Have you ever wanted something and your spouse thinks it’s out of the question or nonsense? Does he or she say, “You know that’s not possible. Get that idea out of your head.” or “We can’t afford it!” or “That’s the last thing on earth I want to do.” When you share your heart, your innermost desires, with the one you love it is very hurtful to hear these statements come back at you. In fact, comments like these work much like a handle on a water faucet — they are a big communication turn-off. Have you ever wanted something and your spouse thinks it’s out of the question or nonsense? Does he or she say, “You know that’s not possible. Get that idea out of your head.” or “We can’t afford it!” or “That’s the last thing on earth I want to do.” When you share your heart, your innermost desires, with the one you love it is very hurtful to hear these statements come back at you. In fact, comments like these work much like a handle on a water faucet — they are a big communication turn-off.
Couples must be able to share their hopes and dreams with each other without fear of being put down or laughed at. Consider the following scenario of a husband who is a died-in-the-wool football fan. His favorite team makes it to the Holiday Bowl and he (knowing there is no way he can miss work or even afford the trip) says to his wife, “Oh, man, would I love to go to the Holiday Bowl.” Feeling afraid that if she validates his feelings he might take it as an okay to go, she says, “There’s no way we can afford it.” She somehow forgets that he already knows that. Think how he would feel if she said instead, “That would be so fun for you. I wish it were possible.” Likely his response will be, “Yeah, that would be fun, but oh, well, I guess they’ll have to win without me there.” She might even want to understand his need further and suggest, “Would you like to invite some friends over and we’ll have pizza and watch the game here?” How do you think he would feel toward her with this understanding approach?
How about the wife who says to her husband, “I saw this beautiful new couch that would look so gorgeous in our living room.” This kind of a comment can panic some men who know there is no money for such a purchase, and they might respond with, “Our old couch is just fine, and anyway we don’t have any money for new furniture, so why were you even looking?” Think how she might feel toward him if he responded instead with, “That would be neat to get a new couch and someday we’re going to. What did it look like?” And then let her express her feelings about it. After she tells all about it and expresses how much she would like a new couch, she will likely say, “But I know we can’t get it yet.” He might then go on to suggest that they consider together a special “Couch Fund” to help set aside the extra money needed for such a large purchase.
It is fun to follow a dream with your mate, even though you both know it can’t happen yet. Someday it just may happen and, in the meantime, validating those feelings and being able to share those dreams with each other, even if they never do materialize, feels so good. You don’t need to try to talk each other out of anything. If you try to, it will likely backfire by making your spouse bulldoze into doing it anyway, just to show you. Then real problems happen. Just listening and understanding from his or her perspective can make all the difference in the world.
When you CAN make a dream come true for your spouse, do it! Remember, you love him/her. You want to help make his/her life happy. Never go into debt for it, but save for it, or if you already can afford it, do it. Take turns making each other’s dreams become a reality. A few years ago Shirley (names changed to protect privacy) had her own dream. She and her husband, James, were in their retirement years and she had always wanted to serve a mission at that stage of their life. Serving a mission was not only the last thing James wanted to do — it wasn’t even on his list. Whenever Shirley expressed the idea of going on a mission he told her no. He loved Shirley very much and one day he realized how much this meant to her. For all the love she had shown him through the years, he decided he owed this to her. They went. After their return James said, “This mission turned out to be the best thing we ever did. I’m so glad I made her dream come true.”
Good things happen when you follow each other’s dreams. Whether it’s a mission, a new tool, a desire to take a class, or whatever it is, listen to each other with interest and a desire to help your spouse’s life be the best it can be. Follow each other’s dreams and make your marriage the joyful partnership it was meant to be.
[Portions from the book I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better: Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships, Chapter 10 "How Validation Works With a Spouse," pp. 182-183. Penguin Books.]