By Pathways


I can think of no relationship with greater potential for disappointment than our most emotionally intimate relationships. I may be kind to my co-workers, courteous to my neighbors, compassionate with my fellow church members, but may neglect to give the same amount of attention to my spouse.

In this article, ABCH President/CEO Rod Marshall and Pathways Clinical Director of Marriage and Family Lisa Keane will offer practical tips to reduce the risk of disappointment in marriage and significant relationships.  The first part of the article is the male perspective and the second part of the article is the female perspective.

He says:

1) Learn my communication style. I may be someone who warms up slowly or is more introverted. I may think of communication simply as a way to gather data in order to solve a problem. Don’t assume I am trying to avoid you or hide anything from you. If it seems like I am “running away” from you, I may be asking for some space to think and process what is going on. Please do not pursue me, that will only motivate me to run away farther or faster.

2) Give me the benefit of the doubt (unless you are faced with overwhelming evidence that I no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt.) Assume the best about me and my motives.

3) Do not be too surprised if you find out that I am not very good at managing conflict. Sometimes conflict can be scary for me. I very much like to win, but I do not want to hurt you. Sometimes these conflicting motives leaves me unsure of what to do next. Though I dislike conflict, I love solving problems. If we can work together as a team to solve the problems that are creating conflict, you might find me to be very willing to work toward resolution. It may be hard for me to accept responsibility for the contributions I have made to our conflict.

4) It is incredibly important to me to believe that you honestly respect me. I do not want to disappoint you. But, sometimes it feels like many areas of my life are being judged and critiqued. Let our relationship be some place where I can feel respect and acceptance and I will be more motivated to give you what you need from our relationship.

She says:

1) I want to be treasured and know that you value me. I don’t need to be treated as a delicate flower, but as a precious jewel, something that you prize over all things except the Lord. I want to know that no matter how long we have been in relationship with each other, that you are still interested in me. Show me your interest by being intentional in our time and conversations. Make time for me.

2) Know that I might want to outwardly process what is going on with our relationship. Just because I need to talk about something does not mean there is an issue to fix. I value being heard, and often times, that alone is enough of what I need. Please listen to me and be willing to give me your attention, make eye contact, and reflect back what I am saying.

3) I need to know that you think I am doing a good job. Whether it be with our family, in our marriage, or my job, I need to hear affirming words from you on my efforts, not just my outcomes. I need to hear that you see how hard I work and the sacrifices I am making for those around me. Give me specific examples about what you see and tell me how you are thankful for those things. 

4) It is important for me to know that we are on the same team. Sometimes, in our busy lives, I may feel that we are no longer working toward the same goals. Include me in planning for our family and our future and celebrate with me as we accomplish our goals.

One thing most of these insights share in common is having understanding and insight about your relational partner. As therapists, we are often tasked with helping our clients see another perspective. In relationships, that means being able to see where someone else is coming from and why they are behaving the way they are. Understanding and insight does not necessarily mean you agree, but it does mean you are willing to listen and talk about their perspective. 

To avoid disappointments in relationships, you also must be willing to communicate your insights as well. Unmet expectations can be a relationship destroyer. Frequently, unmet expectations exist because they were never communicated in the first place. Your expectation still may not be met, but at least by communicating it, there is more potential to work towards it. Marriages work best when the couple is working together toward common goals.

Ultimately, your fulfillment in who you are and your identity must come from Christ. No matter what, being in relationship with others means being in relationship with a fellow sinner. We will all let one another down, and we will all fail to give insight or understanding at some point in relationship. It is a good and holy labor to work toward better relationships and something we should continually strive toward, but it is paramount that our ultimate hope and joy come from the Lord and who He says we are in Christ. If two people in relationship are both growing closer to God, they will also be growing closer to one another.

 Rod Marshall is President/CEO of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has been married for nearly 30 years and is the father of two adult children.

Lisa Keane is the Clinical Director of Marriage and Family for Pathways Professional Counseling. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has been married for eight years and has two, young children.

 This article was originally published in The Alabama Baptist newspaper, as a part of their Faith and Family series.