Conflict will always be around — that fact isn't going to change. But your methods for handling conflict can change and improve. Dr. Bill offers his advice in response to your conflict-related questions.
Dr. Bill Maier is an author, speaker, vice president and Psychologist in Residence at Focus on the Family. He hosts the national "Weekend Magazine" radio program and the "Family Minute with Dr. Bill Maier." He is a frequent guest host for the daily "Focus on the Family" radio program and "Focus on the Family Commentary." He also acts as a media spokesperson for Focus on a variety of family-related issues.
Dear Dr. Bill: For the past several years, my husband has been going to school full-time and working full-time in a start-up ministry. As a result, he hasn't had much time to spend with our two sons, ages 5 and 8. Now my husband wants to get his Master's degree and I'm concerned that he'll have even less time for our family.
Our sons have started complaining about their Dad's schedule — he's always too busy, and the only interaction he has with them is church or disciplining them. When we've talked about how the kids and I feel, my husband's response is, "I'll have more time when school is out." What can we do or tell him so he'll squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of his busy schedule?
Your husband doesn't need to squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of his schedule -- he needs to re-prioritize his life. Many men find a large part of their feeling of worth through their work. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless it begins to interfere with their relationship with God and their relationship with their family. From the way you describe your husband, he may have workaholic tendencies, and this can wreak havoc on a family.
It sounds like your husband is a committed Christian. Well, the Bible is very clear about how believers are to order their lives. We are commanded to put God first, our spouse second, our children third, and then our work, education, hobbies, etc. Individuals who are involved in ministry sometimes confuse their ministry with their relationship with God. They "spiritualize" things and justify shortchanging their families because they are doing "the Lord's work." But family commitments should always take precedence over ministry involvement.
Your sons are at a critical time in their development and they need regular time with their dad. Twenty years ago, experts used to think what was important was the "quality" time we spend with our kids. We now know they were wrong; kids need both quality and quantity time. In fact, it's impossible to have a quality relationship with our children without committing a large quantity of our time to them.
Your husband's desire to earn his master's degree is commendable. But graduate degrees can be completed part-time, taking one or two classes per semester. I know, several of my friends have earned their masters or doctorates in this way. It may take a while to finish, but no degree or job is worth sacrificing your children for. Remember the song "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin? Your husband may turn around in 10 years and realize his sons are strangers and that they have no interest in a relationship with him. Tina, I'll be honest with you, if your husband is a driven individual who is prone to workaholism, he's not going to change overnight. He's going to need to be held accountable by an older mentor or a group of Christian men who can help him keep his priorities straight. If you discuss this issue with him and he is inflexible or defensive, then family counseling may be the next step.
In the meantime, let me recommend two excellent resources from Focus on the Family that you may find helpful. The first is a book titled Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. The second is a broadcast CD featuring Pastor Andy Stanley called Putting Your Family First.
Dear Dr. Bill: My husband and I were married one year ago. We are very happy and have a great relationship, except for one thing. I really don't get along with my husband's friends. He enjoys meeting regularly with his friends and their wives, but these other women and I have nothing in common. And it seems like we're getting invited out with them every weekend! Whenever my husband and I have talked about this, he doesn't understand — and sometimes feels like I'm rejecting him. This has led to arguments, and I always feel guilty afterwards. Do you have any suggestions for us?
One of the challenges that newlyweds often face is how to resolve differences like this one. In order for a marriage relationship to be successful, each individual needs to be willing to put their spouse's desires ahead of their own at times.
You didn't mention what it is about your husband's friends that you don't like, except that you don't have anything in common with them. Are these people engaging in behavior that is immature, irresponsible or immoral? If so, the responsibility lies with your husband; he needs to consider whether these friendships are truly good for him or for your marriage.
On the other hand, if you simply have different interests than these friends and their wives, then I would challenge you to work at getting to know these folks and finding some common ground. For example, let's say this group loves to talk about football but you couldn't care less about it. For the sake of your marriage, bite the bullet and learn all you can about the NFL.
The friendship issue is a great opportunity for you and your husband to learn to be flexible and compromise. If you can't work out this one, I fear for your future. You've only been married 12 months, and there are much larger issues you're going to need to face in the future, especially if you're planning to have children.
You didn't mention anything about your religious faith, but if you're a Christian, God holds you to a much higher standard when it comes to dealing with other people. Even though you may not have anything in common with your husband's friends, God calls you to be patient with them, to learn to accept them, and yes, even love them with the love of Christ.
By the way, let me recommend a great resource from Focus on the Family. It's a book titled The First Five Years of Marriage.