“My spouse likes hanging out with friends.”
“I like shopping.”
QUESTION 1 – I LIKE SHOPPING. MY SPOUSE LIKES HANGING OUT WITH FRIENDS. WHAT DO WE DO?
Healthy couples proportion time to do things on their own or things they like. Self-time replenishes your energy and makes you feel free. One spouse may like shopping but the other may find it boring and time-consuming. An agreement can be reached by the couple to spare the other of having to go shopping together. Similarly, hanging out with friends is great social energy for some but a huge energy drain to others. Respect each other’s preferences and allow each other to pursue individual activities.
However these preferences are not set in stone. They can be changed to suit the needs that arise. Occasionally offering to go shopping to help carry groceries will please your spouse and bring encouragement to him/her. Agreeing to go to an event and chill out with your spouse’s friends will make your spouse happy.
Carving out self-time is important but it is equally important to ensure that the time allocated for it is not excessive and deprives your spouse of valuable couple-time. Communicate respectfully on how much time is preferred goes a long way in keeping the relationship happy – “I noticed that recently you hang out with your friends 5 times a week. I think that’s too frequent. I prefer you to keep it to twice (or whatever frequency you prefer) a week.”
QUESTION 2: AM I EXPECTED TO CHANGE IN THE MARRIAGE?
Marriage changes many things – our addresses, our beds, our sleep patterns etc. We relocate; we change from single beds to king-sized beds; we don’t get to sleep alone. These changes seem more obvious than others, especially our attitudes. But our attitudes are crucial in healthy relationships. One spouse may come from a family of origin where they are used to being thrifty and saving every scrap of food but the other spouse may be wasteful and careless with money or things. I can already see potential problems in managing the household. Changes in attitudes need to be made from both sides so that this distinct difference need not affect the relationship adversely.
Recognise that the old attitudes irritate and there’s a need to have a happy medium. Start with small changes. Have an agreement that you can tell each other when the old habit is unpleasant. Take it as a reminder to change in order to create a happier atmosphere. Create roles that will allow each spouse to exercise discretion –for example the one who is thrifty will look into getting 3 quotes for new applicances in the home; the one who is more careless with money will use one of the three quotes to do the purchase.
A willingness to change for the other stirs the feeling of love. Especially if the relationship is in need of urgent repair, the openness and ability to change can even make love return.
QUESTION 3: DO WE TELL EACH OTHER WHAT WE THINK ABOUT OUR BEST FRIENDS OR PARENTS OR SIGNIFICANT OTHERS?
Sharing positive remarks about best friends, parents and significant others will bring laughter and good feelings. By all means tell each other about all the fun stories and quirky comments and have a good belly laugh.
But it will be more sensitive if what we have to say about best friends, parents and significant others are less positive. If sharing always changes the relationship between you, that is make us both upset, then it’s wiser to restrain talking about these people. Respect each other’s reasons for not being able to discuss freely about them. Rather than let these people affect your relationship, come up with a plan with a boundary – eg. We will choose not to talk about these people since it raises some sensitivity and we will not harbour resentment in our hearts; we will sort our personal feelings on our own but we will continue to have less but regular contact time with them etc.
Realise that it’s not possible to cut off ties with best friends, parents and significant others so don’t give ultimatums to do that as that will be adverse to the relationship. Agree on a reasonable plan to be civil to all.
QUESTION 4: HOW SOON AFTER AN ARGUMENT BEFORE WE MAKE UP?
Preferably within the day so that the anger doesn’t get carried over. Anger that is compounded will make the conflict harder to resolve. Ephesians 4:26 in the Bible offers a good suggestion: When you do get angry, don’t let your anger go overnight.
I once had a cold war with my husband and I didn’t talk to him for 2 weeks. It was the most nightmarish 2 weeks I had – crying myself to sleep, thinking of the worse things to do to myself and to him, wondering why I ever got married. Yet I steeled myself and refused to apologise because I was too prideful. After that emotional episode, I told myself that it is not worth all the heartache and pain. I have since then tried to end an argument within the same day. The issue need not be resolved that day but at least the emotions had calmed down and the mind is clearer to tackle the problem.
QUESTION 5: IS IT IMPORTANT TO REACH AGREEMENT?
Agreeableness is a good couple trait as it creates a peaceful atmosphere. The more agreement both can arrive at, the more things get done, the better is the atmosphere.
It’s preferable of course to reach agreement that is as favourable to both as possible. “I want to get a black car”, “my spouse wants to buy me a black car.” Black car, it shall be. Everyone is happy. Enthusiasm and energy, the important elements of a strong marriage, are sparked off when there is frequent agreement. There is great flow in the relationship.
However total agreement is not always possible. Then be prepared to make compromises: “I want a black car”, “there is a blue car in the market that my spouse could afford”, :we have already been looking for a car for 4 months.” The circumstances look like you won’t be able to have optimal agreement to your plan or to your spouse’s plan. You then compromise and make a decision. Be sure to have a good attitude about a compromised decision so you won’t harbour resentment or repeat the same story of how your spouse has been defective in meeting your needs.
Whatever is causing disagreement, be they personality clashes, or strong differing opinions, they need to be worked at so that it will not continue to bring dissatisfaction. Sometimes it is to allow the other person to make the decision when you are not prepared to do it. It’s also good to improve your skill in negotiating and decision-making as a couple so that you can both enjoy the outcome of joint decisions.
When God brought the first man his spouse,
he brought him not just a lover
but the friend his heart had been seeking.”