The Gift of Breathing Room

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This is a tale of two wives, Hannah and April. Each loves her husband dearly. Each is blessed with a family, live in the same neighborhood, and enjoy similar lifestyles. Each has her husband’s best interests at heart. Each wants her husband to be the best he can be. Hannah witnesses her husband’s continued growth, and their family reaps the blessings of his confidence and commitment to family. Indeed, her husband is a happy man.

April, on the other hand, is not as fortunate. Her husband is distant and distressed. Clearly, he is not happy.

This tale portrays two women with equal goals and similar circumstances. Why, then, the dramatically different results?

Hannah’s Story
Hannah intuitively understands her husband’s need for solitude. She isn’t hurt when he pulls away. She understands that he was not created to be her sole source of emotional intimacy. Hannah appreciates that her husband, Scott, is a hard worker and devoted family man. To her credit, she recognizes how time away for himself rests and energizes him. And each time Scott returns home — whether he’s been gone for two hours or two days — he seems absolutely crazy about her and the children. If only for the spark of renewed affection, it is all the initiative she needs to grant him the gift of occasional autonomy, as freely and graciously as their lifestyle allows. Their home is warm and loving.

April’s Story
A few streets away is a home that, curbside, looks similar to Hannah’s home. The scene inside the home, however, portrays a different picture. Inside, April sees her husband’s need for occasional autonomy as a threat to intimacy, rather than the cyclical mind-set of a typical man. After a much-coveted time of emotional intimacy, April feels loved and safe, while, like clockwork, Pete pulls away and withdraws.

Pete can’t possibly maintain that level of intimacy indefinitely. It isn’t natural. April unfortunately, wanting to hold on to the intimacy, grows sullen when she even senses his need for time alone. A frustrated, resentful Pete resigns himself to not even ask for time alone. The last time he ventured out on an overnight fishing trip with his brothers, April sulked for a week. He “walked on egg shells” until April got past her anger. Time away simply wasn’t worth the penalty.

By maintaining her tight grip on Pete, April has smothered that which she desired most: intimacy! Unknowingly, she has interrupted her husband’s natural cycle of pulling away only to return refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready for love.

We can probably all identify to some degree with this young wife. We may not like to admit it, but each of us has been clingy and cranky at some point. Unfortunately, there were no instruction leaflets for future relationships tucked alongside us in our baby bassinets. No early edition of the book The Rules, so we could get a head start on our understanding of this girl-guy thing. We need to learn as we go, and leave the past behind.

Good Intentions Are Not Enough
About ten years ago, Bob won a fishing trip to Canada for being one of the top Crop Insurance Agents nationwide. He’d worked tirelessly to provide excellent coverage for the nation’s growers and was more than deserving of the trip. And did he ever need some R & R! Initially I was enthusiastic, sending him off with hugs, kisses, and a love letter tucked in his tackle box.

Unfortunately, we had an unexpected visitor while he was away: a hurricane. I was more than capable of storm-proofing our home and, with the help of family and friends, did so. Then the children and I moved to higher ground, staying with friends. Fortunately the storm turned, and we received only minimal damage.

Though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I had a meltdown, born from my frustration, the children’s fear, and the fact that Bob was footloose and fancy-free during the hurricane. The reality that, with our airports closed, Bob couldn’t fly home even if he wanted to, was lost on me. All I saw was that he was having fun and I was not. But, as the recipient of my melodramatic phone episode, you can bet he was glad flights were cancelled! In short, I nearly ruined the rest of his trip. My self-centeredness deterred the fullness of the blessing he deserved.

The upshot? My mother set me straight — quickly. With her forty plus years of marriage and her experience in raising four sons, I knew she meant business! Her counsel regarding a man’s need for downtime conveyed to me those truths I needed to hear only once. I vowed to never again make the same mistake. Awareness is wonderful, but that in itself is not enough. It is the decision to change our behavior and to put that decision into action that nourishes great relationships. Now, the minute I sense my self-centeredness gaining a stronghold on a situation, I examine my heart and change my behavior before disaster strikes. And, even more importantly, I pray. Praying for a softened heart prevents my selfishness from taking root: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).

How Breathing Room Transforms a Man
Not surprisingly, our husbands’ insight into their innate need for occasional autonomy holds the key to our understanding. Listen to what these men have to say:

“My downtime — from taking time to exercise to a weekend hunting trip — is directly related to what’s going on with my wife and kids. I’ve learned the more intense the issues with work and home, the more time I need alone. It gives me the chance to think things through, one step at a time.”

“It’s safe to say that, as a rule, men think in silence, while women think out loud. We process things differently. And the busier I am, the more alone time I need. It’s the only way I know to process pressures of everyday life. For me it’s survival.”

“Clearing my head during time away from the responsibilities of home and business helps me to return in much better shape than when I left. My focus improves. I’m able to pay more attention to everyone and everything around me.”

“I need free time each week. It’s a good time for me to think, do some introspection, think about my goals and dreams, and also think through challenges at work and at home.”

“Time alone helps me to refocus. It gives me a more positive outlook toward home, work, and life in general. It clears my mind. I’d like to thank my wife for that time and tell her it helps our relationship to become stronger.”

“It rejuvenates me — like a recharge of the batteries. The result, of course, improves my attitude and level of motivation. And I want to give her time alone, as well.”

Pay close attention to this next one . . .
“I’ve read all the books based on the ”rubber band’ theory of pulling away, always snapping back with great intensity. I can’t explain it any better than the authors, but I know it’s true. I think it’s hard for a wife to understand that part of a man. If she does ”understand,” it may be more recognition than understanding. While my wife understands there is a need for me to have times of solitude, she doesn’t necessarily understand the need. But the breathing room she gives me deepens my appreciation and love for her. She welcomes my time away, if for no other reason than the romance and ”newness’ the reunion adds to our marriage.”

Get more — Free! e-book — Les & Leslie Parrott's, The Good Fight

And finally . . .
“The best feeling in the world is when I walk through that door after being away on a retreat, and see my wife for the first time. Her smile lights up the room and my heart beats faster with excitement.”

To Bless, or Not to Bless
By chance, are you asking yourself just how soon you can have your husband packed and out of the house for some much-needed solitude? On the other hand, granting him the gift of breathing room may mean a sacrifice on your part. Thus enters internal conflict. Perhaps he hasn’t held up his end of the responsibilities lately. You’re tired of struggling to get him to do anything requiring extra effort. You’re a nap away from nuttiness. It’s not fair, you might be thinking, I’m tired too. And when was the last time he encouraged me to go away while he stayed home to do double duty?

Perhaps you are seeing red right now. The idea that your husband needs quiet time really gets your goat. You’re thinking, Yeah, right! I work the same number of hours, have the same number of kids, do the same amount of work around here (or more), and he should have a break? I deserve a break more than he does!

Ah, here’s the catch: Life isn’t always fair. Nor is marriage always equal. But isn’t love giving of ourselves with an open heart, not keeping track of the give-take ratio? And, though the echo and emotion of our vow so long ago has faded with time, what about, “I promise to love you all the days of my life . . . ?”

Sometimes it is hard to give. When we’re weary and can’t recall our last blessing, giving a blessing is not a natural tendency. The very nature of our culture encourages us to, at least mentally, demand to know, “Hey, what about me?” Yet clearly that mind-set has failed us. A national divorce rate of over fifty percent substantiates that.

Choose to Give a Blessing
So where do we go from here? While this should never be the primary reason to give a blessing, have you considered that one blessing often begets another blessing? Think of it this way: How do you feel when your husband surprises you with something out of the ordinary? Say, he sends flowers, arranges a night on the town for the two of you, or even encourages you to call your sister and catch a chick flick. You can’t wait to thank him with something special, can you?

But what happens when your husband is also overworked, overtired, and hasn’t been as attentive to your needs as you’d like? Suddenly he tells you that he wants to go hunting with his brother for the weekend. The girls from the gym advise you to put your foot down and say no. “When’s the last time you went away?” they ask, planting a seed of discontent in your heart. Then, thumbing through a fashion magazine, you’re advised, for the umpteenth time it seems, to protect the ground you’ve gained in the fight for equality. The more you read, the more you’re bombarded with the message that “it’s all about me.”

Yet if loving a spouse unselfishly is perceived as a weakness by society today, then we are looking for wisdom on all the wrong pages. Popular fads and fashions fade with time, whereas the timeless truths of Scripture do not. It should come as no coincidence that the most requested reading for contemporary wedding ceremonies comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. He reminds us that to love someone we must be willing to set aside our desires and instincts. In verse 5, we read that love “does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own.”

Just as life isn’t always fair and marriage isn’t always equal, the desires of a husband’s heart will undoubtedly challenge wives from now until the end of time. Yet, God created man; man didn’t create himself. Thus the fact that he desires occasional autonomy is more than a self-centered impulse. It’s an innate need and, at times, his key to survival, given the day-to-day pressures he faces.

We are faced with two choices: We begrudgingly grant our husband breathing room. He’s resentful (and rightfully so!), we’re clingy, and while interrupting the natural pull-away-snap-back process, we smother the relationship. This can be a truth, albeit an ugly one. Or we lovingly bless our husband with the gift of breathing room. We bless him even when he is too weary to first bless us. We just read what that time away means to him and that he returns rejuvenated, deeply appreciative of his wife, and ready for the romance a reunion adds to marriage. First Corinthians 13:13 reminds us, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” This is a truth that does not fade with time. Which truth will you tattoo on your heart today?

Reflection
Granting your husband the gift of breathing room encourages his desire for intimacy with you to be reawakened with gusto!

My lover has gone down to his garden,

to the beds of spices,

to browse in the gardens

and to gather lilies.

I am my lover’s and my lover is mine;

he browses among the lilies.

— Song of Songs 6:2 – 3 NIV

God has given us different “glues” to keep us bonded to our mate. Communication is one of those glues. By praying, or holding hands, we communicate through simple acts of physical touch. But one of the best “glues” of all is intimacy with our mate.

Judy Carden, author of God Things Come in Small Packages, is a best-selling author, feature writer, and former syndicated columnist. Judy has been speaking at seminars, churches, schools, and civic and business groups for nearly a decade. Currently, Judy is a speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers).

Taken from What Husbands Need © 2006 by Judy Carden. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.”

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