In the Introduction to his book, “Solid Answers”, Dr. James Dobson commented:
“The eternal plan for the family as I understand it begins with a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, undergirded by absolute loyalty and fidelity to one another. The husband then devotes himself to the best interests of his wife, providing for her needs and protecting her to the point of death, if necessary. The wife honours her husband, devotes herself to him, and respects his leadership in the family.”
Achieving that lifelong commitment in a marriage is difficult and challenging. Dr Dobson shares his thoughts and insights into dealing with some aspects of the lifelong journey together as husband and wife.
Marriage Built on Commitment can Weather Storms of Life
Q: My uncle and aunt were happily married for nine years before a couple of things happened. First, their youngest child drowned in a neighbourhood pool, and then my uncle was injured in an automobile accident. Instead of bringing them together, these two events drove them apart. How could they have weathered the storms? How will my fiancée and I stay together through the difficult times in our lives?
A: Having served on a large medical school faculty for 14 years, I watched many families go through the kind of hardship your relatives suffered. All too commonly, I saw marital relationships succumb to the pressures of personal crises. Parents who produced a mentally retarded child, for example, often blamed each other for the tragedy that confronted them. Instead of clinging together in love and reassurance, they added to their sorrows by attacking each other. I didn’t condemn them for this human failing, but I did pity them for it. A basic ingredient was lacking in their relationship, which remained unrecognised until their world fell off its axis. That missing component is called … commitment.
I heard the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer speak to this issue some years ago. The noted theologian described the bridges that were built in Europe by the Romans in the first and second centuries A.D. They are still standing today, despite the unreinforced brick and mortar with which they were made. Why haven’t they collapsed in this modern era of heavy trucks and equipment? They remain intact because they are used for nothing but foot traffic. If an 18-wheel truck were driven across these historical structures, they would crumble in a great cloud of dust and debris. Marriages that lack an iron-willed determination to hang together are like the fragile Roman bridges. They appear to be secure and may indeed remain upright – until they are put under heavy pressure. That’s when the seams split and the foundation crumbles.
It appears to me that many young couples today are in that precarious position. Their relationships are constructed of unreinforced mud that will not withstand the weighty trials lying ahead. The determination to survive together is simply not there. It’s not only the great tragedies of life but also the daily frustrations that wear and tear on a marriage. When accumulated over time, these minor irritants may be even more threatening to a marriage than the catastrophic events that crash into our lives. And yes, there are times in every good marriage when a husband and wife don’t like each other very much. There are occasions when they feel as though they will never be in love again. Emotions are like that. They flatten out occasionally like an automobile tire with a nail in the tread. Riding on the rim is a pretty bumpy experience for everyone on board.
Let’s return to your specific question. What will you do when unexpected tornadoes blow through your home or when the doldrums leave your sails sagging and silent? Will you pack it in and go home to Mama? Will you pout and cry and seek ways to strike back? Or will your commitment hold you steady? If you want your marriage to last a lifetime, you must set your jaw and clench your firsts. Make up your mind that nothing short of death will ever be permitted to come between the two of you. Nothing!
Use Caution and Confidence to Confront Spouse Having Affair
Q: My wife has been involved in an affair with her boss for six months. I have known about it from the beginning, but just haven’t been able to confront her. Melanie acts like she doesn’t love me anyway. If I give her an ultimatum, I could lose her completely. Can you assure me that won’t happen? Have you ever offered the “love must be tough” advice and had it backfire, ending in divorce?
A: Yes, I have, and I certainly understand your caution. I wish I could guarantee how Melanie will react to a firmer approach. Unfortunately, life offers few certainties, even when all the probabilities point in one direction. Sometimes well-conditioned athletes drop dead from heart attacks. Some outstanding parents raise children who rebel and become drug addicts. Some of the most intelligent, cautious businessmen foolishly bankrupt themselves. Life is like that. Things happen every day that should not have occurred.
Nevertheless, we should go with the best information available to us. I saw a sign that said, “The fastest horses don’t always win, but you should still bet on them.” Even as a non-gambler, that makes sense to me. Having offered that disclaimer, let me say that there is nothing risky about treating oneself with greater respect, exhibiting confidence and poise, pulling backward and releasing the door on the romantic trap. The positive benefits of that approach are often immediate and dramatic.
Loving self-respect virtually never fails to have a salutary effect on a drifting lover, unless there is not the tiniest spark left to fan. Thus, in instances when opening the cage door results in a spouse’s sudden departure, the relationship was already terminal. I am reminded of the proverb that says: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t come back, it never was yours in the first place.” There is a great truth in that adage, and it applies to your relationship with your wife. Now, obviously, it is risky to precipitate a period of crisis. When explosive individuals are involved in midlife turmoil or a passionate fling with a new lover, great tact and wisdom are required to know when and how to respond. That’s why professional counsel is vital before, during and after the confrontation.
It would be unthinkable of me to recommend that victims of affairs indiscriminately pose ultimatums with 24-hour deadlines, or that they push an independent partner into a corner. Great caution is needed in such delicate conflicts. In short, I suggest that you seek the assistance of a competent counsellor who can help you deal with the problem of Melanie’s affair.
Tough Love for Troubled Marriage Involves Taking a Chance
Q: If you were the counsellor who was helping someone manage a crisis situation, your recommendations to exercise tough love could potentially kill the marriage. Doesn’t that make you nervous? Have you ever regretted taking a family in this direction?
A: To answer that question you need to understand how I see my situation. My role is similar to that of a surgeon who tells a patient that he needs a coronary artery bypass operation. The man sits in his doctor’s office, hearing the probabilities of success and failure. “If you undergo this operation,” the doctor says, “research shows you will have a 3 percent chance of not surviving the surgery.” Wow! Three out of every hundred people who submit to the knife will die on the table! Why would anyone run that risk voluntarily? Because the chances of death are far greater without the surgery. The “love must be tough” confrontations and ultimatum are like that.
They may result in the sudden demise of a relationship. But without the crisis, there is a much higher probability of a lingering death. Instead of bringing the matter to a head while there is a chance for healing, the alternative is to stand by while the marriage dies with a whimper. I’d rather take my chances today, before further damage is done. A blowout is better than a slow leak.
Some Hints to Communicate More Effectively with Your Husband
Q: My husband is somewhat insensitive to my needs, but I believe he is willing to do better if I can teach him how I am different from him. Can you help me communicate my needs to him effectively?
A: Perhaps I can begin by suggesting how not to handle this objective. Try not to resort to what I have called the “bludgeoning technique,” which includes an endless barrage of nagging, pleading, scolding, complaining, and accusing. Avoid the impulse to say at the end of a tiring workday, “Won’t you just put down that newspaper, George, and give me five minutes of your time? Five minutes – is that too much to ask? You never seem to care about my feelings, anyway. How long has it been since we went out for dinner? Even if we did, you’d probably take the newspaper along with you. I’ll tell you, George, sometimes I think you don’t care about me and the children anymore. If just once – just once – you would show a little love and understanding, I would drop dead from sheer shock,” etc., etc., etc.
That is not the way to get George’s attention. It’s like hitting him with a block of wood, which is guaranteed to make him mad, silent, or both. Instead of yelling at him, you should look for opportunities to teach your husband during moments when he is most likely to be listening. That instruction requires the proper timing, setting, and manner to be effective. Let’s look at those three ingredients.
1. Timing: Select a moment when your husband is typically more responsive and pleasant. That is most likely to be in the morning – perhaps on a Saturday, when his workday pressures are less. By all means, don’t blunder into a depressing, angry conversation when he is tired and hungry. Give your effort every opportunity to succeed.
2. Setting:The ideal situation is to ask your husband to take you on an overnight or weekend trip to a pleasant area. If financial considerations will cause him to decline, save the money out of household funds or other resources. If it is impossible to get away, go out to breakfast or dinner alone. If that too is out of the question, then select a time at home when the children are occupied and the phone can be taken off the hook. Generally speaking, the further you can get him from home, with its cares and problems and stresses, the better will be your chances to achieve genuine communication.
3. Manner: It is extremely important that your husband does not view your conversation as a personal attack. We are all equipped with emotional defences that rise to our aid when we are vilified. Don’t trigger those mechanisms. Instead, your manner should be as warm, loving, and supportive as possible under the circumstances. Let it be known that you are trying to communicate your own needs rather than emphasising his inadequacies as a husband.
When the timing, setting, and manner converge to produce a moment of opportunity, express your deep feelings as effectively as possible. And like every good Boy Scout – be prepared.
For those who wonder how I know so much about getting the attention of husbands, it’s because my wife approached me in exactly this manner. She got her message through.
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