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Resolving Conflict with Your Spouse

I have always been a stay at home mom. I love being a stay at home mom. This is exactly where I want to be. My husband never demanded that I stay at home; he would have supported me in working, had I chosen to do so, though his preference would have been for me to stay at home. But I chose to be here.

On the whole, I am very conscious of the benefits of that choice. I have a close relationship with my daughters, especially since we also chose to homeschool. I have more flexibility with my time. While I do feel frazzled, I don't think I feel as frazzled as much as I would otherwise.

But nevertheless, there is one part of this arrangement that has always irked me. It's such a minor thing, but let me see if you all agree. Ever since the girls were babies, and I was nursing, I have never made a single decision when asked if I could go out or do something without first thinking, "who will look after the kids?", or, as they have grown older, "what are the kids planning for that time? Do they need to be driven somewhere?". Sometimes I have decided to go anyway, and have arranged for someone else to drive them or to look after them. Other times I have asked my husband. But my kids have always been my first thought.

My husband, on the other hand, rarely considers them when he makes decisions about meetings, work, etc., because he knows I will always be there. It is not that my husband doesn't spend time with my kids; on the contrary, up until two years ago he actually took them 1-2 days a week. It is just that on the whole, he assumes that I am with them, so they don't factor into the equation when he has to decide on church meetings, or work meetings, or anything else.

If he's doing something for leisure, of course, he always checks with me, but if it's work or church, he goes right ahead.

Now my husband works hard. He works harder than I do, and I have it really good. But sometimes I just find myself a tad bitter that I am the default caregiver. If I need to work, I need to make arrangements. If he needs to work, he doesn't.

It's not really that big a deal, and like I said, I wouldn't trade my life for anything. My husband bought me flowers this week just to show how much he loves me, and he really does adore me. He takes amazing care of this family.

But yesterday morning, when he wasn't at work, but we both had tons of errands to do, I asked him to drive the kids to piano on his way downtown. He bristled, because he was so busy. He assumed I would do it.

This is a very minor thing, but all day it ate at me. It wasn't even that I wanted him to drive them particularly; it was just that I was getting a little bit sick of it being assumed that they were always mine to figure out, especially since this year I have taken on 100% of the homeschooling (when he used to do some).

So, dear readers, that's a very typical scenario in marriage. You're angry at your husband about something that is not huge. It is not life-threatening. It is not a make it or break it issue. But nevertheless, you are angry. What do you do?

Here, I would like to give you a blueprint for how to handle these little things in marriage. The blueprint works for bigger things, too, but I often find it's these little things that we allow to fester.

1. Admit to yourself that you are upset. Don't hide it. It only pops up later.

2. Have it out with God. Don't just lambaste into your hubby, and don't nurture it in your mind. Have it out with God, and confess that you're angry and ask Him to take any bitterness away. Confess any sin that you've been harbouring in your heart. Make things right with God before you try to fix it with your husband. Ask God to show you how to deal with it.

3. Think of things from his point of view. Did you do anything that he might also find difficult? (In this situation, I certainly did. I did not react well when he told me he didn't want to drive them).

4. Plan a good time to talk to your husband about it. I'm one of those who has to deal with issues straight away, so much so that I'm often tempted to call him at work. In general, this isn't a good idea because at work, men are often focused on work. Figure out a time when you both can be more relaxed and you can really hash this out. Right when he gets home from work usually isn't a good time, either. Let him relax a bit.

5. When you talk to him, stick to the facts on this particular issue, and don't bring in other issues. Don't make it larger than it is.

6. Use "I" statements, not "you" statements. It sounds corny, but it matters, and it gives a whole new dynamic to your discussions. Look at the difference between this:

"I feel put-upon when it's assumed that I'm the one to take care of the girls' schedule, no matter what both of us are doing."

and this:

"You always assume that I'm the one who is going to drop everything and rearrange everything for the girls. You never have to plan your schedule around them."

A big difference, isn't there? In one, I am owning the problem. I am saying "I have a problem, can we talk about it?" In another, I am expressly giving blame. I am saying, "You are the problem". One is much easier to talk about. The second just makes him feel defensive.

7. Voice where you have made mistakes in this issue, or where he has been positive. Don't use words like "you never" or "you always", because then the focus becomes on whether there's an exception, and you start fighting about how a year ago last Tuesday he didn't actually do that. Acknowledge up front where he has done something you appreciated in this area. Make room for some grey.

8. Work towards a solution you both think is fair. Work to the win/win, not the win/lose. Remember in marriage, if only one of you wins, you both really lose.

9. Make up and hug and pray together.

I think if we treated every problem this way, we'd have far fewer issues between us in marriage. Deal with things when they happen in an appropriate way because you're working towards building up the marriage, not building up walls.

Did I handle things this well? No, not exactly. I got a little too emotional when I was talking about it, and sometimes, when I don't feel like Keith understands me, I shut down. But we talked it through, got over my bitterness, and came to an extremely workable solution that is fair to both of us. I'm still going to end up doing about 99% of the stuff with the kids (which I don't mind), but he's going to check in to see if I need him to do anything before he plans his off-days. Chances are I'll say no. But it's the fact that he's checking in with me that matters.

So all's good. And if you're a little ticked at your husband about something right now, I'd suggest you deal with it, too!


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At 9:46 AM , Blogger Shana said…

This is a very helpful post. I am a stay at home Mom too by choice and luck! But I feel the same way. i always have to figure everything out. I try to tell him that I would really appreciate help in this area but we usually end up butting heads because we both use the you word instead of taking our own part in it. So this gives me ways to work around that. Thanks.


At 1:47 PM , Blogger Kelli said…

It's interesting. I've been home for 3 1/2 years now with my 3 little ones (plus another baby I babysit). I love the fact that I can be home raising and influencing my kids the way I feel God wants me to. There was a day not too long ago where my husband had to step in and watch all four little ones while I was gone for 4 hours. When I came back, I asked how everything went and he told me that he didn't know how I did it everyday. It was neat that he got a 'glimpse' of what it's like to be me. I think every couple could learn something by swapping jobs for a day. It's not always possible though. I can't just jump into what my husband does. I have worked though. I used to be a full time middle school teacher, even when my firstborn was young. It was HARD to balance motherly duties with work. Then there's the coming home, grading papers, talking with parents (both happy and unhappy) and PLANNING! Neverending. Anyway, thanks for this post! Great insight. Thank you also for your transparency as a wife and mother. You talk about some difficult issues and I think your readers really appreciate that. God Bless!


At 9:35 AM , Blogger Kela said…

It's basically just "understood" that momma takes the kids where they need to go, etc. I totally feel ya on this one.
Whenever I'd ask Brian to take the kids its almost like asking him to babysit. LOL. It's not as bad now because the older two are old enough to babysit!
There are times that Brian will do everything he can to get the BOYS to basketball practice.
My approach is this: I will automatically assume the responsibility of getting all the kids where they need to go. I give Brian the opportunity to help me out when time schedules overlap (and with 6 children, they oft times overlap). If he's too tied up, I can sometimes make other arrangements or just deal with it. During those times, praise the Lord, Brian is mindful to let me know that he appreciates me getting the kids where they need to go....even when/if it means that he only gets a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for supper. :)


At 3:27 PM , Anonymous myfathersdaughter said…

It is so important to address these "little" issues along the way because little issues that go unaddressed indeed form the bricks which build walls around our hearts-
There have been time when I have met people who have been married for 20 years and then choose to divorce- this amazes me because so much WORK goes into being married that it is difficult for me to fathom giving up after such a long period of time or ever starting over again with a new person- About 2 years ago I went to a "Father's Heart" conference and the speaker discussed the point in his own marriage where he realized that he and his wife only had a "shadow" of intimacy- it looked like the real thing but it was only a facade- I realized at that convention that I was experiencing the same thing in my own marriage- through no one's fault but my own- I, for years, had avoided being truly honest and transparent with my husband for a couple of reasons 1) it was too much trouble-- because our communication wasn't the best, bringing up any issue turned into such a big issue that it was easier just to slide it under the carpet than it was to deal with it
2) because of fear-- I had deep seated fears of rejection and abandonment- I never wanted to do anything to make my husband unhappy because I was ultimately afraid that he would leave me- although nothing he did made this a logical fear, fear is most often NOT logical...
At this conference I realized that I either had to choose to begin to be open and honest with my husband even about the little issues that arose in my heart or I would live my whole life being afraid that this man that God had given me to love was going to leave me....


At 3:33 PM , Anonymous myfathersdaughter said…

I would like to say that I went home and began being honest and he always responded the right way and we lived "happily ever after" -- that of course however, is not the whole truth- I did go home and decide to start being honest- but honest communication is HARD WORK and a choice and can often be emotion laden- like everything else in our marriage this has been a journey-- sometimes it works out great and I'm so thankful I shared- other times it takes awhile for us to work through the feelings before I find myself thankful- but ultimately I AM always thankful- each time I allow him into my heart I am giving him an opportunity to prove himself trustworthy- His response in not my responsibility- and although he usually does respond exactly as he should there are days where I don't say it right or he doesn't hear it right or BOTH-- but ultimately this is what it takes to build a foundation of TRUE intimacy in a marriage- openness, honesty, transparency and the complete sharing with the one whom you are one with.....
Now Sheila- if I could only be as faithful to write on my own blog as I am on yours :)


At 8:18 PM , Blogger Tricia said…

I really appreciated this post upon reading it today. I can totally relate to what you are saying. It is not so much the actual "one thing" as it is feeling the burden of so much responsibility on your shoulders. I think our husbands feel that as well, when it comes to providing for their families. But nonetheless, the weight of responsibility gets heavy at times and it feels good when our husbands can hear us and understand and offer to help out. It just makes us feel a little less "in charge". I thought your points in how to handle the conflict were very good. I am thinking that we, as wives, can help our husbands, too, by affirming the big responsibilities that they carry as well.

Thanks for a great article.


At 10:39 AM , Blogger Tiffany said…

I totally know where you are coming from! I have struggled with this same issue. I think that as a mother, I feel it is my responsibility to take care of my son. So, I automatically take the lead. However, then I get bitter because my husband lets me. I want him to volunteer to help out, but I don't really give him the chance most of the time. Crazy, huh?

We end up fighting about a lot of stupid little things because of my hurt feelings and our tendency to jump to conclusions about the other person's motives. I will definitely give these steps a shot. Thanks for sharing!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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