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If You Really Loved Me...

December 6, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Don't turn every disagreement into a referendum on the state of your marriage.

“It’s so frustrating. Every morning when I come down to read the paper, it’s a mess. The sections are all jumbled together and there’s often a wet spot where my husband has spilled some milk and cheerios. If he loved me, he’d be more considerate, right?”

Wrong. Not every disagreement is a referendum on the state of our marriage and we do ourselves and our spouses a big disservice by treating them that way.

Behaviors that are different than our own, actions that are frustrating, may simple express personality differences, male-female issues, time constraints (that rushed breakfast) or just unique perspectives on life -- without having anything to do with love and commitment.

We actually end up damaging our marriages if we treat everything with dire and ultimate importance.

We damage our marriages if we treat everything with dire importance.

A lot of issues can be resolved through practical strategies. Sometimes love has got nothing to do with it.

Is it possible that an extremely considerate and sensitive husband would make sure that the paper is once again neatly folded and the spills carefully wiped up before rushing out the door early in the morning? Anything’s possible! But it’s not likely and it’s not a particularly realistic expectation. So what’s a frazzled wife to do?

You also look forward to that quiet cup of coffee and five minutes with the paper before chaos descends, and confronting this mess of crumpled wet newspaper spoils your morning. If straightening up the paper yourself and ignoring the wet sports is just too difficult for you (I’m really not making a judgment here), I have a solution that doesn’t involve the words “If you really loved me, you’d...”

Buy two newspapers. Yes, you read that correctly. Buy two – his and hers. Extravagant? Yes, but it’s a lot cheaper than marriage counseling.

There are many situations like this where a little money or creativity now can save a lot of aggravation later.

Every night after dinner it’s a struggle over who will do the dishes. You’re both exhausted. Finally you can’t take it anymore. So you walk over to the sink grumbling those fateful words, “If he really loved me, he’d...”

Let’s take step back. There are many possible solutions to this dilemma, none of which involve the word love. You could use paper plates. Yes, I know that may cost more money (although there are some really inexpensive options out there) but in the end it’s cheaper get the idea.

Make a chart and take turns. Yes, I know you’re not eight years old and I’m not advocating gold stars but having an established system can work. It’s no longer a nightly battle.

And the third possibility (dare I say it?) is to go to bed with a sinkful of dirty dishes (I promise not to tell your mother!) and wash them in the morning when you’re feeling rejuvenated and re-energized.

Love is not always the question -- or the answer.

This practical approach to many issues in our marriage takes the emotion out of places where it doesn’t belong. While each spouse may participate in certain chores as a kindness to the other (whether it’s cooking, cleaning or paying the bills), not doing them is not a reflection of a lack thereof. Don’t treat it that way.

When my children were small, I used to feel that the only way I could leave the house was if my husband would babysit. No one else was good enough. This put tremendous pressure on him and we frequently did the “If you really loved me...” dance. Until I realized it was really my shtick and my anxiety and unfair to him. The kids would be okay for that brief time I was out with one of the teenage girls in the neighborhood (who actually had more experience with small children than either my husband or I did) and the pressure taken off the marital unit.

Marriage involves the process of finding solutions to life’s challenges -- big and often small -- together. Sometimes the practical ones are the best. It’s not a high school romance where you are constantly taking the temperature of the relationship. It’s a long-term project where working together is what counts, where commitment is what matters and where love is not always the question or the answer.

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