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Saturday, May 31, 2014

What do you do when you've communicated your needs to your spouse, yet they remain unmet?

Several comments on my last post, What Do You Need?,  pointed to the same question. "What do I do when I've expressed my needs and my spouse still will not meet them?"

I love wrestling with the tough questions, and this certainly is one.

No Easy Answers

Responses are pouring in from my current marital needs survey (if you haven't yet, please take a minute and let me know what ONE THING you need most from your spouse). It's clear that a significant number of respondents are suffering from unmet needs. Somewhere around 40% say their husband or wife is not meeting their single most important need (rating them a 1, 2 or 3 on a 10 point scale).

I am certain that some of the respondents to my survey have tried, perhaps repeatedly, to express their needs to their spouse. Some may even have gone so far as to describe clearly what having that need met would look like, This is a vital first step to helping your spouse love you well.

But what if you've done all that, had numerous conversations about what you need and how you would like it to look, but your spouse either still doesn't get it or refuses to do the things you say you need.

Every Situation is Unique

Every marriage relationship is different. The personalities, histories and issues you face will be different from those of others. Likewise, the nature of your unmet needs is probably unique.

Is it that your spouse has withdrawn from the relationship altogether? Does it seem they have stopped trying? Is it that they continue to not "get it" that the needs you express are really important. Are they in denial of the depth of the pain you are in over this? Is it that they are trying but just aren't fulfilling your need in the way you need if fulfilled? Do they feel criticized and doomed to fail, so no longer wish to try?

The disharmony caused by key needs going unmet on a long-term basis is very real and very hard. The encouragement I offer below is in no way meant to downplay what can be a very difficult situation.

Please realize that I am not simply speaking platitudes into your pain. My goal is to offer you truth and hope.

Give First, Give Most

We all have a tendency to withhold love when we feel we aren't receiving love in the way we want. It's natural.

It's natural, but it's not Biblical. We are called to radical love by the One who loves us radically. Consider the verses that open Paul's famous chapter on marriage.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.
Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Ask yourself whether there are areas where you are withholding from your spouse. Is it possible that they are feeling exactly as you do about unmet major needs? I'm not accusing you. I'm asking you to lead the conversation by first seeking out the unmet needs of your spouse.  Are you willing to ask the hard questions and then listen in a non-defensive manner, without striking back in response or justifying yourself?

Are you willing to "win" by out-giving and out-loving your spouse?

What is Your Source?

Sometimes by overtly focusing on what you can give rather than what you are not getting, it will draw your spouse into a deeper awareness of their own lack of charity and generosity.

Sometimes it won't.

Some will say, “I've tried that. I've been giving and giving, but I'm tired of never getting anything back.” I get that.

If you are giving of your own human capacity for love, you are surely going to soon reach the end of your ability to love and keep on loving. The good news is that we have an Infinite Love available to us - the love of Christ.  And it's ours for the taking. It's simple, but not always easy.

That's why it's absolutely critical for us all to inhale deeply and daily of the love of Christ. I encourage you to first try to grasp the “unknowable love” that Christ has for you personally. This daily love injection will not only expand your capacity for love, it can also help you understand God's love for your husband or wife.

This is exactly what happened to me in the journey of my own marriage. When I began to more deeply understand and experience the love of Christ in my life, my understanding of marriage was transformed. As I discovered the passionate emotions and unstoppable love that God has for me, I was better able to love my wife in the same way.

Of course, there is no guarantee of love returned, but unconditional love is the Kingdom principle we are called to press into. It's the way Christ loved us and laid down His life for us - with no guarantee we would love Him back.

There are no easy answers to the issue of unmet needs. I will continue to share my thoughts over the next few posts. I would also love to hear your own ideas and struggles with this issue. Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

For the ladies:  Blogging friend Robyn Gibson of Up With Marriage is exploring this topic in the context of sex in her posts "Serving Through Sex" Part 1  and Part 2 . Really good stuff. Highly recommended reading.

For the guys:  Paul Byerly, aka The Generous Husband, has a post for men entitled "Your Needs," which I also highly recommend.

Be sure to take my 
What I Need Most

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Monday, May 19, 2014

What is it you need most of all from your spouse? Does he or she know? When was the last time you talked about it?

Last fall I ran a month long survey asking the question of husbands and wives, "What is the one thing you need most from your spouse?" I've finally compiled and analyzed the results and am presenting them in a special Journey to Surrender report entitle What Husbands and Wives Need Most.

Starting today, new subscribers will be able to download this report for free as a thank you for subscribing. If you are already a subscriber, you can get your free copy of the report simply by taking the follow up marital needs survey at this link.   At the bottom of the survey page, sign up to receive the poll results by email and then click the box that says "Also send me a copy of the previous report" on the sign up page.

Know Your Own Needs

The ancient Greek maxim, "know thyself," rings true in marriage.

It is true that the Bridal Paradigm, the understanding that your marriage is to be a living reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church, is a paradigm of selfless love. I encourage couples all the time to focus more on meeting the needs of their spouse than on getting their own needs met. It takes determination to fight off our natural tendencies to be self-focused and self-protective, but I firmly believe that selflessness is one of the most important keys to an enduring, intimate and passionate marriage.

At the same time, it is also true that it is very important to understand your own needs when it comes to your marriage relationship. You need to understand and be able to clearly articulate the things that are most important to you.

Spend some time thinking about this question: What is it that you need most from your husband or wife?

It shouldn't be a long list; maybe three things tops. They should be more than mere wants and wishes. These are the essential needs that if unmet for a protracted period of time could put tremendous strain on your marriage.

Tell Your Needs

Although I certainly do encourage selflessness in marriage, I also think that communicating your needs to your spouse is very important.  Am I giving you a mixed message? Not really.

First of all, you may be under the illusion that if your spouse really loves you, they should already know what is important to you. They may not know your needs, and even they do, because the needs of husbands and wives tend to be very different, your spouse may have no clue what meeting those needs should look like. It's easy for us to give love in the ways that mean love to us; but not so easy to give love in the ways that mean love when those ways are completely foreign to us.

The poll I did last fall showed that the needs of husbands and wives were typically quite different, though there certainly was some overlap. I also found that, on average, husbands did better and meeting the needs of wives that they themselves typically rank as most important. Likewise, wives typically did better at meeting needs that are more commonly ranked as important by wives.

Bottom line: don't expect your spouse to know automatically your needs!

The way you communicate your needs is also important. Do it in a way that honors and respects your spouse. Avoid saying things like, "You never..." or "You always..." or "Why can't you just..." Instead try something like this, "I know you love me and that you want to love me well. In order to help you do that, I want to tell you the things that matter most to me." Then go on to explain, in a non-demanding way, what things are most important. Don't dwell on how your husband or wife has missed the boat in the past, even if they have. Don't focus on past mistakes, unless your spouse asks. Instead, be forward looking.

What Does That Look Like?

One really important question should be included in the discussion of your needs. "What does that look like?"

Because the needs of men and women are often different, you may need to paint a clear picture for your spouse.

Even if a wife tells her husband, "Romantic time together is really important to me in order for me to feel loved." If her husband isn't romantically inclined like she is, he may have no clue what he is supposed do with that information. So to help him out, she might say "And here is what that might look like. If we could have a couple of dates together every month, maybe dinner out followed by a walk in the park, where we can really get a chance to talk and connect, that would be great." If her love language is more gifts than quality time, she might point him toward the occasional gift of flowers or other tokens of love that she appreciates.

Similarly, if a husband tells his wife he wants a deeper sexual connection with her as one of his most important needs, his wife might not really know what that means. So he should be specific in order to make it clear to her.  "I would love it if we could make love two or three times a week. And it would be great if once a month or so we could try something new, just to keep things fresh and interesting. We could take turns coming up with ideas. No pressure, just for fun."

Here's the thing. If you tell yourself it doesn't count if you have to tell your husband or wife how to love you, that's a completely self-defeating attitude. When your spouse responds by doing what you've asked, don't dismiss it. Instead of saying, "You're only doing that because I asked you to," say "Thank you so much. It means so much to me when you express your love for me that way."  Choose to believe that what they want is to love you well by doing the things that you say are most important.

It may take your spouse a little while before they feel comfortable going "off-script," especially if your needs aren't on their own love-needs radar. By giving encouraging feedback (instead of criticism) they are much more likely to continue to move forward in creatively meeting your needs.

Another way to encourage your spouse to keep meeting your needs is to be diligent and proactive in meeting their needs too.  This creates a positive cycle in your marriage that strengthens love and builds intimacy. More on that next time.

Needs Change

Needs are not static. Seasons change and so can the needs we feel are most important. That's why it is a good idea to keep the dialog open and ongoing.

Be watchful.  When it seems like the things you've been doing don't have the same impact or don't seem as valued, ask questions like, "I know I've always done this for you, but you don't seem to be enjoying it as much as you used to. Has something changed?"

If you sense  your own needs changing don't expect your spouse to pick up on it. Subtle hints may not be enough.  It may be time to speak up, again in a respectful and non-demanding way, with lots of appreciation for the things your spouse has been doing.

It's Time to Talk

If you haven't done so recently, I would encourage you to talk with each other about your top needs. As a great discussion aid, I suggest you download the marital needs report I mentioned at the top of this post. Again, you can get it by subscribing to my posts or by taking the second round of the poll. [links] Point to the one or two items on the results that are most important to you. Talk about what meeting that need would look like.

How do you and your spouse approach identifying and communicating your key needs? Are you sure your spouse knows what your top one or two needs are? Do you talk about it specifically? Do you provide helpful descriptions of what meeting that need would look like? Share your story in a comment!

Be sure to take part two of my 
What I Need Most

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