Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives-Marriage 102

Marriage 101 was about a man's needs in marriage, so it's only fair that this is about a woman's needs. These are also taken from Harley's book, His Needs, Her Needs. In the previous post, I mentioned that in the book the premise is affair-proofing one's marriage. This is true for anyone's marriage, but the stats in the other post suggest that pastors are at a high risk of infidelity. And infidelity is a two-way street...the wife is at risk as well. So, according to Harley, here are a woman's top 5 needs.

1. The First Thing She Can't Do Without - Affection
I find it interesting that a man's first need was sex and a woman's highest need is affection. They are certainly related, but not quite the same. Merriam-Webster defines affection as 1 : a moderate feeling or emotion 2 : tender attachment : fondness 5 : the feeling aspect (as in pleasure) of consciousness. Personally, I think of affection as being every day small ways of showing love. It can be physical, such as snuggling, kissing, holding hands, etc. or not, such as playful teasing and flirting. It is a "symptom" of attachment and fondness. While woman want affection, I think men enjoy it too. However, the difference is that they often see it as a means to an end (sex) perhaps, whereas women want affection just for the sake of affection sometimes. Women want to know that they can dance in the kitchen with their husbands and snuggle on the couch without it ALWAYS having a "Hey Baby" connotation. I do think when couples touch a lot, joke often, and make eyes at each other across the room that it often will lead to sex, but the key is that it doesn't have to. Men need to embrace the art of non-sexual touch. There is something to be said for a tight long hug, holding hands, and even a passionate make-out session that doesn't end up in the bedroom.

I also think we have to consider personal backgrounds here. Robert is a toucher. He is a very physically affectionate person and he was raised in a touchy household. I am not a toucher and I came from a family that was not particularly physically affectionate. When we married (and even while dating) constantly being touched annoyed the heck out of me. 25 years later we have reached a compromise. For example, when we would hold hands Robert would usually stroke my finger with his thumb or run his hand up and down my arm--drives me crazy (and not in a good way). However, I do like just holding hands or him resting his hand on my arm or even gently squeezing my arm. No movement, but pressure, warmth, and simple touch are okay. All of that to say, I think both partners have to consider the other's perspective on touch and physical affection. Affection can also be a good barometer, at least for me. It took me a few years to make the connection, but Robert touches me every single time he walks past me. I'm not exaggerating. If I'm cooking he might hug me from behind, if I am sitting down doing something he is likely to kiss me on the head. At the very least he will touch my back or arm or shoulder. But, if he doesn't...I know his is irritated at me or mad at me. It is a very reliable indicator for me.

I suppose that what couples call each other is a show of affection as well. Personally though, I hate pet names. They make my skin crawl. The only name that we both call each other is Babes. I have no idea why we add the extra "s," but we do. We also can't call each other our real names--it just feels weird. I think it is because we are more intimate so we can't use the same names that everyone else uses for us. So Robert always calls me Pamela (which only a handful of friends, past and present, call me) and sometimes Cutie and I called him Bob (which no one is allowed to call him), Bobster, and Roberto/Robertolus. For others of you, you may call each other Honey, Sweetie, Snooky-pie face, whatever floats your boat. I'll just vomit in my mouth a little when I hear it. However one word of caution: NEVER, EVER call each other Mama or Daddy. You are not each other's parent. You are only the parents of your children. We once read a marriage book that talked about how spouses sometimes call each other mama and daddy and that it can be an indicator that the marriage is not going well. I doubt that it is entirely true, but anytime Robert and I hear couples refer to themselves that way when out and about we look at each other and laugh. That's affection!

2. She Needs Him To Talk To Her - Conversation
This is a big one for me! I love to talk (cue jokes on women and talking now). I've done a lot of cool things, been to a lot of interesting places, but hands-down my best life experiences are deep conversations with people I love and care about. Obviously as a general rule women do like to talk, but I don't think we want to talk AT you. We want to talk WITH you. It is so important for a man to engage in conversation with his wife and really listen. That means turning off the TV, putting down the book, and making eye contact and asking questions. We want your thoughts and input. We like what you have to say. That's part of what attracted us to you. However, sometimes we just want to vent and be validated. We don't want you to tell us what to do and how to solve the problem. Just listen. So, sometimes we want your input and sometimes just your ears---when do you know to do which one? I can't help you there. I'll be the first to admit that women are inconsistent creatures and there's no making sense of us. Just accept it, maybe embrace it, and keep trying anyway.

Here's a great little clip from 30 Rock about "Porn for Women." Basically, porn for women is a man who will talk and listen.

One more very important thing that I would like to say about conversation is regarding topics of conversation. Sometimes when Robert and I go out to eat, we will look around the restaurant at couples in their 30s and older and notice that there is not much conversation happening. I would also bet that a lot of the conversations that are happening in the 40 and under set are about children. Of course you need to talk about your children sometimes. However, a date alone together is not the time. Personally, it is essential for me to have a man who reads, thinks, and has great intellectual curiosity. I am a voracious reader and I am always learning new things. I need someone to bounce ideas with, deconstruct thoughts with, and yes, even argue with in the literary sense of the word. I love debate and wrestling with new concepts and looking at things in a new and different way. Thankfully I have a husband who reads, listens to NPR, and loves to learn. What would we talk about otherwise. Currently whenever we are together we talk nonstop and we are the first people that we want to share everything with.

3. She Needs To Trust Him Totally - Honesty and Open-ness
Not much to comment on here as I think this is a no-brainer. Women need a stand-up man. One who keeps his word, is reliable, and is worthy of trust. One who comes home when he says he'll be home, one who has boundaries in ministry, and one who is honest in all relationships.

4. She Needs Enough Money To Live Comfortably - Financial Support
I take a little bit of issue with this one. I personally don't think this is one of my top 5 needs. For one thing, my profession pays more than ministry and is in high demand. I am comfortable that I can go out and make a living at any time and I don't have to depend on a man to provide that for me. I know that thought may be emasculating to many men, but my husband knows I am pretty headstrong and independent and it's okay with him. However, he has been the sole or primary provider financially for about 75% of our marriage. It has always been comforting to know that he does provide well for our family. However, in seasons of life like seminary and church planting, I am needed to assume much more financial support and that's okay too. We have had to balance things out based on what's going on in life and what God has called us to at a particular time. It was intentional that I got my master's degree before Robert went to seminary because we knew that I could work and financially support us. As a result we never had to take out a single student loan and he graduated debt free, as did I. God certainly knew what He was doing by having me "accidentally" end up back in school working on my doctorate at the same time we started praying about church planting.

The key thing about ministry that all couples should be wise about before taking the plunge is that it isn't particularly lucrative. I'm going to talk about finances in a separate post because I think it's an important issue. I think it's more important that a woman feel okay with her husband's work ethic and calling, than be okay with the finances. I guess the part of this need that kind of rubs me the wrong way is that she needs enough money to "live comfortably." I think we Americans have a very skewed and warped view of living comfortably and I don't know that our comfort is God's priority. We have traveled pretty extensively and been to some very impoverished countries like Belarus, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico and it has radically changed our priorities. My dream used to be some beautifully decorated McMansion-type house with beautiful hardwood floors, granite countertops, gourmet kitchen, and two new cars. That stuff doesn't really matter to me so much anymore (although I would like hardwood floors and an ergonomic kitchen) and I know that even at our lowest financial state we lived so, so far above most of the people in the world. Instead of enough money to live comfortably, I would suggest that enough money to meet needs, plus a little extra, without significant worry would be enough. That's just my opinion though.

5. She Needs Him To Be A Good Father - Family Commitment
There's not much that is sexier than a man rocking a baby, carrying a toddler on his shoulders, or tossing a baseball with his son. Women don't want to do the parenting thing alone. They need an involved partner who shares in the joys and heartbreak of parenting. Someone who will take a turn consoling a screaming infant, someone who will help clean the up-the-back and out-the-legholes explosive diaper, and someone who will say "Let's be really quiet and make pancakes so Mommy can sleep." In my role as a speech pathologist over the years I have always admired the families in which the dad sometimes brought the kids to therapy, played with the kids in the waiting room, and showed himself to be an involved and nurturing father. Unfortunately it is the exception rather than the rule. However, God created families and He designed and special place for both mothers and fathers.

I have worked with kids all of my adult life and spent my teen years as a frequent babysitter. I have always been comfortable with kids of all ages. However, this teenager stuff, esp. dating and driving, has really thrown me for a loop. I am way out of my comfort zone. I am so thankful for a husband whose youth minister experience comes in handy! He is a genius with our teenage boys. He is good about helping me chill out about some things and helping set boundaries/standards on others. I am so thankful that he is my partner in crime.

A couple more things:
I think Harley left off a couple. Maybe I'm crazy or just more needy than I want to admit, but I have a few extra "needs."

1. Romance
Just like we can't give up on trying to look attractive just because we "caught them," guys need to continue to romance us. Just because we put their ring on our finger doesn't mean that romance is dead. Maybe this goes along with affection, but I think it is a little different. Romance means sending flowers for no reason at all. It means that the guy initiates and plans the occasional date, right down to arranging for the babysitter. Romance is flirting with each other, writing love notes, and all of the other goofy wooing behavior that occurs during the dating phase. This is why chicks like romantic comedies--we like the wooing part!

My husband does pretty darn well in this regard. I'll share two of his more stellar moments just to jog the male creative juices. The traditional gift from ages ago for the first anniversary is paper. I had no idea that Robert knew this, but somehow he did. So my first anniversary gift was paper. Most guys are thinking, "How lame." However, first of all I'm not the kind of girl who is impressed by clothes, jewelry, or expensive things. I'm pretty cheap and easy in the gift department. The card and the giftwrap are actually more important than the gift to me. But this gift contained several types of paper. I can't remember them all, but two of them were newspaper and a fine linen paper from a stationary store. In the box with the paper was a letter explaining why he thought paper was the traditional gift. He wrote about how I kept him informed and enlightened like the newspaper and added refinement and class to his life like the expensive paper. It was a very romantic and thoughtful gift.

The other moment was which in which he had arranged a night out for us. He had contacted a babysitter and we were going out to dinner. I was all dressed and ready. About 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave he said that he had to run up to church because he had forgotten to take care of something. I was so stinking mad! We were supposed to go out, I was ready, and here he was going to do some work. Hmph!! While I was stewing at home and not really wanting to go out with him, the babysitter arrived. As I opened the door I noticed she had two boxes in her hands. She gave them to me and there was a note. Robert had arranged the whole thing with her. In one box was an awesome little black dress and the other one contained *ahem* little black underthings. He had left to give me time to change and then he took me out to a much fancier restaurant than we typically would have gone to. I got over my anger and we had a great night.

2. Adventure
I think most women like consistency. I, however, am very easily bored. I crave adventure, excitement, and change. I like to go, do, and experience. In fact, boredom was my biggest fear with marriage. I knew I loved my husband, but I wondered how we could spend a lifetime together without getting bored. We started dating in 11th grade and dated throughout college without ever breaking up. However, I had a period of time during my junior year of college when I contemplated dating other people just because I was freaked out about the boredom thing. I worked through it and told him about it later...maybe even after we were married.

If I had a husband who wanted to sit at home and embrace the status quo I think I would be quite discontent. Now Robert is generally more of a homebody than I am, but he still likes to go out and have adventures. We are always trying out new hobbies, learning to eat new foods, and going new places.He is also comfortable enough to let me go on solo adventures. I have been on three Operation Smile missions (two to Nicaragua and one to Honduras) and a trip to Brazil without him. Similarly, he has been to Belarus and several trips to Nicaragua without me. This is because we currently don't have a money tree so sometimes we have to take turns. We have grown and changed and challenged each other throughout the years. Since I'm not bored after 26 years, I'm feeling pretty optimistic about the future.

3. Protection and Handyness
These are different, but kind of relate. I need to feel like my man is going to protect me and keep me safe. This was especially important when we lived in Baton Rouge during the time of Derrick Todd Lee, a serial killer. He killed several women in Baton Rouge who were near my age/build/hair color and some murders happened near our neighborhood and near LSU. It was a time of intense paranoia and fear throughout the city. I am not normally a scaredy cat and I was terrified. I was a near basketcase when Robert had to go out of town. It was very important to feel safe and protected by him. Also, protection goes into the house as well--needing a man who can fix broken garbage disposals, change spark plugs, put in a ceiling fan, and patch a hole in the wall. I know plenty of women who have to call a handyman for such stuff. I'm do glad that I married a man who can take care of most home repair jobs....although I was very nervous when we wanted to replace a gasline. Some jobs are best left to professionals.

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