Three attitudes will make a big difference in what happens in your relationship today: trust, appreciation and acceptance of differences.
Trust. With great sadness, I remember a young sailor who was trying to live a godly life while away but was surrounded by worldly shipmates who accepted every temptation whenever they put into port. He needed encouragement and trust from his wife, but her cousin continually taunted her with stories of his own wicked choices in those same ports, adding gleeful comments such as, "He's probably at that little pink house right now!"
Rather than reassuring her husband of her love and her trust in his good decisions, this wife turned every phone call into a tirade of accusations about where he had undoubtedly been. He was thousands of miles from home, terribly lonely, and feeling as though he was fighting a losing battle.
What a gift his wife could have given him if she had stressed her trust in him, first to her cousin and then to her husband! But out of her fear, she listened to someone who projected his own actions onto another. Sadly, that marriage didn't survive.
Appreciation. Saying "Thank you; I really appreciate your help" goes a long way toward making your spouse want to jump in and help the next time. For example, an honest "I loved the way you handled Josh. Your calmness helped him get a handle on his temper and set the mood for the entire evening" will surround your partner for days -- and help produce that needed calmness again. Face it, we all want to know our efforts are noticed -- and appreciated.
I love the story of the ringmaster who was challenged by a grumpy window washer: "How come you circus people always need applause?" he asked. "I wash windows all week long, and nobody applauds me."
The ringmaster smiled. "Ah, but think how it would change your job if they did applaud!"
How would a little verbal applause change your relationship? We all need a little adoration occasionally. Okay, undoubtedly a spouse is never going to say, "I need you to adore me a little," but what if we offered it occasionally anyway and watched the results? Oh, not a "My, my, but aren't you just the biggest, strongest man on earth?!" for example, but a sincere recognition of efforts and abilities.
New York friends Tim and Louann, a young couple with two small children, were vacationing nearby and stopped in for dinner recently. As we caught up on the lives of mutual friends, Louann mentioned one couple who had married four years ago. Shaking her head, she added, "Glenda just adores Philip." She said it with mild disgust, but I caught the look on Tim's face -- one of bewildered longing. It was as though he was thinking, I wish you'd adore me. And maybe some honest adoration was exactly what their struggling relationship needed.
At couples' retreats, I've dared to say that we're all looking for a harbor in this pitiful world -- a place where we know we are safe and loved and appreciated and even adored a little. Let's work on providing that for each other. And that includes the verbalization of respect. I remember one wife whose husband was injured on the job site. When he recovered, he wasn't able to do the heavy physical labor the first job had required, so he took a clerking job in an outlet store. Instead of assuring him this was temporary, the wife belittled his job, saying to their family and friends such sarcastic things as "Oh, boy, what a job to be proud of, huh? Doesn't he look cute in his little apron?" How sad.
Acceptance that men and women do not think alike. Remember the song "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" from My Fair Lady? Professor Higgins was frustrated that his student, a woman, was thinking like a woman instead of like a man! We chuckle, but more than once I've listened to young wives wanting their husbands to think like women. It amazes me that we marry someone precisely because his or her characteristics balance those missing from our lives, and then we spend the rest of our life trying to change that person.
Adapted from Men Read Newspapers, Not Minds -- and other things I wish I'd known when I first married by Sandra P. Aldrich. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Used by permission.) Author or co-author of 17 books, Sandra is an international speaker who handles serious issues with insight and humor. For information about her speaking availability or to order this book, contact her at [email protected].