular advice that would be true in 90% of marriages if it’s not true in yours, because if it’s not true in yours, it’s spectacularly bad advice.

Let’s make this practical, okay? Bring to mind some lingering issue in your marriage that has resulted in long-term frustration. Have you been making some assumptions about how your spouse should feel, should behave, should function according to popular stereotype? You’ll never get anywhere if you try to treat your husband or wife like a “normal” man or woman if they’re not one, and you’ll also never get anywhere if you try to “remake” your husband or wife into a “normal” man or woman. It never works.

Intimacy is built on understanding your mate as they really are, not as you want them to be, think they should be, or are somehow obligated to be because most men/women are like that.

In fact, for some of you (though again, not all!) the best thing you can do is to start over and assume your husband or wife isn’t like most men or women. Get to know them all over again, listen to what really affirms, scares, and frustrates them and start relating to that person, the one you’re married to.

In the end, that’s the only person who matters.

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7 responses to Newsflash: Your Spouse Isn’t Normal

  1. Great post! This is *also* why Christians who speak to marriage often receive angry responses from the marriages that are “exceptions” to general principles. (I’ll bet Gary can relate!)

    What a blessing it would be if we could all learn to glean what applies to us and brush the remainder aside.

    And how wonderful of the Holy Spirit for His ability and willingness to minister to each marriage and each spouse…. individually!

  2. Here’s another post to married couples that would be silly not to read BEFORE you fall in love. That’s why I’m sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity. Keep on sharing truth that sets people free!

  3. This is so good. And such truth. I remember my wonderful husband, David, saying to me, early on in our marriage, “I don’t care what other women like, Megan. I only care about what YOU like.” It opened my eyes to how well he loves me. He embraced ME and I felt deeply cherished for the first time in my life.

  4. Deborah (Debbie) January 30, 2015 at 11:54 am

    This may be some of the most important advice, incredibly significant principle that we all need to learn — and not just about marriage but relating to parenting, friendship etc. This is about being in relationship with a PERSON, created by God to be who they are and to do what He has for them to do. Each person is an individual with a different brain, set of experiences, relationships, situations and all of these things factor in to their life — and yours (mine, ours) in loving, relating, ministering to them (and receiving from them). We need this wisdom!!!

  5. As usual, very insightful. I think there are several levels in mating to really build a true relationship. Gee, it take years for me to understand my brothers sister, the trickiest part is transitioning for both couple from an attracting/mating phase to the real marriage partnership phase. The second trickiest is doing that at the similar maturity level almost at the same time.. One partner must play at higher level of patience than the other while keep having faith. In short term/long term relationship these are the hardest parts. After a few failed encounters, would you still have a faith and trust the other will pick up eventually ? During dating for example, would you think it’s time to cut your loss ? How to give a fair chance to the other without losing yourself ? And so the key answer is having a very considerate partner. Although being considerate is a rare skill since it easily got lost in one’s day to day busyness and routines. I also believe the closer the age gaps, the easier the other partner to come closer, I could be wrong. Do I trust my siblings would pick up my intention to understand each other one day? Undoubtedly yes, but a married partner sometimes feels like a total stranger you happen to wake up with one morning.

  6. I don’t just like this article, I LOVE this! Focus on the family often speaks of this ’80:20′ rule. As in 80% of marriages are this way and 20% don’t fit the general rule. Actually if someone did research (maybe you already have) I’d bet we would find that those stats aren’t even CLOSE to the real numbers. Because of this bent in FOF’s thinking, I often have to shut off the program. You want to know why? Although they superficially say there’s an 80/20 rule, they very often neglect advice for the ’20’!!! It often makes me feel “abnormal”. I love your article because it lets God define YOUR normal! He uniquely created individuals and He uniquely created my marriage. I feel heard and understood from your article. Your marriage “advice” has saved my marriage. You have no idea the impact you’ve had. May God pour out His blessings on you and your own unique marriage!

  7. VERY WELL SAID, GARY! Oh, how I wish I would have had this wise counsel in the first 10 years of marriage. It took me several years to realize that I needed to become a student of my spouse. Even today, I am still learning, still studying him, still seeking to know him inside and out and we are almost 20 years into our marriage. It has not been easy and I have made plenty of mistakes but I pray I’ve learned from each one. Gary has given us wonderful, sage advice to heed and I know the payoff will be worth it…because I’m already living it!