BY WILLIE AND ELAINE OLIVER
My wife and I have been married for almost nine years. We have three beautiful children who are driving us crazy. I work full-time and I’m going to graduate school part-time. I never seem to ever have enough time to rest, catch my breath, or have any peace when I’m at home. Our home seems to have no semblance of order. When I tell the kids to be quiet so I can get some peace, my wife tells me I’m stifling their individuality and creativity. Frankly, I no longer recognize the woman I married. Please help!
We’re sorry to hear about your frustration and lack of harmony in your family life. Everyone needs to have some peace, especially at home. What you described, however, is familiar for couples who are in the middle of raising a family, especially one as young as yours.
Several years ago we were right where you are now: with small children, working full-time, and going to grad school full-time. This is a recipe for stress, burnout, and complete disaster unless you sit down with your spouse and carefully work on a mutually agreeable schedule for the two of you, and for your children.
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,* Stephen R. Covey offers an important concept in the fifth of the seven habits: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This habits speaks directly to your reality, and to the reality of every human relationship. Essentially, Covey suggests that we all tend to look at the world through our own pair of glasses, or through our own frames of reference and experience. To be sure, a person’s perspective is simply that, but does not automatically become a benchmark for everyone else.
It’s a good idea to first listen to your wife’s perspective about what’s going on in her world.
For example: “The thermostat on the wall registers 75 degrees. One person complains, “It’s too hot,” and opens the window; the other complains, “It’s too cold,” and closes it. Who is right? Is it too hot or too cold? Both are right—each from his or her own point of view” (p. 204).
In order for the situation with your wife and children to get better, you will have to take time and sit down and talk about the pressing issues that are causing you distress. However, before sharing how you feel, it’s a good idea to first listen to your wife’s perspective about what’s going on in her world, and what would make her feel appreciated. As soon as your wife feels heard and understood, she will—more than likely—be willing to listen to your side of the story and empathize with you, and perhaps even offer to make some changes about things that are currently a barrier to getting the most from your time at home.
The apostle Paul must have been dealing with issues similar to yours in the church at Ephesus when he shared this spiritual counsel: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:29-32).
As you relate to your wife and children during this very labor-intensive period of your life, we hope you will “seek first to understand, then to be understood”; and follow Paul’s counsel to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving.
You and your family continue in our prayers.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, LGPC, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at: Family.Adventist.org, or HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
*Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (New York, NY: Golden Books), 1997.