My wife and our marriage are a priority in my life. However, at times I feel suffocated. I enjoy spending time with others, and with her included, but it seems she always wants it to be just the two of us. How can I help her understand that time with others is not a rejection of her or a desire to abandon our marriage?
Many couples struggle to balance their time together and their time apart. It is not uncommon for there to also be frustration in trying to harmonize the attention spent on the marriage itself and on issues outside of the marriage. This can be understood, in part, through personality and gender differences.
Personality differences certainly play a factor in marriage. A spouse with extroverted preferences is more likely to seek an active social life outside of, and in addition to, the marriage. On the other hand, a more introverted spouse is likely to prefer quiet one-on-one time within the marriage. It is a challenge to honor both of these preferences as a couple.
When it comes to gender, men often place greater emphasis on their life tasks and purpose, while many women tend to place greater emphasis on nurturing their relationships.
As such, men may be more prone to focus on issues outside of the marriage. Marriage is inclusive, an important and deeply meaningful part of a man’s life as he seeks to fulfill his life’s vision. Succeeding at work, his purpose, for instance, is usually more important for men than cultivating intimate relationships.
The reverse tends to be true for most women. Having a fulfilling intimate relationship is generally more important for them than being successful at work. As such, they are more likely to focus on issues within the marriage itself. Wives are more inclined to emphasize the exclusive nature of marriage, as intimate relationships are a primary purpose and key feature of a woman’s life.
Spouses (not to mention society!) move toward greater discontent when they assume one way of being is right or better than the other. Both perspectives have value and are needed to establish a purpose-driven life and a meaningful marriage.
And, whether stemming from personality or gender, both the exclusive and inclusive nature of marriage reflect aspects of the Divine and his relationship with mankind.
God is both inclusive and exclusive. As a quick example, consider the popular Bible verse John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
God’s love is inclusive of the entire world; no one is excluded. At the same time, his gift of Life is exclusive; only those who believe in his son Jesus Christ are included.
In marriage, there is a time to be exclusive and a time to be inclusive, a time for a focus inward and time for a focus outward.
The exclusive nature of marriage protects the sacred bond between husband and wife; this reminds us of the faithful commitment and intimacy shared between Christ and the church.
The inclusive nature of marriage protects the relationship from becoming an idol; this reminds us of God’s passionate desire for all of mankind and that there is more to life than just our marriage.
When one perspective is demanded over the other, we are left feeling misunderstood, either suffocating or rejected in the marriage. Practice honoring both points of view.
In what ways can you practice being more exclusive in your marriage, with your time, energy, and attention? Likewise, in what ways can you practice being more inclusive, seeing the marriage as part of a Larger Story? What will help you see things better from your spouse’s point of view?