What should she do?

In search of the male perspective...

Psychologists will tell us that the “parent-child” style of relating is extremely unhealthy in marriage. What IS healthiest is “adult-adult.” Unfortunately, we don’t always do that. Both men and women can be “parental” in a relationship and “childish.” This manifests itself in ranges of varying levels of controlling behaviors to rebelliousness, respectively.

I have a number of women in a class I’m teaching who are married to men who are extremely defensive. Whether they got this way because their wives were controlling and parental, or because they have their own issues from childhood is irrelevant. Today I’m interested in what YOUR believing husband would say about some of the issues these women are dealing with.

While the men are 100% responsible for their own behavior, it IS true that women can create environments where it is easier or harder for their husband to be defensive. When we are critical, contemptuous, and disrespectful, this makes it easy for him to act the same way back, dish sarcasm, or be defensive. When we are respectful and gentle, most people respond in kind. For some, however, it is due to the husband not being raised in a home where he was parented well, if at all, and he’s just repeating what he knows. His wife may be also, for that matter. So know I’m not dishing blame today. I’m honestly curious.

Some of these women have been respectful, however. And their husbands are still uber-defensive.  The wives dealing with this are at a complete loss as to how to communicate with him when he hurts their feelings or is mean to their kids or them in public. They’ve tried everything, or at least they’ve tried a lot.

Some of these men are Christian.

Got advice? What would you tell a wife in this situation?

I’ve told them all sorts of things that I have seen help others, but some of these men truly seem to not care about their wives or their kids’ feelings. One wife’s husband started making loud derogatory comments about a disabled man in a sporting goods store. She didn’t know what to do at the time, but when they got home, she  said,

I know you probably weren’t aware of this today, and I’m sure you wouldn’t do anything to offend or hurt someone else intentionally, but I felt embarrassed when I was in line at the check-out today and I’m concerned about what the kids learned about how to think about disabled people. I know you were in a hurry and that guy in front of us was taking a long time to get his check written, and I would like it if we could just ignore that or be kind.”

His response?

Stop being such a whiny baby! That guy was completely pathetic.”

She’s dealt with issues like this regularly. He’ll be with her and their kids and berate her or other people to her.

Another example would be the husband ridiculing his wife’s choice for dinner in a restaurant. She ignores his criticism, orders her gluten-free meal anyway, and he keeps making sarcastic comments about “real women” eating bread, and mocking her “wheat-free sappy supper” and tells her she’s a “lame excuse” for a person because she is afraid of real food. She asks him to “please stop,” he gets irritated and tells her to stop being a child. She eats the rest of her dinner in silence, then the next day, says,

I know you love me and you don’t mean to hurt my feelings, and I’m still a little uncomfortable about how you treated me in the restaurant last night. I felt mocked and I’d like you to respect my choices without teasing me.”

He took the opportunity to mock her further and things escalated and she left the conversation. And then he wanted sex that night.

She didn’t deprive him, but she said she feels like a piece of garbage.

Ouch.

Another issue some of these guys have is that their wives don’t put clothes out for them in the morning, or bring beers while they’re watching sports, etc.

Another husband expects his wife to deal with many issues for him, ones that moms typically encourage their teens to deal with so they aren’t keeping them immature (little conflicts with store personnel or neighbors, making dentist appointments, cleaning up after themselves, etc.) At our house, we teach our kids that they need to own what is theirs to own – if they have a problem, they need to be the ones to address it. Should that behavior belong in marriage?

Should a wife deal with things her husband is clearly upset about but doesn’t want to deal with? Is that “helping” behavior on her part? Should she talk to a woman blocking the aisle in the grocery store if her husband is clearly upset about it but won’t talk to her himself?

I don’t have an issue telling women to serve their families, but mothering adult men seems to not be helpful in marriage.RD_dare-13

Or maybe I’m missing something. It seems like there’s a difference between “taking care of the affairs of the household” and there’s “doing things others should be doing for themselves.” When we do this for adults, whether it is the husband or the wife, two things occur, both good and bad, depending:

  1. Good: small sweet acts of kindness build relationship and when both people in the marriage do them for each other AND take care of themselves, they communicate to the kids and the world how to love well
  2. Bad: if only one person is doing small sweet acts of kindness, it communicates that one person is worth serving, and the other is not  – this does NOT reflect the relationship between Christ and the church – both are supposed to serve the other

Got thoughts? Can I trouble you to ask your husband what HE thinks a wife should do if she is dealing with a man who claims to be a Christian, yet behaves in these ways? I’d LOVE to hear what he has to say. Feel free even to forward this to him and ask him to share his thoughts.

Love to you,

Nina

Here’s a few more you might like:

How to stop the arguing

101 ways to respect your husband 

Are you a peaceful wife?

Ever wish your husband was dead?

17 life hacks for busy moms

When he doesn’t deserve respect 

I also created a page to men who find me by searching 101 Ways to Make Your Wife Submit Might be a bit of a bait-and-switch but it’s legit.

titus 2 women leadership

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

24 thoughts on “What should she do?

  1. My husband had this to day: “Bottom line: Treat people the way you want to be treated. We reap what we sow. These guys are supposed to be Christians. If there is no love, you have to question if they have God in their lives at all.”

  2. My husband recommended talking to his friends… I know you have suggested this before.

  3. I was hesitant (I have an extremely defensive husband). But I asked him. He got very upset. He thought two things, 1) that I was indirectly trying to address him 2) I was doing what I am doing, working ‘outside him’ on our marriage/myself. He was not happy with either.

    He says that women “talk too much” about things that are none of their concern. i.e. my marriage is none of your business and visa versa. My husband is very loving and kind most often, but also very sarcastic and mean when he is angry. His actual answer (that took hours to get) was that she should say nothing, walk away (if he will allow it, as he validates a man’s ‘right’ to command that she not), and she should pray. He is in God’s hands, not hers. It is not right for a woman to ‘teach’ her husband anything. Even pointing out a scripture to someone is “teaching”.

    I, like most women on this site, found it by searching high and low for practical, non feminist, biblical ‘advice’ for issues in my marriage. Clearly because I don’t possess the skill set to accomplish my task effectively as a wife. This has been one of the most helpful sites I have found. It advocates respectful behavior, irregardless of a husband’s behavior. And if that is true, then I can also expect the same for him, loving kindness, irregardless of my mistakes. When he is angry and defensive, that rarely happens.

    Defensiveness and anger are very real responses to fear. If I have to defend myself to my husband, (about my food choices, about teaching children (by example) to have compassion toward another human being less blessed in some physical way than we, about being put in a position to have sex when someone has spent the evening berating me over my food choice for optimal health (really? isn’t that actually loving HIM? wanting to stay healthy to have a pleasant heart and physical ability to help him?) then am I not going to feel defensive? It all wreaks of a person needing control. Our husbands are our governors, lords, rulers, choose the word that helps you be okay with the reality, but to exercise that control in a hateful arbitrary way is NOT loving. It IS sinful. The real question I keep trying to answer then is how to respond to our husbands when they act sinfully.

    Mark 3:5 says, “When he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored as healthy as the other.”

    Barnes comments, “With a severe and stern countenance; with indignation at their hypocrisy and hardness of heart.
    This was not, however, a spiteful or revengeful passion; it was caused by excessive grief at their state. It was not sudden and tumultuous hatred of the men whose hearts were so hard; it was hatred of the sin which they exhibited, joined with the extreme grief that neither his teaching, nor the law of God, nor any means which could be used, overcame their confirmed wickedness. Such anger is not unlawful, Eph 4:26. And, in this instance, our Lord has taught us that anger is never lawful, except when it is tempered with grief or compassion for those who have offended.”

    Burkett says, “Be angry, but take heed of sinful anger. Now the way to be angry and not sin, is to be angry at nothing but at sin; it is our duty to be angry when we see others depart from their duty. Meek Moses, who was cool enough in his own cause, was not so in God’s; he has no zeal for God, that is not moved when he sees or hears God dishonoured.”

    That is on us when our husbands disregard God’s word.

    Micah 6:8, 7:17 He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does God require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?… he delights in loving kindness.

  4. So I had a chance to ask my husband this morning what he thinks this wife should do. He said first talk to him about how it makes her feel and if that doesn’t work let him know that she’s going to ask a friend of his to talk with him about it and ask that friend to bring another friend, so he can’t sidetrack the issue easily. He felt it would show respect that you’re letting him know that you’re going to ask his friend to talk with him. (Interesting side note that I didn’t think of until writing this comment: several months ago he and I were having a disagreement about something and I asked him if he would please talk about it with a couple of his friends from men’s group about the issue. He did and we resolved the conflict in a win-win way.) I’m thinking perhaps this is an example of earning (through respectful communication) the right to influence.

    • Sandi –
      What I love about this is it is a Matthew 18 precursor step – and I’d add ONE thing in between telling him how she feels and telling him she’s going to ask one of his friends – I can see some men going through the roof over sharing something like that with a friend – and that is to ASK HIM TO ASK a male friend of his about it, preferably in a group situation. I LOVE that your husband is vulnerable with his male friends, that he’s strong enough to be transparent! AWESOME. Admirable. Respect-worthy.

      That part about sharing with two of his friends? Matthew 18. Awesome.

      Thanks to you and your husband for chiming in here!

      Love to you,
      Nina

    • Sandi, I think this is good advice. However, I’m afraid that many ladies that are in the situation that Nina describes have husbands that don’t have friends or if they do, they are not Godly friends. My husband is not abusive, but he does not have any male friends that can speak into his life… He is starting to get one but they are just superficial friends right now. That has been a deep prayer of mine for many, many years.

      So do you or anyone else have any advice when a man speaks that way but doesn’t have male friends that can speak into his life.

      • I guess I would choose to walk away as I mentioned in my first comment. If he has no one he’ll allow to speak into his life, it says something about his spiritual maturity. I would very prayerfully consider whether a redemptive separation is in order. I say this with a great deal of hesitation, though. I would want to make sure I’ve done the work on myself first. I would ask those that are close to me what I might not be seeing that may be contributing to our issues. I would definitely need to be deep in prayer before considering such a drastic step.

        Abuse is real! I also know from personal experience that characterizing normal conflicts as abuse happens too. I thought my husband was “controlling” and “emotionally abusive”. The real problem wasn’t so much him as it was my immaturity. 🙁

  5. I would like to know how to respond,since this is my case: “if only one person is doing small sweet acts of kindness, it communicates that one person is worth serving, and the other is not – this does NOT reflect the relationship between Christ and the church – both are supposed to serve the other.”
    My husband shares articles because he believes “she needs to read this.” I thanked him for the last one , a few days ago, relating to the “Love dare” idea, which I practiced the first day. (2nd and 3rd days I didn’t, and he rebuked me for it) however, I said it was a great idea and suggested we both do it, but He made it clear, saying he “stopped long ago…Jesus said we should shake the dust off our feet and move on.”
    Any suggestions?

    • Grace, I’m so sorry this is the Now you are in. Might I encourage you to join our Strength & Dignity eCourse? If you email us through the greaterimpact.org site, we can help you do that. Technically enrollment is closed, but I can squeeze you in. Also, I highly recommend Gottman Level 3 Christian counseling, if he will go. Your marriage is in trouble and not reflecting Christ’s relationship with the church. You might also ask your husband what he means by “shake the dust off our feet and move on” and I wonder if you’ve let him know how you feel? Before doing that, however, start 30 days of respect and join the free eCourse.

      Love to you,
      Nina

      • Nina, thanks for responding! Actually, I am enrolled in the Strength & Dignity course, but I’ve been stumped on session 5 “30 days of respect” starting over, too many times to count — every time my husband tells me I’m NOT respectful….It’s hard to tell if I’m improving at all. Sorry, it just looks pretty hopeless to finish the course.

        The “shaking the dust off” has been a “favorite” verse of my husband’s for years, I think I’ve let him know how I feel but I guess I could ask him point blank what he means. It just hurts. Where do I contact “Gottman Level 3?” He’s not interested in counseling—”why take his time, when I’m the whole problem?!”

        One thing he agreed with me– that I’m not perfect:) James Clear confirmed what else I said: “I won’t be perfect in this journey, but when I do screw up I will make things right.” Then I understood and felt God cheering me on and giving grace to the humble!! I will press on.

  6. I am in a very painful and confusing marriage right now and my husband gets very defensive when I stand up for myself or confront him on his behavior. I am at a loss at what to do. I have asked for cousneling/mediation as we need a third party to help us, and today I sent him an email regarding a small group starting this summer for relational healing. He has not responded to any attempts to reach out to him.

    • Go to counseling yourself- you will get alot out of it and it will give you solid ground when you stand up for yourself.

      • Cecile.. I am in counseling. I am slowly coming out of the fog and seeing that I can have a life for myself..and it starts by standing up for myself and understanding that I am not responsible for my husbands feelings and reactions anymore.

        We had a whammy last night. It was twisted around and became my fault again…and of course I am the abusive one. My head spins every time we have these episodes..so much so that I check in with friends to help me come back down and see my worth and value.

        • Always,
          Might I encourage you to join our Strength & Dignity eCourse? If you email us through the greaterimpact.org site, we can help you do that. Technically enrollment is closed, but I can squeeze you in. Also, I highly recommend Gottman Level 3 Christian counseling, if he will go. Most traditional marriage counseling only has a success rate of 20%. Check Sandi’s response below, where her husband chimed in. I wonder if you’ve let your husband know how you feel? Before doing that, however, start 30 days of respect and join the free eCourse.

          Love to you,
          Nina

  7. I’ll ask my husband what he thinks, but won’t be able to until tomorrow evening. I will share my thoughts though.

    I think in the situation of being in public when someone’s making unkind remarks, I’d choose to walk away. I think ideally I wouldn’t say anything about it unless asked why I left. Then I think I’d explain that I was embarrassed and felt bad for the person being talked about. That owns my own feelings of embarrassment and compassion. If my heart is humble when I do it, my tone will be without judgment or condemnation. If that can’t be heard without defensiveness, I really can’t do anything, but pray for the other person.

    If I was the one being berated, I think I’d walk away. Maybe say “that hurts” unless there’s a history of them mocking me. Someone that talks to others that way must be miserable in their own hearts. How sad that is. Their words say so much more about them than they do about me.

    • I agree with what Sandi said– “Someone that talks to others that way must be miserable in their own hearts. How sad that is. Their words say so much more about them than they do about me.” I’m trying to practice compassion:)

  8. At some point husbands all WANT to make their wives happy unless there are some serious mental or physical issues. When we present our feelings we need not portray ourselves as wounded or self-righteous. Explaining too much comes across as complaining or judgemental. A husband desires, as much as possible to take care of you. He reacts to how bad he feels for our low opinion of him.

    Nobody is responsible for our feelings except ourselves. When we prayerfully consider that God has put us in a situation to praise Him and serve Him, we can explore how we might consider others with love and gratitude. I can pray for my husband, inform him of how I have interpreted the situation and what I am capable or incapable of doing. This is helpful to him without being critical and placing blame. 1 Samuel 16:7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

    Footnotes:

    • dm, I love your response!!! Excellent use of boundaries. I know how easy it can be to fall into self-righteousness, ugh!

  9. I have learned to walk away from the abuse to protect myself. I am still “married” but it’s not a supporting or living relationship. I’m curious to hear how others handle this, and some suggestions.

    • My husband has gotten better, but I too still have to just walk away sometimes. For me, it took outsiders telling him he was a jerk. Male friends that he respected told him he was not nice to me or the kids in certain situations and when that happend, he changed… It was hard being patient for my prayers to be answered, and still is sometimes… Now, if I do like the above stories, and wait until the next day to tell him I was upset, we can have a good conversation… If I try in the moment to tell him, he gets defensive and I get pissed, more so since I am already upset… I can deal with the defensiveness much better after a night of sleep and prayer!

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