One of the mistakes I made in the early part of our marriage was failing to take Paula’s fears seriously. I didn’t mean to do it, but I missed opportunities to encourage and comfort her.
From the very first week on our honeymoon I got a clue that she had some fears and insecurities. (I have my own fears, but this post deals with my failure to minister to Paula).
When I asked Paula where she wanted to go on our honeymoon she quickly responded, “Let’s go to Disney World”. And there we were in that magical place the first week of June, 1979.
As we were walking in the Magic Kingdom I noticed a dessert stand selling a pineapple ice cream treat (a Dole Whip, they still sell it, it’s delicious!). I left her to wait on a bench about 100 feet away while I went to get us some of the ice cream.
In the summer when we were there it was crowded so there was a long line and it took about fifteen minutes to get everything. When I returned with the ice cream tears were streaming down her face. I thought someone had done something to hurt her or embarrass her.
But when I inquired I learned something that I didn’t know. “Paula, what’s wrong? What happened? Why are you crying?”
She replied, “It took you so long that I thought you didn’t want to be married any more and decided to leave me here”.
I was absolutely stunned! We hadn’t had an argument or even a mild disagreement. This came out of nowhere – at least to me.
As we sat on that bench and talked she told me of her fear. It was so real to her she had begun to think that she didn’t have enough money to get home and would have to call her parents. That memory was so vivid to both of us that whenever we visit the park and walk by that section we point to where it happened.
Though I tried to settle the issue as best as I could in that moment through my assurances, I knew that there was a deeper issue that would cause such a fear of abandonment. Later I learned her fear was rooted in a lack of security from not having unconditional love from her father. Unknown to both of us, it had transferred to me as her husband.
After almost forty years of being married I have discovered that wasn’t the only fear Paula had. For example, she has fears about our future financially, her health, my health and what would happen to her if I died, situations our children were facing, and major decisions we are making.
Those that know Paula would be surprised as she is a very confident person. In fact, I’m more cautious (and fearful) about things than she is. However, because I love her I am responsible to minister to her in this area.
Through the years I’ve improved, but it is still a struggle for me sometimes. I can tell when she is at unease and needs assurance when she brings up a topic repeatedly.
Why do I not do this well?
- I failed to listen carefully to what she was saying. Active listening is hard work, but it is also an expression of love. Even when I did listen well I sometimes didn’t give enough weight to her concerns. It’s amazing how much security comes when we just feel we have been heard.
- I failed to understand that I didn’t have to provide an answer for every concern. Even recently we had a conversation where she shared a concern and I told her that I didn’t have a complete answer to the matter. This is not easy for me as I want to be able to thoroughly answer every part of the problem.
- I failed to see her concerns from her perspective. Men tend to compartmentalize things and women tend to allow pressure in one area of life to pervade all of the other areas. I wrongly thought she wasn’t as stressed about something if I wasn’t as worried as she was about the issue.
Several times in the past I have asked Paula about what her fears and concerns were. Sometimes I was surprised at what she said, but listening helped me to know the stress points in her life. Sometimes I can’t do anything about it. Even then, by listening and understanding I do hope that she feels valued and knows that I care about her.
Best of all, we can all bring our fears and burdens to the Lord. He cares and will help us carry them.
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (I Peter 5:7)