Sunday, October 12, 2008

A fresh start

A few days ago I received a question that deeply touched my heart, so much that I decided to do a separate post about it. Not because I'm such an outstanding expert on the matter, but rather because I'm as much in need of humble learning and improvement as the lady who sent the question. So here it goes.

"What can a woman do, 6-7 years into her marriage, when she realizes she started out all wrong? When we first married I was cold, rude, demanding, unfeminine and hated everything domestic. I have completely changed my outlook on everything at this point. I now do my best to be kind and nurturing to my husband. But what else can I do to try and un-do my past behavior towards him? For those of us that have been married for a while that are trying to change the way we behave as wives and mothers - any tips?"

Obviously, I'm a very, very new wife - my dear husband and I have only been married a few short months. However, even in this brief period, I learned how important it is to let go, forgive, and start over. A new, fresh page opens every day if we allow it - and if we don't, consequences can be devastating.

Unresolved issues can eventually form a high wall that divides you and prevents open communication and true intimacy. It can be very painful even when we're talking about matters of weeks - I can only imagine how high and wide this wall can grow within years! Each misunderstanding, frustration, argument, and silence treatment is another brick in the wall that stands between husband and wife, until finally, tragically, they become two hostile strangers who would rather reveal their hearts to anyone but each other.

As we all know, old habits die hard. The longer you let a destructive pattern go on, the more difficult it is to reverse. It's important to recognize the mistakes of our old ways, passionately desire a change, and commit to this change - not half-heartedly, not out of cold duty, but out of love, pure love.

I can't even begin to express how important it is to sit down with your husband and talk, talk, talk about everything that is on your heart. Pour out your heart, unrestrictedly, and thus make it easier for your husband to know how you feel, and let you know how he feels. Pray for each other and for your marriage, and ask the One Who brought you together to renew your love and devotion for each other. Ask Him to turn your heart towards your husband, and become the wife you have always wanted to be.

I'm writing this with a constricted heart because I, too, have been guilty of unfair behavior towards my dear husband, of miscommunication, of letting difficult matters lie for a long time instead of resolving them as soon as they arose, of allowing us both to carry a weight in our hearts, which became a burden on our budding new marriage. All because of not finding the courage to openly talk, and then commit to, and make a change. Thankfully, the Almighty has blessed me with the gift of a patient, loving, devoted husband, who made every effort to help me see what we both need to do in order to improve.

I know many of the ladies who read this blog are more experienced wives, and therefore I'm opening this for discussion. I wish every struggling couple - and I believe most married couples face challenges once in a while - a beautiful renewal of love, commitment and closeness in their marriage.

29 comments:

Susan said...

Excellent post, Anna! You are so right about the importance of communication. The person who emailed you should ask the Lord to reveal to her ways she could do better and put a stop on her lips to help her think before she speaks, rather than react from bad habits. It really does work.

Aelwyn said...

Sometimes it helps to ask God to help us see why we react the way we do. My husband and I are working through why I sometimes do not bring up those difficult issues until they fester and build on other things. Part of it has been fear because I grew up in a home with a very angry, controlling father. My husband is entirely the opposite of that, but sometimes I forget. It is important to not just change our behavior, but understand why we act the way we do, so that we can be healed.

Anonymous said...

Very good food for thought. I agree with most of what you've said, with one caveat...many husbands don't like to pour out their hearts, and may not have the patience to hear you pour out yours. Sometimes even 'good' men, great husbands, aren't comfortable with talking out every single issue that arises.

I think communication is important, of course, but I think women often have a different idea of what good communication entails.

I would advise each woman get to know her man. In many cases, if a woman wants to make a change, action speaks louder than words. A serious heart to heart is not always necessary (sometimes, of course...but it shouldn't be overdone with husbands who get annoyed with that kind of discussion. Save it for when it's really necessary, and communicate daily in a lighter manner, so problems won't build).
Tammy

Mrs. Anna T said...

Tammy,

It's true not all of us are great talkers. I'm not, as a matter of fact. However, some matters cannot be resolved without talking them through, even if it doesn't come naturally...

Laura said...

I'm not married, but this reminds of the saying "It is never too late to do the right thing".

Amanda said...

I believe one needs to forgive themself. Conviction about the error of your ways is the catalyst for change... lingering guilt, on the other hand, has a way of clouding even the best efforts to change. To the point of even creating a whole new set of problems.

I am not saying that this is the issue with either you, Mrs T, or the lady who emailed you. Just thought it was worth a mention...

Alysa said...

Reading this has made me realise (again!) how little I really know about marriage. How does one truly prepare to become one with the young man the Lord has intended for you?

This question reminded me of a book I read when the Lord first began dealing with me on this subject. It is called "Created to be His Helpmeet" (and is available here: http://shop.nogreaterjoy.org/product_info.php/cPath/2_18/products_id/84).

Some people find it quite legalistic, but I found it quite eye-opening, in terms of what a man needs from marriage. It is written from a Christian perspective, so my apologies if it is is unhelpful.

Thanks again for your blog. It is such an encouragement to us young ladies still trying to find the way!

Bethany Hudson said...

I agree with Anna that communication is key in these sorts of issues. Like Tammy said, not everyone communicates the same way. I am extremely verbose and it's taken my husband time to understand my locquacious method of communicating as much as it has taken me time to understand his more frank, terse style. Now, he doesn't get impatient with me and I don't get upbraided by him, but it took time.

If you haven't had a great communication relationship with your husband up to this point, I'd recommend setting some "ground rules" before hashing out an important/difficult issue. Give your side of things, then have him say back to you what he understood. That way, you can clarify any miscommunication or confusion. Then, do the same with him. Another good idea is to have a "time-out" policy. If your husband (or you!) gets uncomfortable or overwhelmed, you should be able to call a time-out, for a predetermined length of time, with the understanding that you'll come back to the discussion at the end of that time (usually 15 minutes is good to shoot for).

Other than that, pray. Pray alone, pray together. Let God do the work of healing anything that needs it, and trust that He will.

Blessings,
Bethany

Mary L. said...

There are a few books that I think would be very helpful for you to read and try to implement in your life together. First is the Bible which will teach you God's plan for women (especially Proverbs 31), second "Fascinating Womanhood" by Helen Andelin, "third "Are You Serious About marriage ?" by Susan Zakula (available from Keepersofthefaith.com).
They also have two fine workbooks called "The Joy of Womanhood" and "The Joy of Obedience" also written by the same author. I was not raised in a Godly family and I have found that these books have hwlped to give me a vision of what I'd like to be as a wife.

Mary -married 55 years and counting...and still learning.

H and S said...

Speaking from experience of having started out badly, and slowly improving 10 years later, I can say that humility is absolutely essential to this process. And remember that every day is a new day.

Rose said...

Dearest Anna,

As one of your older readers, married for 32 years, I wish I could offer a perfect recipe for a happy relationship but, as with all facets of life, there is none.

Along the way I've learned much -- quick as I am to do things, to speak, to lose my temper, to express an opinion, to chastise my husband -- we are both happier when I think first. He is a kinder and gentler soul than me.

Over the years I've learned patience and I've learned that although my way may seem the right and only way, he can often offer an alternative that is a better solution.

I've learned that thinking before acting or speaking brings better happier outcomes for both of us.

I've learned that my quick response to abruptly criticise or dismiss an action hurts him as much as the reverse does to me.

After 32 years, we truly want the best for each other on a very deep level. We achieve it by putting the other person first.

Looking to the past and trying to rebuild it is a pointless exercise. A spoken sincere brief apology is the best salve. Looking forward and creating better behaviours in oneself builds strong foundations.

I do not indulge in gossip about my husband. I have learned that sarcasm, no-speaks and veiled references chink away at the foundations.

My love, my very best friend, is entitled to the best I can be. I must be this for him before anyone else.

Love of a mate is so precious. It deserves the best in us.

Lily said...

I agree with the recommendation for Mrs. Andelin's books, you can even take courses on line, very inexpensively. Google fascinating womanhood.

My husband and I are nearly 20 years married. We have definitely had our ups and downs. We have had some severe blows to our matrimonial bliss over the years, but through it all, if you remember the vows you took when you married, and learn to yield to your husband, always putting him first, you will eventually find an understanding forming between you. I do not think you have to lose yourself entirely to serve him, that is not what I mean, nor is it what he would expect from you. In order to learn new habits however, I do think you must expect to give more, a lot more at first. After all you are looking to redefine your relationship, and make it better. In order to manage that successfully, it is likely you will have to compromise a lot, and to get through the transition, it may be you who has to compromise the most.

I also agree with Anna, communication is essential, but it doesn't always need to be verbal. There is always a rhythm which develops in a marital relationship, changing the rhythm requires creativity, patience, understanding, compassion, and over all, unconditional love for your spouse. If you both have those things, or are working towards them, no matter what ill wind blows you off course you will soon find clear skies and smooth sailing. Until the next inevitable storm passes through, which is also part of the rhythm of life. But, with each storm weathered, you become stronger in your foundation. Marriage is a blessing, and your husband is blessed to have a wife who wants to stop fighting her role and throw herself fully into it. He will soon appreciate that more than he realizes.

letters to elijah said...

Dear Anna,

First - I think that is wise of you to ask for assistance of other married woman that read your blog. Many newly married woman think they have this thing all figured out. I guess that's the honeymoon phase talking.

I am a Christian so I hope you don't mind me quoting from the New Testament. My husband and I (we have been married for 9 years) have a "marriage verse" This verse did not come about during our honeymoon phase but rather during the time when we discovered that this wasn't always going to be easy. From the book of James - 1:19
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

We truly believe in this. Too many times in marriage we say things in haste.

God bless,

Dana

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anna. A heart-to-heart is in order here. It doesn’t have to be especially long, but if she hasn’t already, the wife in this situation needs to apologize for treating her husband badly and let him know of her intention to do better. This accomplishes three things.

First, it lets the husband know that the wife realizes her behavior or attitude has been inappropriate and that she wants to change. This is valuable. Confession is the road to healing.

Second, it gives the husband an opportunity to give some type of feedback. He might agree with her assessment that she has not behaved the way a wife should, and express his forgiveness. He might disagree and feel that she hasn’t done anything wrong, and is meeting his expectations. This is especially true of situations in which a woman has heard what other women do for their husbands and thinks that if she is not providing it, she is doing wrong by her husband. For instance, my husband finds a very submissive attitude to be quite unattractive and wishes for me to assert myself more, not less. I am still a submissive wife, but I am learning that submission can take many forms and doesn’t always look still, quiet, and docile. This also gives the husband an opportunity to suggest possible changes he’d like to see made, and possibly apologize for any failings on his part (generally speaking, my husband and I have found in counseling other couples that when things are not working, it is almost never entirely the fault of one person).

Third, having the conversation establishes accountability. If the husband knows the wife is trying to change, he can praise her when she does good things and gently correct her if he sees that she is returning to her old ways. Men can be dense sometimes, and if he does not know she is making a change, he might not notice. For a change to be lasting, it needs to be reinforced. Nobody goes on a diet and stays on it if they don’t see the numbers on the scale moving. Similarly, a wife who gets no notice or praise for changes she is making will have a harder time sticking to the changes.

I also agree that the best way to make it up to him is to alter your behavior. Show through your actions that you are serious about changing. Don’t just lament your bad attitude; resist the temptation to have a bad attitude in the first place, and pray to God and ask Him to take it away! Don’t just feel sorry that you don’t do XYZ (whatever that might be…laundry, dishes, intimacy, paying the bills, talking) often enough. Instead, resolve to do XYZ on a regular basis, and go through with it. Actions do speak louder than words, but both actions and words are required here, I think.

It seems to me that the hardest hurdle (admitting you have a problem) has already been crossed here, and the rest of it should be pretty much downhill. Remember, your husband loves you. That’s why he married you. Love covers a multitude of sins, and if you ask for forgiveness with a humble heart, I am betting your husband will forgive you and you can move forward into a marriage that is even more beautiful than it has ever been. That’s my prayer for you.

Terry, Ornament of His Grace said...

As a wife who also had to regroup and begin a new approach to marriage after a few years, I have only 3 pieces of advice: 1)Pray hard for the Lord to help you become the woman and wife He would have you to be. 2) be slow to speak, and quick to hear. just a few seconds of pause before opening one's mouth does wonders to hange what you do and don't allow to pass through your lips. 3) Remember that love, by its ver definition is focused on the person you are showing the love to. Love your husband the way he best receives love, not the way you feel most comfortable giving it. Not always easy but is it love if you do it any other way? Express your needs certainly (remember #2 before you start expressing), but the best way to have your needs met is to "do unto others..." and trust that the Lord will take care of you by showing your husband what it takes to love you well.

Frieda said...

From my 40 years of married life (and I'd still choose him!) may I say that Tammy and Rose have made some excellent points. Every man is unique. Not every man wants to communicate in the same way. My husband loves to tell me about his interests, but he dislikes detailed talks about mistakes we've made. He doesn't want analyzing, rehashing, philosophizing, detailing, or talking it over at length. I have had to learn to do those things only with the my Father in Heaven or occasionally with a trusted woman friend. My husband prefers a sincere, concise apology, a hug, a smile, and then a return to life as it should be lived. Putting my resolve into immediate action communicates my repentence, and does it much better than extended verbal discussion would do.

MrsKassandra said...

Anna, great post! I've kind of been in a tizzy the last few days as its sunk in that I really AM married and that required adaptation and restructuring of my days and my priorities. I was in tears over the weekend because I feel like I don't have a clue what I'm doing. But I had a chat with hubby and asked him to list some things that are important to him; so I can focus on those and not all of the extras( ie curtain colors and decorations) that are nice but aren't worth stressing about.

His response involved clean laundry, food prepared, staying on top of bills..usual stuff..but his main request was that I be not anxious. Not anxious about how clean the house is, about money, or whatever- that I just trust God and trust him that we're on the path that we should be- and that God will provide. That I just be there to talk, hang out...and not worry.
Funny, here I was feeling overwhelmed that I wasnt being a 'good wife' as in cleaning, decorating or cooking enough..

deb said...

Sometimes simply apologizing to your spouse can have a very healing effect for both individuals.

I think that spouses need to be aware of the attitudes of the company that they keep. People with negative views toward the opposite sex and their own spouses can influence our own attitudes if we aren't careful.

Anonymous said...

Your reader needs to pray, first & foremost. I also think she should ask forgiveness of her husband. If he is a good man, he will be heartened at his wife's attempts at reconciliation. And, no doubt, he has made mistakes of his own.

I am learning all the time in my own marriage. There are so many times I've spoken in haste....& of course, regretted doing so! I see improvement as time has gone on, however, & have had the pleasure of experiencing relief at not jumping to conclusions, not speaking out right away (with that oh, so justified tone in my voice...I'm sure many of your readers, Anna, know what I mean!!), & just not allowing a kind of attitude to take hold in my heart, on a daily basis. God has been faithful to help me as I seek to be a better wife...but I do have to obey His commandments, as well as His gentler urgings.

I wish your reader much happiness, as she travels this new path. Some days will seem harder than others, but I do believe she has chosen the better way for her marriage, & I believe God will bless her efforts!

Brenda

Mrs. D said...

I am currently reading "When sinners say I do" and find it very interesting and thought-provoking.

Jeannine

Anonymous said...

One of the best resources, besides the Bible, is "Fascinating Womanhood" and also "Created to be his helpmeet".... what we have to guard against as domestic minded women is how everything, from TV to Radio, to movies to books, to the school system, to society in general, is not for a marriage based on the precepts of God....but realize it is against a beautiful homelife, a right marriage... and so it is a continual reshaping of our thoughts.. our hearts... and we need to counter the feministic attitudes that will tend to take root with a constant flow of godly ideas...

A Wonderful Life! said...

THats so true. I have been guilty of the same and feel terrible but I take each day at a time and show my husband kindness and respect. I promised myself I would never go back to those old ways again and I havent. God is behind me! Stephanie

Stephanie said...

There is a book by Dr. Laura, "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands", that is an amazing eye-opener on this topic.

My advice: The moment your eyes have been opened to see your poor treatment of your husband... CHANGE. Most husbands will pick up on the new attitude really fast. Because he has been hurt and will naturally protect himself, he will probably (and understandably!) hold you at arms length for a while until he realizes the change is real. And it is at that point of realization that you should sit down and talk about it. Before that, a humble, heartfelt apology followed by letting your actions speak volumes will be in order, because unless he sees a real change in your behaviour, talking about it with him after years of mistreatment will just be annoying chatter. Most men can't sit and listen to EVERYTHING a woman has in her mind, even when their relationship is in good standing!

In brief, stop thinking about yourself and LOOK CLOSELY AT WHAT HE NEEDS FROM YOU - and meet his needs in a way that he understands. Treat him with UTMOST love and respect, keep your house clean, make him some good food, and... you know...

Anonymous said...

I just want to add that many women change a few years after marriage. This is true especially for those who marry very young.

There is a saying, 'if you haven't changed a bit in the past decade, well, you've surely wasted a lot of time'.

I think I'm very different than the young bride I was 17 yrs ago, and my husband has changed no less. We have both carved a middle ground that we can walk on together (I certainly don't believe in wifely submission, but in a loving, equal parternship).

The woman who wrote you should realize she is maturing and growing and this is a good thing, not something to mull over endlessly. The best way she can make things up is to be a good partner and treat her husband well. I think any husband would notice a change very quickly. I know personally that my husband would even prefer to skip the apology phase.....but as Lily noted, each couple has their own rhythm, and our mode of operation just happens to be less self-reflective. A joke with a cuddle or a hug here spells 'I'm sorry' or 'let's move on'.
Tammy

Anonymous said...

There is a great book about this topic - "Created to be his helpmeet" by Debi Pearl. I highly recommend it! I have read it over and over and learn something new every single time!

Anonymous said...

Dearest Anna,
Well I guess I qualify as old(er) since I will be 49 the beginning of December, and I have been married to my wonderful DH now for 21 years. I too did not start out with the correct attitudes and actions towards my DH and there was lots of friction. To my discredit, I did not 'get it' until 3 years or so ago. The first thing I did was to go to him and confess my sin of rebellion to his authority and ask his forgiveness. I can tell you that it was harder thinking about doing this than just doing it! Once past that hurdle (for me!) we were able to talk and get many things out in the air that had bothered one or the other of us for many years. I wanted to clear as much air as possible for our new start. I also thought it was important for the confessing to 1) make sure he knew I knew I was completely wrong, 2) that my 'new me' was not a manipulation ploy, short term change or the like. As much as I would have preferred to skip the confessing and just jump right into the 'changed wife', I knew that would be wrong. He would wonder what got into me now, or how long would it last this time, etc. I wanted him to know why I had changed and to embrace this change with enthusiasm and joyful anticipation. That is not to say that he embraced the 'new' me until he saw it was a permanent change!

I can tell you that the Lord so changed my heart towards my husband the I fell in love all over again and I felt like a new bride, and this was right before our 19th wedding anniversary! I treated him like a brand new husband and tried to learn as much about him as I could. What were his likes and dislikes, how did he prefer the state of the house when he arrives home, and things like that. Then I went about and systematically tried to make sure I kept up with the laundry so he always has clean underwear & socks in his dresser drawer, I fix him special treats that are his favorites, I make a point to speak well of him to and in front of our child and friends, I look for opportunities to promote his accomplishments, I especially make it a point to think well of him starting in my own mind first. The same things I did as a new bride for my beloved. I focused my energies on pleasing him in whatever way I could think of or he let me know. It is even in the little things he just mentions in passing for you to do or that he doesn't like such-and-such (like things stored on top of the dryer) and I try to make them a priority. I ask his opinion on furniture arrangement, wall colors, wall treatment, etc. He had come home one day, before I submitted to his authority, and had heard on the radio that you can tell who is truly the authority in the home, just try re-arranging the furniture or decide to paint a room and see what happens! I will tell you that I did re-arrange a room to his specifications. There were minor changes after that we both agreed needed to be made, but the original design was all his idea and I took to moving everything in the room to the places he designated. DO NOT do this if you are pregnant, but elicit help!! He did not ask me to do this alone, I wanted to surprise him with having it all done when he returned from work. I try not to be demanding, or have him behave in a way that is not normally like him (ie romantic). Well I have to tell you that it was completely his suggestion, but Sunday we went for a drive in the mountains (we live near Mt Rainier and are close enough that we are only an short drive away & they are 13,000+ feet high and majestically beautiful) to see the fall colors. How romantic is that!!! I did some research on where to go, when a good time would be and such at his request & I participated with enthusiasm, and made sure to let him know how much I enjoyed our outing. We even got out and took a short hike around a little lake. He stopped many places for me to take pictures of the scenery, which he knows I really enjoy, and I never even had to ask!

I can say with assurance that I have not gotten it all right every time, every day. But the strife, struggle and animosity that existed before was gone. So when there was a difference between us, we could discuss it easier. We are no longer in competition for the same job of leader in the home. He's leader and I make sure he knows that I know that!
Blessings,
~Mrs. R

Anonymous said...

Just recently found your blog...most enjoyable and you are mature for your years, my dear. It took this old grandma quite awhile to learn what you and some other younger ladies already seem to know. We nearly did not make it, and today we have been married 36 years. About a decade ago, we began to learn more of the TORAH and the meanings of the teachings there. We began to keep Sabbath and that one thing alone has blessed us most of all!! I learned when we begin to obey Abba as we have been told in Scripture, then other blessings follow and a good marriage is one of those. We came together with much baggage, no pre-marriage counseling (distance due to military during Nam was reason there)...from 2 dysfunctional families, mine a dad who nearly beat the life out of me...not a good formula for sucess. But you know, G-D loves to take cracked, broken, and sad lives and make them beautiful. Knowing we have sinned and need HIS forgiveness is the first step for a marriage. And yes, I had to be the first one...I HAD TO ACT often in ways, I certainly did NOT feel like doing inside. But today, I can say it is worth it. Blessings on all of you here!
Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

I have to say I disagree with the assumption that 'you can tell who is truly the authority in the home, just try re-arranging the furniture or decide to paint a room and see what happens' (as Mrs. R. stated).

My husband prefers clean, spare lines, a minimalist approach, and warm paint colours (mango, spice, yellow....). Our house is slightly antique/garden/eclectic, with curvy furniture and soft greens and blues. Does this mean I rule the roost? No - it means that home decor to me is an essential aspect of life. I think for many women, the way the house is decorated is very meaningful. And while my husband has his preferences, like many men, it's ultimately not that significant for him.

When one colour is off in my living room, it drives me batty. I cook and bake more often when the kitchen is painted to my liking. In contrast, my husband functions exactly the same whether the wall is mango or pale sage.

There are men who care dearly about decor, but I've found them to be far rarer than the women who gain a daily sense of esthetic pleasure when the place is done just right. So it is only fair that the partner who cares most about this realm make the bulk of the decisions (personally, my husband and I decide together on expensive things like flooring and couches. Everything else - art, paint, pillows, rugs, etc - is my own domain).

There are areas where my husband cares far more than I, and in these cases, he is the decision-maker (such as what car to buy or which outings to go on during our day off).
I think the art of a good marriage is to be sensitive to what is most important to one another. In cases where both partners intensely care - well, we'd have a modernist house with some curvy antiques, some rooms painted bright, and some painted as cool retreats. And that would be lovely too.
Tammy

sibyl said...

I'm a new reader to this blog, and am enjoying it a lot. As a Catholic wife of 13 years (this November) I would agree with many of the things said here. The main thing, of course, is to stay close to the Lord, praying for wisdom and the grace to change.

Next, as soon as you realize how your behavior has hurt your marriage, go to your DH and tell him you see it and are sorry. Ask him to help you by pointing out when you do those things, since you are trying to change, for the sake of him and your marriage. And then, when he points them out, take the correction gratefully! (My husband does not like to see me cry about things like this, so if I feel hurt, I try to go somewhere else until I get myself under control.)

Finally, it seems to me that we very often undo our good work simply by talking! My biggest realization has been that an action is worth a thousand words, and many things are better left unsaid, except to God.

When you want to criticize, try to praise instead.

Compliment him, sincerely, and let him know how grateful you are for his good qualities.

SMILE! Show him physical affection as often as possible, even if you don't really feel like it. This is part of loving him.