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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Is it that your spouse has withdrawn from the relationship altogether?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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Paul Byerly said...

Scott - Great thoughts.

Many years ago I was dating a girl and we (mostly she) had talked about marriage. I loved her, but she was rather selfish in many ways. I did all I could to love her, but it never caused a change in her. She eventually left me because I would not cross some lines she wanted to cross.
I have often felt I dodged a bullet! I can imagine the marriage I would have had. I know I would have tried to do as you suggest here, but I wonder if I could have done it. The man I am today, yes. The man I was then? Not so sure.
It is the right thing, but it can be a very difficult thing.

Unknown said...

Paul, I completely agree that enduring a protracted season of one-sided giving is really hard. And the longer it goes on the harder it is not to give up and withdraw.

What I hope to offer folks with this post and the ones yet to come are ways to strengthen themselves in the Lord and to not give up.

No, it isn't easy. But there is hope.

Anonymous said...

Just because we are "right" (accurate in our perception that our spouse is not loving us the way we need) doesn't mean we are righteous enough to withhold our best from our spouse. This is avenging yourself; God tells us not to do that. "Being right doesn't automatically make you the righteous one either." <--- this one; hard lesson.

"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." -- Ditto for my marriage.

I found that when I stepped back and viewed it from '40,000ft' I began to see the pattern that God had set. God gave everything to Israel -- but it wasn't enough, they didn't give back -- talking, as it were, didn't work. So God pulled out the big guns; JESUS, and "Gave Most" and He "Gave First"

If it was easy, the reward wouldn't be worth it!

Thanks Scott!

Unknown said...

Robyn, you hit it dead on. It's when we are "right" that our "rights" tend to come to the forefront of our thinking. It can be really hard to lay them down for the sake of intimacy. But that is exactly what Jesus did!

Anonymous said...

I just go and do my own thing. I try as hard as possible not to be bitter but it is often a losing fight.

I came to the realization that I don't want anything I have to beg for. Lonely most times.

Unknown said...

This hits home for me, and it's very timely. I just finished reading a great new book I think is great for all wives (even husbands) at any stage of marriage. It's called "The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship," by Erin, Greg and Gary Smalley. It helped me understand that I need to change me, and that is my greatest influence on my marriage relationship. Biblical, inspirational, affirming. One of my favorite quotes is, "When we turn to God for help, he fills us with his love and enables us to see ourselves and our husbands through his eyes. Keep in mind that a wholehearted wife focuses first on her own heart!" I highly recommend it!

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