I Don’t Feel Like It

Well, there they are – those famous five words – “I don’t feel like it”.  You’ve thought those very words many times before and being honest, you’d have to admit you have spoken them to your spouse at times when faced with the need to selflessly serve your spouse.  They are at the heart of what drives a wedge between us and our spouse.  They embody the essence of being focused on self and they center around our very illusive “feelings”.

Why do we struggle with Jesus’ exhortation in John 15:12, “…Love each other as I have loved you”.  May I suggest we struggle because we are faced with the pressure to feed “self;” this is what I want and this is what I need.  Not only are we feeding our needs and wants, we are driven by our feelings.  These can be feelings of fairness, injustice or anger and resentment.  When we mix a focus on self with our ever changing feelings, we have a recipe for a dysfunctional relationship.

This is a hard message.  It’s hard because it causes us to look inward, to examine our heart and motives.  In Ephesians 5:25 husbands are commanded to “love your wives just as Christ loved the church”.  Note that this was a command to obey.  It didn’t say to “feel love for your wives” but rather it commands husbands to “love your wives”.  A command.  Nothing is mentioned about if she deserves love because this is unconditional love.  Jesus says again in John 15:17 “this is my command: Love each other”.  Further in Luke 6:35, “But Love your enemies, do good to them…”  We probably don’t  have all warm and fuzzy feelings towards our enemies but we are nevertheless commanded to love them.  Love in this context is an action.  We are to act lovingly, in spite of our feelings, our personal agenda or the actions of our spouse.

So how does this relate to you and your spouse?  Remember that we talked about watering often and filling your spouse’s emotional tank.  Well, that can be very hard to do if we are consumed with and focused on ourselves, thinking… But what about me?  What about my needs?  When do I get what I want?   And then our feelings kick in as we remember prior hurts and resentments.  Yes, it’s hard to love unconditionally.

But think about this:  How does a wife feel when she is loved unconditionally?  How does a husband feel when he is loved by his wife even though he struggles with numerous shortcoming and failings?  In those moments when they experience that unconditional love from their spouse, in that moment they experience the love of Christ, coming from and through their spouse.  They experience the touch of Jesus in their lives.

When you are tempted to say to yourself, “But I don’t feel like it,” remember that He died for us and I’m quite sure that He didn’t feel like it.  So, love, and love unconditionally, and soon by the grace of God, you will feel like it.


Keeping Your Spouse’s Tank Full

Last time we looked at the comparison between our emotional lives and an empty gas tank.  We all know when our gas tank is near empty, we need to fill up, or else we can look forward to a long walk or a long wait, even if we do have AAA.  We have common sense enough to know it’s foolish to let our gas tank get to empty.

How can we apply that same common sense to the “emotional tank” of our spouse?  Here’s where personal growth comes in.  We first need to be skilled at recognizing his or her condition.  This usually doesn’t take an expert, just an observant spouse.  Marriage is like a classroom and we are all in school every day.  Lesson plan number one:  Learn your spouse’s idiosyncrasies.  Become a student of what makes him or her tick.

There are two books that speak directly to the needs of husbands and wives, some of which they share.  In His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley, Jr. the needs are broken down into five common needs for men and five for women.  In The 5 Love Needs of Men and Women, Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg address the five love needs of husbands and wives.  Some of these needs include:

  •   Unconditional Love
  •   Commitment
  •   Companionship
  •   Emotional Intimacy
  •   Communication
  •   Admiration
  •   Affection
  •   Honesty
  •   Financial Support
  •   Sexual Intimacy

Recognize that you are the person uniquely positioned to meet those needs.  When you meet those needs, your spouse’s emotional tank is more than likely at or near full and they can better respond to you and your needs.  Water your spouse so they can be strengthened to water you.

 Here are a few practical ideas that you can work with to better understand your spouse’s needs:

  1. Ask.  Yes, ask your spouse what makes them feel loved in various circumstances.  This is a great topic for a date night.  What are the FIVE keys ways that I can best show my love for you?  Be specific.  “I really feel loved and appreciated when you _____________.”
  2. Discover, by asking and observing, the kinds of comments and actions that de-energize your spouse.  Change how you respond to avoid emptying your spouse’s tank.
  3. Read up on it.  Become a student of your spouse’s needs and then work on getting an “A” for the year.  Better yet, get a Master’s Degree.  One of the books we’ve read says that if you don’t work at meeting their needs, someone else might.

Do it. Just do it. Not just when you feel like it.  Not when the time is right. Don’t wait for a full moon.  Just do it.  Today. Tomorrow.  And the next Day.  Selfless lovers understand giving and receiving.  Be a giver and your well-loved spouse will see that you are a receiver.

Your Spouse’s Tank is Almost Empty!

This past week we visited our son and daughter-in-law and had a wonderful time.  Great news… our next grandbaby will be here in September.   While driving around one day, I noticed the gas gauge showed almost empty.  As a guy, I knew it didn’t mean anything because the idiot light hadn’t come on yet.  It’s the one that tells you the tank is REALLY getting empty.  I know when the light comes on I have about a gallon and a half left.  Someday they will have a car that has an “idiot voice” that says, “Hey you, I’m almost out of gas.  Fill me up now!”

What if your spouse had a gauge?  A gauge that told you he or she was running on empty and needed refueling soon.  If your spouse emptied completely you’d be in real trouble because then life around the house wouldn’t  be much fun.

If you think about it, spouses do come with gauges…

When your husband comes home from work unusually quiet, a bit grumpy, and heads for his man cave, saying without actually speaking “Hey, leave me alone,” he probably didn’t have a good day at work.  And if you read his “emotional gauge,” you’d know his tank is almost empty.

Think about the husband that comes home and sees the house is kind of upside down, his wife looks exhausted and doesn’t give him the usual “Hi Honey, glad you’re home” kiss; and she looks like she could burst into tears at any moment.  Chances are pretty high that her “emotional tank” is nearly empty.  Not a good time to bring up a shortcoming you might be noticing.

When you can read your spouse’s needs, I call that “situational awareness.”  Your spouse is telling you through his or her actions that their tank is empty.  Some signs you may see are:

  • A short fuse and getting agitated, angry, or frustrated by small stressors
  • Quietness, sadness, moving slowly, spending more time ‘veging’ or wanting to be alone
  • Not making eye contact with you
  • You may feel ignored, taken for granted or emotionally distant when your spouse’s tank is running low.
  • You may think your spouse is mad at you about something.
  • Attempts to initiate physical intimacy may be rebuffed

Have you noticed when you spouse’s tank gets low?  An aspect of personal growth is to mature so that you become an expert at quickly recognizing your spouse’s needs.  When you are aware and get good at reading the tell-tale signs of an “emotionally empty” tank, you can focus on a fill-up.  A selfless serving spouse will take personal responsibility to refill their spouse’s tank well before the idiot light comes on.

And as long as you’re filling her emotional tank, check her oil and clean her windshield too, just like they used to do years ago.  Become a full service selfless loving spouse, and she’ll do the same for you.

Next time we’ll look at some practical things you can do to keep your spouse’s tank full.

Talk about It

In order to experience a truly fulfilling soul mate relationship, be vigilant to ensure that you don’t allow issues to go unresolved.  The ones that are the most difficult to discuss are issues that have deep hurts attached.  You may have said or done something that has deeply offended your spouse and be totally unaware that he or she is harboring hurt feelings.  As a matter of fact, the actual incident may have happened years ago, and your spouse “buried” the issue because it was too painful.  It didn’t get fully resolved when talked about originally.  This is one of those boxes that clutters up the shop and is marked “DO NOT OPEN.  DO NOT TOUCH”.

These issues are the most damaging to a truly close and intimate relationship.  They create an emotional barrier keeping the relationship at a superficial level.  The day to day interactions function just fine but real depth and intimate connection is illusive.  Ignoring them is perilous because they will seriously damage your relationship.  The longer you wait to open a discussion, the harder it is to talk.

 All couples experience disagreements and say and do things that are hurtful.  How you deal with the problem is what will make the difference.  Do you approach issues as adversaries or as teammates?  Remember you are on the same team.  Working through an issue to a resolution that satisfies both spouses means your team wins!

Here are a few ideas on how to handle these issues:

  • Pray and ask for special grace
  • Be honest and take the risk of bringing the issue up again
  • Set aside uninterrupted time when you have the freedom to focus
  • Actively listen as you each share feelings and endeavor to understand your spouse
  • Try not to blame or bring accusations
  • Remember that you are bringing this up again so that you can have a closer relationship
  • The goal is a heartfelt resolution where a deep understanding is achieved
  • Be willing to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  This needs to be genuine and not superficial
  • Have an attitude to forgive.  It may be hard to forget, but you will need to truly forgive
  • Allow time to reflect for several days or even longer if needed.  Be patient
  • Never be demanding.  Be patient and calm
  • Seek counsel if you come to an impasse

Always keep in mind that the objective is to strengthen your relationship so that you can be closer together and experience a deeply fulfilling relationship.  True intimacy can not happen when we harbor unspoken resentment and hurts.  You must have the courage to continue to work at all issues.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It!

Have you ever been in a discussion with your spouse and one of you says, “I don’t want to talk about it!”  Have your ever heard those words or spoken those words?  If we’re honest, most of us have on occasion.  There are many reasons why we resort to this defensive position.  Here are some possibilities:

  1.  We are flooded.  Our emotional bucket is too full to continue a rational discussion.   John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, in his book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, explains that a spouse feels flooded when he or she feels defenseless. To avoid the criticism and attack of a spouse, she steps back and disengages emotionally.
  2. We are angry.  We’ve had this discussion so many times and it never gets resolved. So we block further dialogue to keep from experiencing more pain and back away, shouting that we are done talking.
  3.  We are frustrated because we see no way to get this issue resolved.  Endless discussion is not producing a resolution.  In our frustration, we shut down, walk away and block any attempts at further dialogue.

The end result is usually the silent treatment. This can go on for days.  Even if there is a quick recovery to polite interaction, the unspoken cold war is waging underground, still causing a silent coolness in the relationship.  Sure, you can manage superficial conversation, get the kids to bed, get the chores done, and even get to church with a “happy face.” In reality, the unresolved issue lingers like a relationship virus that keeps you from the close connection you really want.

So what can we do when we get backed into a corner and want to break off communication and flee?

We must first realize what is going on.  Our emotions have peaked and we are not in the best position to continue the discussion.  Be honest and ask your spouse if you both can take a break in order to reflect and let the intense emotions subside.   After you’ve both cooled down, ask your spouse if you could share your feelings about the particular issue.  And here are the rules of engagement:  Your spouse needs to listen without offering a solution or restating his or her position.  This is to be a one-way conversation.  Restate your position, share how you feel, and ask your spouse to take a day or two to think it over.

When a few days have gone by, take time out together so your spouse can express what he or she thinks and feels about your position.  Many times, just the time alone to reflect will result in a positive solution.  Your spouse may even say they are sorry and that they feel they understand you much better now. Or, you may be able to continue working through the issue when you both are more rational.

Remember:  Never let the sun go down on your anger.  Actively seek to keep even minor issues from being pushed aside.

A Full Bank Account

Last time we talked about making deposits to our relationship bank account and that according to studies that have been done, it takes five deposits to cover up one withdrawal.  In other words, it takes five affirmative interactions with your spouse to make up for one “foot in mouth” negative interaction.

So how do you keep focused on giving enough positives in each day?  How do you remember to make deposits?

I really believe that it is a state of mind.  You have to have a “thankful” state of mind.  If you are looking for things to be thankful about, you can take steps to express that thankfulness.  As an example, let’s say your lovely wife has gotten up early on Saturday morning and made a special breakfast for you.  She knows exactly what you like.  And BAM!  There it is, right on the kitchen table.  After you have breakfast you can get up and say nothing and start your chores, because, after all, she always makes you a special breakfast on Saturday.  Or you can actually express your thankfulness by telling her how much you appreciate her making a special effort each week.  Here’s where you can sneak in a couple of kisses too!!

We can take our spouse for granted or we can begin to mention even the little things that we are thankful for, the things that we appreciate about our spouse.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Give her a big hug and tell her you appreciate your clean laundry
  2. Thank her for cooking a great dinner and then give her a kiss
  3. Rub her neck while you tell her how glad you are that you married her
  4. Tell her that after the kids are in bed she can have a foot rub for no particular reason
  5. Leave her a note in the morning and tell her she needs a break so you’ll take her to dinner
  6. Call her during the day and tell her you have been thinking about her
  7. Send her a mushy love note in the mail and don’t wait for Valentine’s Day
  8. Get up on Saturday morning and make her favorite breakfast
  9. On the way to church get her favorite cup of coffee
  10. Tell her often that you love her  (All the ladies agree with this one)

Ladies, you can morph the list above into one that fits your man.  Be creative.  Look for ways to be positive.  There are so many things that we can appreciate about each other and we need to express them more often.

Remember this:  We are going to stick our foot in our mouth and say or do something that really does warrant us being in the dog house.  That’s why we need to build up a big balance of positive deposits in that bank account.  And when we do say something dumb, our spouse who has been lavished with praise this past week, is more likely to forgive us.  And then we’ll only have to spend one night in the dog house, or only about as long as it takes to say you’re sorry.

Why Water Often?

In our previous blog “Water Often” we discussed the importance of nurturing your spouse by making sure that you provide for them daily, much like a plant needs water to survive.  But why it is so important to provide that on a daily basis?  Why is it needed?

All of you engineer types will really like this:  Our relationships can be impacted with two types of charges – positive charges or negative charges.  When we do or say things that convey love, support, and encouragement, those are positive charges that energize the relationship in a positive way.  When we say or do things that belittle each other or make hurtful comments, those are negative charges that harm the relationship and decrease our connection.

So if I make one unkind, thoughtless comment to my wife, I only need to make one kind comment and she’ll be fine, right?  One act of kindness balances the effects of one unkind act; that sounds logical.  NOT!!!

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, tells us that it takes FIVE positive actions/interactions to overcome the effect of ONE negative interaction.  From his findings we can see that it is not a one to one ratio.

Think about it from your own personal experience.  Think back to a time when someone made a particularly negative remark to you.  It may have been when you were in school, or perhaps it was something one of your parents said to you.  As you reflect on it I’m sure that you will remember how much it hurt you.  Certainly, one positive comment would not begin to outweigh the deep hurt that you felt.  Even if the person apologized and asked for forgiveness, it didn’t immediately take away the pain that you felt.  Reflect on these:

  •   1 Thessalonians 5:15 “…but always try to be kind to each other…”
  •    2 Timothy 2:24 “… (he) must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone…”
  •    1 Corinthians 13:4-5 “Love is patient, love is kind… It is not self-seeking…  It keeps no record of  wrongs…”

Many authors in their books on marriage refer to this dynamic being like a bank account.  You need to continually make deposits in order to keep a positive balance.  If all you make are withdrawals, you will soon overdraw your account.  To complete the analogy, you will need to make at least five deposits for every withdrawal.

  • “You really look nice today” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “That was such a great dinner” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “I love spending time away with you” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “Thanks for taking care of me when I was sick. You’re the best nurse  ever” – Ding – Deposit.
  • “How come you never get the dishes done” – BONG – Withdrawal.  BIG withdrawal.

Remember that we all put our foot in our mouth occasionally.  Just remember to have plenty of positive deposits in the account so it is never empty.

And try to keep your foot out of your mouth!

Next time:  Some great ideas on how to have a full Bank Account