But you can . . .
Last week I told you that, for most of my life, I didn’t want to dance. When someone doesn’t want to dance, you simply can’t make them. Similarly, in marriage, if your partner is content living in their own world—doesn’t want to interact with you—doesn’t want to “dance”—you can’t make them. However, there are several things you can do. Last week, we discussed prayer, not interfering with the consequences God may be using, and being willing to have that all-important conversation.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Invite or inspire your partner into a deeper relationship. In ballroom dance, the gentleman initiates the dance by extending his hand to the lady. She has a choice whether to take it or not. That’s what you’re doing. You are extending your hand. You are inviting your partner to dance. Start by asking gentle questions in a casual, non-threatening situation (like while riding in the car):
“What have you enjoyed about the relationship we have?”
“Do you enjoy spending time with me?”
Take it slowly. Listen carefully. You don’t want to ask too many questions at one sitting, but over time. If and when you feel you can push a little farther try asking,
“When we’re together, what do you enjoy doing most?”
“What would make it even better for you?”
If you reach a comfort level where it feels safe to go even deeper, try something like,
“What’s going on inside right now?”
“Are you ever afraid?”
You can find a wealth of questions in our book The Marriage Dance. We recommend you start with Appendix B. Go as far as you feel comfortable and then wait for further movement. Continually ask, continually seek and continually knock.
- Peter provides an idea specifically for women. “Be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” (1 Pet 3:1,2) An attitude of humility also goes a long way making it appealing for people, including your spouse, to interact with you. The Apostle Peter specifically reminds wives that the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth in God’s sight. (I Peter 3:4) In the same chapter, Peter tells husbands to “. . . be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect . . .” (I Peter 3:7 NIV) It is always attractive to be focused on your mate instead of yourself and to serve your mate with love and good deeds. Do something your spouse wants to do and while they are in a good mood ask humbly: “Is there anything you think I would like to do that you would also enjoy doing?” If needed, provide several alternatives of activities you like that your spouse might like too. Include one spiritual alternative.
- There is no guarantee that your spouse will cooperate. They may stonewall and refuse to join the conversation. Their heart may have been hurt and they’ve locked it against further hurt. If you understand their strategy, it may be helpful to gently name it.
For example: “You are trying to manipulate this conversation.”
“You are changing the subject because this topic makes you anxious.”
Or, “You think what I’m going to say will hurt you. But I never want to hurt you.”
If at all possible, pray together and ask God to guide the conversation, heal the hurt, and help you forgive a difficult offense. Offer to pray together and ask what is best for God’s kingdom and let God answer. Listen for God’s answer.
- Another idea may work on some occasions: Use humor. You are different and sometimes those differences can be irritating. But if you change your perspective, they can also be funny. Twenty years ago, I didn’t want to dance with Roxann, and that hurt her. She could have accused, ridiculed, and shown displeasure. Instead, she let me tell the stories of my early (non)dancing experiences. She listened and tried to understand. If you can laugh about those differences, it decreases the tension and allows communication. Use the laughing as a springboard to discuss differences which may give you an opportunity to share your perspective and understand the problem.
Having a spouse who doesn’t want to fully engage with you in marriage is disappointing. Hang in there. Gently invite with an attitude of humility and service. In kindness, point out behaviors that subvert the process of connecting. And, don’t sulk about your differences. Instead, look for the humor in them. But don’t lose the relationship that you do have.