Awhile back my wife shared some thoughts with me that hit me pretty hard. They were not critiques or accusations, but in marriage it doesn’t take much for a spouse’s words to feel like a critique. Even though they were spoken in love, they were hard to hear.
So there I was, sitting on the couch, and as she spoke I could literally feel the emotion and energy of defensiveness rise up in me. Several times during the conversation I was about to retort with a defense or justification of my actions and person. Yet I also sensed a voice that was telling me, “Nick, just listen and don’t try and defend.”
So I did. I listened. I asked clarifying questions. I shared a little here and there of my perspective. I even did a fair job of owning my stuff and taking responsibility for my patterns and habits. This was a good and needed conversation for us to have, even though neither of us enjoyed it. It was not a time to find fault or to seek solutions, but to listen and take in each others thoughts.
The Choice We Have
Later in the week as I was reflecting on the conversation and spending time evaluating some things about myself, I came to a realization of a choice that I have, that all spouses and parents have. I can be the husband and father that I want to be, or the husband and father that they need me to be.
Don’t take this the wrong way. I am not advocating that I or any spouse deny their personal values, needs and sense of self. What I am trying to say is that when I am the husband and father that suites my own instincts and comforts, I can often be like water and go the path of least resistance.
To clarify further, my natural instinct often means avoiding conversations I don’t really want to have. It means blaming someone else or being too passive at times. It means side-stepping my own growth and change because, well, growth and change is not easy. Its like stretching. You have to push beyond your comfort level and hold the stretch if you really want to lengthen the muscle. In the end a choice is always made. The easy self-centered path, or the more difficult path of love.
Give Me A Reason
So what’s my reason? Why would I want to be uncomfortable? Or vulnerable? Or have to admit things that I could work on that would benefit my marriage or family? The answer to these questions, and the motivation to actually do them, is that when when I am no longer working to satisfy my self in the marriage, then I become the father my kids both need, and the husband my wife needs.
The wonderful secret and reward in this is that, deep down, this is the kind of husband and father I really want to be.
- I want to be a strong for them.
- I want to be present and sensitive to their needs
- I want to have fun and laugh together
- I want to be a spiritual leader, not a passive participant
- I want to be a helpful and effective teacher and mentor for my kids
- I want to be romantic and pursue my wife’s affection
Of course this is an idealistic list and I will never be perfect, but when I am working to be this kind of a husband and father a funny thing happens. The self-focused fears, and the desire to do my own things, my own ways, seem to lessen. In their place grows a sense of joy and gratitude to God for my family, and even for the hard work, sacrifice and responsibility of being a spouse and parent. It is in this that I find the truth in that well known verse “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Wives, don’t get the wrong idea here. Your job is the same for your husband. This is not the time to sit down and make a list of all the things you want your husband to do and be, demanding that his job is to comply.
What Will It Be?
So where does all this leave us? In the end it comes back to the opening question: what kind of spouse or parent will you be? The one you want to be, the one that meets your needs, and keeps you in your own comfort zones? Or will you be the one they need you to be? Below are a few questions to consider and get you started.
- What needs does your spouse have that are not being met? In what way are you helping or hurting?
- Is there a conversation between you and your spouse that one or both of you have been avoiding?
- What is a need you have that you would like your spouse to know about and honor?