Emerson Eggerichs author of Love & Respect has a very good post on his blog this week entitled Who Goes First? [Spoiler Alert] His conclusion is that the “more mature” spouse go first. Since the title of this site is A Grown Up Marriage it isn’t a stretch to figure out that I think he’s correct. The more mature spouse should go first and if you’re the one reading this it is highly likely that you are the one searching for ways to improve your marriage which shows a lot of maturity in this area. Get the picture?
Now another question that comes up from time to time is, who should change? or, who should change more? I think this question is a more difficult question to answer.
Way back in 2004 I had finally realized that I needed more information to improve my marriage. No, we weren’t headed for divorce but neither of us was exactly happy about where we were at that time in our marriage. So, to be perfectly honest, I set out on a journey to find information that would change my wife. There. I said it.
Now I did realized that I was probably going to have to make some minor adjustments myself but the real problem wasn’t me, it was my wife, or so I thought. This is where things start to get interesting so don’t quit yet.
Over the seven years that followed I learned and grew up a lot. I figured out that I was as responsible for my marriage being the way it was as my wife was and that I was going to have to change. What took me longer to figure out was changing my behavior in order to change my wife’s behavior would lead to disappointment. Not that my wife didn’t need or want to change but that making changes in myself in order to change my wife was shallow, manipulative and, frankly, immature. What I’ve come to understand is that manipulation is not a fruit of the spirit, self-control is (Galatians 5:22-23).
Here’s where it gets better. I’ve come to realize that my preferences based on my experience and what I believe aren’t necessarily the “truth” that I believed when I began this journey. A good way to highlight this is something that came up recently on a forum that I frequent regarding being loved versus being sexually desired. Now, some of you having read that believe that those two things go hand-in-hand. That if you love the person you will have an almost constant sexual desire for them. That is your reality because that is the way you are and it is your sphere of experience. It is how you experience love and to suggest that it is any other way is completely foreign to you. Your spouse on the other hand may read that same statement about love and being sexually desired and think one has little to do with the other. Each’s reality tells them that their ways is the “right” way. It is truth to them because it is all they know. See any room for conflict there?
So, we get back to the question at hand, who should change? or, who should change more? In the example of the sexual preferences above, love versus, or, love as part of sexual desire, the best answer is both. Both should work to understand and fulfill the other. The truth is each of their preferences are valid and trying to convince a spouse that has no reality with sexual desire being a part of love that, if you loved me you’d desire me, isn’t going to work and is going to very frustrating.
To highlight this frustration from both sides let me give you a couple of examples. First, a spouse who wants to be sexually desired may say something like, “If you really loved me you’d sexually desire me.” A spouse who is constantly sexually desired by their spouse may say, “You don’t love me. You just love my body and the pleasure that it brings you.” The problem with both these statements is that they are likely both wrong. Each spouse loves the other but not in the way that the other wants or expects.
Now, let me be very clear here, sexual intimacy is a very important part of marriage. Do not here me saying anything else. What I am attempting to point out here is that many of you may be searching for something you spouse doesn’t currently have the capacity to provide and may never have the capacity to provide and that is to sexually desire you. Now that does not mean that they don’t want to have sex, nor does it mean that they shouldn’t have sex, nor does it mean that they don’t enjoy sex when they have it. What it does mean is that you should not expect your spouse to desire you the way you desire them because that may be something that they currently don’t have the personal experience to do and they may never have it. On the other hand, those of you who fall on the other end shouldn’t expect your spouse’s sexual desire to change either. Accept it for the sign of love that it is to them and be sexually generous with them. Work to understand one another and to meet their needs not in a immature, manipulative way but in a way to please and honor your spouse and marriage. Your will be stronger and you will feel better and be acting like a grown up.
So, how do you get started changing your marriage for the better? Someone has to go first.
Edited to add: Paul Byerly posted a good take on another aspect of this over on A Generous Husband: The thinker and the feeler.