Being Content vs. Wanting Needs to be Met

Scott and Cindy

In Monday’s blog, we talked about a wife’s need for communication and the husband’s need for recreational companionship.  If you haven’t taken the time to read that blog or do the growth assignment, take a moment to do that now.

As I have been doing on Thursdays, I want to take a more philosophical look at the whole issue of meeting needs.  Today I want to touch upon a raging debate in counseling circles.  One the one side of the debate, people argue that it is better for a couple to lower their expectations of what they want in a marriage (“being content”).  Others, however, take the position that a couple is better served by having them take steps and energy to meet the needs of their spouse.

One of my fellow students in my doctoral program is writing his thesis on the idea that couples would be happier if they lowered their expectations.   His thesis is that the average spouse has too high of an expectation for their marriage.  As a result, they set themselves up for failure.  The idea is that if you lowered your expectations (didn’t expect your spouse to pick up their clothes as often, give as much help with the kids, etc), you would end up being happier in your relationship.

And, on some level, there is some truth to that.  Often, our frustrations and anger come from a feeling that we are entitled to something (in this case, having our needs met in the relationship.)  If one removed that entitlement of having their needs met, one would likely feel less frustrated and angry about the relationship.

And, biblically speaking, Paul did say that “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11).

The other side of the debate argues that having a spouse’s legitimate needs met in a relationship is part of what the couple vows on their wedding day.  They look at each other in the eyes, before witnesses (and often God) and vow to “love and cherish until death do us part”.  If a spouse can’t ask their spouse to pick up their clothes or help a little with the kids, then what part of “love and cherish until death do us part” is actually being done in this marriage?  This side of the debate would argue that if you don’t have some level of needs being met, then the marriage is basically just two people living as roommates.

Biblically speaking, there are plenty of scriptures that would lend support to this side of the debate.  We’ve talked about Adam’s need that his wife met, and the Bible is constantly encouraging followers of Christ to put the interests of others before themselves (for example, see the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25 and a discussion on humility in Philippians 2:3f).

So, how do you reconcile them?  Well, I recently had a discussion with a friend who works with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  (A GREAT organization, by the way, and our friend oversees 1700 Bible translators all around the world.)  This is the conclusion we came to:   A married Christian has two callings.   First, in Christ, you should strive to be content in all circumstances because Christ has promised to bring you life, and life abundant at that (John 10:10).   This might mean, in your marriage, extending grace (kindness that is undeserved) to your spouse as often as you have received grace from Christ.  But, secondly, in finding your contentment in Christ, you would therefore be seeking to absolutely bless your spouse with the love you are receiving from Christ.  As such, while you are finding your contentment in Christ, you would be seeking to meet the legitimate needs of your spouse.

Could it be that happily married people have figured this out?  That it is not an “either/or” proposition (EITHER it’s best to lower expectations OR it’s best to attempt to meet needs) , but a “both/and” one?  Now, think about that concept for a minute.  In a Christian marriage, if BOTH spouses were finding their contentment in Christ AND seeking to meet the legitimate needs of the other person (as they vowed to do on their wedding day), wouldn’t there be a tremendous explosion of joy in the relationship?   My friend and I think so… and so does my wife!

How about you?  Don’t you think that things might change for the better in your relationship if you took this approach?    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Look for my next blog on Monday on a further discussion of what needs you would like to see met in your relationship to take it to the mountaintop.

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3 Responses to Being Content vs. Wanting Needs to be Met

  1. Tina says:

    Scott, I do like your conclusion!!! Being content in the Lord and then meeting your spouses needs out of your love for God and them. I have heard ladies that were loving God with all their heart and began to meet their husbands needs and noticed that their husbands began meeting many of their needs. I know that praying and the book love and respect helped the ladies know what their husbands needs were.

  2. I agree with the spiritual implication here. I also think that much communication needs to center on what a “legitimate” need is and is not. Just as a person who desires to set realistic budget parameters – a person needs to have a realistic idea of what legitimate needs are in the life of one’s spouse.

    As I talk with people about budgeting their family’s finances I ask people to tell me what expense items are “needs” and what expense items are “wants” in their budgets. Most of the time people have blurred these distinctions to the point that their budgets cannot work. In the same way, spouses need to have a strong understanding of what their own “legitimate” needs are before their spouse ever stands a chance of meeting those needs for them. (Not that I am ever guilty of this mind you – I’m just say’n.)

  3. Megan R says:

    I tried posting once from my iPod and accidentally clicked “post comment,” but it’s not showing up. So I’m reposting.

    I think that as a couple work together to meet each other’s needs, expectations will naturally be adapted, realigned, and even lowered in some cases.

    I can’t expect my husband, who has chronic vertigo, to ride roller coasters with the family at the amusement park. Part of loving him and meeting his needs is not expecting him to join the family for that activity. I do expect him to participate in some activities with the family, like regular family dinners, prayer times with the kids, etc. But I can love him by not pressuring him to do things for me that are way outside his comfort zone.

    I dislike most movies that have much sex, violence, or rough language. Part of my husband loving me is him not expecting me to watch those movies with him–finding movies we can both enjoy when we spend time watching a weekly movie together (one of his recreational needs). Yes, it requires him to lower his expectations, but that’s part of loving the “weaker vessel,” I guess you could say.

    I agree that this is why extending significant amounts of grace to your spouse is so necessary for a happy marriage. You can’t always have what you want in life. I think that’s where “being content in any circumstance” comes into play

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