My Way or the Highway: Be Careful What You Wish For

My Way or the Highway: Be Careful What You Wish For November 17, 2014


Dear Shaunti,

 My husband says I always want things my way. And he’s right to a certain extent because, honestly, in my mind, there are just right and wrong ways to do things. The house simply should be neat instead of messy. Is that too much to ask? Or no, he shouldn’t let the kids spread their homework all over the kitchen table, thirty minutes before dinner. My husband feels like I’m criticizing him, and I’m not really: I just want things the way I want it. And I honestly don’t feel like I’m expecting that much of him, since I’m the one who does most of the housework and makes sure things run smoothly on a day-to-day basis! Why is it so difficult for him to see things my way? Please help!

Sincerely,

Frustrated Wife

Dear Frustrated Wife,

Um. Actually, you are criticizing him. So face up to it.  Essentially, you want things your way and your husband has no say in the matter, right? So when he has a different opinion, you’re telling him “I’m right, you’re wrong. Sorry, buddy, live with it.”

Can you see how he might get just a teeny bit defensive about that?

Can you see how, perhaps, even the most loving and attentive husband, who tries hard to care for his wife and family, might get discouraged and even resentful that he is treated like a child who has no say in how things work at home?

Can you see how changing your view of your opinions – and his – would actually be pretty darned important to the future of your marriage?

The answer to most marriage “issues” lies in not trying to change your spouse, but in trying to change yourself. This is no different. And it starts with you realizing that your husband has every right to hold his own opinion. You may not agree with it, necessarily (I mean, who wants to see dirty clothes strewn around the bedroom floor, anyway?) but that doesn’t mean you are right and he is wrong. No, he’s just different.

I can hear you saying now: But it is wrong to be lazy and slothful. Everyone just knows it’s wrong to be too lazy to make your bed or hang up your clothes! Everyone just knows it is foolish to start homework on the kitchen table right before we’re starting to set food out for dinner!

Really?   Maybe it is about being lazy. But maybe it isn’t.

As I write this, it is 5:30 pm, and I can see from my computer into my kitchen… where my husband is pulling together dinner and my daughter has homework spread out all over the table.

Why?

Even though my husband, Jeff, is much more like you – he would much prefer things be neat and tidy – our family has come to value the glorious chaos. We have come to actively value having the kids do their homework around us, so they are not closeted away in their rooms at their desks. We have come to value what happens when our daughter looks up and says, “Look at what the teacher wrote on my study guide” or our son hollers out, “Dad, are these words the subject or the predicate?” (And Jeff and I look at each other and mouth, What’s a predicate? Yes, I know this is sad for a professional writer…)

In about twenty minutes we will scramble to move all the papers to the island in the kitchen (something else that used to make Jeff twitch), and set the table for dinner. And as soon as dinner begins to be cleared, back the papers will come.

We value something different than you do. Is that wrong? Are you wrong? No. We’re just different.

Maybe your husband values something different, too.   Whether that means more family life out in the open, or simply the ability to crash on the couch and give himself permission to have downtime after work and not worry about cleaning up the bedroom.

Yes, he needs to value what you value, too. Yes, he needs to compromise and realize that certain things are important to you.

But so do you.

So here’s my suggestion: the next time you want to step in when something bugs you, ask yourself: “Is he wrong here, or does he just have a different judgment?”  Then ask, “Is this criticism that is about to explode out of my mouth really so important?”

Perhaps you do need to say something. Perhaps you can let go of the fact that he drops dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, but you just cannot stand the kitchen-table-homework mess. If so, great. But approach your husband with the spirit of wanting to know what is important to him, and how to accommodate that, not just sharing what is important to you!

As you alter your focus from subconsciously discounting his judgment and opinion, to honoring and respecting his opinion, you’ll begin to see what is truly important and needs to be addressed – and what really doesn’t. You’ll begin to separate the vital things from those that simply annoy you. Having that perspective is essential to a successful partnership of any kind (business, civic activities, etc.), but especially imperative in marriage. Once you show him that sort of grace, I think you’ll see a lot more grace coming back to you as well.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.


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