Bear with me for a second. In mathematics there’s a fundamental concept called the order of operations. In equations, the order of operations details what must happen first, next and last in order to solve the problem.
For example, first you solve any problems within parenthesis, then you take care of exponents, then you multiple and divide (left to right) and then add and subtract (left to right) – in that specific order. If you don’t, you’ll come up with the wrong answer.
The order of operations principle applies to marital problems as well. If we try to solve them the wrong way, we’re not going to like the result.
Order of marital operations: step 1
This seems like Marriage 101 stuff here, but I’m concerned that it’s a fundamental step we all too often ignore. Step one is to talk the problem out with your spouse.
The keywords here are with your spouse. I have a hunch that too many husbands/wives (separately) are turning to the internet for marital guidance before talking with their spouse. Or worse yet, they don’t talk with their spouse at all.
Two problems: the first one is marriage advice articles
The internet is replete with articles like “13 things your husband needs every day” or “32 things all successful marriages have in common” or “561 ways to save your marriage from divorce.” We at FamilyShare publish these kind of articles every day.
It’s true that you can find nuggets of wisdom in articles like these. Some advice may apply to you and some may not, but it should all be taken with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, you know your marriage better than anyone else. No anonymous online author has been in your shoes.
The irony is that you’re reading one of those types of articles right now. If you’ve got problems you’re legitimately worried about, make sure to respect the order of operations. Stop reading this, and talk to your spouse first.
The second problem is online forums
The scenario is all too common: A distressed and concerned husband or wife pours their heart out online about their strained relationship. They describe their every emotion in intricate detail. They state their case and leave the verdict up to millions of anonymous internet personas.
“What do I do? I’m desperate.”
“He just seems so distant. Where do I go from here?”
“My situation is X, Y and Z. Should I get a divorce?”
It’s common knowledge (though a less common practice) that complaining to friends about a spouse’s faults is a bad idea. Why do so many people think that rule doesn’t also apply to the internet? Your marriage relationship is a sacred thing. Online complaints (whether they’re true or not) are not likely to produce relationship-saving results, unless that advice is, “Get off this forum and go talk to your spouse!”
Further risk comes when we use forums to validate our complaints or simply seek sympathy for our circumstances. Both tactics only serve to distance one spouse from the other even more.
“Talking to my spouse is easier said than done”
Sometimes opening the channels of communication is not an easy thing to do. That’s totally understandable. It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable to someone when you think there’s a problem. It’s hard to be humble and reveal our true selves, especially when the other person seems unlikely to reciprocate.
“Why hasn’t he/she come to me first?” That’s the wrong question to ask. Don’t worry about who owes who what. This is your life. If there’s a problem, go straight to the source.
Take off the masks, destroy the rising walls. Let’s swallow our pride and have the courage to humbly approach the other and ask, “Hey … are we OK?”
I don’t know a lot, but I do know that if any relationship is going to thrive (not just exist, but progress) it has to have a solid foundation of productive communication. There has to be trust. There has to be vulnerability. There has to be effort, sacrifice and service on both sides. After all, whether between friends or couples, that’s what love is.
If you don’t have that foundation (or if you’ve lost it), it’s never too late to rebuild.
Order of marital operations: step 2
I don’t know what step two is. That depends on you. It depends on what the results of step one are. If talking things out with your spouse doesn’t produce a solution to your problems, consider other options – but don’t cut the lines of communication.
If you turn to the internet for helpful advice at this point, make sure you share what you learn with your spouse. Make a game plan of how to implement it together. Maybe professional help is the next step. There’s absolutely no shame in that.
If your specific situation involves abuse of any kind, take advantage of these official helplines and websites:
Domestic violence hotline in the United States: 1-800-799-7233
Child abuse hotline in the United States: 1-800-422-4453