Husbands and wives have many hot topics, but not many rate higher than sex and childrearing techniques. Yes, we can throw finances, in-laws, and work issues into the mix, but sex and childrearing are usually right up there for most couples.
A husband wrote:
Unlike my wife, I grew up in a home that was pretty much run by shame, and the list of taboo subjects was as long as your arm. Sex, language (even the word “dam” was forbidden as it sounded like the cuss word), alcohol, anger . . . these just were not mentioned more than once, on pain of punishment; mainly from Mom, who had lots of “issues.” So, when I got out on my own (and eventually married), I was free to investigate “the Dark Side,” but with that load of guilt and shame riding my back. That carried over into our marriage where, as misfortune would have it, my new bride was the “Last Utterly Innocent Eighteen-Year-Old” alive. The honeymoon was awkward, to say the least, as sex, it seemed, was mainly an icky surprise to her more than anything. The women at the church we first attended . . . were only too happy to reinforce that idea in her, which set us firmly on the road of less-than-marital bliss.
Kids started arriving, and we found out we had pretty different views of how raising them up ought to go, with lots of bad energy going out at each other when we’d butt heads over the topic.
You could say that we viewed each other as: “Not different, just WRONG.”
After twenty-some odd years of on and off “I like you, love you/I can’t stand you,” our marriage came undone for a few months.
We eventually got some counseling and back together, but the “issues” were still there, pretty much unspoken and/or unresolved.
Enter your Love and Respect series.
A couple we’d known for many years, whose marriage was also under repair, told how a Small Group at their church was hosting the series. My wife convinced me to go with her, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Old issues that we’d both been hanging on to for years are getting aired out, now in terms and language that don’t offend/threaten the other. Our viewpoints have become topics to be explored instead of guarded against. Quite the change, that!
I’ve certainly become far more aware/sensitive to when I’m squashing my wife’s “air hose.” Conversely, it provided me with the tools/language to let her know, without animosity, when she’s doing that to me.
The topics of sex and childrearing issues that have been long-standing . . . things beyond difficult for us to discuss, are now things we can talk about, without worrying about hurting or being hurt. THAT has been a true Godsend for us!
We recently celebrated our thirtieth anniversary, and I’d be lying if I didn’t give your L&R seminar DVD at least some of the credit for us being able to re-look at old “issues,” examine them in a new light, and then remember why we each said “I will,” all those years ago.
Is it perfect with us yet? No. You don’t overcome thirty years of “stuff” overnight, or even over a weekend. Life’s not TV, yes? But it’s getting better! We’re now able to bless (literally) each other each morning.
What did this couple do that enabled them to discuss sex and childrearing issues?
Simple: they learned about the Love and Respect principles.
For one, both subscribed to the position that neither was wrong, just different. I love how he said earlier they had adhered to the position “not different, just wrong!” In other words because he had certain sexual desires that she did not, both concluded the other was wrong. But neither was wrong, just different.
And the same could be said regarding their childrearing techniques. Her differences did not make him wrong, or her absolutely right.
This understanding enabled them to stay away from telling the other he or she was wrong. When he conveyed she was wrong and frigid, she felt unloved. When she conveyed he was wrong and sick, he felt disrespected. Or, when he told her she was overly protective and damaging the kids, this hurt her and made her feel unloved. When she told him that he was an irresponsible parent who really cared more about himself than the kids, this dissed him.
Such reactions feed what I call the Crazy Cycle: without love, she reacts without respect and without respect he reacts without love.
Many couples become confused because they think the conflict over sex or childrearing techniques is causing the craziness, when in fact it is the unloving and disrespectful reactions while trying to talk about this topic that feed the craziness. The topic on the table is not the issue. The issue is that two people who are otherwise mature, treat each other like five-year-olds who have not learned how to communicate in tones that sound loving and respectful.
Two, both realized the other needed love and respect like they needed air to breathe. In other words, when discussing sex and childrearing issues, if they appeared hostile and contemptuous to the other, they would squash the other’s air hose connected to a Love Tank or Respect Tank. In making their point about sex or child rearing in an unloving and disrespectful way, the other lost sight of the point as they panicked over the sliced air hose.
Put it this way: When you grab another’s finger and twist it 180 degrees, you won’t be able to talk to them at that moment about watering the plants. Pain circumvents the ability to hear clearly. Appearing hostile to a wife and contemptuous to a husband twists the finger 180 degrees, so to speak, and neither can hear what is being said about sex or childrearing.
When a wife looks at her husband as disgusting when he surfaces the topic of sex, she will shut him down not because of what she is saying about sex but because of her look of disdain. God did not wire a man to hear clearly from those who despise them, or appear to despise them. It threatens him at his core, at the place of a deep need. Or, when a husband sounds harsh and angry when his wife differs with him on a childrearing approach, his wife won’t hear what he mouths because he is jumping on her air hose and she cannot breathe. God did not design a female to be talked to in ways that feel unloving and hostile to her. Her pain is no longer about a questionable child rearing technique but “How can my husband tell me that he loves me and talk to me with such hostility?” This threatens her at the core of her being, at the place of what she needs from her husband: love.
Three, when talking about sex or childrearing, each learned to ask the question, “Is that which I am about to say going to sound loving and respectful?” This question must be asked and answered if one is to stay on topic and bring some degree of closure related to sex or childrearing.
When in doubt about being able to answer the question, ask the other, “How can I talk about this in a way that does not sound unloving or disrespectful to you?” A spouse can usually provide the answer that guides us to stay on topic and not hurt them. It also lets the other know our good willed attempt to stay off their air hose, which usually motivates them to stay off ours.
Both realized that God intended for them to trust and obey Ephesians 5:33. There God commands the husband to love his wife, that is, appear loving when discussing, for instance, her mothering. And, there God commands the wife to respect her husband, that is, appear respectful when talking about sex.
This prevents a crisis and a need for counseling.
This leads to a better sex life and more effective parenting.
- What have been the “hot topics” in your marriage that have led to moments of feeling unloved and disrespected? Do you agree that the three adjustments the couple in the letter made would help you in similar ways? Explain.
- Has there been a time when “not different, just wrong” described how you felt concerning your spouse? Was the issue resolved before readjusting to the viewpoint of “not wrong, just different”? Is that something that still needs to be done?
- Do you agree with Emerson’s analogy that stepping on someone’s air hose is like twisting their finger 180 degrees? How have you seen this played out in your conflicts with your spouse?
- How would you feel/respond if your spouse asked you during a conflict, “How can I talk about this in a way that does not sound unloving or disrespectful to you?” Would you be willing to try asking this yourself?