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Rick Shurtz, M.ED., M.F.T.

 

I’m the Expert on Me, You’re the Expert on You

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In reading most of the Christian pop psychology books on marriage being published today, I find two things most seem to have in common. First, that husbands and wives are different and depending on who the author is, they have their two or more main differences that are at the top of their list that we all need to be made aware of. Second,there seems to be a desire to move us into the great relational minefield that in a sentence states, “I am not the one who needs to be the expert on my own needs, that is now relegated to the realm of my partner’s responsibilities”. Somehow my responsibility to make sense of my psychological, emotional and spiritual needs is transferred to my spouse once I am married. We pass the baton, so to speak, and it is no longer my task to figure me out, it is my wife’s or my husband’s. It is as if I have now regressed to an infantile state where others, not me, have to do the work of deciphering and meeting my needs. I would even go so far as to say that many authors would actually define marriage in this manner.

Thus begins the “Great Guessing Game” – the wife who is emotionally out of sorts expects the husband to figure herself out and “make it all better”. The husband who has become disgruntled with their sex life expects the wife to figure him out and give him what he needs. They are both to become mind readers and the books we have around us tell us it not only can be done, but it is a “Biblical” mandate. We are told that men and women are pretty simple, have only a few easily identifiable needs (i.e., respect and sex for men, and love, nurturance and listening for the woman) and off through the minefield we go. Tip toe, tip toe, BOOM!

Why doesn’t this formula work? The truth is, we have it backwards. Marriage does not change our responsibilities. I do not at that moment of wedded bliss pass the baton of “know me” to my spouse. I am still responsible for figuring me out! I am still the expert on me and you are still the expert on you. Deciphering what I need is still a difficult task, but I’m better at it than anyone else on the planet (or I should be). After all, I’ve lived with me all of my life! God has wired us to be very complex beings and what I need can be very situation-specific. For example, when I’ve had a hard day at the office, sometimes I want to talk about it when I get home, and sometimes I don’t. And when I do want to talk, sometimes I just want to be listened to and other times I want helpful suggestions as to what I need to be doing differently. I know, or should know, what I need in the moment, and it is my task to teach you in the moment what I need from you!

The wonderful thing about having a relationship like this is that it makes it predictably safe. I now do not have to guess what you are or are not needing at any given time…you tell me! This takes the guess work out of the equation. I can now devote my energy toward something more productive: trying to be a good student of what you are teaching me, and remembering what it is that you have taught me in the past, so that I can actually meet your needs! An example of this is that my wife has taught me that regular exercise is important for her to maintain her emotional well being. She has figured that out for herself and taught me how important this is for her. I don’t have to guess what she needs, she tells me! My responsibility lies in being teachable regarding what she needs and then watching the kids when she tells me she would like to go for a run. The guess work is gone, and my job as a husband is to be willing to give my wife what she already knows she needs.

This concept of being the expert on myself applies to other relationships as well: Coworkers, friends, relatives, even my relationship with God Himself. Even though God knows me intimately and better by far than I know myself, he wants me to practice being the expert on myself when I come to Him in prayer. We are encouraged in many passages to ask for what we need, and in James 4:2, we are told that part of the reason we don’t have is because we don’t ask. So, why does He want us to ask for what we need? I think that one of the reasons He wants us to ask, is because it models a principle of relationship that is very important. If God requires this in His relationship with us, shouldn’t we practice the same in our adult relationships as well?

Adults ought to know what they need in many different areas, and it is not the responsibility of others to figure this out for them. Wives and husbands are complex physical, emotional and spiritual beings that have very different situation-specific needs. I am the one who is the most equipped to be the expert on what I need at any given moment, and you should be the expert on what you need. Marriage is hard enough to execute successfully without having to tip toe through the minefield of attempting to guess my partner’s needs.

Exercise #1: Discuss this article with your spouse. Decide how you will implement this principle into your marriage.

Exercise #2: Share a need you have in a particular area with your spouse. Ask your partner what she/he needs in the same area. Begin to implement being direct with what you need, and have your spouse do the same. It will make your marriage a much healthier place!

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