Marriage Basics: Communication is the core
Mary was furious with her husband. She wanted him to make the arrangements for their next night out. Last year they both made the decision that a twice monthly “date” was important for maintaining their relationship in the midst of their helter-skelter family life. They did a lot together as a family—Mary, Joe and their two boys, ages 8 and 10. But wisely, they both realized that it’s easy to feel neglected or taken for granted by their spouse. Time together, without the kids, is important for maintaining their marriage and staying connected.
They were pretty good about putting these dates on the calendar. But 9 times out of 10, Mary was the one that did all of the work—picking the day, the place, and arranging the babysitter. Finally, Mary told Joe— “It’s your turn to start organizing these dates!”. She wanted him to take more responsibility for their get-togethers. Mary decided she would just wait and see what happened—a couple of months went by—no nights out.
She was frustrated. She was fuming. She found herself ruminating about this issue and smoke started coming out of her ears. Finally, she popped her cork when she was annoyed about some dirty dishes in the sink. Joe apologized up and down, but nothing he said seemed to mollify Mary.
So who was in the wrong? Both of them. Here’s why:
Don’t hold onto resentment.
Mary was feeling resentful even before they both agreed that Joe would start taking more responsibility for their nights out. Months had gone by before she talked to him about it. And then when Joe did agree, several months went by without any action on his part. Her simmering about this slowly turned into a hard boil.
Talk about your concerns when they first start to surface— don’t wait!
Harboring resentment is bad for you and bad for your relationship.
An apology is necessary but rarely sufficient.
Sure Joe was sorry that he disappointed Mary. But perhaps he was sorrier to be at the other end of her fire. He needs to help Mary understand why he didn’t follow through with his agreement—not with excuses but with real communication about the matter at hand. He has to take a deep look within. Why did he agree to do something that he didn’t do? What was this about for him?
Real forgiveness requires a joint effort.
Afterward, Mary felt bad about losing her temper. Joe felt bad about disappointing his wife. Yes. Mary should have said something sooner and Joe should have followed through. Now what?
Joe asked Mary how he could get out of Mary’s doghouse. She decided that Joe could do all of the laundry that Sunday and mop the kitchen floor. But what he really had to do was to follow through on his commitment—which he did that day.
Deeper communication is necessary.
So why didn’t Joe follow through? He was used to Mary being the family social director. She did such a great job at it! He was afraid that he would disappoint her. He was uncertain about how to make the arrangements for the babysitter. Rather than discuss it with her sooner, he just swept it under the rug. He didn’t make excuses— “I was just too busy”, but was honest with himself and with her about his failing. Mary shared how she felt burdened with too many responsibilities around the house. She wanted him to assume more of the household chores. Their conversation resulted in both of them looking at the family division of labor and making changes.
By the end of their heartfelt talk, they both felt much better. Mary forgave Joe and with that forgiveness, came greater connection, which is what the night outs were all about, to begin with.