24 Hours & More: What Is the Shift?
When Carly and I were first married, she went through a change that we didn’t know to expect and couldn’t have anticipated. As we blindly stumbled our way through how it impacted our relationship, we came to realize that it was a change she didn’t choose consciously - it just happened. Moreover, it was a change that was (unfortunately) never going to happen to me unless I did consciously choose it. As our friends started getting married, we started to notice that it wasn’t just us. Every woman seemed to go through this change, and her husband was completely oblivious to it, and it was never going to happen to him unless he forced it to. We’ve come to call this change “the Shift,” because that’s really what it is: an identity shift. More specifically, a holistic identity shift.
Women tend to be more holistic than man anyway, but this shows up in a big way in the early months of marriage. Usually it happens anywhere between 6 and 18 months into the new wedded paradigm - but, like everything else in their relationship, Mark & Kylie did it much faster. In fact, it only took about six weeks. And believe it or not, it all reared itself over one of Mark’s favorite pasttimes: basketball. See, Mark has a group of guys that he gets together with once or twice a month to play basketball, but the group gets together out of town, and to make it worth their while, they pretty much hang out all day.
In theory, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But from time to time, Kylie gets stuck at home on a Saturday, waiting for Mark to get home, missing him and not really doing much. When he finally does get back, Mark is pretty tired from playing with the guys all day, and he kinda just wants to crash - which leaves Kylie alone for even longer. Now, sometimes, Kylie’s more or less okay with this. Excited for her man to get to spend time with his boys and engaging in a healthy, esteeming activity for him, Kylie encourages him to have the best time he can while he’s gone and really make the most of it. But, other times, it can be really upsetting. Kylie feels like basketball is more important to Mark than she is, and she’d really rather he skipped playing this time and stayed home with her.
Depending on your own personal experiences and disposition, you hear this and you either think, “Who needs to spend all day playing basketball and hanging out with their friends when they could be at home with their wife?” or “Man, Kylie’s kinda clingy and she really just needs to relax and let Mark do his thing.” But the reality is a little more complicated than that, and it has to do with the impact of the holistic identity shift. Whether it happens at six weeks, six months, or six years, at some point, most women will completely re-evaluate their concepts of themselves based on the fact that they are now a wife. Being a wife has to become fully integrated into their identity. Think of it this way. Each role that a woman plays is a lens. But instead of being switched out one at a time like getting fitted for new glasses, every new role gets layered on top of all the other lenses. Whenever she looks down the barrel of a decision, she looks through every lens at once. How will such and such affect my responsibilities as a friend? As an employee? As a Christian? As a mother? As a sister? And, now, as a wife? The layers get pretty deep. It looks like this:
Men, on the other hand, are much more compartmentalized, as a rule. Each of us has a different filing system, but Mark looks at his monthly trips to play basketball and asks only one of a handful of questions, depending on where he has “Saturday with the guys” filed. “How does this affect me as a friend?” or “How does this effect me as a husband?” or maybe even “How does this effect me as a basketball player?” But certainly not all at once. I have this theory that a man’s identity is a pie chart. When he’s born, it’s mostly covered up, unrevealed, unknown to him. But, as he moves through life and takes on more identity-defining roles, more of the pie chart reveals itself. So after he gets married, a man’s pie chart moves from this:
Being a spouse, to a man, often isn’t transformative. It’s additive. Moreover, because boyfriend or fiance is a role to play as well, often it’s just a small shift from one very similar role to another in a man’s mind. Because of this, it can often feel to new husbands like not much has changed in the relationship. Depending on their moral and religious convictions, there may be a few new added pleasures now, and he may have gained a new roommate, but nothing about any of those things fundamentally changes who he is to himself, and therefore whom he expects his wife to be. But for women, once their married, everything changes. Their self understanding is entirely different, and because of that, who they expect their husband to be changes as well.
Believe it or not, a lot of friction in relationships grows from similar circumstances. When one person grows or changes in a meaningful way and the other does not, it can leave the ecosystem of the relationship reeling. One person has new expectations and new hopes for what the relationship can and should be, while the other doesn’t understand why something everybody seemed perfectly happy with before is suddenly full of change and tension. Kylie was fine with Mark’s basketball trips before they got married; why should she have anything to say about them now? But Kylie isn’t viewing the relationship in the same terms as she did before they got married, because everything that Kylie understands about, well, everything, is now being informed by her responsibilities and desires and expectations as a wife - and she expects that Mark is doing the same. See, it’s part of human nature to assume that people are like us, that they do the same things we do, think the way we do, want what we want. So when Mark operates like basketball is just one of many priorities he has, while Kylie evaluates all her priorities through the lens of being a wife. She can’t understand why Mark would make the decision to spend so much time away from home while he’s, in her mind, running everything through the lens of being a husband.
Here’s the thing, though. We (husbands) should run all our decisions through the lens of being a husband. It’s not natural to most of us, to our compartmentalized minds, to filter decisions that way. But it’s necessary, both to demonstrate to our wives the respect and love that they deserve, as well as to communicate properly. All behavior is communication. And when Mark goes and plays basketball with his buddies, it can communicate things he doesn’t mean for it to if he doesn’t understand the filters through which Kylie is listening. It’s a complicated little process, and if we’re not careful, husbands and wives, it can bite us in the butt. What’s most important is that we treat each other with compassion, gentleness, and self-sacrifice as we explore the way marriage changes us, and the way we can choose to change ourselves.
Thanks so much to Mark & Kylie for taking some pictures with us for this post, and for continuing to share the story of their unfolding marriage! We love you guys!
As we hope you know, we’ve officially launched the 24 Story Fundraiser. Obviously, we have no intention of abandoning Mark & Kylie (click here to catch up on the beginnings story if you missed it two weeks ago) at the altar. We’ll support them for as long as we can. And not just them, but as many couples as we can. But to do that, we need your help. We’re asking everyone who hears and is moved by their stories to make a small donation to the cause of helping couples honor God with their marriages. All you have to do is make a donation equal to the number of years that you or someone you love has been married between now and May 24th. There’s only 10 days left! And you can make that donation right here. We hope that you will support Mark & Kylie and NEB this month in this small way so that we can keep telling more stories like theirs. Thank you in advance! This ministry doesn’t happen without all of you.