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How to Respond When a Spouse Will Not Meet Expectations

You have a desire that you want another person to meet. That desire does not have to be a bad thing. Desires only become evil when you demand them from others while punishing them for not meeting your expectation.

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People who know me well know my wife can’t tell time. That’s how I describe it anyway. I like to say she lives on island time and I live in military time. Imagine those two personality types getting married.

Well, we did get married and my anility toward time and her laissez-faire attitude toward time has been the longest and strongest point of contention in our marriage. We (mostly me) have argued over our competing preferences more than any other problem.

I’ve spiritualized my time arguments by telling her how the gospel is about punctuality (Galatians 4:4). The Father brought His Son into the world at the perfect time—not a second too early or a second too late. Who wouldn’t understand this? God is always on time.

And when Lucia does not get it, I play the respect and honor card. From my perspective, these arguments have merit, and one would think they would be valid. Unfortunately for us, this kind of sound biblical reasoning did not resolve our contentions.

And while I have you here, let me tell you how my wife rarely locks the outside doors. Just last night, I came home, and the back sliding door was unlocked. Again. She can’t tell time and doesn’t remember to lock the doors.

It was easy to make my case about locking doors. This time in history is not 1965 where you could go on vacation and leave the doors of your home unlocked. (We did this when I was a child.)

Today, we live in a crazy and desensitized world where self-centered video games and Hollywood violence have emotionally numbed two generations of children. Did this motivate her to start locking the doors?

No.

I’m sure if I were generous and wanted to devote space in this article for her to make a case against me, she would tell you how I never put a new roll of toilet paper on the dispenser thingy or how I rarely leave the toilet seat down for her.

She would further write about my amnesia regarding putting dishes in the dishwasher, not making the bed, or my past reluctance to take the trash to the outside container. I think if we compared notes, I would win as far as being the most disappointing spouse when it comes to preferences, desires, and wishes (Matthew 7:3-5).

During our wedding week, her best friend helped move some of her things into my home. When her friend saw my walk-in closet for the first time, she immediately called Lucia from the other room to ask if she was serious about marrying me.

I hung all my clothes with the same kind and colored hanger, and they pointed the same direction. I sorted the long-sleeve shirts by color, and short-sleeve shirts were the same. And don’t forget the T-shirts; they were on hangers, and I segregated blue jeans from dress pants.

My thinking is that this is an efficient way of ordering your closet, and God is a God of order. Take that! Everybody knows this. It makes no sense to me to spend more time than I have to getting dressed. There are more critical things to do and to think about in life.

I did not perceive a problem with this approach to hanging up my clothes. My future wife’s best friend prognosticated a problem while thanking God for her artsy husband.

I’m Different – You’re Different

We’re not competitors or we should not be, and there should not be winners and losers in marriage. We are different. We have different expectations and preferences. God wired us differently. Did you know she has a habit of reaching on to my plate to eat some of my food?

Yep, that’s my wife. I was a food stamp boy whose parents were on welfare for a good portion of my childhood. Food was scarce, and even to this day, I’m affected by the impoverished days of my youth.

My wife lived in a home of plenty. She loved her siblings, and they shared things. Imagine that. Our marriage union was more complicated than a Yankee girl marrying a southern redneck. Our differences were deep and wide.

Though we agree on the gospel, it’s when we have discussed our differing and personal preferences, that things have gotten tense in our home.

Starting Point

There is no way around these problems. The bad news is that if you choose to marry someone, that person will be a sinner. The good news is if you are a Christian, you have a solution to your marital differences. So, let’s talk about that.

I’m going to assume you and your spouse are Christians. If one or both of you are not, your problems are deeper and more problematic than toilet seats and dirty dishes.

Before you can successfully work on any problem in a relationship, you have to be on the same page, and there is only one page (John 14:6). It’s the Christian page. You must be born again (John 3:7). This start is your foundation—the position from which two people can get along.

But this is more than a born again issue. Anybody can become a Christian, but not every Christian thinks like a Christian. Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ, which implies transformation.

The goal for all Christians is a transformation into Jesus. We are to become like Him, which is not just His behaviors, but also His mind (Philippians 2:5). We are to have the “mind of Christ.” We are to think like Him.

The way you can think like Him is to think redemptively (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus saw a broken people and made it His mission to come here to redeem them. He arrived and began scouring the countryside looking for people to help.

  • Is your main goal to help transform your spouse into Christ or to bend her toward fulfilling your preferences?

He was a redemptive thinker and planner, which is your starting point. Are you a redemptive thinker? Do you think about redemptive plans? When you think about your spouse, are you thinking and planning redemptively? This perspective is part of what it means to have the mind of Christ.

Is the issue more about taking out the trash or helping your spouse to mature in Christ? And this idea goes both ways—both spouses have to have this value. Before Lucia and I could talk about toilet pragmatics, we had to individually and martially come to terms regarding the practical application of the gospel.

Were we going to be gospel-centered—is the new modern way of saying were we going to be Christ-centered? Were we going to value and seek to apply the mind of Christ to ourselves and each other? How you answer this question will determine what you will do next.

For the first few years of our marriage, we chose competing over thinking redemptively. I brought my list to her, and she had hers for me. This posture only divided us more. Our thoughts were not redemptive.

It never occurred to me how my wife might be imperfect or how something so obvious to me would not be obvious to her. Rather than thinking about how I could help her, it was more important to me that she help me, which was a nonredemptive attitude. You could say that this is a hardcore selfishness.

Step Two

Once I repented of my selfishness to her and God, we begin to discuss our preferences like two teammates looking at the same goal—Christ. The goal was no longer about locking the doors or being punctual. That’s myopic and earthly thinking.

The goal was, how could I come alongside my wife to help her in an area where she is weak? This renewed attitude is also how she thought about me regarding taking out the trash. Let me repeat: if either one of you is not interested in this kind of intentional gospel thinking and planning, then your solutions will fail.

In (Philippians 2:7), we learn about Christ setting aside who He was to become something else. He did this because He had gospel focus—He wanted to redeem a people to Himself. It was no longer about what He had or where He was. It was about helping us.

  • Does your approach to your spouse feel more like correction or help?

He did not stand in heaven, shouting out His preferences regarding our salvation. He chose to enter into our weakness to rescue us from our imperfection (Hebrews 4:15). This “mind” is how we had to change our thinking.

  • Are the discussions between you and your spouse more about the problems or are they more about how to serve the other person?

The way you answer the previous question will tell you how well you’re applying the gospel to your life. Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45). He did this by giving His life for another person (John 15:13; Ephesians 5:21).

Jesus did not tell us to change until He came and helped us to change (Ephesians 2:1). A redemptive spouse will enter into his spouse’s weaknesses, helping her to change. And, if she wants to live out the life of Christ (the gospel), she will be teachable, cooperative, humble, and willing to change. This process is how redemption works:

  • Christ entered into our weakness by bringing redemptive solutions.
  • We humbly responded to His call upon our lives and began cooperating with Him.

Gospel Illustrated

After we repented of our self-centered sins and joined each other on the same redemptive page, we began talking about how we could change ourselves first. We did this before we talked about how the other person could change.

Rather than expecting her to be punctual, I asked her how I could serve her so she could do better regarding her stewardship of time. Over months and trial and error, we evolved into the following:

  • She talks to me about where she is going. I talk to her about where I am going. We want to serve each other.
  • She asks my opinion on her plans and if it is accomplish-able. I talk to her about my plans.
  • She wants me to help guard her calendar because she can over-commit.
  • She generally texts me regarding her whereabouts, and I do the same for her.
  • We both have find a friend on our phones so we can track each other if necessary. This tech feature has been great because many times we can text each other, asking to pick up something on the way home.
  • We regularly talk about the plans for our day and our week.
  • We only have one calendar which syncs to all our devices
  • She runs our calendar, so we don’t double book. I never add anything to the calendar, but let her know the things I need to do. She lets me know if there is a conflict, and if not, she puts it on the calendar. The calendar is color-coded—family, work, school/children.
  • She blocks out family time on the calendar, which keeps me from spending too much time at work. This is how she guards my time.

It’s no longer about punctual vs. late. It’s about serving each other for the glory of God. This intentional strategy is what the gospel can do for two people. How can she serve me? How can I serve her?

Typically when we go on a date, I will ask her how I can serve her more effectively. This question has been standard for years. She will ask the same from me. There is always an area where I can change, and she is confident she can speak into my life, and it will be received well.

Take a Gospel Application Test:

  • Are you regularly asking your spouse how you can more effectively serve him/her?
  • Are you creating an environment of grace where your spouse feels free to bring you his/her observations?
  • Do you receive those observations with humility, teachability, and as a learner?

Gospel Competition

Out do one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).

One of the by-products of this kind of gospelized thinking is it has given us a greater affection for each other. Now, we have become competitors in another kind of way—we like trying to out-serve one another.

My wife is great at this. She spends more time thinking about how she can serve me rather than pushing for her preferences. I’m not as good at this, but I’m learning from her.

Her daily example has been my greatest motivation for and means of learning how to live out the gospel. Her servant’s heart motivates me to want to be like her. I want to follow her because she is following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Needs, Desires, Wants, and Idolatry

There has been a lot of necessary talk about how our desires can turn into needs. I’ve written many articles on this problem. As with all points-of-focus, there can be a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We can indeed make our desires into needs, by becoming sinfully demanding when someone does not meet our desires. But be careful about playing the idolatry card every time your spouse sins against you because you’re not fulfilling their wishes.

Indeed, honestly, he should not sin because you are not taking out the trash or putting the toilet seat down. But you should not dismiss his desires by quickly placing it in the category of false worship and calling him to repentance without humble self-reflection.

God loves to bless us with things that we don’t need. He gives us many desires of our hearts, most of which are not essential. There is very little that we need. Nearly everything we want from the Lord would fall into the category of desires, which He humbly and generously gives to us.

He sends the rain on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). He clothes the fields to show us how meticulous He is in caring for us (Matthew 5:28). He does the same thing by feeding the birds of the air (Matthew 5:26).

We don’t need 90% of the stuff God gives us daily, but He wants to bless us anyway. The gospel-centered person will want to do two things for a person who has desires, preferences, and wishes:

  • He will want to walk his spouse through her sin when she is sinfully demanding this or that.
  • He will want to bless her by meeting her desires if he can.

Once God changed my heart from competing for preferences to a desire to serve my wife, taking the trash out became a joy. Our home has more shalom than ever as we continue to figure out how we can best serve each other. The other benefit is God blesses humble serving (Mark 10:45; James 4:6).

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