Marriage Takes More Than Love
--By Jack & Carole Mayhall
Choosing to Understand (By Carole)
"When we quarrel, my wife becomes historical."
His friend replied, "Don't you mean hysterical?"
"No," the man replied, "I mean historical. She reminds me of everything I ever did to her!"
+ + +
Most of us have little or no real understanding of one another. And it takes a "heap of understanding" to make a marriage. If you can figure out the person with whom you are living, everything else will be easy by comparison. To know your mate that completely, you have to study him.
Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale puts her finger right on this area:
If I could give one piece of advice to young brides, & only one, it would be this: Study your man. Study him as if he were some rare & strange & fascinating animal, which he is. Study his likes & dislikes, his strengths & weaknesses, his moods & mannerisms. Just to love a man is fine, but it's not enough. To live with one successfully you have to know him, & to know him, you have to study him.
Look around you & decide how many of the best marriages you know are ones where a wife in a deep sense actually knows her husband better than he knows himself.--Knows what pleases him. Knows what upsets him. Knows what makes him laugh or makes him angry. Knows when he needs encouragement. Knows when he's too charged up about something & needs to be held back. Knows, in other words, exactly what makes him tick.
For years I never really studied my husband. I was much like the bride of seven weeks I talked with a while ago. The last two weeks had been hectic for her & she felt they really were not communicating. At last they had a few moments alone one Sunday afternoon & were lying on the bed with her head on his shoulder.
After a long, poignant silence, she asked, "What are you thinking?" (Men, if your wife ever asks you that question in those circumstances, please be thinking about her.)
This one wasn't. Instead, his choice answer was, "Oh, I was just wondering what I should tell the boss tomorrow when he asks me about that project I've been working on."
She said, "Oh!"
Then she waited. Now any man with a grain of knowledge about the working of most women's minds would have known she was waiting for him to ask her what she was thinking.
This one didn't. Instead, he asked, "Are you going to fix supper pretty soon?"
Between clenched teeth she flatly monotoned, "Maybe in a little while."
"Well," he offered cheerily, "I'll be glad to teach you how to fix cheese-dogs."
With that innocent offer, the lid blew off her anger.
He thought, "What did I say to make her so angry? She is being unreasonable!"
She thought, "This man I married doesn't have the sensitivity of a frog!"
My friend needed one of three things to handle that situation, if not all three. She needed humour, to laugh at herself, at him & at the situation (but a bride of seven weeks can seldom do that).
Or, she needed openness, to be able to say honestly, "Hey, that hurt. I wanted you to be thinking about me, because I'm feeling romantic right now & quite vulnerable because we haven't had a chance to talk in the last two weeks."
Or, she needed to understand that her husband was put together on a quite different frequency than she. When he was thinking about business instead of thinking about her, it was not a sign that he didn't love her deeply (which was the first thing that came to her mind).
My friend had neither humour, nor openness, nor understanding. Like me in those early years, she had not begun to study her husband.
Choosing to Clarify (By Carole)
I am constantly amazed at the insights of Charles Schulz in his "Peanuts" cartoon strip. One Sunday I both laughed & sighed at the frustration of poor Charlie Brown as I read the following:
Peppermint Patty: Explain love to me, Chuck.
Charlie Brown: You can't explain love...I can recommend a book, or a painting, or a song, or a poem, but I can't explain love.
PP: Try, Chuck! Try to explain love...
CB: Well, say I happen to see this cute little girl walk by, & I...
PP: Why does she have to be cute, Chuck? Can't someone fall in love with a girl who isn't cute, & has freckles & a big nose? Explain that, Chuck!
CB: Well, maybe you're right...Let's just say, then, that I happen to see this girl walk by who has a great big nose, & ...
PP (yelling): I didn't say a great big nose, Chuck!
CB (flat on his back): You not only can't explain love...actually, you can't even talk about it...
Charlie Brown had difficulty communicating on a complex topic like love. For many of us, talking about ordinary subjects even seems unattainable.
In the last few years, Jack & I have learned a great deal about clarifying our meanings...hard work for me. I am adept at circling issues, going off into tangents to try to make a point, coding my messages & hoping Jack can decode them. I seldom reach my goal of consistently "saying what I mean & meaning what I say." But this is my goal. I shoot for it, because as the saying goes, "If you aim at nothing, you are bound to hit it."
We can miss each other's wavelengths completely without even realising what has happened. All of us are constantly in the process of coding & decoding messages. We can't avoid this, though it is something we must work on. For instance, Jack may come home from work & ask a simple question, such as, "When is dinner?"
I could interpret his question as: "I'm very hungry. Could you hurry dinner so we can eat right away?"
I would be entirely wrong. Jack is a jogger & likes to run before dinner several times a week. So what he could be asking is, "Do I have time to run before dinner, or are you cooking something that can't wait?"
Because we have been working on "saying what we mean," he is more frequently asking, "Do I have time to run before dinner?" which is not a coded message. But when he doesn't clarify, I need to say, "Do you want to run before dinner or are you especially hungry & want me to hurry it up?"
On a visit to England, we had a delightful day with some friends. Driving along the freeway, Jeannie suddenly said, "It's five o'clock." Now all of us had watches. We were aware of the time. Obviously that statement held more than was on the surface. We laughed & said, "OK, Jeannie, what are you really saying?"
What she was really saying to her husband was, "Do I have time to go home & check up on the children before we go out for dinner?" but I wonder if we hadn't asked her to clarify, would she have gone through that entire evening worrying about her children & frustrated because we had failed to pick up her meaning?
Most of us are proficient at dropping small coded gems into our conversations. If someone doesn't pick up the signals, we may be wounded without that person even being aware of our hurt. It is surely unfair, & immature. But most of us expect others to carry around a burdensome "unscrambler" for our coded messages.
To say what we mean, & say it straight, must be our constant goal in order for those around us to be able to discard all decoding devices.
Choosing to Listen (By Carole)
The story is told of a little boy who came to his mother & asked, "Mommy, where did I come from?"
Having heard that when children are old enough to ask that question, they should be told, she thought, "Here goes," & proceeded to explain the whole complicated process of reproduction. The boy got more & more puzzled throughout her monologue.
When she had finally finished her dissertation, he said, "No, no, Mommy. I mean, where did I come from? Like Jimmy comes from Chicago."
She had not taken the time to clarify his real question.
We need to listen to understand. Paul Tournier, noted Swiss psychiatrist & author says, "How beautiful, how grand & liberating this experience is, when people learn to so help each other. It is impossible to over-emphasise the immense need men have to be really listened to."
Choosing Honesty (By Carole)
The road to intimacy is obstructed by the wall of protective silence which we build around our feelings. The problem with building walls to keep hurt out is that the wall also isolates us in.
Sometimes building that wall is a totally unconscious thing. "Nothing is wrong," is a phrase that Jack & I have been trying to rid from our vocabulary. But it is hard. Especially for me.
When Jack does something which hurts or offends me, the first tactic to which I resort is silence. Being a rather talkative person, Jack immediately senses something is wrong when I am quiet. Which is why I am quiet! If he didn't ask me about it, I would get worse. Knowing this, he is forced to ask, "Is there anything wrong?"
My answer is, "No."
"Are you sure?" he will persist.
"Yes," I lie.
"Come on, Honey. I can tell something is bothering you. What is it?"
"Nothing," I respond. And on & on & on we go.
Basically, I guess, I don't tell him on the first go-round because I am either a bit ashamed at the silliness of the whole thing or I don't think Jack has suffered enough yet.
Fair? Definitely not.
Whatever it is, I need to get it out.--To say, "Yes, there is something wrong, but it is so inconsequential & silly that I am ashamed to tell you. I'd like the opportunity to get over it first."
Or, "Yes, but if I tell you right now, I'll cry, so please wait a few minutes."
Or even, "I'm not sure what's wrong. I think I really do feel like being quiet for a change. It has nothing to do with you."
A word of explanation is needed for love's sake. It will get your partner off the hook, or bring the problem out in the open. Either way, the loving, mature thing to do is to tear down the wall of silent hostility & expose it to God's cleansing light.
Choosing to be Open (By Carole)
We were just finishing the breakfast dishes when Jack walked into the kitchen. "Where are my keys?" he asked hurriedly.
"In the top drawer," I responded.
"Those are your keys," he argued.
"No, they are yours," I countered emphatically. I had just had a new set made, so I was positive about whose keys were in that drawer. Convinced, he took them, thanked me, & walked out.
The young wife helping me with the dishes that morning had been visiting us for a few days. She turned to me with a thoughtful expression on her face & said, "Carole, I wish you would pray for me."
"I'd be happy to pray for you," I replied. "But how do you want me to pray?"
She answered sadly, "When my husband asks me a question the way Jack just asked you, he sounds angry."
"Oh?" I murmured. "Well, does he just sound angry or is he angry?"
After a moment's hesitation, she said sorrowfully, "I don't know."
"I don't know." These words echoed a hollow refrain in my mind. I shook my head in wonder. We knew this couple well. Her concerns about her husband's state of mind were not new. Yet when he would ask her about something & sound angry, her questions were left unasked. Constantly his tone of voice had shouted to her that he was angry with her.
This situation points up the vital truth that we must learn to communicate when we are hurt...or frustrated...or angry.
This wife had never asked her husband the simple question, "Are you angry?" Instead she had assumed his anger, & her assumption was that he was angry with her. She felt insecure & unhappy--two feelings that had been growing within her for years.
All she needed was to ask her husband, "Are you angry?" This question would have communicated that he sounded angry to her &, if he wasn't, perhaps he needed to do something about the tone of his voice. If he really was angry & answered yes to her question, she undoubtedly would then have needed to ask, "Are you angry at me?" It just could have been that he had accidentally stubbed his toe in the bathroom & was mad at himself.
This couple needed to get their feelings out of all the musty closets of their lives & spring clean their marital house. Most of our difficulties come from misunderstanding one another because we won't talk & bring all those moldy things out into the open air. Instead, we seem to be content to read into one another's words, tone of voice, or silence, & we usually are very poor readers. A simple, clarifying question would save us hours, weeks, & even years of heartache & misunderstanding. Conflicts come because we haven't found out what the other person means.
Choosing to Overlook (By Jack)
We were running 15 minutes late & were rushing to get dressed for an important dinner when it happened for the 10th time that week. Carole & I arrived at our "closet-with-the-sliding-door" at precisely the same instant. For a second we stood staring at each other. Then we burst into laughter, & I bowed in exaggerated jest, motioning to her to go ahead & get her things out first. With a sliding door closet, only one part can be opened at a time.
I had not always been able to laugh. I had gone through occasions when my thoughts had grumbled & then flared, "Why does she always have to get into the closet when I need to?" On such trivial matters, marriages hang together or fall apart.
Carole & I have been in the school of learning daily relationships ever since we met. We went together for three-&-a-half years on the same college campus & the pressure this caused was acute. I am a perfectionist, & over the months a number of Carole's habits & mannerisms began to irk me. Simultaneously, little things I would say or do bothered her. These things piled up over a period of weeks till one final item would start the "Can you top this?" game of irritation sharing. Two or three days would be spent in resolving our problems.
When this had happened several times, we realised we had a problem which we could not handle, & decided to ask the advice of Dr. Brooks, a godly dean at our college. He listened to our story, smiled knowingly, & gave us some of the best advice we've ever had. He said, "Mrs. Brooks & I have been married over 30 years. If we had let the little things that irritated us about one another build up, we would probably have been divorced years ago. But early in our marriage we learned that we had to forgive & forget, to overlook & make allowances for, & accept each other for what we were. Some things needed to be talked about & solutions found, but things that couldn't be changed must be forgiven immediately & forgotten."
That was so practical. So when a little thing began to fester, we immediately exposed it, discussed it, & decided together what could be changed.
But the things that couldn't be changed, such as the inability to play golf well, to think with complete logic, to feel intuitively when one is depressed, to tell a joke so that the punch line comes out right, we asked God for the ability to forgive, forget, & accept about each other.
Choosing to Accept (By Carole)
Jack turned off the light & I lay quietly in the dark, my eyes adjusting to the soft blackness. He was leaving for Colorado the next morning to investigate a change of ministry for us. I knew he was excited, but a bit apprehensive.
I loved our present work in a large city church & had no desire to change. The thought of moving made me tired. Yet a few weeks before, God had nudged me in a very definite way. As I was reading in Deuteronomy (of all places), one verse seemed to glare at me as if lighted in neon. Moses had said, "Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee; go up & possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee, `Fear not, neither be discouraged'."
I said to myself, "Carole, don't take this verse out of context. God said that to Israel."
But the still small Voice refused to be either still or small. My eyes kept being pulled to that one verse as God seemed to say to me, "Carole, take special note of this & be prepared."
I argued back, "I don't want to even think You might want us to move, Lord."
He responded in my heart, "I said be ready."
So that evening, several weeks after my talk with the Lord about moving, just as we were about to fall asleep, I quite casually said to Jack, "Honey, if God leads you to take this job, please don't feel you have to wait & ask me about it. I am 100% with you in whatever God leads you to do."
There was a moment of silence. Then Jack gathered me in his arms & with a break in his voice said, "You can't know what that means to me!"
From his emotional response, I could tell it meant a great deal. Jack seldom has to choke back tears. And I was reminded for the 101st time how vital it is to a man to know that his wife is 100% behind him.
Choosing to Admire (By Carole)
"I really don't like this restaurant," my friend murmured underneath her breath. "but it's one of Bill's favourites." It was quickly obvious that it was not one of hers.
As we dined that evening, I thought the Old World atmosphere was delightful, the food good, & the service excellent. But from the barrage of disparaging comments, it became blatantly apparent that we were here only because Bill had chosen it over his wife's disapproval. She had made up her mind not to like that restaurant, & not even Maxim's of Paris would have pleased her that summer evening.
The signals she telegraphed were clearly sent & pointedly received. She did not approve of her husband. Yes, I said, of her husband. She may have thought she was criticising a restaurant, but her verbal stabs at the food, the noise, & the service were aimed with accuracy at his taste, his choice, his manners.--At him. And she was drawing blood.
Inwardly I thought, "Oh, please don't." In our women's group, we had been studying ways to encourage husbands, & one of the most effective ways to encourage is by expressing admiration...to encourage & build instead of "corroding his strength & tearing down everything he does" (Pro.12:4). One of the greatest ministries a wife can have in her husband's life is the ministry of encouragement through admiration. Not flattery, but sincere praise. My friend was striving to build--but she had just torn away several months of effort...& probably wasn't even aware of what she had done.
The most objective man I know becomes totally subjective when his wife belittles him or expresses disapproval of something he has chosen, be it a restaurant or a gift.
I can almost hear someone saying, "But what if I don't like what he has given me or the restaurant he has chosen? Isn't it wrong to be dishonest & say that I like it when I don't?"
Perhaps the old saying, "If you can't think of something nice to say, don't say anything" is a good one to follow in situations like this. If you have gone out to eat at a real "bummer," & nothing is right except the water & even that is served in a dirty glass, the important thing is for the other person to know that you are glad to be with him. All else can be ignored. Your husband is not dumb enough to take you there again, anyhow.
We all long for admiration. Women tend to compliment other women & receive admiration from their small children. But men seldom praise each other. Perhaps this is why they have a greater need along this line. A man hungers for admiration, & it is vital to him. And if you are not the source of the encouragement he needs, someone else may be.
Choosing to Submit (By Carole)
The best advice I was ever given was a few months after I determined to obey the Scriptural command, "Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands." At a conference in Colorado, a wife said, "Whenever my husband makes a wrong decision, or does something I don't like, or whenever I see a characteristic in his life that is ugly, I do one thing." I was literally sitting on the edge of my chair in anticipation. At last I was about to learn a tremendous tool to use to change my husband, & I was all ears.
She continued, "I pray!"
I felt like someone had stuck a finger in the rising dough of my expectations & it had fallen with a thud. I thought, "Now come on, friend. You just have to do more than that." My philosophy at that time was "faith without works is dead."
But as she continued, my hopes began to rise again.
She said, "Inevitably when I pray, one of three things happens. First, my husband changes. God is in the business of changing people. (I since have learned to keep a separate prayer list just for Jack--one he never sees. It has been exciting over the years to see the way God has answered requests on that list.)
"Second, my husband asks me about the decision or problem again. I have had a chance to pray about it, think through on it, & perhaps find how to approach it in another way. God has put it in his heart to ask me again & has prepared his heart for my answer. He accepts it in a positive way & change occurs.
"Third, God lays it on my heart to bring the matter up again & share my thoughts freely. We are one. There is nothing that should come between us. God gives me the wisdom in sharing this in a positive, constructive way instead of negatively, & he accepts it."
As I began to practice her advice, I was astounded. It really worked. I found that as I prayed over the difficulties, God erased some of them completely from my heart. It was as though He said, "I'll take care of that. Leave it to Me. You won't even have to bring it up." And I could forget it. At other times, as I would pray, the worry would be wiped away, but the hard little knot of coldness remained. This became my way of knowing it was a matter I needed to bring up again at the first available opportunity. But I still had had a chance to pray & think about it, so it wasn't expressed in anger.
After a time, I added a fourth point to her list. In the area of decision-making, at least in our home, Jack is generally right. When I am able to be objective about it, I see it. So, in these cases of disagreement, God changes my heart as I pray. He has saved us from a big scene & I am grateful for that. God is helping me grow in practicing this plan, though I fail frequently.
Sexual Differences (By Jack)
A man is like an electric light bulb--you flip the switch & on he goes. A woman is more like an electric iron--you flip a switch & it takes a little time to warm up. When you turn it off, it takes a bit of time to cool off too.
Now if you don't remember any other differences, please remember that one. It is very important in learning to be a lover. And men need to learn to be lovers if they are to satisfy the needs of their wives.
I get discouraged sometimes when I talk with some men about their pattern in making love. Some have the lovemaking instincts of a frog, & maybe I'm being disrespectful to a frog!
Note this often typical situation. He gets home from work & gives her a little peck on the cheek. They have supper. He sits down & relaxes, reads the paper, watches some TV, then it's bedtime. So he goes into the bathroom, does his little chores, & gets into his pajamas. She does the same thing & they climb in bed. They read a little while, perhaps, then she reaches over & turns off her light. He reads a few minutes longer, & finally reaches over & turns off his light. All is quiet.
And then, suddenly, out of the dark...comes a hand.
What a romantic setting! What psychological build-up! What creative imagination! Like I said, "All the instincts of a frog!"
Now, men, we can do better than that.
One time, a month after we had presented this subject to a group at a seminar, I ran into one of the women who had attended. She smiled & said, "You know, now my husband on occasion will call in the afternoon from the office & as we are chatting will say, `By the way, Honey, will you please turn on the iron.'"
She was excited about that.
If a man has a desire to make love that evening & has it on his mind all day, just waiting to get home that night, but his wife doesn't know anything about it, & he pulls that "hand in the dark" routine, if she can respond with enthusiasm, then he has a very unusual wife.
On the other hand, if as he leaves the house in the morning, he gives her a very warm kiss & communicates in their own secret little code that he is looking forward to some fun that night, it will turn up her thermostat just a bit & it will stay warm all day long. By the time he gets home, the atmosphere has already been created & the two are far more likely to have a wonderful time that night.
May God deliver us from the "hand in the dark" approach. We need to use our imaginations & our creativity to set the mood for our lovemaking. Sex should be fun. And variety will enhance that fun.
Choosing to Explore (By Carole)
She wasn't just pretty, she was beautiful, one of the most attractive women I have ever met: Black hair, lovely features, perfect figure, & an outgoing personality. At the moment, her beauty was marred by a slight red nose & puffy eyes as she tried to relate her story to me.
"Several years ago I heard you talk on how important it is for wives to let their husbands know they are wanted," she began, "but I didn't listen. I had never turned my husband down when he wanted to make love, but I was never all that eager for it either. However, we had a good marriage & I thought we were quite happy. Then my world collapsed. He had an affair with a woman at work--a woman who isn't even pretty. But she let him know that she was attracted to him & wanted him, & he couldn't resist her."
She twisted her handkerchief into a tiny ball & dabbed at her eyes. "Please feel free to tell my story," she continued. "I don't want anyone to go through the hell that I've known. I know now that husbands need to be wanted."
An article Jack & I read early in our marriage stated that most men actually want three different functions from the women they marry. They want a wife, a mother, & an exciting companion in bed. (This article said a "mistress," but that could be misunderstood. Jack says "tigress," & perhaps that communicates much better.)
With God's help, a woman can be all three.
Way down in the depths of a man's soul lies a longing...a longing to be wanted...a need to be wanted. A loving wife will see that need & meet it with joy!