Those of us in ministry (full or part time) or those that have been married for many years and have a great marriage often run the risk of taking each other for granted, and often put the other person’s need behind everything else including working for God or other egoistic events outside the home. I’ll share our (Ola and I) recent experience with you and hopefully, it will help another couple (perhaps even more matured in the faith) out. My references are mostly to ministry, however in your case it may be a demanding job, or a leadership/managerial position at work or business. Since 1998, Ola and I have been particular about our relationship, growing each year. We develop various things (rules) to help us grow together and we soon become good with communication especially with each other, there has been no “no-go” subject or area in our marriage since 1998.
When I started full time marriage ministry in 2001, we carefully (with many counsel) decided to even pay closer attention to our relationship (taking spiritual activities into consideration). I decided not to take more than two programs a month (except on rare occasions and she’ll need to agree to it), our weekly date will become a priority, and under no circumstances would I schedule being away from home on some days. The boundaries we set worked perfectly (it still works) and we got comfortable. Late 2005 or early 2006, Ola volunteered to be a physician for a pregnancy crises center and the only time she had to donate was our Tuesday morning time together. She talked to me about it and I agreed (volunteering is a big part of our home – we intend to imbibe that culture into our kids) whole heatedly, but not having those four hours together regularly (weekly) started to eat into our time together (just chilling time – no serious stuff) and our communication.
About mid 2006, I really felt a burden for our city and believed that God wanted me to step out of my (active) position in church to participating in city and state wide activism. It took only a month or so for me to become entrenched in four different things within the city and state, from working to get a bill passed in the state legislature, to being on the national day of prayer committee, to being one of the leaders of the African American Empowerment Network and serving on the L.P. heartland festival committee, added to the above where at least five e-mails daily asking for some form of advice on relationship (from readers on Nigeriaworld and Omaha-Star), and counseling (either on the phone or setting up appointments in Church). The time I prepare for conferences and write are not even considered in the above activities.
While we still talked and joked at home we started to grow apart emotionally (we still had intimacy intellectually, socially, physical and spiritually – although each was affected somehow), our lack of emotional intimacy and not wanting to hurt the other person’s feeling led to pent up anger and short fuse, it is important to note that every activity we were involved in was for the kingdom of heaven in one way or another, yet those activities where creating problems in our home. We went from calling each other at least three-four times daily (during office hours) to barely one because we were both afraid the other person would be busy and have little time to talk, from my end I was always on the phone rallying support for the “pre-marriage education bill”, talking to someone on one thing or another, writing a book or article, and I’m always telling her “I’ll call you back” so she quit calling and when I call back she’s with a patient, so I quit calling as well. Consumed in my little world of being an important “instrument” in God’s hand, I forgot what was important to my wife and most women, which is just give me time, let me talk and listen to me (no advise except I ask for it).
At about the same time, a series of activities happened in our family, my brother-in-law had a stroke and our friends son was admitted to the hospital (for those of you praying – they are both doing very well and are both at therapy – thanks for your prayers). We also decided to start the adoption process for a little girl. Ola needed me emotionally with all these activities, all I could do for her was quote Bible and ask her to deal with it the way I would as a man. The ice built up between us emotionally started to break when I was one of the speakers at a city-wide forum for African Americans in our city (more like Travis Smiley does every February on CSPAN), I told Ola about the program but downplayed its importance because, I assumed she’ll like to sleep in that Saturday morning rather than come to hear me speak. The forum turned out to be a huge event and people (some of her patients and an aunt) told her about it asking why she was not there since I was a speaker. We had a major argument that night when she came back from work and we realized that because we were not communicating (on an emotional basis) as much anymore we’ve both resorted to “assumptions” (which they say makes an “ass” of someone) and surface “cliché” communication seem to be what we were having.
The argument that night broke some ice but not all, while I apologized verbally and Ola in her own way, we both had some issues left and we did not set any strategy of getting back to where we were emotionally (I think because we both did not think we were wrong and believe the other person was just stressed out). I soon got busy again as many of my activities started to gather momentum (and they still do) as God granted favor. I returned home one night and noticed that she was not feeling me at all, so I said we have to talk, while talking my phone rang and I made the mistake of picking it up, then she made the statement that woke me up “I know your marriage is important to you but I am not” my initial reaction was to look at the calendar for the time of the month and dismiss that statement, recount how much of a good father and husband I was (based on action) and point out the things she was not doing (especially my love language). But then my teachings caught up with me “accept responsibility for your part and plan to change, rather than point fingers at the other person’s fault”
We talked (started high tempo and eventually calmed down) about each other’s feeling and how much we had taken each other for granted. On my part, I realized that the issues were not the activities I was involved in, but how much I had put the activities ahead of my wife (picking up the phone when we were talking pointed this out), I realized it was not that we were not talking but we were not communicating – I was physically present but emotionally absent and finally, I was not paying attention to those things that were important to her emotionally, I instead ask her to deal with issues the way I was. To fix things from my stand-point, I decided to go back to calling her more than once a day (and not get mad when her staff tell me she is busy), send more e-cards since that has reduced drastically in frequency, pay more attention to her feeling regarding issues like our adoption process – family members in the hospital etc and finally, be present spirit, soul and body when we are communicating and not offer advise but to just listen.
On her part, she took responsibility for the areas she believed she slacked in and has since made amends. Our communication is back to normal and we both did not have to shed any of the stuff we do, rather we went back to putting the other person first, sharing on every level and empathizing rather than sympathizing with the other person. Our four hours together is now a priority even though it’s now every other week.
I have shared the above story for many reasons. First, from the e-mails I get some people think Ola and I have it made and we do not need to work on our own marriage daily – well now you know that who you are don’t matter if you don’t work on or maintain your marriage. Secondly, there are people in various levels of leadership (secular or faith institutions) who because of what they do or who they think they are, have taken their spouses for granted and uses the excuse of working for God while their spouse are suffering emotionally (many times in silence) and lastly, I hope everyone (husband or wife) would take a stock of their relationship as you read this article – Am I taking advantage of the man or woman that God has blessed me with by being selfish or self-centered?