man and woman not talking to each other

What To Do When You Have an Inadequate Spouse

(The following is just one of over 100 lessons taught in the Marriage Repair Workshop: The Lazarus Lectures – by Maurice W. Harker, M.ed and team.  For more info: CLICK HERE.)

Providing (inadequately):

What to do when you are an inadequate spouse.

What to do when you have an inadequate spouse.

As I have experienced my personal agony of not being enough in many circumstances, and as I have observed so many of my clients also being grossly aware of their own inadequacies, and then finally, watching so many spouses share, with desperation and frustration, their spouse’s inadequacies; this set of verses took on a whole new meaning:

21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.

24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.

25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received. (Mosiah 4:21-25)

Notwithstanding the amazing financial prosperity of our modern day, we are all still experiencing inadequacy.  We don’t get enough

  • time
  • energy
  • wisdom
  • consideration
  • expressions of love
  • sex
  • money
  • etc

moneyFor most couples, at least here in Utah and in most of America, money isn’t our primary problem.  When I first entered the profession of counseling with relationships, money issues were considered one of the most common and dominant therapeutic issues.  In the last 2 decades, one of the most common phrases I have heard is, “My needs are not being met.”

As this gets clarified, it becomes more clear that the individual expressing their concerns and frustrations with me is not receiving enough time, energy, wisdom, consideration, expressions of love, etc from their spouse.  As I investigate further, I often discover this is true. The spouse being spoken of is measurably inadequate.  

When interviewing the inadequate spouse, alone, they usually soften into humility or humiliation, and admit to being inadequate.  They acknowledge that they don’t bring enough time, energy, wisdom, consideration, expressions of love, etc to the marriage, and then they often get defensive with statements like, “But I am doing all I can do!  I try as hard as I can and it is still not enough!”

There is a very common theme in relationship work these days called “Meeting needs”.  Unfortunately, it implies several things that are probably not true, and it does not provide us with instructions of how to proceed if there exists an actual insufficiency.  There is not enough instruction for the inadequate person, the one who has not found the time, energy, wisdom, consideration, expressions of love, etc to give. And there is not enough instruction for the one receiving less than is needed or hoped for.  These verses (above) have been, for me, one of the most scientifically accurate and useful set of instructions for this circumstance.

handcartBefore I talk specifically about the application of this concept, let’s look at how this applies to a pioneer couple crossing the plains.  Imagine a man and a woman who have decided to make the journey together and have each brought their own covered wagons. For a nice chunk of time at the beginning of the journey, they enjoy the journey because whenever there is a need, the other pulls what is needed out of their wagon and shares.  

And then one day there is the unpleasant experience of expressing a need and the other person does not get what is wanted or needed out of their wagon. (Let’s keep in mind these are covered wagons.  One cannot see what is in the other person’s wagon. One cannot see what is and is not in the mind and heart of your spouse.) In modern relationship philosophies, the instruction is often, “Make a list and then hold your ground of expectation until the other person gets what you need out of their wagon.”

When we think of people, couples, crossing the plains, it is not hard to imagine them running out of resources.  It is not hard to imagine they don’t have the wisdom to pack all necessary items in their wagons. Hopefully, for the journey of life, you did your best to pack your wagon.  Hopefully, as you packed your wagon, you did not think, “I don’t need to pack this. When I join my wagon with a partner, if I need it, I will get it from them.”  

Let’s imagine a conversation between two people crossing the plains together.  One says to the other, “I need water. Will you please get water out of your wagon for me?”

The other says, “I do not have any more water in my wagon.  I was hoping you would have water for me.”  

Then they get into an argument over how the other is not meeting their needs until they both die of thirst.

Sad and weird story, right?  None of us would follow that script.  What we would do, after discovering that we both have inadequate amounts of water to meet the needs, is one would say, “Perhaps God, through nature, can meet our needs.  Let’s look around for water where God would provide water.”

Now that makes a little more sense. If you have a need, and your spouse can’t meet that need, perhaps if we go to God, instead of waiting for our spouse to meet our need, we will not die of thirst.

Now let’s make the story more complicated. 

water wellWhat if you both, politely agree, that it is sad that you both have inadequate amounts of water (or any other resource) and you agree to go separate ways to gather that resource from nature (God). 

After a full day of work, you did not find enough water for yourself or for your travelling partner. But you have confidence in your traveling partner, so you relax and look forward to them meeting your need again. 

And, of course, both of you have this thought in mind. We forget that they, also, might have worked all day to find water, and did not find enough for themselves and you (and any children if you have any with you). They, also, relaxed and looked forward to you meeting their need.  

So, when you discover the other person has not found and brought enough water, you get frustrated and mad at them and tell them they don’t care and they are not trying.  You communicate, firmly, that you are the only one that is trying and caring.

Ummmm, not the best reaction, right?  (Hopefully you see no similarity between this pioneer couple and yourselves.)   

I assume, with great agony in my heart, that the pioneers had this experience more than once.  I assume that they found themselves, more than once, with not enough water, after both worked hard all day to gather it. 

I assume that many times, after both worked all day, they did not have enough food, enough health remedies, enough protection from the cold, etc. 

At what point would reminding your spouse, “But you are supposed to meet my needs!” be helpful in this circumstance?

[Note: This principle is a discussion on “inadequacy” not “abuse”.   If your traveling partner is abusive, a different response than what I describe below is needed.  I will provide a separate article for that circumstance. The simplest way of telling the difference for now is: Abuse = make things worse.  Inadequacy = not making things better.]

Ideal response We have an image in our minds of how travelling partners would end their day if after a full day of work, their needs were still not met.  We have an image of saying something more like, “Thank you for trying. Can you just reassure me that you tried your best, and you did not “withhold your substance” (effort)?  Okay, thank you for trying.” And then, “Let us be sad but resilient together, and remain edifying with each other, and pray together, and try again tomorrow.”

It is unlikely that we will die of lack of resources in our modern day, but sadly, the reality is that many died due to lack of resources crossing the plains.  Let us always be grateful that we do not have it as bad as they did.


Now, let’s transpose this parable and this set of scriptures to our modern day.

Do some self check.  

  • Did you start this journey with the hope/expectation that your traveling partner would meet your needs?
  • Do you get upset or behave against your values system when your traveling partner informs you that they don’t have what you need in their wagon?  (Or if they don’t inform you and they just don’t meet your need?)
  • With psychological and spiritual integrity, do you do your chi day to gather modern day resources (time, energy, wisdom, consideration, expressions of love, etc) from God such that not only do you have enough for yourself, but you have surplus to share with your traveling partner.  Mosiah 4:22
  • When you have not been able to gather enough resources from God, do you express that limitation with humility or do you express it  with anger and defensiveness to your traveling partner? Mosiah 4:24
  • When you discover that your traveling partner, after time has passed, still has not brought enough resources (time, energy, wisdom, consideration, expressions of love, etc), do you default to the conclusion that they do not care enough or try enough, although they claim they do?  Do you condemn them and make them guilty, even if God does not? Mosiah 4:25.
  • Are you prepared to maintain your connection (assuming they are not abusive), and pray with them, and try again tomorrow, while both of you go to sleep with unmet needs, as did our pioneer predecessors?
  • Are you applying…
    • Matthew 11:28 “Come unto me, all ye that labor and or heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
    • John 4:14 where Christ encourages us to go to him as the well of “everlasting life”
    • 2 Ne 28:31 “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm”
    • Or are you breaking the 2nd commandment provided by Moses, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,”?  


  • Start by getting a piece of paper out and making a list of all the things your traveling partner is not providing you with.  Start with the things that you openly ask (nag/pressure) them for that they frequently do not provide you with. Then, if you are not exhausted, list your frustrations – the needs they are not meeting but you don’t often say out loud. This is known as your “List of Unmet Needs”. 
  • Take the list to God in prayer.  In your prayer say something like, “My spouse claims that after a full day of labor, they are not able to meet these needs.  Part of me wants to believe they are lying to me. Part of me thinks they are just being lazy or they don’t care. Either way, I cannot function without these needs being met.  I am trying to apply the principles of “Do not rely upon the arm of flesh” and “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me” so I am coming to You instead of them with my “List of Unmet Needs”.”
  • Consider revising your list.  Consider prioritizing your list.  Does presenting the list to God instead of your spouse change your perspective?
  • After listening to the Blasphemous Prayer (see link), which items on your list do you still feel comfortable with asking of your spouse?
  • Regularly, perhaps daily and perhaps in writing instead of verbally, express to your spouse, “I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” In more modern words, “I made a strong effort today to meet your ____ need and I am aware that I came up short.  I am so sorry.”
  • When you discover you both have unmet needs, be sad but resilient, be edifying and reassuring, pray to have your needs met by God (together is possible), and try again tomorrow.

Let me know if you have any questions about this article and homework assignment. 

-Maurice W. Harker, M.ed

Director of Life Changing Services,

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