Made for Each Other: Embracing Your Differences

Made for Each Other: Embracing our Differences Marriage Series

We get married because we want to believe that we are “made for each other”.

Yet you and your husband are two very different people.

You have gender differences. You have personality differences. You have background differences. The problem with differences is that we usually assume that we’re right, because what we do seems natural to us–the way things should be done. When he does things differently, he seems wrong. And a few years of clashing over how things should be done, we wonder if we really are “made for each other” after all.

But what if those differences are tools that God can use to mold you into better people?

Let me tell you the story of my relationship with my husband, Keith. I told it first in a column I wrote back in 2007, but I think it speaks to this, and today, as part of our “Virtual Marriage Retreat” that we’re doing every Monday in September, I thought I’d look at the concept again.

In my marriage, I tend to be the one who wrecks the cars. Keith wrecks the laundry, but that doesn’t cost nearly as much. For a while there I seemed to have a string of issues needing little bumper touch ups, and the mechanic helpfully suggested that he could install those little floaty-things that boats use to the outside of our car. Keith thought this was hilarious. I did not.

Of course, Keith recently backed into a tree and shattered our van’s windshield, but since this was his one and only infraction in our whole marriage, we viewed it as an aberration rather than a pattern. So when he went to buy a new car this fall, he bought a standard. I can’t drive a standard. So I can’t drive his car. I’m still trying to figure out if there’s some hidden meaning there.

Keith and I have other differences, too. Keith has the “all the lights in the house must be turned off if not needed” gene. I’m missing that one. His idea of a relaxing afternoon is to actually relax. I like taking energetic bike rides. He likes war movies. I like Jane Austen. We’re a strange pair.

And yet, after twenty-three years, what most often occurs to me is how alike we’ve become.

Who we are, I believe, is partly a function of who we grow to be as we walk, day to day, with those we love.

People who know me may be surprised by this, but I tend to be on the shy side. I didn’t speak outside of the house until I was seven. Today I make my living speaking at women’s events and retreats, often in front of large groups, which doesn’t bother me in the least. But parties, where I have to talk to one on one, are stressful. How do I keep the conversation going? I don’t find it natural at all.

It’s not natural for Keith, on the other hand, to shut up. And as we’ve been married, he’s taken me to so many parties that I’ve begun to open up. But he’s also started to quiet down. Had we not married, he might have been even more gregarious, and I may have become more introspective.

Or take food. I crave sweets, but not fat or salt. Keith, on the other hand, once drank a cup of bacon grease because someone dared him. I often have a craving for vegetables. Keith had to force himself to start eating them regularly. If Keith hadn’t married me, he’d likely be a lot heavier than he is right now. And I’d probably still never know wonderful real butter makes everything taste.

I’ve always loved to travel, and even before we were married I had seen a lot of the world, saving up my money from my jobs as a teen to tour around overseas. But my trips were confined to museums and tourist attractions. Keith, on the other hand, likes to get to know people. Over our years together we’ve ventured further abroad, most recently to Kenya. Within five minutes he knew our driver’s life story. The porter in our final hotel told him all about his education. Keith finds a way to draw out people I would never have normally talked to, and I’m gradually learning, too. If I had my initial instincts, we would have seen the world, but only from a distance. And if Keith had his, we never would have seen it at all.

Over the last twenty-three years we have changed. I am not the same person who walked down that aisle, and he isn’t the same one who was waiting for me. I loved him dearly then, but I love him much more deeply now. I think we make a mistake when we search for that soul mate, the one person who completes us. The more I think about it, the more I think that we become each other’s soul mate. Just by being with each other, we change each other.

It isn’t a matter of finding the perfect person as much as it is becoming the perfect couple.

Compromise. Spend time together. Stretch yourself. You just may find that you’re becoming made for each other, after all.

So often we think that when our marriages don’t work it means that we married the wrong person.

And yet, I don’t think there is a right person. I think you become the right person, the more you commit to each other and stick it out. You aren’t born “made for each other”. You become “made for each other” as you adjust to each other with grace.

Change happens gradually, but it will happen more dramatically when we decide to let God set the agenda in our marriages, and not us. When we say, “God, whatever you want from me, I’ll do it,” rather than “God, we’d get along so much better if only you would change him,” then our marriages will blossom. Instead of getting upset about your differences, see them as opportunities for growth.

Made for Each Other: What if marriage is less about marrying the right person, and more about becoming the right person?

Marriages don’t succeed because we marry the right person. They succeed when we become the right person. (click to tweet this!)

This post is part of The Virtual Marriage Retreat that six marriage bloggers are doing, every Monday in September.

So far I’ve talked about:

Embracing Grace
Embracing Change

And all the other bloggers have, too! Today, you can follow their links and see what they say about embracing the differences in your marriage. And here’s your challenge for this week:

Embrace Your Marriage Challenge: Don’t just tell your husband that you love him today. Tell him some of the reasons you love him.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

Celebrating our Differences

 


Picture by Mulsanne

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

No matter how much sociologists try to convince that gender is only a “social construct”, I don’t buy it. Men and women just seemed hardwired differently, especially when it comes to love.

Do this thought experiment with me: would you be more upset if you caught your spouse having a physical affair, or an emotional affair? The answer usually depends upon your gender. In general, women are more upset if their husbands are having an emotional affair, whereas men are more upset if their wives are having a physical affair.

At first blush this may not make a lot of sense, but if we understand the differences between the genders, then it becomes clearer. Women’s first instinct is to bond emotionally with people. Men don’t. When my husband, a pediatrician, sees a woman we know while he’s working on the maternity floor, and I later ask whether it was a boy or a girl and how long the labour was, he can’t tell me. He’ll know the weight and whether or not the baby was healthy, but everything else doesn’t register. If I, on the other hand, had been in that room with those new parents, I’d emerge fifteen minutes later knowing the baby’s name, the colour of the nursery, the mom’s plans for staying off work, and the older siblings’ attitude towards the baby. We women talk. And talk. And talk.

Talking, then, isn’t exactly an intimate experience. We share our hopes and fears and moods with quite a range of acquaintances, from co-workers to people in line at the grocery store. What we don’t share as readily is our bodies. For a woman, sex is more intimate because it’s not something we’re as likely to share with strangers (though we all know women who seem to have broken down this taboo!).

Men, on the other hand, seem to operate the opposite way. No matter how much Alan Alda tried to teach men to vent their feelings, men don’t vent. It doesn’t feel right. So if a man has bonded emotionally with a woman that is not his wife, he’s really opened up with her. He’s taken time to develop a relationship. And he’s also toast, as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s another area where we’re different: Would you rather your spouse didn’t love you, but did respect you and felt you were competent and capable, or would you rather be respected but unloved? Chances are the answer to that question depends on your gender, too. In general, women will choose love, whereas men will choose respect.

And that’s only the beginning! Women like to talk face to face. Men like to talk side by side. Women like talking out problems, even if you don’t find a solution. The talking itself is rejuvenating. Men like looking for solutions, otherwise the talk is superfluous. Women go to the doctor when they’re worried. Men go to Home Depot. And the list goes on.

We have two choices with all these differences. We can act all superior, claiming the other gender is wrong and just plain stupid, or we can embrace the differences. And remember, you fell in love because you were different, not because you were the same. If we’re the same, there’s nothing new to discover, and the relationship becomes stale. But we’re not the same, and that means you have a lifetime to explore all the differences between you. I think that makes life a lot more fun. So stop complaining that she doesn’t care about football, or that he doesn’t care about paint colours. Just be glad those of you who are part of a couple have somebody to love—even if they are very strange to you.

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25 Marriage Tips

25 Funny But True Marriage Tips for a Long and Happy Life Together

With June, the wedding month, peeking around the corner at us, I thought it was time to present you with twenty-five tips for a successful marriage, to help a wife make her husband happy, and a husband make a wife happy. And some are even funny tips, too! And so, in no particular order, here is my accumulated wisdom, little as it may be:

1. Talk to your spouse more kindly than you talk to anyone else in the world. Too often we speak the most harshly to those closest to us.

2. Remember that marriage is less about marrying the right person and more about becoming the right person.

3. Don’t forget to laugh. Most couples spend the majority of their time talking logistics: who’s doing the grocery shopping, who’s calling the repairman, who’s picking up the kids. A relationship can’t survive on logistics. Have a water fight instead.

4. She needs you to be her best friend. Everyday, talk to her and tell her what you’re thinking. Even if you don’t think you’re thinking about anything. She needs to hear your heart.

5. He needs you to be his cheerleader. Let him know you believe he can take on the world.

6. Find ways to say “I love you” that don’t involve sex.

Funny Marriage Tips

7. When you dress up, make sure the main person you’re dressing up for is him. And put on lipstick.

8. Leave the toilet seat down.

9. Forgiving means not bringing that old infraction up every time you have a new fight. Let it go.

10. If it’s not solved at 2:30 a.m., it’s not going to be solved at 3:00 a.m. either. Go to sleep. You can deal with it tomorrow, assuming you even remember what the fight was about.

11. When you’re having an argument, listen to understand, don’t listen to find loopholes so you can win. Marriage is either a win/win or a lose/lose. You can’t win by beating someone else down.

12. Your kids come second, not first. Your marriage needs to be number one. Your spouse was there before the kids and will be there after the kids move out. Work on that relationship first.

13. If you haven’t fully committed to your marriage, it won’t succeed. If you’re always testing your spouse, your spouse will always come up short. No one is perfect.

14. You will never drift together. People only ever drift apart. If you want to grow closer, you have to be intentional about it.

15. Let her cry. She needs to every now and then.

16. Don’t bug him if he doesn’t cry. Some men just don’t show their feelings. That’s why they’re men.

17. Don’t say everything that’s on your mind. More marriages would survive if more things went unsaid.

18. Let her be your every fantasy. Keep your eyeballs off everyone else.

19. Let him be your every fantasy. Keep your eyeballs off romance novels.

20. Don’t think he’s gross if he farts. Don’t think she’s pathetic if she obsesses over paint colours. You married someone of the opposite gender. That’s what life is about.

21. Don’t run to your mom if your spouse does something you don’t like. You’re a unit now. Act like it.

Every Love Story Wall Decal--$25

Every Love Story Wall Decal–$25

22. Make one of your favourite topics of conversation how much you admire your spouse. Tell your kids. Tell your friends. And let your spouse hear.

23. Men would be ecstatic if women showed up naked and brought food. Most women need more than that. Men, make it your goal in life to figure her out. Woo her. She’s worth it.

24. Say yes far more frequently than you say no.

And finally, for you women:

If you have trouble “jumping him” (#25), Sheila‘s new book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, goes into how to create a truly intimate relationship on three levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. And my 31 Days to Great Sex ebook gives you 31 days of challenges to work through as a couple.

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

Male Bashing is Bad. Joking is Okay. Right?

I’ve written a lot on this blog about how we women often disparage men, and that’s a bad thing. I’ve talked about how we have to let men be men, accept that their different, and understand that just because we see the world a certain way, it doesn’t mean that we’re right and they’re stupid. It just means that we have different viewpoints. And that’s okay.

In fact, I’m quite passionate about this. I’ve written many columns in my seven years as a columnist explaining why I think male bashing is so dangerous. It makes men feel inferior, pushes them out of the family, and contributes to the marginalization of true masculinity in our society.

So I feel a little chagrined today, because I received an email after my last column accusing me of doing just that. In that column, I wrote that men are capable of thinking about nothing, and women aren’t. This is often a point of contention in a marriage.

But I went on to say that women are jealous of this brain feature and so continually try to find ways to think about nothing, to no avail. So we may berate them for it, but we also wish we could do it, every now and then.

Here’s my question: was I male bashing? I don’t think I was. First, I was talking about something which is a fact. Women have more connections in their brains than men do, which is why we recover from strokes more easily. We can’t turn off our thoughts as much. Men can.

I was also using an analogy from a best-selling book whose purpose is to explain gender differences so that we can see that neither side is right; we’re only different. I thought I was taking the same approach.

Finally, my impression was that I was, if anything, making fun of women, not men. I told how women thought about the stupidest things, and I outlined our quest to be like men. So I don’t think it was male bashing.

I do think I used humour (or at least tried to; you can be the judge of whether it was really funny). But I don’t believe I was putting men down. I was just describing an honest difference between the genders.

So here’s my question for you: was it male bashing? I’m open to being told it was. Maybe I need to be less flippant in my joking. And where is the line between joking and bashing? I do think we need to laugh at ourselves, and especially our relationships. And I think people learn better with humour. Most people honestly aren’t aware of these gender differences, and when we explain them, it often improves a relationship.

Also, I don’t think describing a difference means that you’re bashing one side or the other. Women are more emotional; is it female bashing to say so? I don’t think it is. There are differences. We need to see them.

Bashing, I think, is making fun of one gender and coming to the conclusion that this means that they’re somehow inferior, or don’t function as well. Pointing out differences, then, I don’t think is bashing.

So help me out: how do I draw the line better? I’m very against male bashing, and I don’t want to participate. But I also do want to be funny and help the general public understand some of these things (I think Christians are more in tune to gender differences than the public is, which is why I’ve been writing about it in my column, which is aimed at a general audience).

Leave a comment and help me out! Thanks so much! And enjoy your week!

How Nothing Can Ruin Relationship Health

Every Friday my syndicated column is printed in a number of newspapers. Here’s today’s!

In leading marriage seminars across the country for the last few years, it has come to my attention that one of the scariest questions for a man to hear from the one he loves is this: “What are you thinking about?”

As I wrote in this column earlier this summer, men are like waffles. Their brains are filled with little boxes, where they keep things like work, and children, and wives, and fishing, all neatly separated, and ne’er any two shall meet. Women, on the other hand, have all the boxes jumbled up and knocked over, so everything is intertwined.

What many women don’t realize, however, is that for most men, the biggest box in their brain actually holds nothing at all. That’s right: it’s completely empty. Men are capable of thinking about nothing.

And in the middle of this lack of thought, many men, new at relationships, may make a big mistake when they hear that dreaded question. They may tell the truth.

“Nothing,” they admit.

It is not very long until they realize why this was a big mistake. Women, you see, are incapable of thinking about nothing. We’re always thinking about something. So if men say they’re thinking about nothing, we immediately assume they’re lying. They must either be thinking about you-know-what, or they’re thinking about something we think is stupid.

So we start to drill them on it. And as Bill Farrel, the author of that brilliant book Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti, explains, men then frantically hop to any adjacent box they can find in order to latch on to an acceptable answer.

“You’re right! I was thinking about something. I was thinking about hunting.”

“Oh,” she replies, placated. “Are you going to pay for a deer license this year?”.

“No,” he admits, scrambling to explain why he was thinking about hunting if he’s not planning on hunting. And so it goes, for about a decade or two before women realize that perhaps he is, indeed, thinking about nothing. He’s not criticizing us, or holding something back, or refusing to admit feelings. He just may honestly not have any feelings at this particular moment.

We women may lambaste men for being so uncaring and shallow, but if you look carefully at women’s behaviour, you’ll see that secretly we’re envious. What, after all, do women spend their lives doing at the gym? We’re trying desperately to think about nothing, too!

We meditate. We take yoga. You don’t see very many men taking yoga, do you? It’s not just because they don’t like stretching those groin muscles, either. It’s because they’ve already achieved nothingness. Women can only dream.

When yoga doesn’t work, we exercise to endeavour to reach some sort of mental discipline. But as our heart rate rises, so do our brain patterns. “My heart’s pumping fast. I wonder what my cholesterol is? I wonder what my husband’s is? We really should eat more fish, but it’s expensive. I found a spare twenty in my jeans after they went through the dryer today. I found one of Johnny’s toys, too. He really needs to clean up his room.” And so on, and so on.

We can’t turn it off, which is why we’re always feeling guilty. It’s like we live with a TV inside our brains, constantly playing scenes of what we should be doing. Each scene leads to the next one. If only our brains were nicely compartmentalized, we’d probably enjoy greater peace, as would the men in our lives. But then we women wouldn’t be nearly as complicated, and where’s the challenge in that? I’ll never achieve nothingness, and my husband will just have to live with it—if he gets around to thinking about it, of course.

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The Getaway Plan

I’m just back from Family Camp! I spoke every morning this week to a little over 100 women. We were in our tent trailer, and while the bullfrogs kept me up at night, the week overall was marvellous, and a big encouragement!

I had posts scheduled to come up automatically this week, as you likely noticed, and I’ll reply to some of the many comments soon!

For now, though, it’s time for my column. Every Friday it appears in several newspapers, and this week’s it’s about my dash to get out the door and ready for Family Camp. Read on. Perhaps you’re as neurotic as I am!

By the time you read this, I’ll be back, but right now my family is preparing to go camping. The girls are collecting the towels, bathing suits, and bug repellent, my husband is filling the coolers, and me? I’m dusting my bedroom.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because you are missing the crucial nesting gene. I have one, which may surprise most who know me, because it only manifests itself when we are preparing to leave. On a normal day I may be perfectly content living in a home with stacks of unopened mail scattered around the dining room, dust bunnies plotting a takeover of my house under my bed, and unidentifiable contents in Tupperware containers lurking near the back of my fridge.

But when we are leaving these things are absolutely out of bounds, as anyone with any self-respect would agree. Unfortunately, my husband and my children do not share the gene, and so they have the gall to become frustrated with me, and to express this frustration in unpleasant ways, when they think that I am letting them “do all the work” of packing and “holding us up” and “wasting time” instead of actually contributing to the camping cause.

Mysteriously, they fail to see how my actions contribute to a holiday. After all, what’s a holiday if you have to come home to a messy house? So as I’m collecting our clothes, I notice the dust more than I do on normal days. Or when I’m piling suitcases in the hallway I notice the floors could really use a mopping. Don’t even get me started on what happens when I go through the fridge to figure out what we need in the coolers.

By the time we actually exit our premises, then, our house is in tip top shape. And yet instead of lauding me for this spurt of high energy cleaning action, my family feels resentment because they want to “get going”. Honestly.

My husband even had the gall to inform me that one day he is going to announce a magnificent, surprise holiday, just so that I would clean the house. Then, with all the suitcases packed and all the floors sparkly, he would tell me that we’re going to stay home, because it’s so nice to live in now. I was not impressed.

Cleaning, though, is not all I do when we’re preparing to depart. I also have that compulsion to attend to all the errands I’ve been nonchalantly ignoring. I may have decided they’re not urgent for three or four weeks running, but when we’re about to leave the house for five days, they become a priority. And since I’m running to the bank, why not check out the sales at some of my favourite stores, too?

Then, of course, there’s the email I must answer, and the thank you notes I must write leftover from business engagements a few months ago. In short, whenever we go on vacation, my to-do list magically gets to-done.

Naturally this makes vacation preparedness a very stressful activity, and one might wonder if getaways were even worth it. But I know the answer to that one. It’s found in sitting around a fire, eating smores and not caring if you get marshmallow on your sweatshirt. It’s found in playing cards inside the camper when it rains. It’s found in getting up one morning and reading an entire novel just because you can. It’s found in having time to walk, hand in hand, with my husband for hours because there’s nothing else to do. Vacations are bliss. And I’m just glad that, thanks to me, coming home isn’t so bad, either.

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Why Moms Don't Always Want to Know Best

'Kid Beach :Not quick enough' photo (c) 2009, Chris Willis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Each Friday my syndicated column appears in several newspapers. Here’s this week’s!

I’ve been giving advice to men about relationships lately, and I thought I’d continue the trend today, since I like telling men what to do.

Let’s start with a misconception men often have. Many men think that if they have mastered the sentence, “Whatever you want is fine with me, Honey,” they have hit the relationship bullseye.

Unfortunately, if that’s you, you’re likely in for a rude awakening. Imagine this: your wife asks you whether little Johnny should take soccer this year. You smile and utter those magic words, and then incomprehensibly she storms off! Something got lost in translation.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret which many women may not admit to, and would rather I not share. But for the sake of healthy families, I’m going to do it anyway. Generally, women don’t want to always have their way. What they do want is for men to actually care. If men say, “whatever is fine”, they’re saying that the things women care about don’t matter enough to even render an opinion about.

We women, though, care so much about family decisions because our brains are perpetually stuck on the guilt setting. At any given time, we are feeling guilty about something. There’s ironing I haven’t done in six months. I let the children play too many video games yesterday. I didn’t serve any vegetables today.

So men, let me give you some advice. When your wife asks, “Do you think we should put Johnny in soccer this year?”, realize that she’s asking from a position of guilt. You see, if Johnny signs up for soccer, someone is going to have to drive him. Someone is going to have to cart around those infernal canvas chairs with the pop holder cups.

Someone will have to pack the cooler and then deal with all the dripping popsicle mess. This is decision must not be taken lightly. And if you agree that Johnny should play soccer, are you going to be the one to wipe up the popsicle stains? And if she doesn’t want to, is she going to feel guilty the rest of her life because she’s deprived Johnny of the Soccer Experience?

Women carry this guilt around constantly. And guilt can be magnified when women feel as if all parenting decisions are in our hands, because then we’re the ones who will bear the blame if Johnny turns into an axe murderer. That’s why we overcompensate. We take on more and more of the parenting duties, because we desperately want our children to thrive. And in the process we may crowd you out.

We don’t really want all that responsibility, though. It’s too big a load to bear. We’d much rather share it. Of course, we’re not looking for an authoritarian dad. We want a dad who recognizes our expertise, who relies on our opinion, but who also has one of his own. And if, after discussing it, we decide to go with her idea, that’s okay. As long as we’ve decided together, we women won’t bear all the blame if things turn sour.

Don’t let us get away with being the main parent. Believe it or not, deep inside most women don’t actually want that entire responsibility. But we’re unlikely to give up control unless you show you’re serious. So stick with it. When you rock the boat, it’s going to take us a while to adjust. Please keep trying, because we would rather be in a boat heading in the same direction together, than to be the only one navigating while everyone else sleeps below deck. Let’s build a family together. That’s what we really want.

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Wifey Wednesday: Letting Men Be Men

Hello, everybody! It’s time to talk marriage!

First, thanks for the replies on my post this week about how to get husbands to care for their children. Keep commenting over here! I’m going to turn it into next week’s Wifey Wednesday!

But for today, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. My husband just got back from being away for ten days. I know that’s not much of a secret, but at the time, it was. I don’t like to announce on the internet, “Hey, everybody! I’m home alone tonight with two teenage girls!”. Just doesn’t sound smart.

He went away with seven other guys to North Carolina, where they swam and windsurfed and biked and read and goofed off. He had a good time, although his comment when he came back is that he’d rather spend time with me. He’s glad he went, though.

He was initially nervous about asking me to join this trip, because it coincided with my birthday. Actually, that didn’t work out so badly for me. Everybody felt sorry for me because he wasn’t here, so I was taken out to four birthday dinners by different people! I ate very well. Maybe I’ll send him away next year, too!

But I wanted him to go. We have lots of time together, he and I. We prioritize it. But sometimes guys just need to be with other guys. And we don’t always let them. We get upset because it takes time away from us, or from the kids.

Now there’s a balance here, isn’t there? No guy should be out with his friends every night, or even once a week if he’s barely home with the kids because of his own work schedule. Obviously the family needs to come first. Yet I think it’s important that we encourage male bonding.

Think about it this way. How many women do you know that you could share your heart with? How many women could you pick up a phone and say, “I need to talk, can we go for coffee?”. Chances are there are more than two women on that list. For many of us there may be quite a few!

But men don’t have that as much. Apparently less than 10% of men have a real, male friend that they could actually bare their souls to. Many men have acquaintances that they do things with, but they don’t actually talk.

And the only way to get to that level of relationship is if they start to spend time together and act like men.

When I wrote my book, Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight, I included a chapter called “Who Wears the Pants in this Family?”. I knew it would be a controversial one, and I do get occasional emails from readers challenging me on this. Here’s the point I was making: what makes sex interesting is that it is two very different individuals joining. God made us male and female. He didn’t just make us the same with different body parts. He made two separate packages that can now be joined.

But what do we do? We try to turn men into women! We don’t let them act like guys, because that’s wrong. We’re the good sex. We know how to share our feelings, raise kids, look after a house, and organize schedules. He’s helpless and hopeless. So he needs to learn to bow to our expertise.

Maybe you don’t think of it that way, but that is often our attitude. The funny thing is that it is often his masculinity that attracted you to him in the first place! But once you’re married, those things start to bother you. We need to get to a point in our marriages where he can be a guy again, and one of the ways to encourage that is to let him hang out with other men. And if he won’t take the initiative, you can. Invite couples over for dinner that include a guy that you think would click with your husband. Often men only have friendships because we “set them up”. And that’s okay.

And we need to let him be a man in the way that he relates to the kids, too. Don’t expect him to parent the way you do! You are not necessarily the expert; kids need both parents.

I think it’s hard to figure out this masculine-feminine dichotomy in today’s world because roles have gotten all messed up. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Some women need to work, and that’s good. It’s great that men are changing diapers! But the price we pay for all of this is that suddenly we may not be as sexy to each other anymore because we’re too much the same. I think every woman needs a time where she can feel feminine: cared for, attractive, and desired. And every man needs a time when he can feel masculine: capable, strong, and respected. But is that happening in your marriage?

It was right about here where the hate mails started to arrive. What did I mean saying that men needed to feel strong? That women needed to feel cared for? Didn’t I know that women’s lib had happened so that we weren’t subject to these stereotypes anymore?

Yes, I do know that. But I also know that God made us male and female. And we don’t gain anything in the marriage relationship by trying to erase that fact. We need to interact with each other as two different genders, or we risk losing something precious. That has nothing to do with who cleans the toilets; it has everything to do with how you feel about each other.

If you’re wondering how to walk this line, or how to help him feel masculine, I have lots more in Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight!

I also have a 45-minute hilarious and practical talk I gave on the same subject for sale this month, too.Don’t miss it! I know it will change your marriage!

What Pulls Us Apart

I swear I write about things other than marriage! But it seems like marriage has been the topic of the last few weeks, what with my party and all.

And since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, my syndicated column today is also about marriage!

Every Friday my Reality Check column appears in a variety of newspapers, and here it is for you to see!

My family has a ritual we perform whenever the phone rings. First, we freeze. Then all of us, from various parts of the house, yell simultaneously, “Where’s the phone!?!?”. Everybody then runs randomly, wildly, in all directions, trying to trace down the source of the ring. After dashing madly upstairs and downstairs, rummaging under cushions and papers, and looking through the laundry, someone finally locates one of our three portable phones. By this time it is too late. So we check messages instead.

And then the girls and I experience The Lecture from my frustrated husband. It goes something like this: “There are three phones in this house and three floors. One phone per floor. If everybody just put the phone back on its cradle when they used it, we wouldn’t have to panic!”. And we all hang our heads in appropriate shame.

But I think the problem isn’t only that I leave things lying around the house; it’s that Keith doesn’t understand women. When he talks on the phone, he talks on the phone. That’s all he’s doing. It’s easy for him to put it back! When I talk on the phone, I’m chatting with a friend. And making dinner. And folding laundry, checking my email, making my bed, and occasionally even trying to get dressed. When I’m finished the phone call, I’m never anywhere near the phone’s cradle. If Keith multi-tasked like me, he’d understand.

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for him, because I’m starting to realize that some of the things that I get upset at him about are really my issues. Imagine that it’s a Saturday morning, and we’re planning to go cross-country skiing with the kids. As soon as I wake, I start to list in my head all the things that need to be prepared: the kids have to find their snow pants, and I know Rebecca’s been missing a snow glove since last month; we need to pack a bag with water and some snacks, and we’d better bring some extra scarves and hats in case we get too wet. A few band-aids wouldn’t hurt, either. Obviously we’ll have to do the dinner dishes from last night, since we all know I can’t leave dishes in the sink if I’m leaving the house. And since we’re going out anyway, we may as well go by the library, because the books are due on Monday!

I go in search of my family, who are downstairs playing the Wii, having a grand old time. My blood pressure starts to rise. Do they expect me to do everything? Then I discover they haven’t even had breakfast yet. Why was Keith just playing with the kids instead of giving them their marching orders?

Yet no matter how much I may wish it, they are never going to have all the stuff that goes into keeping a family together in their heads the way it is in mine. And maybe that’s okay. We all have different roles to play. When it comes to the kids, I’m more like the General. I’m scanning for threats, planning future battles, and mapping out supply routes. Keith, on the other hand, is the crusty sergeant. Usually he’s just goofing around with the troops, but when there’s a specific task to do, he can bark orders with the best of them.

What I’ve learned is that when we have a big day ahead of us, I just need to communicate to my husband all the things I think need to get done. He crosses off what’s unnecessary, talks me down, and then organizes the rest. Instead of fuming at him for not thinking about it in the first place, I’ve started sharing the load. It works so much better.

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and as much as we may yearn for a romantic fairytale, the truth is that regular life often conspires to tear us apart. Yet we have two choices: we can keep blaming the other person for not acting more like we do, or we can accept that we’re different, and love despite it all. I think the latter works so much better. After all, if it weren’t for my husband, I never would find the phone.

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When Opposites Drive You Crazy…

Every Friday I write a syndicated parenting column that appears in several papers in Canada and the States. Here’s last week’s, since I forgot to post it then! I like it better than this week’s :).

Let’s say I’m visiting a friend who lives in the country, and I ask her for directions to her home. She’s likely to reply like this: “You go up the highway past the Wal-Mart until you get out into farm country. You’ll pass the cutest little horse farm on your right hand side, and not too long after that a pretty old church that’s been converted into an antique shop. That’s where I picked up that darling little curio cabinet last year! After that shop turn left. Go down that road past about three mailboxes—the last one is green with this little rooster on top—and then we’re the next house on the left.”

If I were to get her husband on the phone, though, he’d be more inclined to say this: “Go north on highway 23 for two and a half miles until you come to Blue Creek Road. Turn east for about a mile. It’s on the left.” Men would understand him. I do not. What is east and west anyway? Green mailboxes I get. Two and a half miles I do not.

It turns out that men and women give directions differently. Women tend to focus on landmarks. Men are more like compasses. And men can follow a man’s directions easier than a woman’s, and vice versa. No wonder we often feel like we’re talking past each other.

That’s not the only way we’re different, either. Women have the chocolate gene, while men have the turn-the-lights-off-before-you-leave-the-room gene. Men like to spend time with other men side by side, doing stuff, like watching a game. Women like to spend time with friends face to face, talking about something, like why men watch sports.

But gender differences aren’t the only ones that exist. If you sometimes feel like you just don’t get your mother, or your brother, or even your teenager, there might be other more basic personality traits that separate you.

Take introverts and extraverts, for example. We may think that an extravert is the life of the party, while an introvert is shy, but that’s not what personality experts mean. An extravert is really a person who gets their energy from other people. If they need to sort something out, they have to talk about it, so they’ll call a friend. An introvert needs to process things alone. I’m an extravert, and I like to say that I give approximately one minute of thought to every ten minutes of speech that comes out of my mouth. In fact, it’s often not until I’ve stopped talking that I know what I think about something.

Introverts, on the other hand, don’t open their mouths until they’re confident about what should come out. If you’re an introvert in conflict with an extravert, then, you may be offended by what they say because you don’t realize they haven’t actually thought of any of this yet. You’ve prepared this fight. You’ve planned for it, rehearsed it, got it down to a tee. You assume they have, too. But they haven’t. And they may not be nearly as wedded to the opinions that come of their mouths as you are to yours.

The lesson here for an introvert is this: let the extravert talk. Then, after a while, come back to the original question. You may be surprised at how they’ve changed their minds. And the lesson for extraverts is just as important: if you have an issue you want to talk about, announce it, but then let the introvert go away and think for a while. Don’t expect a response right away.

These may seem like silly differences, but many of the conflicts we have in life with those closest to us are often due not to any moral failing on either of our parts, but just to basic personality differences. We don’t always speak each other’s languages. So what are you? A rooster person or a compass person? An introvert or an extravert? These aren’t the only differences, but they’re a start. Maybe if we tried understanding each other better, we’d do a much better job of communicating with each other. Even if we can’t follow each other’s directions.

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