This is a copy of a guest post that I did for my friend Cynthia at Finding Great Joy. She hosts a truly beautiful blog that is inspiring, encouraging and real. It was a privilege to write for her!
If you are reading this then I know that it is because you cherish and admire Cynthia, and her beautiful blog as much as I do! Well, actually, I might cherish her just a skosh more, because she has been unbelievably patient with me. This is literally the fifth draft I have sent her! (But who's counting, right?) The first four drafts were too text-booky, and over the week, they just weren't sitting right with me. Then, Wednesday afternoon I was sitting outside in the sandbox with my 18 month old picking sand out of my hair when suddenly I felt overcome with a great motivation to shower first and type something real from the gut second. So, first five drafts scrapped, number 6, here we go!...
Over the past nine years, I have thought of her words many times. I couldn't appreciate them then, the way that I do now. No matter where you are on the time-line of your marriage, I don't ever think that a woman can have too many strengths of support to rely on during the difficult days. Let's be honest, it's easy to love and support our spouses well when inside we feel lovable and loving in return. It's also easy to serve our hubbies, to be patient with them, show affection to them and support all that is happening in their lives when we feel like it. But, what about when you don't feel lovable or loving.....what then??
Marriage is a journey of endurance. Not, in the sense that you endure the bad, but in the sense that for something wonderful to endure over time, it must possess a strength that is focused and conditioned for the race. In the case of marriage, the race is for heaven. Heaven is the supreme goal of marriage, and the couple must desire it for each other and thereby be committed to helping each other get there. That being said, it is the will that must seek out the most vigorous training. Because, on those not-so- lovable-days, when we exercise the will to love, to be generous, to be cheerful and supportive of our husbands, great fruit will come....for both of us.
Here are a few very specific examples of opportunities to exercise the will, and some practical, prudent ways to offer ourselves as gift to our spouses, even in the midst of a lack of feeling:
1. More important than anything, you must remember that your husband's greatest fear is failure.
At the top of their list of fears (even over failure at work or losing at something competitive) husbands fear being seen as a failure in the eyes of their family, especially their spouse. The following points, therefore, all relate to how we can support, affirm and love our husbands well, alleviating some of that fear.
2. Let's just get the awkwardly obvious one out of the way. Yes, I'm talking' about sex. Over the course of our marriage, I have struggled with the side effects of Fibromyalgia, low adrenals and hormone imbalance. Do I even have to tell you what that does to a libido?? I'm crazy about my husband, but there have been days where a high-five was the best I could do! The mercy of my wacko health is that it's opened the doors of communication between Steve and I with this issue. What he as taught me is this: Men just want to feel wanted and needed. When we initiate a communication with our spouses that let's them know that we are thinking about being together intimately, and even looking forward to it, it is a great boost to their confidence and even their attentiveness toward us. For example, if I call Steve and tell him that we have the green light (that's natural family planning talk for it's on!), and that I'm looking forward to being together, he almost always comes home from work more cheerful, helpful with the kids and takes over the dish duty so that I can go unwind with a bath or a jog. All because of a phone call! On the red-light days, I try to be more affectionate and tell him that I miss being together. He always hugs me and tells me how much it means to him to hear those words.
3. The sneaky separation... If you're feeling a bit distant from your husband in any way, perhaps you need to take some time to consider the reason for this distance. Is it an unresolved quarrel? Something he said or didn't say that upset you? A mutual preoccupation with "more important" things? A lack of social time with others, or too little time for exercise/grooming? Remember, in the order of priority, your spouse comes first, not the children. This is a difficult truth for many of us to accept, especially those of us with small children. However, when we take care of ourselves, we are more likely to take better care of our husbands.
4. In light of caring for ourselves... Consider asking a good friend if she would be interested in taking turns watching each other's children for a few hours per week. During that time, you can rest, catch up on housework, get a hair cut or exercise. Discuss hiring a baby sitter to come once a week so that you can catch a break and come home more refreshed. On this note, I have experienced within our marriage that when I take the time to fix my hair, put on a little make-up and wear something besides sweats, I feel better about myself. Our beauty is a gift to our husbands, and should not be overlooked or slighted. With regards to emotional care, it is unfair for us to expect our husbands to be the perfect husband and friend, to meet our every emotional need. Nurturing our friendships with other women is very important, and can help provide an emotional balance in your marriage.
5. Bite your tongue (or have a glass of wine before he comes home). The simplest way to support our husbands is with words of encouragement and praise. It's the counter-encouraging words that we have to get a hold of. We women can have a tendency to whine, nit-pick and complain about things in excess. Remember, when we are joyful, our husbands feel successful, when we are crabby and full of complaints, they feel like a failure. Many days I am overwhelmed with the feeling of frustration toward how small our home is. It takes a good deal of self-control not to complain about all of the inconveniences to Steve, who works so hard to provide for our family, so that I can stay home with the boys. If possible, withhold complaints or worries from your husband (within reason) if you know that he is overly stressed. Try to manage your anxiety with prayer, by talking to a trusted friend or through exercise. When you are tempted to complain or to criticize, try instead to praise your spouse or to thank him for something. Be specific. For example, "I truly appreciate the way you keep our yard looking so beautiful. It makes me proud of the home you have provided for us!
6. Spend time doing guy stuff. Most men feel affirmed when their wives take a genuine interest in the things that they enjoy. Sit and watch football with him, go fishing, camping, figure out why he likes to hunt, why he loves to study the latest in farm equipment etc., etc. It is a great act of sacrificial love to extend ourselves to learn about and appreciate the interests of others. He won't complain so much the next time you drag him around the mall!
7. Debbie Downer... if you are truly feeling sad or depressed, either from the events of the day or something more serious, believe that your husband truly wants to be there to share your burdens with you. However, if you are like me, often times, I know deep down, that there are some things within me that just can't be articulated well enough to be understood by my sweet spouse. Those things are best pondered in the heart during prayer. When I choose not to discuss those "deep down things", not wanting to burden him unnecessarily, I often pray for supernatural cheerfulness. Grace always comes in those moments. Our joy is a great gift to our husbands, even more so when it's a sacrificial one.
7. Support your husband by letting him lead. Remember in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when Tula wants to go to college, but fears that her father will not grant her his permission? Her mother encourages her, "Remember, Tula, the man may be the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants!" This is so true in the sense that our husbands were created to lead. We have a strong supportive and influential role to play along side of him. Even if you know he may not succeed at his mission, you fear that the diaper may fall off, the pancakes will burn, the car won't start or the vacation may flop - let him lead anyway!
8. Finally, and most importantly, devote some time every day to praying for your husband. In the morning before Steve heads out the door, I always ask him, "How can I pray for you today?" This sometimes leads to "How can I help you reach your goals today? or What can I make you for supper tonight?" No matter the question, it all leads back to prayer. I have known many women whose devotion to prayer have helped their husbands overcome addictions, temptations and weaknesses. No matter where your husband is at in life, he can always, and will always need your prayers.
Also, if you have children, please encourage them to pray for their daddy. Each day offers opportunities for you to praise your husband in front of your children, to speak of him in positive ways (he's their hero!), and to teach the children to serve him by picking up the home, taking good care of their belongings or helping with meal preparation. It's beautiful gift to a mother's heart to see her children honor and admire their father with love, affection and gratitude!
Need a little more encouragement?? May I suggest:
~ For the passionate/emotional: A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken (read it with your spouse!)
~ For the research oriented: A Series of Lectures by Dr. Phillip Mango (these are amazing!)
~ For all of us: 31 Days of Praying for Your Husband (specific, scripture-based prayers)
Thank you, Cynthia, for the invitation to write for you and your readers! I will be offering my work and prayers for all of your gracious readers and their spouses today!