The Peacefulwife Blog started a discussion yesterday in her post, “We Can Put Our Husbands in a Lose-Lose Situation”. Her post came out of the following email she received from a Christian husband. I think almost every husband can relate in some way with the frustrations this husband is writing about.
FROM A CHRISTIAN HUSBAND:
Is it really a good idea to tell one’s wife she is being disrespectful?
I know if I told my wife that I would get an “alright….” and then probably not hear from her for a couple of days, at least. When asked about it later she would, no doubt, tell me how I was mean to her and hurt her feelings.
I am asked by her, often, to be truthful and honest, but find that when I am there is always a repercussion. If I tell her my anxieties and worries I get treated with an irritated attitude, but when I tell her not to worry about why my attitude seems worried I get asked if I “would prefer to be married to someone who I could trust”.
Sorry for the wandering. I refer back to my original question: Is it really a good idea to tell ones wife she is being disrespectful, and, what is the best way to go about doing it?
The Peacefulwife summed up the email by saying:
This is the crux of why so many husbands go passive. You are totally right. You are in a lose/lose situation.
- If you tell her the truth – she was acting disrespectfully – she will likely punish you, or get really upset and might turn things on you and attack your own character and generally verbally torture you. For many men, it is hard to work up the courage to go before the firing squad like that.
- But if you don’t tell her the truth – you are not being honest, and she doesn’t know her faults and will continue on in her sin.
Two horrible choices. And this is exactly why so many husbands decide not to say anything at all. It seems like the more “peaceful” answer in the short run. There is less drama and there are fewer tears and less ickiness to deal with for the men at first if they take this approach.
I am sure almost all of us have been put in this situation. Men are not as verbal typically to start with, especially about relationship issues and emotions. We may struggle to get the right words out as it is. We know that we are not armed very well to go into a war of the words with our wife. So, if we try to express that we think our spouse needs to change their behavior in some way and then have to face the wrath for being truthful why should we bother? Is it worth it? It may be easier if I just be quiet, shut down, and guard my heart. I want what is best for my wife and my marriage but is getting beat up over these things worth it?
A wife, more apparent in a dominant wife, tends to look at issues totally in black and white with no room for gray. A husband typically functions as everything being a shade of gray and tries to make the best decisions for everyone to turn the gray to black and white. I have seen this over and over again in work meetings. In business settings we tend to have to make decisions based on a range of options. The option that we choose may not be the most ideal option in our minds but may be the best option that all parties can agree on. The decision is usually whether to pick this option or make no decision at all. I have seen many business decisions end without an agreement because there was one woman involved in the process who demanded her ideal option or nothing. I am sure that there are some pretty stubborn men out there that may take this same approach, but my experience has been with the demanding woman.
So, what is the goal of the demanding woman? Is it the power? Is it the control? Is it selfishness? Is it blindness to her actions? If we continue to look at the business world, this attitude creates some of the same reactions as in a husband/wife relationship. If you have to be in meetings with this woman often the other attendees will know her track record and not surprisingly will turn passive. They look to see what she is agreeable to and then try to make that work because they know that is their only option. They have fought the fight before and been in the war and know she will not back down from her ideal position. A trait I have noticed in women like this is that they tend to take the approach that they are an army and everyone else is their enemy trying to take their land. They throw the team approach to progress out the window.
I think in marriage our wives tend to take some similar tactics. It may be out of not feeling loved. It may be that they have lost respect for us or chosen not to respect us. It may be that they feel “more” spiritual than us and therefore do not trust our decisions. It probably has to do with that they feel totally right a lot of the time. Unfortunately, there is a turf war that exists in almost every marriage. We protect ourselves over our spouses sometimes out of fear and distrust. My guess is that it is not a wife’s desire to put her husband in a lose-lose situation. It happens, though.
The Peacefulwife describes her past with this as follows:
This is what my husband did. I totally understand why. It was NO PICNIC to criticize me for those 15 years that I was controlling and disrespectful. I took ANY criticism VERY personally and got extremely upset about it. I expected myself to be perfect. I truly didn’t see what a sinner I was. I was extremely prideful and blind to my sin. And I got SUPER offended if anyone suggested that I did something wrong.
My parents were believers and WONDERFUL parents. They read a book by Dr. Spock when we were little, and the philosophy was, “Don’t intervene or correct your children unless they are about to really hurt someone or themselves.”
Guess what that did? We were not used to being criticized. We couldn’t accept criticism. If someone did criticize us – it seemed like the BIGGEST DEAL EVER!
To my credit – I did actually CARE DEEPLY about my husband’s feelings. I loved him with all my heart and wanted desperately to be close and connected to him. If he had told me I was disrespectful – I am sure I would have freaked completely out. But it is possible that eventually, I could have heard his heart. The times he really put his foot down – I would argue and argue and argue and try to change his mind. But eventually I would go with his decision – with a lot of pouting, stomping, crying and whining. I did acknowledge his leadership. But for the most part, he left me to decide things unless he felt extremely strongly against what I was doing.
I NEEDED HIS LEADERSHIP EVEN WHEN AND ESPECIALLY WHEN I STRONGLY DISAGREED!
I am SO THANKFUL now for the times he did put his foot down. I actually wish he had done it much more often earlier in our marriage. When I look back, I see he was completely right and I was wrong about the things he did insist on. And I see how God used his decision for our good and the good of many other people, as well. How I WISH I had understood how to cooperate and follow him when we first got married. How I wish I had the benefit of his leadership on many more issues. We would have had a totally different marriage if I had obeyed God for all those years. What blessings of God and what times of intimacy did I miss because of my pride, control and disrespect? Too many to count.
We as wives want the impossible. We want our husbands to think we are perfect. We don’t want to be criticized. But many of us want to be free to dole out the criticism to our men at any time all day long. Not very fair. Not very Christlike of us.
AND we want our husbands to be honest and transparent. But we don’t want them to tell us painful things.
The thing is, if our husbands are going to be able to lead – they have to be able to tell us painful things.
Ideally they would tell us gently, respectfully and lovingly. But we NEED our husbands’ insights. We have huge blind spots and we need our husbands to speak the truth in love. We don’t want to hear all that they need to say, but we need to hear it. If our husbands do not tell us this stuff – we continue on and on in our sin. Matt 18 is all about how we are to confront someone when he/she sins against us. I believe a husband is not being a godly leader if he ignores his wife’s sin. I don’t think it is loving to ignore any spouse’s sin – if he/she is a believer.
If a husband is not a believer, he doesn’t have God’s Spirit and can’t live as if he does. He is spiritually dead. The biggest priority there is for him to accept Christ. But if it is a husband who is the unbeliever, the wife has the most power and strongest witness for Christ by her cheerful, respectful, joyful attitude and faith in Jesus, NOT by her words and preaching about Him!
A wife is not being a godly follower if she does not listen to the loving rebuke of her husband.
There are countless passages in Proverbs about that the foolish won’t listen to a rebuke, but the wise gladly accept a rebuke. Let’s be wise and accept our husbands’ constructive criticism and realize that GOD HIMSELF MAY BE SPEAKING TO US THROUGH OUR HUSBANDS about our sin! God can and does even use unbelieving husbands to reprimand believing wives about their sin so they can repent and be restored to fellowship with Him.
I have a youtube video for wives about accepting our husbands’ constructive criticism.
This is some SCARY stuff for husbands.
I pray that God will give you wisdom! And I pray that He might work in the hearts of wives to help us be accepting of your thoughts, perspective, ideas and feelings. If you describe it more in terms of being hurt, wounded, in pain, unloved – she may hear that better.
Or try Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ sentence, “Honey, that felt disrespectful, did I come across unlovingly just now?”
That gives her the benefit of the doubt and tells her you care about her feelings, too, not just yours.
Most wives DO NOT want their husbands to hurt! Most wives will apologize if they realize their husbands are wounded by them. Most of us really do care about your feelings, we just have no idea how different men are and how differently you think and feel and process and we think you are just like us.
There were some really awesome comments on the Peacefulwife post yesterday that shared some really great insights on this topic. One male reader commented and described speaking up as a husband and getting “punished” or having to hear “the list.” I think every husband has heard “the list” before and felt the desire to not hear that again. It is really disappointing to face what we thought we have been forgiven from by our spouses for as an attack. I think part of it is that husbands probably don’t connect to the emotional faults the same way our wives do and we don’t store them up in our memory very well. It may be a good thing for us, but we usually have little to no ammo to fight “the list” back at our spouses. This commenter has some great advice for responding to a disrespectful wife. See if you can relate with the dilemma of this commenter?
It really is a dilemma for the husband. There were times when I spoke up and got “punished” for it, as you describe, including sexual withholding. Far more often, I tried to ignore it or accommodate my wife’s wishes. Unfortunately, that approach didn’t have long-term success. You can’t be perfect in her eyes and you can’t always accommodate; sometimes you have to do what you think is right even when you know it’s going to anger her. The disrespect just grows until it’s not tolerable for anyone.
One response I would get, which I don’t think you mention above, would be that of course she didn’t respect me because of x, y, z. So I’d have to endure a recitation of my faults and failures (some of which were past sins that had supposedly been forgiven, but most of which were personality or talent-related things). Not wanting to hear “the list” again was a strong disincentive against challenging disrespect. (She did this once during a counseling session and the counselor called her on it. She went back to that counselor just one more time, and that was to fire him.)
If I had it to do over again (though of course I know more now about what she was doing and what I was doing or not doing), I would have adopted a consistent response — something gentle but firm, along the lines of, “Honey, I love you and I am absolutely committed to this marriage for life. But God has made me the head of this family, and right now you’re treating me disrespectfully, which is bad for both of us (and the kids). I know you don’t agree with x decision, but I’ve listened to you and thought and prayed about it, and this is what we’re going to do. God will take care of us. Relax.” And then, if I were really brilliant, I’d add, “What do you want to do together tonight?”
Another common thing that a husband can feel is unworthiness. Husbands generally are extremely aware of their shortcomings and so it is easy to think that maybe I am not worthy of respect from my wife. I have tried hard in my marriage but it seems like the list of the ways I know I have failed her is greater than my successes. Do I really deserve her respect? Look at the following comment from a reader.
I think my past sins are my biggest obstacle to speaking to my wife when I feel she is being disrespectful. I find myself often thinking “well, you did this exact same thing before everything fell apart. What right do you have to say anything?” And I am fairly sure she feels the same way. Why should she listen to me calling her out on ‘disrespect’ when I was so disrespectful before? She doesn’t show me much affection, why should I bring it up if I am guilty of the same thing? She is distant and doesn’t want to connect with me spiritually, why should I confront her on it if I was the same way for so long? I know I am a new creation in Christ, but listening to her run up and down my past problems doesn’t sound appealing, or help me in the least bit. I know I screwed up; I don’t need to be reminded. In fact, if I have truly received her forgiveness then I don’t think she should be using my past to beat me down. Praying that we can find a good counselor who will help us acquire the tools necessary to work through this kind of stuff.
The Peacefulwife responded back this important message.
If a couple is in The Crazy Cycle as Emerson Eggerichs describes it in Love and Respect, that is probably not a good time to rebuke the other person. When both are sinning and hurting each other, the more mature one begins meeting the other person’s needs regardless of whether his/her own needs are being met and repents of his/her own sin. The mature one forgives and shows love, grace, mercy and gives selflessly to meet the spouse’s needs – knowing he/she will be rewarded in heaven.
I LOVE the idea of husbands sharing their feelings BUT also giving reassurance and affirmation of their love – I think that would take a lot of the sting out of the message.
I would definitely suggest husbands hold their wives’ hand or cuddle with them or hug them while they are talking and talk very softly. And then – my opinion – is, don’t let her leave the room upset. Hold her and let her see that it’s not the end of the world. We wives tend to think that if our husbands criticize us, it means they don’t love us anymore. That is almost never true. So we may need a bit of the big perspective from our husbands to see that this is a small thing in comparison to the relationship – but it is something that needs to be addressed. It’s not something to freak out about.
Even before my wife started the Peacefulwife journey, I noticed that she struggled with constructive criticism. Those times when I would ask her to try to change in some way and I could get through to her, I found that she would work and worry herself to death. Anything related to that she would try to change 100 percent. Usually, I really just wanted her to tone some area down 20 percent. I just wanted her to take a break occasionally for 10-15 minutes instead of running herself into the ground, or give the kids a little more slack, or even to remind her that it is okay if the house isn’t spotless. Now that she respects my every word, I am hesitant at times because I fear my constructive criticism could put her in a funk for several days when she takes my intended 20% change and makes it a 100% change. It is hard to express what changes you think need to be made sometimes when your wife has a little bit of ocd going on.
How do we fight passivity when we are in the lose-lose situation? I think we would all do best to come up with a consistent response as the first commenter suggested that shows our commitment to the relationship but allows us to rebuke the disrespect. I think another important lesson is to be able to determine if our spouse is in a state to accept rebuke. We need to be careful to meet our wife’s needs and understand that rebuke may not be the best approach at this moment. No matter how we express that we feel our wife has disrespected us, it is imperative that we do so in a way that shows that we are rebuking her in love. This could be by holding her hand, holding her, or hugging her. She needs to know that you are there and you are not going away.
As easy as it is to build up our defenses in the lose-lose situation, we need to show maturity. The issue will probably not go away just by ducking the initial assault. Detaching is an easy out, but it kills your soul and saps your ability to feel love. It starts like a cancer as only a little cell, but it grows and it can grow fast. God wants us to have a one flesh marriage, not a one body marriage. The lose-lose situation is not a pretty place. The lose-lose situation can even be painful. The blessings, the fruit, and the peace that can be obtained by working as a team through the lose-lose situation are worth it, though.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the lose-lose situation? Ladies, you are welcome to respond in how you think we should approach the lose-lose situation as well.