Down-sizing Your World & Up-sizing Your Spouse’s
“By wisdom a house is built,
and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Proverbs 24:3-4 ESV
My wife became desperate to find a way to get my attention, just seven years into our marriage. As Pamela recounts this difficult season, I was heavily involvement in my work (which I absolutely loved doing) and she was feeling quite overlooked and unappreciated. To her, our home was simply becoming a type of “hotel” that I checked in and out of every day. After leaving early for work and often getting back late, she regularly received the leftovers of my attention and time.
After getting married, Pamela imagined we would spend more quality time together than ever before. To her, it only stood to reason, because now that we were going to live together in marriage, we would have so-o-o much more time to connect and get close, right? Wouldn’t that make sense?
For me, after getting married I had just achieved a major life goal of finding the right person to marry and actually marrying her. (Check – ). But, in a sense, I was now on to another goal — that of proving myself on the job. Now that I had the vows and promises of a beautiful woman who committed herself to love me, I needed to attain another security — a successful career. By Year Seven, I was spending as much time as I could doing so.
Pamela ultimately used a letter to get my attention. She knew how much I love to read and write and that this would be the best way to express her deep frustration. When I read her letter, I was not prepared for what it said. Her words conveyed to me that my job had become a rival to her and that it seemed to her that I loved work more than being with her. Pamela’s frustration was clear to me in her letter. After calling her and sitting down to let her tell me all about her frustration, one thing was clear: I was not longer making nearly enough room for her in my life. Once I finally realized how desperately alone she felt in our busy world, I had a few big changes to make. Most of all, making room for my marriage.
Up-sizing and down-sizing are familiar terms in the home buying industry. In similar manner, marriage requires making “room” for someone else in your life — emotional room, time-scheduled room, conversation room, and more. On one hand, it is easy to think of getting married as an “accomplishment”, an “advancement in life”, or an “achievement.” All these are true, but marriage is also an investment. To say “yes” to someone at the marriage altar is to say “no” to some aspects of your schedule, your world, and your activities. To add this committed relationship to your life requires letting go of some of your other commitments.
Marriage is all about making room. It involves rearranging the “furniture” of your world so that the person you are committed to receives priority consideration. Here are a handful of ways we can make room for our spouses:
Room to Share
Relationships that lead to marriage always start with sharing – sharing time, sharing stories, sharing secrets, sharing kisses, and on and on. Unfortunately, after marriage the sharing sometimes slows down and, in some cases, unfortunately all but ceases.
If you wonder if you’re sharing enough with your spouse, it may help to just ask. One of the best questions to use is a simple one: Is there anything on your mind you’ve been wanting to talk about? Anything you’ve been hoping to share with me?
Once they start to share, borrow Dr. John Gottman’s ATTUNE method of listening:
(A) ATTEND to your spouse.
(TT) TURN TOWARDS your spouse.
(U) UNDERSTAND your spouse – Seek to understand more than to just be understood.
(N) NONDEFENSIVELY LISTEN – Remember to respond, don’t react, to what you hear.
(E) EMPATHIZE – Listen until you feel a bit of what they are feeling.
Room to Breathe
Sometimes the best “place” you can provide for your spouse is simply some space, room to breathe, to disconnect briefly, to reflect, refresh and renew. In most cases, when a woman is married she has to immediately surrender a strong aspect of her identity — her surname. Establishing and maintaining one’s identity can be greatly enhanced, but also challenged, by marriage and the sense of surrender it requires.
Life and work can often fill our minds and calendars with so many events, responsibilities and expectations that we find ourselves longing for some unscheduled places to dwell, if but for an hour or two. Sometimes the best thing to do for your spouse is to ask if you can draw them a bath or take the kids out for a few hours so they can just have some quiet time alone.
Room to Fail
The people who can hurt us the most are also the people we love the most. The closeness built from confession and vulnerable conversation over the years can all-too-quickly turn to a jab in a sore spot of our souls.
I remember a season in my professional life when I was feeling anything but “successful”. More than anything, over those months I remember what a faithful friend and lover my wife was to me. When I felt, I was failing in other aspects of life, she was so sure to make sure I at least felt successful in the rooms of our home, including the bedroom!
Room to Grow
The closer you are to someone, the more positioned you are to encourage and affirm them. More often than not, a spouse is well-positioned to notice growth, change, character and skill development in the person they love. When this occurs, it is important to mark those moments with affirming words. Words such as:
“It is amazing to see how much you have improved at your tennis game!”
“Your determination to be more patient with our daughter is showing up, big time!”
“It seems like only yesterday you were worried about your new job. Now look how well you are doing at it!”
If a spouse won’t mark these moments and say these things, who will? Don’t miss the opportunities to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7).
Room to Pray
Gary Thomas says that the primary reason for marriage is not to make them “happy”, but to make them “holy.” Marriage is one of the main relationships God uses for “iron to sharpen iron” and to form character in our lives. It gives us a person and a place in which to continually love and serve. This is a part of the “profound mystery” the Apostle defined as marriage (cf., Eph. 5). If the “marriage bed” is the place where physical love crescendos, then the “prayer closet” is where the spiritual crescendos emerge.
In the earlier years of our marriage, this is an area I really struggled with. More often then not, while Pamela desired times of prayer together with me – I would choose to have my own prayer time – “my personal devotions.” More recently, however, I have discovered that I was missing a major opportunity to grow in Christ and more in love with my wife. While we still try to reserve time alone to pray and read our Bibles, we are finding such a powerful sense of unity and closeness that comes from just a few minutes of prayer together. It is a “touch-point” in our marriage that changes the tone of the day and of our relationship. My only wish is that I had started to initiate those times years ago.
Invite your spouse into your “prayer room” often. You will be glad you did.
Steven Curtis Chapman, the popular Christian musician and songwriter, has released at least twenty albums. One of his consistent practices has been to include one song to his wife in each of those albums. One of my favorites is “What I’d Really Like to Say”, a song that tries to say the things about married love that are hard to put into words. So, Chapman paints it metaphorically and beautifully in these words to Mary Beth, his wife of 34 years. He puts it this way in the chorus: “What I’d really like to say is what the sun would say to the sky for giving it a place to come alive.”
In this poignant phrase, Chapman speaks of a love that make a place, a place for someone to come alive. We do that for our spouses not just when we marry them or vow to love them, but every time we do something that helps them find a place, a place to grow, to heal, to shine; more room to love, more room live and more room thrive. That’s what marriage does.
Am I Making Room for You?
10 Questions to Ask Your Spouse:
- Do you always feel comfortable when you are around me? When have I made you feel the most comfortable?
- Do you feel like you can talk with me about anything? Our finances? Our parenting?
- Are there things you wish you had room for in our lives that you don’t? How can I help make room for that?
- Have I made reasonable room in my life for your family members, your parents and siblings?
- What are the things you do that make you feel most “alive”? Are there any ways I can help you do that even more?
- Are our prayer times together meaningful and helpful to you?
- Am I attentive to your needs and desires in our sex lives?
- Have I been considerate and attentive to your spiritual life and growth? Any ways I could be more helpful or encouraging?
- Do you feel I am taking time to help you with challenges you face in your life?
- Do you feel you have room in our house to do the things you want to do? What part of the house is your favorite place to relax or unwind?