1. How do I encourage my husband to be a spiritual leader?
First, you need to clarify what you mean by “spiritual leader”. If he were a spiritual leader, what would he be doing? How would you recognize that he was a spiritual leader? Until you can answer these questions, the idea of “spiritual leader” is too nebulous to be meaningful.
Once you know what you would like to see in your husband as a spiritual leader, then let me suggest the following principles as you seek change:
- Men respond positively to praise. Look for something he is doing right and express appreciation. Telling him about his failures does not motivate him to change.
- Requests are more productive than demands. “Would you read this devotional for us before Mary goes to bed?” is likely to get better results than, “If you don’t start reading the Bible to Mary she is going to grow up and become a pagan.”
- A husband who has a full “love tank” is more easily motivated to make positive changes. Make sure you know your husband’s “primary love language” and speak it often. If he genuinely feels your love, he will be more open to your requests.
For additional help see The Family You’ve Always Wanted.
2. The children are gone. Now what? How do we relate to each other after all the children leave the home?
This is when your focus of the past twenty years becomes apparent. If you have focused on the children, then you may have to start back at ground zero and rebuild your marriage relationship. If you have focused on each other, while raising the children, then you will climb new heights of marital satisfaction with the extra time you now have.
Whatever your situation, now is the time to assess the state of your marriage and take steps of growth. I suggest that you attend a weekend marriage enrichment event. This will expose you to ideas on how to stimulate growth in your marriage. Also, sharing a book on marriage by reading a chapter each week and discussing the content. A good book for this stage of marriage is The Second Half of Marriage, by David and Claudia Arp, published by Zondervan Publishing Co.
It is definitely time for the two of you to focus on your marriage. Don’t just rock along and think that things will take care of themselves.
3. How do I deal with the holiday time when everyone wants us to be in so many places at once? How do we choose which family to accommodate?
The principle is to treat both sets of in-laws with equality. This is not always easy to administer. This may mean Thanksgiving with one set of parents, and Christmas with another; with the understanding that next year you will switch the order. Or if both parents live in the same town, then we can spend half a day at each place. This assumes that both sets of in-laws want you to visit.
There is also a time to establish your own traditions. As the children get older, it often becomes more difficult to spend the holidays with in-laws. Maybe it is time for the in-laws to start coming to your house. Remember, it may be impossible to please both sets of in-laws. Try to follow the principle of equal treatment, but if someone is unhappy, it is not your responsibility to make them happy. Speak kindly to them, treat them with respect, but do not let them control your own family decisions.
4. How do I handle a parent/in-law that is easily offended?
People develop emotional patterns in responding to life. For example, some people are pessimistic while others are optimistic. In the same way, some are easily offended, while others let most things roll off without giving them another thought. Typically, these patterns are well established by the time we reach adulthood. You are not likely to change your parents’ or in-laws’ emotional patterns, nor is this your responsibility.
What is important is that you not allow their emotional response to make you feel guilty. It is not your fault that they are offended. If they were not offended by you, they would be offended by someone else. Being offended is a part of who they are. Until they get tired of their own attitudes, they are not likely to reach out for help. Your responsibility is to treat them kindly, respect them for who they are, express appreciation for their contribution to your life, love them as a person of worth, and pray for them. Don’t become offended because they are offended. Jesus said, “bless those who curse you” (Matthew 5:44). Choose the high road and perhaps someday your parents or in-laws will join you.
5. My spouse has been offered a job on the other side of the country and my parents are very angry that we would think about moving away from them. What do we do?
Being a grandparent, I can understand your parents’ feelings. It’s nice to have the children and grandchildren nearby. However, you must not make your decision based on their desires. Nor should you make the decision simply to prove to them that they cannot control your lives. The decision to take the job or to decline must be made by weighing numerous factors, as well as seeking God’s direction. If you and your spouse conclude that the job is right for you, then you must accept the job.
In that case, I suggest that you express sympathy for your parents’ feelings. Assure them that you will visit as often as possible, and keep in touch by phone or e-mail. But don’t let their tears dissuade you. Remember the Scriptures say that when we marry, we are to “leave our father and mother and cleave to each other” (Ephesians 5:31).
6. We are supposed to leave our families and cleave to one another, but my spouse is so attached to his/her family that I feel left out.
You feel left out because your emotional need for love is not being met by your spouse. You feel that his/her parents are more important than you. However, the answer is not to blast your spouse with angry lectures about being overly attached to parents. When you do that, you drive your spouse away. They want to be with their parents even more, because the parents are loving and kind, while you are angry and demanding.
A better approach is to focus on meeting each other’s need for emotional love. Leave her/his parents out of the discussion. Find out what makes your spouse feel loved, and share what makes you feel loved. Discover each others’ primary love language. A fun way to do this is to read my book The Five Love Languages together. Many couples find that sharing this book creates a whole new climate in their relationship.
When each of you is speaking the other’s primary love language on a regular basis, your spouse will have positive emotions toward you. You may find they spend less time with parents and more time with you. If not, then you can share your concerns. Your spouse is more likely to hear you because he/she feels your love so deeply. Without creating this love bond, you will argue endlessly about her/his parents and eventually destroy your marriage.
7. I want to honor my parents but they are constantly trying to give us advice. How do I let them know that we need to make these decisions on our own?
Three things are important. First, you must understand that your parents’ intentions are good. They are not trying to make your life miserable. They are trying to help you avoid making poor decisions. Second, there is a good chance that your parents have more wisdom than you, since they have been around longer and have had more experience. Third, it is true that your parents should not control your life after you are married.
How do you put these three together and get the best of both worlds? I suggest you ask for your parents’ advice before they have a chance to give it. You take the initiative in seeking their wisdom. Then pray for God’s wisdom. Then discuss the matter with your spouse and the two of you make the decision you think is best. If your parents object, tell them that you appreciate their input, you found it very helpful, but you are doing what you think is best. And leave it at that. Don’t try to argue with your parents. In time, they will come to see you as an adult, and respect your wisdom. If your decision turns out to be a poor decision, admit it and turn it around as quickly as possible. Don’t try to make it work just to prove that you were right.
For additional information see The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted.
8. We are having our first child and my mother insists on doing things that contradict our parenting choices. Help!
It always helps to begin by realizing that your mother’s intentions are good. Give her credit for trying to help you. In fact, some of her ideas may be excellent. Don’t write her off simply because she is your mother. On the other hand, you must not let your mother control your parenting choices. You and your spouse are responsible for raising your child.
I suggest you listen to your mother’s ideas. Thank her for sharing. Then you and your spouse do what you think is best for your child. If your mother is upset because you did not take her advice, say, “I can understand that, Mom, and I really appreciate your advice, but we must do what we think is best for our child. That’s what you and Dad did, right? And I think you did a pretty good job with me.” You mother may not be happy, but she will learn to back off and wait until you ask for her advice, which incidentally, would be a wise move on your part.