The Magic Wand

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about the way your spouse relates to you, what would you change? Perhaps you’d like your wife to quite nagging you or to be less critical. Perhaps you’d like your husband to spend more time at home or you wish he'd be more open about what’s going on in his life. For myself, I think that I would like for my wife to be a better listener. I feel like she tends to draw conclusions about what I’m saying before I’ve finished saying what’s on my mind.

So, let me ask, if you could change one thing about the way that your spouse relates to you, what would it be? Once you've answered the question, read on.

Before you get lost in the rant that’s beginning to build momentum inside of you, let me suggest that your answer to my “magic wand” question says more about you than it does about your spouse. Because every husband and every wife is flawed… finite… fallen… the potential for spousal disappointment and discontent is endless. In other words, the list of weaknesses, failures and inadequacies from which you could answer my “magic wand” question is virtually infinite. Nevertheless, when presented with the question, I would bet that you – like most persons - quickly screen through the endless possibilities and gravitate to one or two primary areas of spousal discontent. And, whether you recognize it or not, the criteria by which you embrace or discard complaints and discontents is not some inherent knowledge of what is fair, right or appropriate to expect of a spouse, but your own personal longings and fears.

Last week I sat down with a husband who was socially awkward as a boy; he was often teased, bullied and rejected by his peers. When asked the magic wand question, he said that he wanted his wife to be more affectionate – to tell him that she loved him more often. When pressed, he acknowledged that in the absence of her affection, he quickly begins to feel rejected by her. Whether his wife is unaffectionate is irrelevant. She’s probably about as affectionate as the woman next door; at the same time, she could certainly give him more hugs, kisses and kind words. However, what is critically relevant is that this man expects rejection (and don’t we all!) and longs for a level of affection that will put his fears to rest.

In my own case, I have to concede that it’s important to me that my wife understands me – that she listens to me before she judges me – because I never felt understood by my parents as a teenager. My parents loved me and cared for me, but had no idea what to do with my adventurous and creative side. It scared them and they tried to quash it rather than re-direct it. And so I launched into adulthood with a strong need to be affirmed in my uniqueness and a fear being misunderstood and pressed into a mold in which I didn’t fit. Again, my frustration with my wife’s finite ability to understand me before she responds or reacts, says little about her, but a great deal about me.

If you look deeply into your most consistent complaints about your spouse – your discontent - your frustrations – you will see your own deepest fears and longings reflected there. And if you can see them, then you can own them. Own them as a part of you and not an indicator of your spouse’s inadequacies. Rather than pointing a finger at your spouse, you can invite them to help you in addressing them. So, now, when I have a big idea or some new insight that I think will save the world or bring me fame and fortune, I know that I need to be careful as I share it with my wife. I know what’s at stake for me and I understand my hot button. And, because my wife loves me and wants to both understand and support me, she works especially hard as we talk. So, instead of our conversation devolving into an argument over her inadequacies or my unreasonable expectations, we partner together to allay my fears and – where God should permit – pursue fulfillment of my longings. So, if you had a magic wand...

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