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Chuck and Elaine are newlyweds. When they go out for the evening, Elaine lays out clothes for Chuck to wear. This is causing some resentment on Chuck’s part.

He doesn’t know how to dress right without my help
Elaine says: I love Chuck, but let’s face it, he’s no fashion model. If I didn’t lay out his clothes for him sometimes, he can look like a geek. For example, when we went to a friend’s wedding last month, Chuck would have worn his jeans, white socks and sneakers. To a wedding! He can look stunning when he dresses up – I don’t see why he can’t just take some advice.

She’s not my mother – I can pick my own clothes
Chuck says: It’s not fashion advice; it’s more like the fashion police. Elaine neglected to mention that the wedding was an outdoor barbeque – yes, some of the guests were dressed up, but there were certainly a number of them in jeans. When Elaine lays clothes out on the bed for me to wear, it makes me feel as if I’m a 5-year-old. Elaine is my wife – not my mother.

What should they do?: This problem seems pretty simple and straightforward. However, early in a marriage this can be a red flag for possible trouble later. How we handle these early issues lays the groundwork for Chuck’s and Elaine’s future marital relationship.
I am a big believer in communication. Chuck gives us a good idea of how he perceives the fashion advice. He does not view it as helpful or necessary. It is important for newly married couples to discuss openly and honestly their roles and responsibilities. I wonder if Elaine takes on the mothering role in other situations. Sometimes this seems a natural role for the woman in a relationship, but it can be overwhelming when we mother those who are capable of handling their own decisions and actions. And in a few years, when there are children to raise, it is possible Elaine will grow to resent her perceived need to ‘mother’ Chuck. She and he need to be partners to each other, not parents. This is part of the beauty of God’s plan for married couples.
Occasionally, we all need empathy and support from our partners, but this support should be clearly requested or offered – and not expected – by either partner.
The roles in a new marriage need to be mutually acceptable and beneficial. Communication is critical. It is often easy to let these little aggravations go and avoid handling them. After all, it’s only ‘suggesting’ how one should look or dress. Chuck may think, “I‘m making a mountain out of a molehill.” Resist this temptation to minimize the feelings and the issue. I don’t think you can over-communicate in a marriage. What we do know is that we can under-communicate. That happens all the time – with negative results.
It is important to set clear expectations in relationships. Using the speaker/listener technique is often a helpful way to communicate these expectations. First, set a time aside to discuss issues privately and regularly. Listen to your partner. Then repeat back what you heard. Ask for confirmation from your partner regarding the issue at hand: Is what I understood what you really said or meant? Then respond: This is how this issue makes me feel.
So would it have been so awful if Chuck were not the fashion model at the wedding? Probably not. Would Chuck be willing to dress so Elaine finds him more attractive? I bet he would! Had they talked first, a compromise could have been reached. They could learn from each other what really matters in their relationship – and it’s not clothes.
Please remember that if you and your spouse find yourselves in a situation where you are unable to resolve your marital issues with these techniques, professional counseling help is recommended. Your local Catholic Charities agency can help.

– Deb McCormack

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