Mark: I am an extrovert and Jill is an introvert. As an introvert, Jill needs her space. You see, introverts refuel by being alone. Extroverts refuel by being with people. In general, I want to be with her–and others–to refuel my tank.
Jill: In the early years of our marriage–especially when we had small children–I didn’t know I was an introvert. I thought I was just in the needy years of parenting and craved being alone like any other mom of littles would naturally crave. I learned, however, that I’m actually wired to fill up my tank with time apart from other people.
Mark: What’s this got to do with marriage? A lot! When Jill was a stay-at-home mom and would ask me if, after I got home from work, I would play with the kids. She said she just wanted 30 minutes in the bedroom with the door closed to read, take a 15-minute nap, or just gather her thoughts before heading into the evening. Not understanding her need as an introvert, I made her request all about not wanting to be with me. I assigned the wrong meaning to it.
Jill: We share a story in our No More Perfect Marriages book about a time when Mark and I were on a little getaway for the two of us in Florida. We were sitting side by side reading on the beach, Mark was reading his tablet and I was reading a book (yes, this is one of our differences–Mark loves digital books and I prefer paper!). He kept wanting to hold my hand and the constant need for touch was starting to infringe on my need for just a little bit of space. Not only that but it’s very hard to read a book and turn the page with one hand. I finally asked Mark to give me a little space and reassured him that I loved him very much but that we didn’t need to be touching all the time.
Mark: Jill’s response was establishing her need for personal space and advocating for her practical need to turn the pages of her book, but I made it all about her rejecting me. I assigned the wrong meaning to it.
Jill: I also have to resist taking things personally. Just last week Mark went a whole day without texting me. That was unusual as we usually stay in touch throughout the day. Fear made its way into my head and my heart and took me back to seven years ago when I felt him pulling away from me but I didn’t know why. Months later I discovered his unfaithfulness. So that day last week I suddenly found myself back in the summer of 2011. Instead of considering that Mark had an incredibly busy day, I made it about me and our past. I assigned the wrong meaning to it.
Mark: When we make our spouse’s actions about us, we create conflict that doesn’t need to happen. We feed insecurity, fear, and doubt. We put a rift in our relationship. So how do we stop that? Here are five ways:
Believe the best in your spouse.
In marriage, we are often quick to judge motives. In this online article Emerson Eggerichs says,
“Even when a mate messes up, we can choose to believe in the good will of our spouse. After all, no one gets married thinking, I want to make my spouse miserable. Nearly everyone enters marriage with the very best of intentions.
Unfortunately, when we feel unloved or disrespected, we often start judging motives rather than seeing the person’s best intent. So whenever our spouse’s good intentions fail to produce loving or respectful actions, we have a choice: to believe the best about our spouse or to question his or her heart.
Don’t take the bait of the enemy’s whisper in your ear that your spouse is rejecting you, disrespecting you, or not loving you when he or she is really simply advocating for their own needs or even operating out of their own personality.
Pursue emotional health.
I (Mark) can now look back on those times that I took Jill’s responses and actions as a personal attack and understand they truly had nothing to do with me. However, I can only see that because I’m in a different place emotionally. I had some serious emotional and spiritual health issues I needed to work through.
I started spiritually with focusing on my worth and identity in Christ. I committed to be in God’s Word every day. I also read Sharon Jaynes book Enough which was a powerful read for me (yes, she wrote it with a female audience in mind…but it is excellent for men, too!).
Then I started to take an honest look at how driven I was by my emotions. Emotions are important, but I had to realize that they don’t always tell us the truth. I committed to balance my emotions with truth. I committed to remain steady no matter how much of a fit my emotions were throwing which usually led me to overreact and over respond. If I’m fully honest, my emotions were often turning me into an adult version of a toddler throwing a fit in the grocery store aisle.
Finally, I began to explore the lies that were misguiding my emotions such as “I’m never enough.” “I’m not lovable.” “I can never get what I want.” and “This is impossible.” I replaced those lies with God’s Truth that “Because Jesus is more than enough and I am in Him, I am enough.” “I am loved abundantly by Father God, Jill, and countless others.” “I may not get what I want, but I can trust I have what I need and that God has my best interest at all times.” and “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I find that the more emotionally and spiritually stable I am, the less needy I am in my marriage. I now long for Jill and I to connect in a healthy way, not to try to fill my bottomless cup so I feel “better” about myself.
Take your thoughts captive.
I (Jill) had to stop my fearful thoughts and replace them with faith-filled thoughts such as, “Mark has given me no reason to mistrust him in our recent years.” and “Today is a day filled with customer appointments and meetings–I know that. His mind is on those things.” This helped me to believe the best in him which matched our current reality. In other words, there’s been no recent pattern of disconnection to support my fear.
I (Mark) also began to understand how much my thinking was distorted and twisted by idealism, unrealistic expectations, and wrongly assigned meanings. All of this was fueled by untruth. My thinking was like a twisted up metal building after Hurricane Michael went through. I have worked hard to align my thoughts to reality and to the Truth of God’s Word. In fact, I have made a list of truth statements that I keep on my phone. I make it a point to look at these statements whenever my thoughts start getting twisted up. This is one way to practically live out 2 Corinthians 10:5 where we are reminded to “…take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Understand how your spouse is emotionally wired differently than you are.
This has been truly helpful for me (Mark) when I seem to become bothered with Jill’s words, actions, or ways. I work hard at reminding myself that Jill needs time alone because she is an introvert. I remind myself when Jill can be forthright in her communication and she can be a black and white thinker. These realities aren’t about me and I need to not react to her as if they are.
I (Jill) have to remember that Mark is a feeler who has more need for physical touch than I do so I need to intentionally step into his world an offer that. I also have to realize that when he’s distracted and it feels like he doesn’t care about me or something I said, that’s not the truth. His mind is on something else and that’s not about me…it’s about him and whatever he’s focused on in that moment.
Let your spouse be on a different journey than you are.
My friend (Jill), Justine, has recently moved from religion to relationship. She said yes to God this summer and her faith is on fire. Nearly every Sunday, she and the kids go to church in the small town they live in, but her husband isn’t interested. She’s invited, asked, and the answer is no. She was so burdened by it and felt he was choosing not to spend time with her and the kids. One day when we talked, she shared her heart and disappointment. I listened with compassion, but then reminded her, “Justine, this isn’t about you. It’s about him. It’s about his own spiritual journey. Don’t make this about you and the kids. Give him the grace space to be on his own journey.” She later told me she turned a corner that day. She began to look at him through a different lens. One of grace, patience, and compassion. She stopped making his desire to stay home on Sunday mornings about her and let him be on his own journey, choosing to pray and let God work.
Don’t make your spouse’s actions about you. It causes conflict that doesn’t need to happen and causes your heart to pull away from your spouse. Take whichever of these five steps you need to in order to push your head and heart in the right direction.
What about you? Where do you need to stop making things about you that aren’t about you at all?
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