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.
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.