Four marital malfunctions that lead to relational distress …

A speaker at a women’s club was lecturing on marriage and asked the audience how many wanted to “mother” their husbands. One member in the back row raised her hand.

“You do want to mother your husband?” the speaker asked.

“Mother?” the woman echoed. “I thought you said smother.”

There can be any number of reasons why a wife or husband become frustrated with each other. But four reasons are broadly common in marriages. Let’s take a look at four marital malfunctions that can quickly lead to relational distress:

1. Miscommunication.
An Austrian anthropologist named Weizl, who lived for a time among the natives of northern Siberia, was frequently accosted by giggling young maidens who showed up at his door and pelted him with freshly killed lice. Eventually Weizl learned that among northern Siberians, lice-throwing was a customary manner for women to declare her interest in a man and indicate she was available for marriage.

Sometimes, how we communicate with our spouses is no more effective than throwing dead lice at them. We may know what we mean to say, but they don’t, because we don’t communicate in a way they can understand.

If you want your spouse to understand you, communicate in a way they can understand.

2. Misinterpretation (mind reading).
A wife said in frustration to her husband, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!”

That’s not very effective communication, but it does point to a major problem in marriages: instead of listening to what our spouse literally says, we tend to try to read their minds instead. That usually leads to misinterpretations. If you want to better understand your spouse, listen to what they actually say.

3. Misperceptions.
A husband thought he had conquered the problem of trying to remember his wife’s birthday and their anniversary. He opened an account with a florist, providing him with the dates and instructions to send flowers along with a note signed, “Your loving husband.” His wife was thrilled by this new display of attention and all went well until one day when he came home, kissed his wife, and said offhandedly, “Nice flowers, honey. Where’d you get them?”

Giving your spouse a false impression about you only invites misperceptions, which will likely lead to relational distress. This can be avoided by being honest in what you communicate.

4. Mismatch of expectations and reality.
I knew a young couple barely out of high school, both with entry level part-time jobs, who swore while they were dating that they wouldn’t get married until they could buy a house and live the way they were used to living at home.

After a little reality hit, they married anyway, and lived in a tiny guest cottage behind her parents home. A few years and a few children later, they divorced, chiefly because the expectations they had for each other and their marriage never fit with reality.

You can expect whatever you want, but if it doesn’t work with reality, plus faith, then you will likely be very disappointed. The same goes for your spouse and your marriage. I often ask young people considering marriage, “If your relationship with your significant other never gets any better than what it is today, would you still marry them?” You’d be surprised how many have second thoughts at that point, because they have expectations for something different from their significant other.

Even the best of marriages will occasionally experience a malfunction of some sort. A key to persevering through these malfunctions is commitment.

During his courtship with a young lady named Julia Dent, Ulysses S. Grant once took her out for a buggy ride. Coming to a flooded creek spanned by a flimsy bridge, Grant assured Julia that it was safe to cross.

“Don’t be frightened,” he said. “I’ll look after you.”

“Well,” Julia replied, “I shall cling to you whatever happens!”

True to her word, she clung tightly to Grant’s arm as they drove safely across. Grant drove on in thoughtful silence for a few minutes, then cleared his throat and asked her, “Julia, you said back there that you would cling to me whatever happened. Would you like to cling to me for the rest of our lives?”

She would, and they married in August, 1848.

Are you clinging to your spouse, regardless of the malfunctions you might face?