Last night, when my husband came upstairs to go to bed, he woke me. He didn’t mean to do so, but it happened. Not because he’s inconsiderate, thoughtless and rude, but because he was half-asleep when he came into the bedroom (he’d fallen asleep on the couch). After lying awake for about half an hour, I started to get a little ticked. I’m very protective of the limited amount of sleep I get because I need a LOT of sleep to deal with a disability of mine, and when sleep eludes me, I have more pain the next day. In the midst of my irritation, however, I noticed that I wasn’t ticked at him, I was ticked at myself. This “midnight wakening” experience happens about one to two times a week. I’ve never said anything to him about it in the nearly 20 years we’ve been married. Good thing I wasn’t ticked at HIM…although I’ve seen many women who would see his behavior as the cause of my discomfort. My husband is many excellent things, but a mind reader, he is not. And it’s unrealistic for me to expect him to be. This brings me to my first communication suggestion for women who are married and mad:
For the repeated behaviors that have negative implications – SAY SOMETHING. Be brief. Be direct. “Honey, can you run the water lower when you brush your teeth when you come up to bed after me? It wakes me up and I can’t get back to sleep for over an hour.” Don’t be emotional or sarcastic. Be nice. And don’t nitpick. Extend grace as frequently as you can, remembering that as we judge, so will we be judged.
Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV) reads,
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
But what about the “little bit harder” stuff? What if you live with a man who is insensitive and uncaring? What if he’s distant, or rude? Let’s say you spend time every day making him a great meal and he never says a single nice word about it, never says, “Thank you for making dinner.” What if all during dinner, he criticizes multiple things? Or behaves even worse?
What’s the right thing for a wife to do?
The second suggestion I make is going to challenge your world view a bit.
If you ask a secular person, she’ll advise you to, “stand up for your rights!” “Don’t allow yourself to be treated this way!” “Let him know in no uncertain terms that you do not appreciate his behavior!” Some of this is okay, but other parts are giving him a lecture like he’s a little boy, and all will arouse resentment. All these responses are disrespectful. Would YOU like to be treated like that? What if you are struggling with your weight? Would you you’re your husband calling you on the carpet about that? Wouldn’t it make you angry or cry to be on the receiving end of communication delivered in an attitude like this?
If you ask most church-going people, you’ll frequently get the, “turn the other cheek,” “give him grace, he is the head of the house,” “keep loving him like Jesus loves,” and of course, “you have to submit to his authority.” All of these things are true and I’m not disagreeing with how God set up families, nor am I arguing to disregard Jesus’ instruction to us. There are many times to behave like this.
Dealing with unloving, repeated behavior (and when I say, “repeated,” I mean multiple times, not just a few), when we do nothing, in effect disrespecting ourselves, we are NOT teaching our husbands to respect us.
This is a problem because “respect” is the language they speak.
And because we are called to respect and help our husbands, we need to be women of strength and dignity, women who have emotional control and communicate with them while speaking their language (which assumes we know how to speak it), being people they can hear in the first place. This means we need to demonstrate that we are worthy of respect. Most of the time, the need to “stand up and show this,” isn’t necessary, but there are times when it is.
You need to be aware that in probably 70-80% of the marriages we’ve worked with, the husband, after experiencing unconditional respect, becomes more loving towards his wife. Without being told – he just does it. He’s motivated by her respect to become a better husband, father, and man. In 20-30% of the marriages we’ve worked with (where the husband doesn’t do anything different), one of several things is going on. Either,
- The wife has never communicated with the husband directly about what HE experiences as respect. She’s making guesses, doing what other women are doing, and not tailoring respect to her own husband, not actually giving it her “all” and really learning to speak his language well (but never asking him when he’s angry, ie: “I see you are angry – can you help me talk about this without being disrespectful? It’s not my intent. How can I ask you about our finances without sounding disrespectful?” and then implementing what she learns)
- The husband has been so wounded by his wife’s lack of respect for him that he doesn’t believe the changes are “real” or will last, so he’s giving it time before he allows himself to let his guard down and trust her with his heart again
- The husband is oblivious to the changes due to outside influences (work stress, absent for work or hobbies, an affair, or upbringing that didn’t model what a marriage should and could look like)
- The husband needs to be shown how to respond lovingly because he doesn’ t know how, or
- The husband is enjoying his new experience of respect, but is letting his wife “do all the work” in the relationship because he can get away with it (and doesn’t really respect her, because she lets him get away with it)
One of the problems is that wives will ruin the potential communication outcome by emotionally vomiting all over their husband. In general, most men can’t handle emotional women. They actually have a strong physiological response (the “fight or flight” response) and can’t act on it so they typically leave the room or completely shut down and begin “stuffing” their own emotions.
This is not good.
And emotional control for a wife is HUGE. Especially if she is trying to help her husband connect more deeply with her and their kids.
Back to what to do with the husband who continues to do the wrong thing…
But, if (and the “if” is critically important!) you are doing everything in your power over the course of many MONTHS to speak the language of respect to your husband and after you have been direct, (ie: “Honey, when you point out all the flaws with the dinner I cooked, and fail to thank me or preparing it, this feels disrespectful and unappreciative to me. I would like you to stop doing that, especially since we’re setting an example for the kids,”) if you have done those things and been met with no change in his behavior, it is time to take action.
I’m going to suggest something a little different, something you may never have heard before. And I believe it is grounded in Truth, but not made obvious.
Here are what I consider “the steps” for wise women:
- Be GOOD at communicating respect – test this by asking your husband if he feels respected by you. He should say, “Yes!” If he doesn’t say, “Yes,” ask him what you need to do differently. If you do that and he still gets angry, say, “You told me to handle this by saying these things in this way. I am doing that, but you are still angry. Am I doing something else that is communicating disrespect?” More often than not, unless a wife is completely clueless in this area, her husband will respond at this point with, “No, I’m just mad at myself. You haven’t done anything. I’m sorry.” Either way, it’s an opportunity for both to grow.
- Be direct and unemotional in your communication when you want something (as discussed above) – men can’t deal with the emotional outbursts, so be mature in how you communicate. The only exception is with intimacy: Take action physically. Don’t discuss it more often than you physically communicate.
Take action if he is demonstrating a repeated negative behavior that impacts your relationship, as described below, but only if you have “earned the right to do so,” as described.
Here’s an example of what “taking action” could look like, using the dinner example above. Remembering that men are creatures of respect, they are not going to respond positively to us if we are not communicating that we do not respect ourselves. This doesn’t mean that “everything is about us,” or that we are, “selfish.” It means we do not allow others to treat us badly. BUT, in a marriage, we do this after we have died significantly to our own selfish desires, having become a giving person, one worthy of respect. So what I’m saying is, you have to earn the right in your marriage to take action in helping your husband respect you. Be worthy of respect by doing all the things we teach in The Respect Dare FIRST, because if you don’t, you will have an angry, resentful man to deal with. You have to treat him the way God wants you to treat him, and then, out of love and with an attitude of trying to help him, take action that shows him how to treat you. This is gentle, loving, respectful and kind. It’s not an “I’ll show him!” exacting of consequences or discipline. Any emotion you are experiencing at this point that is negative and other than one of being helpful is a CUE of selfishness and a lack of attention to your own issues. Think plank.
What this looks like is simple. Let’s say that the dinner time issue is a hill you’ve decided is worth dying on, because what occurs in your home and what you know is possible are two completely different things and you want dinner to be a time of serious connection for your family. Let’s say that everything is going great (the kids are there, they are open to you reading the Bible and how to apply it, there’s lots of conversation about everyone’s days, etc.), except your husband ruins the entire dinner experience for everyone by constantly complaining about the meal, the way it is presented, the way the silverware is laid out, etc.. Even the children are beginning to shut down because of his demeanor. Here’s the scenario, if you feel so led: The kids and you eat dinner together before he gets home. He wanders in looking for his dinner, wondering why the family isn’t eating together. He finds you in the bedroom, reading a book. He says to you, “Where’s dinner?” You look up and sweetly say, “Sweetheart, the meals I prepare for you seem to continually be a source of disappointment for you, no matter how hard I work on them. I have asked you to stop complaining, and I’ve worked hard to make the recipes you like, but it just doesn’t work. So I’ve decided I’m not going to put effort into something that is only met with criticism and complaining.” Then you get up and leave the room.
A few days later, you make dinner again. If he says something nice, you make sure you very specifically thank him for doing so. If you thank him with sex (pointing out that you feel more connected to him when he appreciates and compliments your efforts) he’ll likely thank you for dinner every single night thereafter. Why is that? Because this is one of the few times men experience the release of the hormone oxytocin. This is the “bonding hormone.” When they do release it, they form a deeper connection with the person they are with, which is one of the reasons men feel “connected” after intimacy.
Bottom line: Whatever we pay attention to grows. Pay attention to the things you want more of, and STOP paying attention to (by complaining or reinforcing) the things you want less of by taking action.