Our family gets super crazy super fast. Like all families and people we have to deal with both the day to day responsibilities and the stuff that just happens because we live in a world where stuff happens. Just the day to day stuff is mind boggling and exhausting. You read yesterday about what it takes just to get the kids to and from school. Then there is buying the food, cooking the food, cleaning up, doing the dishes, and then throwing out the trash. Only to do all of this again the next day. Laundry piles up (and out). Bills lie around all over the desk. Cars need maintenance (gas, oil changes, wash). This is not including things that “come up” like flat tires, illness, and other weird emergencies.
Every once in awhile my wife and I sit down for a heart to heart. It is usually when money is short, laundry is bountiful, energy is low, etc, etc, etc. For 10 years we have been going through the same routine. We get overwhelmed. We fight. We make up. We make out. The only problem is that the making up part is really not making up. A lot of times it is the classic sweeping our dirt under the rug. Sometimes that is not a bad thing. A lot of times we are able to let a stressful season pass simply because we love each other and at the end of the day we still have God, each other, and our awesome kids.
What we noticed though is that over the years, this cycle just got heavier and heavier. Yes it has something to do with having five kids, but it is more than that. The cycle gets heavier because…well, we never knew why it got heavier. We just knew the resentment was building. Let me explain a typical scenario at our home when things are overwhelming…
Me: GOD DAMN IT!!!
Wife: I know I know.
Me: WHAT DO YOU KNOW? TELL ME WHAT YOU KNOW?!!!!
Wife: The house is a mess. The laundry is everywhere. We are both fat. Money is tight.
Me: I’m drowning and you are describing the water! (Actually I never said this. it is from one of my favorite movies “As Good As It Gets”. Always wanted to use that line.)
Wife: Well let’s sit down and make a plan. Let’s think and make plan.
Me: Plan? Think? What is there to think about? Why is your solution always to sit down and talk? We need to do not think. Let’s go. Let’s go upstairs grab all the laundry and do it now.
Wife: It’s not that simple.
Me: Not that simple? Why is it always so complicated? It is that simple. Laundry is there. We do it.
Wife: No you always say that. But if we start laundry now we will only get a couple loads in because the kids are gonna sleep in an hour. I can’t put the clothes in their drawers and closets then. So there will be all the clothes in living room. I will have to take the kids to school and when they get back they will mess up the clothes I spent hours folding. Then you will come back and scream because the house is a mess.
Me: Excuses, excuses, excuses. At the end of the day we still have to get the damn clothes done! That’s what it comes down to. The clothes need to get washed. I am offering my services. If it is so complicated for you I will just do them right now BY MYSELF!
Wife: I am not making excuses. What’s gonna end up happening is that you are gonna start washing the clothes but since you have never used the machine you will ask me for instructions. I will then just take over while you clean the living room so I can fold the clothes on the ground. While you are cleaning you are gonna rant and rave about how much there is to clean. I don’t have the energy to do all the laundry and deal with your judgmental attitude. I can clean the place when the kids sleep and do the laundry when they are at school tomorrow. Let’s just sit down and plan out the week. If you really want to help, just take the kids to school tomorrow and help me plan a menu for the week so we can get started right.
Me: Just take them to school tomorrow? Make a menu? (notice how often I repeat what my wife says) You always do this. You never let anyone help. You just take the burden on yourself. You push me to the side lines and tell me to just take the kids to school and take out the trash. You never let me in. You never let me help. I am so sick of this. Menu? What the hell is a menu gonna do?
Wife: It would help a lot. Let’s talk and plan. This is my way of including you but you never want to sit down and plan.
Me: That’s because talking doesn’t do crap. Doing does crap!!????
Usually at this point in the conversation I say something incredibly stupid and hurtful. My wife absorbs another line that confirms for her the fact that I don’t respect and love her. Soon after I realize what an ass I am and I start apologizing. She is too tired to argue or prove how this apology is just a part of the cycle we go through. She relents, I hold her. We wait for the storm to pass. But then it happens again. But each time it does, her heart takes a beating and my resentment builds.
I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that some aspect of this dialogue connects with couples even if it is indirectly related to conversations you have with each other. Because if none of you can relate to this, I just flashed you my front side and sit hear completely embarrassed for exposing my marriage on the internet.
It took us 10 years to figure what is wrong with this picture. You see, I am always trying to get my wife to fix our problems, her problems with my strengths. She is always trying to get me and us to fix problems with her strengths. Remember I am catalytic. She is a thinker. I build planes while flying them. She lives by the carpenter’s rule (measure thrice, cut once). Whenever we get overwhelmed, we turn to our strengths. The problem is that we don’t the let the other person’s strength become a factor. What emerges from this are two things.
First, we start viewing the other person’s strength as a weakness. I view my wife’s thinking and processing as excuse making and avoiding the real issues. She misconstrues my catalytic gift as a judgmental attitude that will use this helping against her to prove she isn’t a good wife or mom. We mistake the other person’s gift as a personal attack. I had to learn that when my wife wants to talk and process, she is not trying to avoid and send me on a fool’s errand so that I don’t get in her way. She had to learn that when I am trying to get things going, I am really trying to help her not insult her.
Second, we start to use our strengths for self-preservation rather than serving each other. Remember gifts are not given for your benefit. They are given for the common good. We lose sight of this. I use my catalytic side to blow through an issue so I can feel better, not so that I can help my wife. If I really wanted to help my wife there are a few options. One is to just shut up and clean up and stop making her feel bad about the fact that I should and need to be helping around the house. In other words I need to be a true catalytic dude and just do without ranting and raving. My wife would never stop me from doing the laundry if I just did it with a servant’s heart. But she doesn’t let me when I start screaming like a child because it puts her on the defensive. Another option is to shut up and talk to her so she can use her gift to better organize us for the long term. Then and only then, turn on the catalytic side and do what I do, which is doing the do.
I do not want to paint a picture that what our family needs is for me to do everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not need my wife to think and for me to execute. I forgot to mention my wife has two other gifts. One is responsibility and the other is achiever. But she cannot exercise her two other gifts unless she has time to think. We work best when we work together. This is what it looks like. She starts the thinking process and keeps the big picture in front of us. I then contribute possible ideas and solutions. We together pick the best path. I will do the jump start by just getting it going. My wife then takes off and does everything.
What’s funny is that we did it right with church work. Because it was my work, I initiated the process by coming to my wife for her thoughts and big picture abilities. Then I would suggest ideas. She would pick up certain tasks she could handle given her responsibilities at home (which is a LOT). Then my catalytic side would kick in and start the process at church (that is whatever the issue was at hand).
This is the only way I think two people with two gift sets can use their gifts simultaneously to serve their loved ones. Just do it with love, or collaborate by submitting to the gift of the other before exerting your own. Either way you are both serving each other and this encourages. This gives hope that we can do this. We can break free from just maintaining a life and start living a life. My wife bears the bulk of responsibility at the home front while I take the bulk of the church stuff. We did it well at church but never translated into our home life.
Man I wish we figured this out way earlier because this realization has helped us so much lately. There is a reason why it took us so long. I will share why it took so long tomorrow. Thursday I will share how this strength thing helped me with my son. On Friday I will share some tips about how to use and process the Strength Finders book.