Q: I don't usually care for labels, but I think it would be fair to call my husband a "workaholic." He works constantly and spends very little time with our children and me. When I approach him about it, he simply says, "Things will be better soon." Do you have any suggestions?
Jim: Men are generally wired to be protectors and providers. But too many of us skew that by defining our identity and personal worth in terms of what we do for a living and how well we do it -- rather than in terms of who we are and how we're connected to God, our families and other people.
Here's an approach you might want to try. Plan a dinner out with your husband on a weekend. Get a babysitter if necessary and go out to a nice restaurant. Put aside your resentment and frustration and tell him how much you love him and appreciate his diligence, work ethic and dedication to his role as family provider. At the same time, be honest with him and let him know that his job seems to be taking precedence over his family. Tell him you value his input and involvement as a father. Then ask him if he'd be willing to examine his schedule and make some changes.
If you can deliver this message in a spirit of love and concern rather than bitterness and anger, you may be surprised at how positively your husband responds. If, on the other hand, he reacts defensively and denies there's a problem, it may be time to seek professional assistance. I'd invite you to call our staff counselors at 855-771-HELP (4357).
Q: Greg, I've heard relationship experts like you hammer on the idea that "healthy communication is vital to a strong marriage." It sounds so involved. My wife and I talk all the time; what's the big deal?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: Communication is a big deal because it's the primary way to achieve intimacy. And without intimacy, it's impossible to have a healthy marriage.
There are five basic levels of communication, and each one is important:
Level 1 = Clichés. These are exchanges like "How are you doing?" This common courtesy can help maintain a positive interactive tone.
Level 2 = Exchanging facts and information. This is absolutely necessary for effective everyday function of family life.
Level 3 = Sharing Opinions. This is where we start to discover what another person thinks -- and where conflict can occur. When we express our thoughts, we make ourselves more vulnerable.
Level 4 = Sharing Feelings. Sharing feelings creates opportunities to be heard and understood and offers a glimpse into our true identities. In a healthy marriage, feelings are respected and can be openly expressed based on an established foundation of trust and safety.
Level 5 = Sharing Needs. This is the deepest level of communication, requiring the most vulnerability and trust. An example would be, "I had a horrible day at work and need some encouragement." When we reach this level, we feel secure, accepted and confident our spouse will reassure, rather than reject us.
Unfortunately, for many of us the fast pace of life can keep us stuck in the first two or three levels. If that's true for your marriage, commit to taking steps of growth in this area. Find a time and place that you both are available and typically open to deeper conversation. Admittedly, this may take some getting used to. But if you keep at it, you'll create an environment of refuge and comfort in your marriage -- and deepen the trust and security in your relationship.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.