Why Waiting for Your Spouse to Make the First Move Could Be a Mistake
Emma’s marriage was suffering to the point where she was losing hope. Even though she and her husband Kyle agreed that their future was at risk, they disagreed bitterly over what would make it better. So, when Emma decided to make the first move, she had to let go of her worries about being the only one to make an effort.
Emma talks of pushing through her own internal resistance to take the first step, and then to keep going in her new direction.
Why did she do it? She realized she brought an entitled attitude into her marriage. Although she never articulated it, she expected her husband to serve her by earning a certain level of income, and by enabling her to follow her own pursuits, and by freeing her up from many domestic chores.
In short, her lived attitude was that Kyle was there to serve her desires. She wasn’t blind. She knew Kyle had his faults that created tension in their marriage, too. Over time, their closeness was being edged out by resentment and bitterness.
Emma decided to make a radical change. She made up her mind to start addressing her entitled attitude.
When she offered to do laundry and other housework she had avoided in the past, Kyle didn’t celebrate.
In fact, he was skeptical. He thought, “Oh, it’s a fad. She’ll do it once or twice, and then she’ll go back to her old ways.”
What happened, though, was that Emma pushed through. She was patient with Kyle’s lack of response at the beginning and took it as a sign of how disappointed Kyle had been. She also had the insight to see that since it was a marathon to reach that low point in their marriage, a sprint out of it wouldn’t be likely.
Since the lead-in to their lows was lengthy, the pathway out might be, too.
Emma switched her perspective. She showed up to serve, not just to be served.
In fact, it didn’t take Kyle all that long to recognize Emma’s new displays of love. Emma apologized to Kyle for acting entitled in their marriage. He noticed her efforts to make a change. Eventually, Kyle apologized for his critical words and attitudes toward Emma; for example, calling her ‘lazy’.
Over time, their mutual bitterness became a faded memory of the past.
Emma told me her story of how her marriage had transformed from ‘near the bitter end’ to ‘very happy’. I wanted you to see the power of one person taking the first step.
You already know that being the one to go first, to give up the argument or to apologize first or to show love when it might not be reciprocated, is hard. Emma described that, too.
Our pride stands up against the thought of being the first one to take a humble step toward healing in your marriage. Pride may provoke you with thoughts like “you owe me”, “I deserve better than this” or “I won’t be taken advantage of”.
But pride is never a match for true humility. True humility is a channel through which the living water of love abounds.
What are some first steps you can take without demanding your spouse do the same?
- Commit to showing your spouse love in their love language (https://www.5lovelanguages.com), not yours – once a day, once a week – whatever the frequency, make it consistent.
- Take the kernel of truth in what your spouse has been telling you, and own your weakness. Apologize for that entitlement attitude, overspending, being emotionally unavailable, being critical, and not fully participating in the work of your together lifestyle. And then, make your personal plan for change.
- Ask a few close friends or family members (who want the best for you enough to be honest) a question to bolster your self-awareness: “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” If this question reveals a blind spot, or an area in your life where you could become more loving, pursue it. Is the pain of personal growth worth it? Why, yes!!! Becoming a more loving version of yourself will reap rewards for you and your loved ones for the rest of your days.
- Take a ‘criticism fast’ in your marriage. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’m mentioning this again because it offers such power to disrupt a critical attitude. Here are my suggested rules:
- Commit to making no critical statements, gestures or body language, for as long as you can. If you’ve tried this in the past, see if you can beat your last record.
- Disagreements are fine; healthy conflict is encouraged. In any close relationship, you will disagree – just don’t be disagreeable! You can learn to be kind and respectful to each other even when you don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue and may even need to agree to disagree.
- Strategies to help you include listening to your spouse open-mindedly and pausing to reflect on how you respond before you speak.
- Your spouse is the one who makes the call over whether your words or actions were critical, not you.
Finally, I would love to leave you with the wise words of my friend Ann Voskamp. She says, “Only speak words that strengthen souls”. And as Easter approaches, I pray you’ll experience the love and power that Jesus came to offer you.
 Please note: I’m not encouraging anyone to stay at risk in a marriage that is unsafe. My messages about persevering in marriage to leave your unhappiness behind are aimed at unhappy couples, not marriages that are harmful. Read more here: https://toninieuwhof.com/is-your-marriage-unhappy-or-harmful/