Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'TIS THE SEASON FOR DYSFUNCTION: The Spouse Edition

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
  
~ Ephesians 5:21-28, MSG ~

Oh, the turmoil stirring up in hearts already, ahead of the holidays!  While we sing songs and watch commercials depicting it as the most wonderful time of the year, this season is more likely the most dysfunctional.  Something about the stress of Thanksgiving and Christmas, combined with relatives we may find challenging, makes this a season that demands forethought and preparation.

In starting this three-part series, it is essential to begin with the most important human relationship first -- marriage.  God ordained this union as a living example of His love for the church.  (Note Ephesians 5:25)  A husband and wife set the tone for all other relationships that proceed from them or that come at them.  In other words, it is essential for a couple to be on the same page in order to both reflect the love of Christ to those around them, and to handle any unfavorable circumstances attacking them.

Authorities often report a rise in domestic disturbance around the holidays.  Additional stress along with increased alcohol consumption are often blamed.  However, there are some predictable points of contention that can always be anticipated this time of year.  Parents raising children with special needs have some similarities to typical couples, but also some unique disagreements:
  • MONEY -- What is spent and how it is spent can be a particularly ugly area of disagreement between couples this time of year.  When the medical bills are copious and expectations are high, this can increase holiday stress.  Add to that paying for big feasts like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, gratuities to service-givers and educators, travel costs, the annual property tax bill, and the pressure is heavy, especially for a husband.
  • CHILDREN'S BEHAVIOR -- The excitement of the holidays, an altered diet, special school and church programs, along with disrupted sleep and visits from people that aren't well-known to a child can literally bring out the worst in them.  Despite the best efforts of parents, difficult behaviors can be triggered with much greater frequency during the holiday season.
  • MEDICAL FRAGILITY -- 'Tis also the season for increased illness.  Our medically fragile kids are much more susceptible to common maladies like strep or the flu.  Those diseases take a much higher toll on kids with special needs than they do the remainder of the population.  Yet, exposure is so much greater as family and friends celebrate with each other.  Trying to keep our kids healthy and out of the hospital this time of year can be an exhausting battle.
  • JUDGMENTAL FAMILY OR FRIENDS -- Comments about our kids from family and friends just seem to be a hallmark of the season.  However, that never seems to make any easier the accusations of poor parenting or the implications that we're not making the right choices in treatment.  That tension can leave us feeling so defeated by those from whom we just want love, that one remark can end up blowing an entire holiday.
Knowing that these are predictable challenges to our holiday season, a couple must make time to sit down, discuss the issues, and come to an agreement on a game plan.  Keep in mind that each gender in the marriage is looking for different things this time of year:
What HE often wants his spouse to know...  "I'm working so hard.  Please understand that I'm doing my best, and respect my limitations on spending this time of year.  It's hard to deal with the demands of the kids after the exhaustion of my work day.  Don't expect me to know everything that you do about what needs to be done with our child during the holidays."
 What SHE often wants her spouse to know...  "This time of year is like parenthood on steroids for me.  Please don't expect to go to parties and wander off for long conversations like you did before we had a child with special needs.  Be united with me.  Defend our family against unkind remarks from others.  Take seriously the dietary and precautionary measures we are using to help our child be their best.  And please understand if I need a break too."
Because of these needs, it is critical for wives honor their husbands with the respect God commands and for husbands to honor their wives with the love God commands, especially this time of year.  Courteous reverence to one another as a couple will help you, as a team, overcome the other adversities you face in this season.  If you are united in your marriage, you will better handle financial struggles.  If you are on the same page as parents, your child will better survive the craziness of the season.  If you honor your relationship above all others, you will be able to support one another through the ignorant words of others.

"Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well." (Matthew 6:33, NCV)
FOR SINGLE PARENTS...  While you may not be married to the other parent of your child, you do still share a treasure in common with that person.  Treating that person with courteous reverence may inspire the same treatment in return.  If it is not reciprocated, you can feel great peace in knowing that you are acting in a way that honors God.  Choose your battles.  Respectfully honor boundaries around the health and well-being of your child.  And if you can't be with your child on the exact holiday, realize that special time when you can be together is more important than any particular date on a calendar.  
PRAY:  Father, the holidays are all about giving You thanks and honor.  We remember Your generosity to us that knows no bounds.  Foster a spirit of peace and unity between us as parents.  Let us create celebrations that reflect your love and kindness to everyone around us.  May we come through this season and rejoice in the new way that we approached the challenges that face us each year. 

For further reading: Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs (Thomas Nelson Publishing; September 7, 2004)

~ Barb Dittrich 

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

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