Is It an “Irreconcilable Difference” or Just Good Old-Fashioned (and Biblical) “Trouble”? Part 2
In part 1, we were introduced to an understandably frustrated wife who wrote me:
When I ask my husband to do something and he doesn't do it, it frustrates me beyond belief. Like when I ask him to pick up his shoes and junk laying around the house, he says twice that he will do it, then never does. It just leaves me frustrated because I'm constantly picking up after him. But, he's also admitted to just telling me what I want to hear, then doesn't do what he says he will do. I've mentioned this several times to him how much it frustrates me and the point isn't getting across. How do I change the crazy cycle in this area? I love a clean and orderly house . . . he could care less. I don't want to keep nagging at him, so WHAT DO I DO?
In my response, I asked her:
1. Should I conclude that your husband does not care about you as a human being and his untidiness evidences that he does not care for you because he is an uncaring person?
2. Is he a manipulator and a liar who tells you what you want to hear but has no intention of responding to your domestic concerns?
Thankfully, for the second question, she heartily confirmed that in no way is her husband a manipulator or a liar. But her answer to my first question led us to another affirming realization concerning her supposedly messy husband. He agrees with her that they should have a clean home!
Of course he cares for me as a human being. He just personally doesn't see the value in cleaning up. However, he does help me pay for a maid, so that is nice. He did that for my sanity because I don't always want to clean up after him. I believe he's not clean because of the way he was raised. He always had a maid growing up. But so did I. But my mother would still task me with chores to clean up my room, etc. She even made me clean up my room before the maid came so she could vacuum. That was the attempt I tried with my husband last night and he came back with: "we have a maid, that's what I pay her for . . ."
It turns out, this is less an issue of cleanliness but more one of preference regarding the method and timing of maintaining cleanliness. But if her husband sees the value in paying for a maid to clean the house, then he actually agrees with his wife’s cleanliness standard! He simply differs about the method and timing. This should be huge! Her husband has the same aim as her—a clean house! The difference is he is willing to wait for the maid to achieve this aim; she wants it achieved ASAP. If you are familiar with much of my teaching, then you probably know where I’m going here. Neither is wrong, just different!
When it isn’t a moral issue but an issue of scattered shoes, we need to step back and ask: Am I making this pink and blue conflict in a gray area, a black and white (moral) issue? Do I expect to get what I want when I want it because it is important to me, and it therefore should be important to my spouse? Then if it doesn’t appear to be important to my spouse, do I then conclude they don’t care and I don’t matter to them as a human being? Is my spouse unloving, morally wrong, or abusive for saying, “Let the maid do it!"?
Or, do we need to allow for a margin of shortcomings in a spouse that may never change, or allow for an honest difference of opinion on how soon the shoes will be picked up and by whom (hubby or the maid)? Is this simply an issue of having differing pink and blue perspectives? Is it a situation of “not wrong, just different”?
In most of life, the matter-at-hand entails perspective. What matters today won’t matter tomorrow. It reminds me of a story I heard once. The widow of a farmer, recently remarried to another farmer, invited a group of famers’ wives for lunch. As the ladies were chatting, the woman’s new husband came in from the barnyard and tracked mud across the kitchen floor. All the women were incensed. One of them said, “If my husband muddied the floor like that, I’d kill him.”
The newly married widow just smiled and said: “During my first marriage my husband often muddied the floor and I would have a fit. It caused some pretty tense times for us. After he was killed, his muddy boots sat empty on the porch. How I longed for him to walk through the kitchen in those muddy boots. I wept bitter tears because I had fixated on the mud on the boots instead of the man in the boots. Now that I have another husband in muddy boots, I really don’t mind cleaning up the mud.”
Similarly, if the untidy husband died, his wife would long to see his shoes scattered on the living room floor. In her own words to me, “I teared up when reading about the widow leaving her deceased husband’s shoes there. I needed to see this in another light. Thank you for a new perspective. Thank you for your counsel.”
I have talked to many widows over the years who kept the shoes where they last landed. What upset them about those shoes, and other things, now causes a surge of emotion that overwhelmed them when their eyes fell upon those objects. They wept and wept and wept.
In marriage, irritations happen. We all suffer “scattered shoes” annoyances we could explode about. Marriage makes all of us vulnerable to what we might think are “insults” at the time. But are they worth ruining the moment, or the day, or the week over? Are they worth bringing the Energizing Cycle to a screeching halt while the Crazy Cycle revs its engines?
Is “lack of participation in household responsibilities” really an irreconcilable difference?
Perspective is everything!
I will allow the wife’s final response to me bring this to an end. I hope we can all rejoice together with her realization that all husbands and wives should come to when they face these differences that drive them crazy. We must stop trying to take control of our spouse and focus on controlling ourselves and our responses. In her first email to me she asked, “How do I change the crazy cycle in this area?” In the end, she learned the answer: it starts with her.
You are so right that I am wanting things done my way, right now! What a childish thing. But when I feel anxiety and my mind is going a million miles an hour, it's like I have to get it out. I tell myself without realizing it that I HAVE TO HAVE control. So I guess it manifests in me trying to control my husband by getting him to do things my way when I want them done. What a mess. I'm working every day on giving those to the Lord. I don’t need to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Again, thank you.
Questions to Consider
- What has come up in your marriage as an issue of “not wrong, just different”? How were you able to adjust to those differences? Which ones were tougher, and why?
- Emerson asked, “Am I making this pink and blue conflict in a gray area, a black and white (moral) issue?” What do you think this means? What is a pink and blue conflict in your marriage that you have made into a black and white issue of morality?
- What are some “shortcomings” of yours that you hope your spouse can give you more grace toward? Where do you need to show more grace regarding his or her “shortcomings”?
- Why does ending the Crazy Cycle begin with you, and not trying to change your spouse?