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Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I’ve made occasional reference here to the need to love your spouse “as if.” It’s a concept that I feel should be part of every Christian’s approach to the shortcoming and failings of their spouse.

It means we do our best to love them “as if” they are closer to the person that we know they really are on the inside, despite what we might observe on the outside. It means having grace at the center of way we view and interact with our spouses.

I believe this is how we are to love one another, because this is how Jesus loves us.  Yes, it’s that bridal paradigm thing I keep coming back to.

But there is a flip side to the notion of loving “as if” toward your spouse. That is being “as if” for your spouse.

This other kind of “as if” has to do with areas of entrenchment or attitudes that keep you from doing things you know would bless your husband or wife and probably improve you marriage as a result.

We all have things we do or don’t do, claiming in our defense that “it’s just not the way I am.” I know I do this, and I suspect we all do this to varying degrees.

Moving Toward Being One

It’s true that we all have unique personalities, preferences and pre-dispositions. Indeed these are the things that make us who we are. Many of these things are what drew your spouse to you in the first place, and by saying you should act “as if” for your spouse I am not telling you to change the essence of your own nature.

But if you want to grow in intimacy, toward becoming one in every sense, then it will require an awareness of and sensitivity to your spouse’s true nature. For the sake of growing closer together, sometimes you will need to set aside your own preferences in order to engage with your spouse in a way that satisfies him or her most deeply. Sometimes you will need to step outside your own comfort zone and do some things that don’t necessarily come naturally or easily to you,

Now of course I’m not saying you should do things to which you have a moral objection. I’m talking about things that you could do, maybe even things you know you should do, but that are not necessarily your nature or that you find a bit personally challenging. Maybe some of these things require a bit of extra giving on your part. Maybe some of these things take a little extra effort, but you just aren’t willing to give it.

For example, maybe your spouse is really social and greatly enjoys getting together with groups of friends (like my wife), but you typically find such occasions personally draining instead of energizing (like I do). I could handle this difference between us several different ways. I could simply refuse to go with her on such occasions and send her off alone (I’ve done that). I could go along grudgingly, with a scowl and an attitude, hence ruining the outing for her (I’ve done that too). Or I could even insist that she stay home and not go because “I don’t want to go, and I’m the husband, and I am in charge and I say no” (no, I haven’t done that). But the better option is for me to sometimes simply say yes and go along enthusiastically, because I know it would really bless her and I know it is a need in her. I can do that and do my best to be open to it.

He Says, She Says

There are many areas where men and women tend to differ in their preferences, wiring and mindsets. I’m not being sexist with this statement; brain science is flush with studies that confirm the truth of this. You just have to look at the result of the marital needs poll from my previous post to see how different men and women tend to be.

Unfortunately, these basic needs are some of the areas where we get the most entrenched because it’s “just the way men are” or “just the way women are.” We sometimes use our gender as an excuse for not meeting our spouse’s needs. But refusing to understand and respond to your spouse’s needs and nature just because you aren’t wired the same way or need the same things is a formula for reduced intimacy, increased frustration, and marital isolation. Bad news!

For example, most women (not all) find meaningful conversation an important component of relational intimacy – many men do not. So is it that an excuse to criticize and complain about your wife’s “neediness” and her “endless jabbering” because you are “just not into all that mindless talking.” No! Little better is it for you to simply talk to her while rolling your eyes, with impatient body language, minimally holding up your end of the conversation. Rather, recognize this as a genuine need in her and give her the time and full attention she craves from you. You can choose to satisfy her need for meaningful, even if it isn’t a need for you.

Here’s another example. Most husbands would greatly appreciate it if their wives would act in a more sexually overt manner, showing her desire for and sexual attraction to him. However, most women simply aren’t wired to think that way, and some are even uncomfortable with the idea of any kind of sexual expression outside of the bedroom. But is that a good reason to simply accuse your husband of having a one-track mind, to rebuff his playful advances or to dismiss his desire for more far-ranging sexual interaction with you? Though you aren’t likely to actually be turned on by his suggestiveness, why not go with the flow sometimes and respond positively or playfully to such advances? Why not be suggestive yourself once in a while? You can choose to satisfy his need for sexual engagement on his terms, even if it isn’t a need for you.

Husbands and wives make all kinds of excuses for not being attentive to one another’s needs and desires:
  • He says, “I’m just not the romantic type.”
  • She says, “I wish he wouldn’t just keep grabbing me like that.”
  • He says, “My wife does the church thing, but it’s not for me.”
  • She says, “I’m not that into outdoors stuff.”
  • He says, “I find a lot of her friends tedious and boring.”
  • She says, “I find a lot of his friends crude and immature.”
  • He says, “I really don’t like going to the same place twice – life’s too short.”
  • She says, “I rather like revisiting places we’ve enjoyed before – so many happy memories.”

These particular things may or may not apply to your own marriage. The point is to be aware of and seek to satisfy your spouse on their terms, even when their desires don’t line up with yours.

It’s not easy, and it requires that you know your spouse intimately; his or her nature, desires and preferences. This kind of knowing is a lifelong endeavor, and I’ve written about it recently. One post deals with knowing your spouse’s soul, what you see in the natural. The other post deals with knowing your spouse’s spirit, who they were created by God to be.

Are there areas where your husband or wife is being neglected or having unmet needs simply because you have decided “it’s just not me?”

Are you willing, for the sake of deeper intimacy, to step outside your comfort zone, to go the extra mile and do things you might not otherwise choose to do?

Note:  In my next post I’ll deal with a few important points of clarification that I feel needs to be made around this topic.


Debi Walter said...

Excellent post. If we would commit to live out our relationship this way I am certain marriages would once again thrive. But I don't want to dismiss the application for my own heart - I will ponder this one - thanks!

Scott said...

Thanks Debi, for your comment. This is a good thing for all of us to ponder!

Anonymous said...

You know, I read several years ago in a book of Walter Brueggeman's the challenge to always change ``as if'' to ``as''---from pretending that a reality exists to realizing that it does and creating it. Not perfectly for changing people, but puts a bit more on us to recognize the good change in others already.

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