I cannot tell you how to keep being patient with your spouse when there seems to be no movement on his or her part in a direction that brings you closer. I can only tell you that patience may be what will turn a cold or bitter spouse warm. You see, I was the recipient of my husband’s patience for many years while I dealt with hurts and some of the baggage I carried into our marriage.
We have been married for 35 years and in the middle years 3 children, church and school activities, and other things I volunteered for caused us to drift apart. Then there was a hard issue and a comment made to me that was particularly hurtful. I pulled further away. We were on parallel roads, still cooperating to do all we committed to, but we were not close. Alan calls these “The Desert Years.” For almost 10 years I was not responsive to his needs although I did what needed to be done around the house and the children were cared for.
Once in a while, Alan would open a discussion about it and attempt to talk it out. I would speak of the hurt I felt and admit that I was neglecting him. We had long, emotional discussions and I’d forgive him but I would go back to the same behavior. His patience was seriously challenged during those years!
Don’t get the idea that he was a saint through it all though. We had all the usual daily stresses and blow-ups. He had his baggage and he’d rub me the wrong way too. With the up and down of neglect, promises of change, and then neglect again he would grow apathetic. When his needs welled up again he’d open a discussion again. 10 long years this crazy cycle went on!
This morning at church we were reminded that God’s love for us will outlast every time we turn away from him in rebellion. He will patiently be waiting for us to turn back to our relationship with him. When we do, there is nothing but love and acceptance. God holds no grudge; He does not condemn. There is no need to fear returning to his loving arms. It was years of that kind of love and patience, coming from my husband, that turned me around inside. He was the instrument of God that started the healing and refining in my soul.
You can see we are not perfect people and that is just the point. He did not have to be perfect in all areas to do this and neither do you. Even his patience grew thin at times. But over and over and over again I was accepted back and patiently loved in spite of my failings, and this started the healing. As I grew personally, we grew together and now have a close relationship I never thought possible.
I encourage you to greater patience and anticipation of how your marriage relationship will grow!
Last time we talked about your relationship being like a shop. Over time it gets cluttered with boxes of “stuff.” Hurt feelings and unmet needs hinder a relationship from being close. Some of us begin our marriage with baggage that we carry from when we grew up. We seldom begin with a “clean shop” so to speak. Before we come back from the honeymoon our shop is already piled with clutter.
So how do we apply common sense to clean up the clutter in our relationship?
First, honestly assess the quality of your relationship. Both spouses should independently score themselves from 1 to 10 on the following:
overall quality of our relationship
handling problems and decisions
Add additional items if you feel they are needed.
Now, each should list about 10 items that you really appreciate about your spouse and any items that are a struggle. Honesty is important. Hiding issues lets “boxes of stuff” remain covered.
Now list four things that you feel would help your relationship grow closer.
And finally, list anything that has really hurt you. This can be difficult. It requires that you dig deep. Often when we have been hurt, we bury our feelings because they are too hurtful to talk about. But these particular “clutter boxes” can be the very issues that keep us from being truly close. We can easily overlook socks left on the floor, but deeply felt wounds are like invisible forces that keep us from being close. (More on Hurt and Forgiveness in a future blog.)
Completing the assessment above is merely a first step to let you know if you have clutter in your relationship. The list and your answers will help you to begin a discussion on how to take a particular area and begin the process of making it a 9 or a 10.
Here are some helpful tips:
The shop is “our shop.” It isn’t “your box of junk.” Both must realize that in order to have a close relationship you both need to be responsible to work on getting it healthy. Look at an area of concern in this light: What can “we” do together to work at making this issue less of a hindrance to us having a close relationship.
Patience should guide your actions. It took us a week to clean up our messy shop. Relationships are much more complex and patience is needed to allow time to resolve issues. We bring issues into our relationships that have been issues since we were young children. They take time to work through. Don’t try to resolve them all at once. Take a few steps and be thankful for your progress. Be patient and gracious with each other.
Communicate with each other in a kind, loving, and non-demanding manner. Remember that you are working at cleaning issues up so you can enjoy the richness of a soul mate relationship.