The Fire Has Gone Out, Part 2
By Marita Littauer with Chuck
Noon, MA, LPCC
In the last installment, we looked at the unexpected changes and challenges that Erica’s new career success brought to her marriage. This week, we will take our first look at “The Insights”—from both peers and professionals—for dealing with the issue. If this is your first time to read this column, please go back and read Part 1.
Todd and Erica are at the place where many couples find themselves. They have had a stable marriage for years; yet now find their marriage struggling. Kris commented, “This is such a typical twist in a marriage. Pete and I are going through a somewhat similar situation. Although I haven't yet finished my education for a new role in life, I see Pete winding down after a successful career and looking for home time—which is all I ever had!”
Chuck has frequently seen this dynamic when working with post-retirement military couples. For twenty years the wife supported the career of the husband, moving every two or three years. After retirement the wife says, "Now it is my time." But it is hard for the "old soldier” to change.
We often see a marriage that has appeared to be good and solid for fifteen to twenty-five years suddenly crumble when the family roles shift. People on the outside wonder what happened. In reality, rather than living the happy marriage everyone thought they had, they had developed a lifestyle in which they had grown comfortable. As we see in our case-history couple, Todd and Erica's relationship had the predictability of Ozzie-and-Harriet. They had developed an equilibrium that gave them a sense of stability and balance.
We can assume that Todd, as a Peaceful Phlegmatic, was comfortable with the routine his home life had taken on. However, as a Powerful Choleric with some Perfect Melancholy, Erica was ready for a change. She was ready to spread her wings and develop her gifts outside of her role as a wife and mother. Anytime a relationship undergoes such a major shift in the equilibrium, there are bound to be problems that arise during the adjustment period.
Reprioritize Your Life
Because Erica made the changes, she is the one whose actions knocked the equilibrium out of balance in the marriage. She will need to put in the most effort to help establish a new center. In response to this situation, Roseanne P. Elling, LPC, says,
"This marriage needs some reprioritizing, especially on the part of Erica. She may have to choose her marriage ('us') over her career ('me') at times."
We know Erica is a Powerful Choleric, though these traits had taken a back seat during her prime mothering years. As such, we assume her need for leadership, control, and recognition have been boiling below the surface, waiting to get out for many years. Consequently, telling her to quit her job and go back to being a full-time mom would only solve the problem on the outside—leaving Erica champing at the bit.
For Erica, real estate is a good option as it allows flexibility to be available when her youngest son needs her. Meeting her own needs without ignoring her husband's, is Erica’s struggle.
If Erica were to come to her for counsel, Dr. Ruth Kopp says, “First I would ask Erica what she wants. Does she want to be right, to be vindicated, to have me agree that she is entitled to her career success? Or does she want her marriage revitalized and a right relationship with her husband? If she wants to be “right” there is no real hope for the marriage.”
While the scenario doesn't state a Christian commitment, we can assume both Todd and Erica are Christians. As such, they know that divorce is never a part of God's perfect plan, and they desire to make their marriage work. Both will need to make some changes, both will need to be willing to love extravagantly—not to get, but to give.
Before Todd and Erica can look at the presenting problem—"He hasn't touched me in months"—they need to address their relationship. Shellie Arnold has a lay ministry promoting intimacy in couples. She states, “Intimacy is what happens when our hearts, emotions, minds, and spirits are functioning properly, with or without sex. Todd and Erica's sex life is suffering because their intimate life is suffering.”
Recognize Personality Requirements
To begin to build their relationship back up, each needs to gain an understanding of their personalities and the emotional needs that accompany the way God created them. Victoria Jackson, MSW, recommends that Erica and Todd, “Consider studying the personality styles each of you are and note how you have changed since the beginning of marriage. Celebrate the differences. View it as an exciting aspect of your relationship.”
For strong women who are married to men who have quieter personalities, the contrast seems exaggerated as society, and especially the church, expects that the man is the leader and the woman the follower. When this is not the way we are wired, as in the case of Erica and Todd, we women need to put forth the extra effort to understand and lift up our husband.
Dr. Ruth Kopp, who faces a similar personality combination in her own marriage, says,
“The Powerful Choleric will usually be the one to take the initiative in learning to ‘speak Peaceful Phlegmatic’ and will need to be willing to initiate change and make the majority of changes.”
Diane agrees with Dr. Kopp. “As someone who is in the ‘reverse’ role in later married life, I can relate to the upset in balance. I believe it's incumbent on the wife to try and ensure that her husband is feeling needed and wanted by her. Oftentimes we appear so self-sufficient that our husbands think they don't have anything to give us anymore and that they are not our number-one priority (and often, they're not). Peaceful Phlegmatics don't realize that, as they withdraw, they become more annoying to the Powerful Choleric and less attractive, perpetuating a downward cycle. My experience is that the wife must go out of her way to assure her husband that she still values him.”
Being willing to take this first step is where the love extravagantly concept becomes important.
Chuck and I have a similar personality combination in that I am more the up-front person, more the leader. He is content in the background and shuns the spotlight. I long for social activity and a large network of friends. He is happy with one or two friendships that have developed over decades. Like Erica, I am in the business world. Chuck and Todd are not. Chuck as a therapist and Todd as a teacher, function in the world of the arts and sciences. I have had to learn to adjust to his needs. I used to come home in what Chuck called "boss mode"—with my Powerful Choleric traits dominant. He often had to remind me that he was not one of my employees. This side of me highlighted my less attractive traits that were particularly unattractive to Chuck.
Meet Emotional Needs
Because I love Chuck and want to make our marriage work and because I understand our personality differences, I have been able to modify my behavior—especially when I am with him.
I have made a conscious decision to love Chuck extravagantly, to make changes in my approach that boost Chuck and his self-esteem.
When Nance married my Uncle Ron, she was already successful as a real estate agent. However, as a popular radio personality, he was used to acclaim. I remember her saying that when she is with him, she views her job as carrying the spotlight and shining it on him. It takes a secure woman to be willing to set aside her success and/or fame to shine the spotlight on her husband, and this is exactly what Erica needs to do.
Make Necessary Adjustments
So, first I'd encourage Erica to understand Todd's Peaceful Phlegmatic Personality. Erica can love him extravagantly by making adjustments to minimize the upheaval and change her career has brought into his life. She can draw upon her Perfect Melancholy strengths when she is with him, tone down her voice, and maintain the order at home to which he is accustomed. Roseanne Elling tells of some friends of hers who are in a similar situation, but have learned what the other needs: “The Powerful Choleric wife pays attention to some little things, such as how her Peaceful Phlegmatic husband likes the towels in the bathroom folded. She takes time to do the things she knows are important to him. Although she is busy and is a top performer in her field, her attention to his desires makes him feel that he is important to her.”
Both in private and in public, any woman in Erica’s place needs to shine the spotlight on her husband. This is apt to take some real effort on her part, but if her true desire is to love him extravagantly, through the power of the Holy Spirit, she can do it. The difficulty is that Powerful Cholerics respect strength. After being out in the business community with high visibility men whose activities command respect, a Peaceful Phlegmatic husband may look dull and boring—not strong.
Melanie Wilson suggests that if Todd were to share with Erica how he feels about making a difference in the lives of his students, despite his comparatively low salary, Erica may view him in a new perspective. Erica needs to be able to feel proud of Todd and the work he does, his achievements, and accomplishments.
In making the attitude adjustment to feel proud of her husband, Ruth Kopp says, “I’m a Powerful Choleric. My husband’s Perfect Melancholy tendencies slow me down and I can choose to be impatient with them and brush them aside (and end up being sorry!), or I can see that God has put him in my life precisely to slow me down and make me think! When I remember to check with him before making business decisions, I make better decisions, and we are a team.”
Reflecting on her friends’ situation, Roseanne Elling says, “She is very proud of what he does and talks about it, much more than she talks about her own work in social situations. I believe she is comfortable with herself and gets enough acclaim for her success at work, so she doesn't feel like she's competing when she's at home or out socially. Her admiration of her Peaceful Phlegmatic husband's character and his personal job success, although it is very different than hers, is obvious to all who are around them. He feels respected by her.”
While Erica may need to be the one to take the first step, both will need to make some adjustments to save their marriage. Georgia Shaffer advises, “Erica and Todd need to be cautious and affirm each other rather than looking for affirmation in the people at work. It is so easy to be pulled in by the encouragement and compliments of those who don't have to live with us week in and week out. Many people don't plan to have affairs, but before they know it they are emotionally swept away by the steady dose of attention and compliments.”
In understanding that as a Powerful Choleric, Erica needs appreciation for all she does, Todd can make new efforts at appreciating and admiring her skills and abilities—this is where love extravagantly will come into play for him.
Andrea Golzmane, MA, LMFT, says, “We all resist change, especially when the relationship itself changes. The sign of a healthy marriage is a spouse’s willingness to be flexible, to “step out of the box,” and be creative.”
Marj, one of our peer advisors, is an attorney with a background in real estate. She is a Powerful Choleric married to a Peaceful Phlegmatic. From her experience, Marj suggests the following: “Erica deserves to spread her wings and fly, especially after years of tending children and home, but she cannot do so at the expense of her marriage. She needs to watch carefully the time she gives her husband, and make sure that he gets a fair dose of quality time.”
Todd needs to be supportive of his wife. She gave up “flying” for years to tend to the family and home. He needs to get involved with her job. He will find that there is a lot to do, and that his help will be greatly appreciated by his wife. They will then be more of a team, and can enjoy the fruits of their labor together. When introduced as “Erica's husband,” Erica can proudly say that without Todd, she could not have done it (rather than that her success came in spite of him.)
His help could include going with her to open houses. During times when no one is there, they can be together. When many people are there, he can be of assistance answering questions, being friendly, etc.
As Erica and Todd begin to understand each other's personality and make adjustments in their relationship accordingly, they will begin to find each other more appealing. In reviewing the situation, we can see that they have grown apart; Todd feels set aside as the head of the house and Erica feels unwanted as a woman.
Before addressing the issues of sex, Roseanne Elling reminds them that they are a team. “It's very difficult to feel romantic when you're competing.”
As Todd and Erica act on these Personality principles, they will draw closer together again. These same recommendations will be helpful for anyone feeling a distance in their relationship.
Be sure to watch for the next installment of “The Fire’s Gone Out, “ which will give specific suggestions for renewing intimacy.
Be sure to watch for the next installment of Marita's column.
Marita Littauer is a professional speaker with more than twenty-five years experience. She is the author of 17 books Including Personality Puzzle, Communication Plus, The Praying Wives Club, Tailor-Made Marriage—from which this column is derived, and her newest, Wired That Way. Marita is the President of CLASServices Inc., an organization that provides resources, training and promotion for speakers and authors. Marita and her husband Chuck Noon have been married since 1983. For more information on Marita and/or CLASS, please visit www.classervices.com or call 800/433-6633.
Chuck Noon has worked as a professional counselor--licensed in two states. He holds a BA in Motion Picture Production from Brooks Institute and an MA in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling from the University of San Diego. He has worked with hundreds of families and couples in many varieties of settings. Currently, Chuck is working in mental healthcare management. Chuck and Marita live in the mountains outside of Albuquerque.
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