How to Love Two Spouses

No, this post is not about polygamy or sister wives. It’s just that sometimes it can feel like you’re married to two spouses at the same time; the one you fell in love with, and the one you didn’t.

Let me explain by using a story from the ancient book of Genesis…

A STORY

Starting in chapter 27 of Genesis, you read about a man named Jacob. Jacob is ambitious and cheats his brother out of his inheritance. Consequently, Jacob winds up on the run. He runs to the far country and begins working for his uncle Laban.

Now Jacob’s uncle had two daughters. One was a rather plain-looking girl named Leah and the other was a beautiful girl named Racheal. One course, Jacob falls head over heels for Racheal and strikes a deal with Laban, to work seven years for Racheal’s hand in marriage.

At the end of those seven years, there’s a wedding ceremony. But, the next morning Jacob wakes up to find that Laban had somehow switched daughters and Jacob was now married to Leah instead of Racheal. (Don’t ask me how that happened!)

Laban gives Jacob some excuse and tells him that if he will agree to work for another seven years, he will go ahead and give him Racheal as well. Jacob agrees and suddenly He finds himself married to two spouses…the one he wanted and the one he didn’t!

A TRUTH

In some ways, this is true for almost every marriage. We all get a spouse we want and one we don’t. It’s a package deal!

When we’re dating, we become convinced that this is the person we want. We like their looks, their personality, and the way they make us feel. So we become convinced that they are the one for us.

But sometime after we’ve married, we wake up to discover we’re also married to a second spouse…and it’s not the one we chose. This spouse does things we don’t like. They correct us when we don’t want them to. Sometimes they take an attitude with us. This spouse doesn’t always look good or act appropriately. And sometimes, they’re just hard to get along with.

Now, occasionally, we still see the spouse we wanted; the spouse that’s easy to love. But then the other one shows up and reminds us that we got more than we bargained for.

AN APPROACH

So, you have to learn to love the spouse you don’t want. But how do you do this?

Here are some things you need to do in order to live with and love the spouse you don’t want:

Quit trying to change the one you don’t want.

Understand that you need the spouse you don’t want as much as the one you do. The spouse you don’t want brings gifts, helps, and perspectives that are much needed…even if they don’t feel good.

You would not be able to become the person you need to be if it weren’t for the spouse you don’t want. So quit trying to change them into the one you do.

Learn to appreciate the spouse you don’t want.

When you realize that the spouse you don’t want actually helps to make you and the marriage better, then it’s easier to appreciate them for what they do.

And…when you appreciate people for who they are and what they bring, they tend to rise to the occasion and become better than they would normally be. Isn’t it true that when your spouse shows you appreciation, it makes you want to be better and do more? If so, then do that for the spouse you don’t want.

Serve the spouse you don’t want.

It’s easy to serve someone who’s saying what you want to hear and acting the way you want them to act. It’s also easy to stop serving someone who’s not saying what you want to hear or not acting the way you want them to act.

But when you stop serving your spouse because they’re not the one you want, you usually get more of the behavior you don’t want. Remember…the way you treat them actually trains them on how to act toward you. So serve them like they’re the spouse you want.

IN SHORT…

Treat the spouse you don’t want as if they’re the one you do, and you might just find out they really are!

And finally, you’re reading these words to figure out how to live with the spouse you don’t want. But remember…they’re also reading these words to figure out how to live with the spouse they don’t want.  Because you’re not the only one who got the spouse they wanted and the one they didn’t.

1 Kings 15-16 – Groundhog Day

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” a self-centered and difficult man relives the same day over and over again. Each day, the same people say the same things. The same songs play at the same time on the radio. And the same people have the same flat tire at the same spot each day. There seems to be no way to stop history from repeating itself.

1 Kings chapters 15-16 feel like Groundhog Day. With each king, the story’s the same. The new king follows in the old king’s idolatry, false worship, pride, and arrogance. Over and over again, the kings change, but the story remains the same.

But, there is one bright spot in these two chapters.

In 1 Kings chapter 15, you read about King Asa. Asa chose to do something different. He broke the mold and followed after God. He obeyed God’s commands, destroying idols and pagan temples. And he led the people back to faithfulness to God. Asa was like the sun breaking through the dark clouds of the times.

We need someone like Asa to stand up and break the cycle of darkness.

Each of us is called to be that someone. It starts by focusing on changing things within us before we try to change around us.

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” the main character eventually escaped repeating the same day over and over again. And he did it by daily making a positive change in himself and learning to focus on others more than himself. Consequently, he woke up one day and things were different.

That’s what Asa did, and that’s what we’re called to do. If you’re tired of living the same story over and over again, then you need to do something different. And you need to start with what’s going on inside of you before you try to change what’s going on around you.

Do You Know Your Spouse?

Maybe you read the title of this post and thought, “I don’t need this post. I know my spouse.”

I’ve thought the same thing. I’ve been married for over forty years, and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on knowing my wife. But there are still times when she will say or do something that makes me think, “Who are you, and do I even know you?!”

Spouses are complex. Their situations, likes, dislikes, emotions, bodies, thoughts, and needs are continually changing. And that means if we want to know our spouse, we have to be on-going learners.

So here are a few tips and reminders (in no specific order) that will help you continue to know your spouse better.

Don’t assume you know them.

Assuming you’re an expert on your spouse is both arrogant and disrespectful. Think about it. You wouldn’t like it if you over-heard your spouse telling someone that they know you completely. Assuming you know your spouse completely will get you in trouble. And I’m telling you, the minute you assume you know them, they’re going to change something just to throw you off!

You don’t know them if you don’t listen to them.

I sit with so many couples who interrupt their spouse, complete their spouse’s sentences, and interpret what they believe their spouse is saying…but never really listen to them. No matter how well you think you know your spouse, there are things on their heart and mind that you will never know if you don’t give them a chance to speak and really listen to what they have to say.

You must listen past their words before you know them.

I have a sign hanging outside my counseling office that says: “No man is truly married until he understands every word his wife is NOT saying.”

If all you do is listen to the words your spouse is saying, you don’t really know what they’re saying. Research tells us that only 7% of what your spouse is telling you is found in their words. 38% of their message is in their tone of voice and 55% is in their nonverbal signals.  So listen to more than just the words they are saying.

If they don’t say it, you don’t know it.

I know you know this, but if you’re like me, you probably need to hear it again. You can’t read your spouse’s mind. You may think you can, and you may have been together long enough to make some good educated guesses. But they are still guesses. If they haven’t said it, then you don’t really know it. (By the way…they can’t read your mind either, so don’t make them guess. Tell them clearly and lovingly what you’re thinking and feeling.)

If you don’t know, ask.

Going along with the last tip, if your spouse tells you something, and you’re not quite sure what they mean, don’t guess. Ask for clarification. Your spouse would rather have you ask them for clarification than for you to go off on an assumption that’s wrong.

Just because you know them now doesn’t ensure that you will know them later.

As I said at the beginning of this post…spouses are complex and constantly changing. Just because you know some things about them now, don’t assume those things will be the same a year from now. For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has always wanted to live near the beach. But recently I found out that she now wants to live in the mountains. There was no warning. There was no turn signal. She just changed! This is why you have to keep striving to know your spouse.

Know what they like, but know it will change.

Knowing that your spouse will change later is not an excuse to not know them now.  Get to know your spouse as well as you can now. Just know that you’ll have to keep learning and adding to what you know about them.

Finally, if I could wrap all this up in one last reminder, it would be this:

Know that you don’t know all there is to know about your spouse, but know that you can know them better.

So stay at it and stay curious.

How Parenting Can Take a Toll on Partnering

Parenting is supposed to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life. It’s supposed to bring spouses together. But without care and attention, just the opposite can happen. If you’re not careful, parenting can take a toll on your partnering.

LOSING YOUR PLAYMATE

When spouses come to me with problems in their marriage, I typically ask them when they feel the problems started. More often than not, they can trace it back to when they started having kids.

Prior to the kids, the couple would:

  • Spend lots of time together.
  • Go out on dates.
  • Take trips.
  • Have frequent and leisurely sex.
  • Talk a lot
  • Do fun things.
  • (Fill in the blank)

In short, before the kids came, they were playmates.

But, from the time the couple finds out they’re pregnant, the child begins to change everything. Even before the child is born, parenting starts to trump partnering and playmates turn into roommates.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Though my kids are adults with kids of their own, I remember how it was for us. When my wife was pregnant, things started to change. Suddenly…

  • I couldn’t make breakfast in the morning, because it nauseated my wife. So I had to start getting my breakfast at a drive-up window on the way to work.
  • Instead of saving for things we wanted, we were now saving for things for the nursery and the baby.
  • I had to trade in my compact pickup because there was no room for a car seat.
  • Instead of satisfying late-night cravings for sex, now I was making late-night runs to satisfy her cravings for chocolate milkshakes.
  • And instead of going and doing things like we use to, now our activity was restricted by her fatigue and discomfort.

And that was just during the pregnancy! Little did I know that pregnancy was just a preview of coming attractions.

After the child was born, life was all about the kid! This child controlled everything…

  • Our sleep schedules (or lack thereof.)
  • Our sex lives (or lack thereof.)
  • If and when we went anywhere.
  • What time we had to be home.
  • How loud we could be in the house.
  • The way we budgeted money.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

But perhaps the biggest change was the change in our relationship. Parenting changed our partnering. Here’s how:

HOW PARTNERS DRIFT APART

Before our first child came into the picture, my wife and I were playmates. But after our child was born, my playmate became a mom, and moms are focused on the child. They responsibly give all her attention to tending to the needs of their child.

But, I missed my playmate. So I would attempt to get her back from time to time. But it rarely seemed to work. She was either too focused on taking care of our child, or too tired from the demands on her, or too distracted with mom stuff. Though she never said it, it often felt like I was getting the message, “You’re a big strong adult who can take care of yourself, but this child needs us.

When husbands lose their playmate, they have three options:

  • They can keep trying to get their playmate back, (which tends to aggravate their wives.)
  • They can find another playmate, (which always ends badly.)
  • Or they can switch from being a playmate to being a dad. (And dads tend to focus on providing by working and keeping things up.)

And this is where the parenting starts to take its toll on partnering. As moms focus on children and dads focus on work, they begin to slowly drift apart. Gradually, they become more like roommates that only have one thing in common…the needs of the kids.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. This is normal. And the good news is, you can turn this around! We’ll get into how to do this in the next post. So be looking for it.

If You Want Your Spouse To Change…

Remember when when you were so in love with your spouse you couldn’t think of anything you wanted to change about them? Does that seem like a long time ago?

WHY CAN’T WE SEE OUR DIFFERENCES EARLY ON?

In premarital counseling, I try to get couples to see their differences and the problems those differences will cause. But most couples either brush those things aside or get frustrated with me for “nit picking.” Why is it so difficult to clearly see our differences in the beginning?

We’re blinded by the excitement of love and hormones.

Being in love is intoxicating. Love effects the brain much like alcohol or drugs, and just like alcohol and drugs, it can impair our ability to see and judge things. Consequently, we can’t imagine any major differences, let alone the problems they could cause.

But the chemical intoxication of love eventually subsides and our differences become more glaring.

We minimize any possible problems.

When I’m pointing out differences in premarital counseling, the couple often thinks I’m making a big of a deal over small things. “So what if they’re not as much of a neat freak as I am, or if they are more of a saver than I am. So what if they’re an extrovert and I’m an introvert. These are small thing that we’ll handle when they come up.”

Even when we believe there are some differences between us, we don’t think they’re that big of a deal. We believe our love is enough to conquer these “small” things. But that’s like saying, “I love these shoes so much, it really won’t matter that there’s a rock in my shoe. It will be fine.”

We see the differences, but we believe that once we’re married our spouse will change.

I can’t tell you how many time this happens: A couple comes into my counseling office, at odds over their differences. And when I ask whether these differences were present before they got married, they tell me, “Yes, but I thought they would change.” And the really honest spouses will say, “Yes, but I thought I could change them.”

But after you’ve been married a while, the list of things you wish you could change about your spouse doesn’t get shorter. It gets longer. Which brings us to a second question…

HOW CAN I GET MY SPOUSE TO CHANGE?

We all have been guilty of trying to change our spouse. We tend to believe our problems would go away and our marriage would be better if our spouse would just change! And we’re so convinced of this, we try to “help them” change.

What not to do.

Our attempts to change our spouse look something like this…

  • We point out the thing we think they need to change. (Maybe they just don’t see it.)
  • We try to convince them why our way of doing things is better. (Surely they will see the reasoning.)
  • We nag them into doing what we want them to do. (But we would never call it nagging. We’re just trying to help.)
  • We elevate the volume and the intensity of our communication. (They just need to know how serious we are about this.)
  • We withdraw and withhold the things that are important to them. (After all, if I can’t get what I want, they shouldn’t get what they want.)

If you’ve tried any or all of these tactics, you know that they’re not very effective. Even if they get you what you want, it will be a short-lived effort and a long-lived resentment.

What to do?

So what do you do if you want your spouse to change? Here it is…

If you want your spouse to change…you change!

I know this is not what you want to hear. (It’s not what I want to hear either!) But follow me on this…

Opposites attract when you’re dating, but after the honeymoon, opposites tend to aggravate. That’s when we start trying to change our spouse, so they will fit better with us.

But marriage is like a dance between two dance partners. If you don’t like the way your partner is dancing, you have three option:

  • You can try to pressure your partner into dancing the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s wrestling.
  • You can ditch your partner for another who will dance the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s running.
  • Or you can change the way you’re dancing! This presents the greatest possibility of change. Your spouse doesn’t want to be forced into doing something different, any more than you do. But if you change the way you’re dancing, your partner will then have the freedom to choose their options.

Difference that frustrate you about your spouse may be due to something as simple as differences in personality or up-bringing. And you can’t do anything about those. But so often, your spouse is acting the way they are, because they are reacting to something you’re doing…or not doing.

  • They’re nagging you, because you’re not listening to them or doing what needs to be done.
  • They are ignoring you, because you’ve been ignoring them in some way.
  • They’re not asking what you think, because you’re too harsh and critical.
  • They complain about not spending time together, because you’re not spending time with them…at least not in a way that connects with them.
  • They are upset about overspending or underspending, because you’re not valuing what they value.

In other words, they’re dancing the way they are, because you’re dancing the way you are. So one of the most effective ways to effect change in a marriage is to change yourself.

One last thought…Don’t be so quick to try to change the differences that drive you crazy. These differences that attracted you in the beginning are now there to grow you in the present. Sometimes we need to accept our spouse the way they are, rather than try to change them. After all…isn’t that what we want them to do for us?

Joshua 3-4 – Change and Uncertainty

Everyone struggles with change. Even those who say they like change become stressed if the changes are too quick or too drastic.

In Joshua chapters 3-4, we find the Israelites preparing to cross the Jordan river and move into the Promise Land. They’re facing rapid and radical changes. They are uncertain and they don’t know from moment to moment what they are to do or how they are to do it.

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Joshua 1 – Some Things Change and Some Things Never Do

In the last movie of the “Matrix” trilogy, there is a line that sticks in my head. There, the character of Morpheus says, “Some things never change, and some do.” It may not seem very profound, especially taken out of context, but this statement is applicable to a lot of life.

In Joshua chapter 1, there is a major change taking place. The great Moses – probably the most revered and feared man among the people of that day – dies and his position as the leader of the Children of Israel must be filled. How do you replace Moses?! Think of all he did…

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How to Embrace Change

People who know me know I am not a handyman. I’m someone who can turn a simple fifteen minute fix-it job into an all day nightmare. I am the guy from whom repair people make their money.

So with that in mind, here’s the story…

It was around eight in the evening and my wife was in the laundry room when I heard these words. “Oh no! That’s just great!” Though I didn’t want to, I asked, “What’s wrong?”

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