What Should a Spouse Do?

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“My husband should eat better; I don’t want him to have a second heart attack.”

“My wife should cook our meals and clean up after them; after all, I go to work everyday to support the two of us and our children.”

“My spouse should speak kindly to me; Words of Affirmation is my Love Language, and I make an effort to come up with plenty of Acts of Service.”

If you want to make yourself miserable, make a list of the things your spouse should do. If you prefer to be happy, make a list of the wonderful things your spouse actually does.

My father had an enormously strong sense of duty. When the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor, he enlisted the next day and flew the Hump for 16 of his 21 months as a flight engineer for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Even though he had no desire to be a father, when he got his girlfriend pregnant after the War, he married her right away and raised three children with her, including me. Although he was desperate to launch his own business, he showed up every day to collect a paycheck that came with good health insurance, accumulating 18 months of unused sick leave.

A good bit of this super power of his rubbed off on me. My sense of duty is stronger than average, although nowhere near as strong as his.

Should I expect my husband to make the same choices my father would make? Should I even expect him to make the choices I would make? Only if I want to disappoint myself. Only if I want to make myself unhappy about his choices by ignoring his strengths and discounting my father’s weaknesses.

My husband has a delightful belly laugh that lights up a room. My father almost never laughed. At all. My husband is playful and funny and caring. My father could not read emotions. He had no idea what effect he was having on people, and he was horrified by tears, so I heard, way too often: “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.” My husband will never say this or push me to tears without noticing what’s happening and changing his strategy.

My father was as highly intelligent as my husband, but he had only disdain for academia and my academic ambitions. My husband, to my delight, is still taking math courses and physics lessons and learning about archeology at 69. He’s also a great cook, which spares me from the misery of eating my own cooking.

If I imagined my husband should fix things that stop working, as my father did, it would be about as effective as wishing he were as tall as my father, which would help when we’re dancing, because I’m taller than he is. Nothing would change, but I’d be miserable. And feeling all self-righteous. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at fixing things. And at getting recommendations for people who know how to fix things.

Should your creative, self-disciplined spouse be good with emotional intelligence, too? Should your naturally talented leader of a spouse be anywhere near as sensitive as you are to the astounding beauty in nature and art and music? Should your open-minded, curious, courageous spouse also be grateful? Or spiritual? Or good at teamwork? Or modest?

You get to make your own should rules, but they are not likely to affect that person you are married to. And most of them are going to frustrate you. I hope that one of your strengths is the creativity to find a way to build a great marriage with someone human, not superhuman. Because there are many ways to be a good person, many ways to add a lot to someone’s life, many ways to handle what life throws at us. And it might be wise to celebrate the ones you married into.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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