“You won’t believe this,” she says.
“Oh?” I ask.
“Last night, he asked me questions! He actually tried to understand my point of view!” she exclaimed.
“This is a good thing,” I smiled.
“I’ve been at this for 7 years, and I’m finally starting to see something this side of heaven,” she replied.
My friend, married to an accountant, spent the first 26 years of her marriage responding to his criticisms and pursuits of perfection with her own defensive and sarcastic remarks. Once, after receiving “feedback” about how she was dicing onions, through tears, she asked me, “Am I not worth more than perfectly cut onions to him?” Starved for a positive word from him about anything, much less a simple “thanks for making dinner,” she told me she thought she was literally dying inside.
“I can’t live like this another day,” she said. “There’s no kindness, gentleness, or compassion from this man. He cares only for perfection, and I’m incapable of achieving it. It’s like things have to be perfect before he’ll say something nice to me, and I’m never going to be “deserving” in his mind.”
I listened to her, empathized with her, and validated her feelings. “This must be very hard for you. I’ll be you feel like no one notices you in your own home,” I said.
I wanted to reach through the phone and put my arms around her.
I told her that, and then I asked her, “Did God make you this man’s helper?”
She sighed. “Yes,” she reluctantly replied.
“And you have children with this man, right?” I asked.
“Yes.” She sighed again.
I gently suggested to her that she might be the only one that God would be able to use to teach her family how to love well. Who else could teach them these things? Her husband had no male mentors in his life, and wasn’t involved in a Bible study…
“But what do I say? What do I do? I serve my family, and daily I do what he asks without complaint. I have been “submissive” for years and still he is cold and uncaring about anything I do,” she said.
“It takes time to learn to love well,” I replied, reflecting on my own journey of loving others…still having a long way to go. “Ask God for help communicating with your husband. Apologize to Him for the hurtful curt remarks you have made in response, and then stop doing that – because it’s not working. He probably doesn’t have a clue that he’s hurting you, or if he does know, he doesn’t know what to do differently. And God’s not wasting this – He is teaching you how to be patient, to wait, to endure. Many have suffered much worse for less of a reward.”
We had many discussions over the years, and she came to realize the absolute most important Truth: God isn’t so concerned with our happiness, but rather, our holiness. Being focused on another’s imperfections, like her husband was doing to her by nit-picking and not pointing out any positives, was not what God wanted. There was also a plank in her eye. She realized, over time, that she could only directly impact HER behavior. And most importantly, that she needed to focus on HER obedience, instead of trying to change her husband. But she didn’t need to lie about how she felt, either. (More on that thought here. 🙂)
She also realized she was being as judgmental and negative as her husband was. (Her words, btw, not mine. 🙂)
So while we start out thinking it’s HIM that needs to change, God uses the context of marriage to change both of us. And the healthiest realization we can have is that we simply cannot change someone else – that is the job of the Holy Spirit.
So she stuck it out. And started gently, kindly, telling him the truth about how she was hurting. She also focused on what was right, speaking about the good things around them on a daily basis, and pointing out his strengths as a man. She also realized where she was being selfish. And she accepted that she had unrealistic expectations of her husband. Growing up without a father, no one was there to model him how to love his wife. Having to work from a very young age to make ends meet for the family, he learned the harsh realities of life early. Even if his dad had been around, there still might not have been any positive teaching going on there, either.
“It would make me feel appreciated and loved if you would thank me for keeping the house clean or any of the other things I do for you. It would also teach our boys how to show appreciation to their wives someday if you modeled this for them,” she said one night. She waited a few more weeks, and said the same thing again. Then she waited several weeks more, and said the same thing again. All the while, making sure she was being appreciative and affirming to him.
And then, suddenly, he started thanking her for making dinner. Not every night, but every few days. And she beamed, and gave him a kiss. “Oh, thank you for noticing! It’s my pleasure.” And the truth was, at this time, it actually was her pleasure. She had gone from doing it with unmet expectations resulting in bitterness, resentment, and discouragement to doing it for the Audience of One, Whom she began to realize she was delighting. It no longer bothered her as much that her husband didn’t notice verbally the things she did for him or the family.
And the funny thing was, little by little, the grumpy guy started letting her know what she was doing right.
And then their sons started being appreciative.
And then, recently, she called to let me know he was actually interested in her thoughts, and was asking her questions.
Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” All too often, we try to change others by talking at them. Instead of simply focusing on what God would have us become in our own lives, we focus on the failings of those around us.
If we spent all this energy delighting in understanding others, instead of challenging them, criticizing them, taking the things they say personally, or pointing out where they could be wrong (in other words, revealing our own minds), we would find ourselves with less conflict and richer more positive relationships.
Dare you today to seek to understand others better – not by disagreeing with them, but by saying things like, “Oh? Tell me more about that,” “That’s interesting. How did you come to that perspective?” or, “So if I understand you, you’re saying…can you help me understand how that fits with…?” (and take the sarcastic, “You idiot” tone out of the communication).
We reveal much about ourselves by how we respond to others.
In Daughters of Sarah® and The Respect Dare, we see the above pattern change marriages. It’s truly miraculous what can happen. We don’t guarantee it will happen for you this side of heaven, but it’s frequently what God does. His ways are just not our ways. Sometimes it takes 3 months, sometimes 3 years, sometimes it’s 3 decades. Sometimes it’s not this side of heaven. But like the man who was born blind so that God’s glory would be revealed, there is always purpose in our pain, and He doesn’t waste anything.
Double-dog-dare you to respond with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control to the people around you today, allowing the Spirit to work through you.
Triple-dog-dare you to share, “subscribe,” or comment! 🙂
Thankful to be on the journey with you,