A Tool to Improve Your Marriage

I share an embarrassing story from early in my marriage to Bill at the opening of our new book, Journey of the Soul:

“You might as well divorce me and hire someone to cook and clean!” I screamed at Bill. 

“Don’t you ever use that word again!” he yelled back, and then he picked up his keys and drove away. 

In the hours he was gone, my rage melted into the fear that he wouldn’t come back and I’d be on my own with two little children.

I felt horrible for using the D word, but I was fed up with Bill’s workaholism as a psychologist, pastor, and author. God had gifted and anointed him, but I needed more of his time and energy at home. I felt overwhelmed caring for our children and longed for more intimacy in our marriage. 

As long as I kept my desires buried we got along great but eventually, my hurt and anger would erupt. Then he’d get defensive or angry, and I’d feel more hurt. Later he’d always apologize, empathize, and try to be more emotionally engaged for me and the kids. But the cycle kept repeating.

Thankfully, I learned a healthier way of communicating, which Bill joined. God used this to help Bill set big boundaries on his work so we could raise our children together and have more relational connection and fun.

God helped us live into our own journey of the soul before writing the book on it. In Journey of the Soul, we call that serving others out of the overflow of God’s grace to you. That’s central to emotional and spiritual growth in the stages of faith.

The communication tool we developed to stop repeating angry, hurtful conflicts is called “Changing Demands Into Desires.” 

This tool is not only for marriage, it’s for all your relationships. 

In the past I’d get angry at Bill: “You’re working all the time. You should set boundaries. You should be home more and put a priority on being here for the kids and me.”

Today in that situation I’d say: “Bill, I miss you when you’re working long hours. I want more time with you and more of your help with our kids.” 

Let’s compare those two ways of communicating:

1. Making a demand

In the first example of communicating my hurt or anger, I was trying to get Bill to change. I didn’t realize I was making demands of him. 

Saying “You should. . .” with anger, a pointed finger, or a frown is putting an expectation on someone. You’re judging and pressuring them to change, which usually leads to more anger, hurt, and emotional distance.

2. Expressing a desire

In the second example, I communicated the same hurt and anger without putting expectations or judgment on Bill. Instead of making a demand, I asked for what I wanted.

Saying “I want. . . “ is vulnerable because you might get rejected. It’s a personal request and an invitation for someone to listen, care and help. 

Instead of making a “You Statement” you’re sharing an “I Statement.” You’re taking ownership of your feelings, needs, and hopes.

Changing demands into wants applies Jesus’ teachings to resist verbal manipulation in favor of simply asking for what you need (Matt. 5:37, 7:6-8).

Dear God, for those who have a spouse we ask your blessing on their marriage. For all of us, we pray you’d help us in our relationships to resist putting demands or expectations on people and instead to take courage to be vulnerable and express our desires. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Journey of the Soul releases soon! It’d be a great gift to get copies of the book and companion Leader Guide for your friends. 

Post on social media, tag @SoulShepherding and #JOTSbook and we’ll share your post on our platform.

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Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: Bill and Kristi have experienced first-hand the difficulties and benefits of balancing work and marriage. Their commitment to navigating this reality has offered them insight and practical tools to creating a thriving marriage and fulfilling work. They talk openly about what they’ve learned and how it can help you love your spouse more deeply and engage in meaningful work. 

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