Over at my Wifey Wednesday post, there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not we're just simply blaming the wife for all the problems in the marriage, and I thought I'd better address this one head on.
First of all, absolutely not. Many of us are married to men who don't show us love, appreciation, or respect. We aren't happy, and we need more.
So there are two questions here:
1. Is the church putting the responsibility for change primarily on the wife? 2. How do we change things?
Here's what I would say. The church absolutely is not putting the responsibility on the wife. Have you ever been to a church service on Mother's Day? It's all nice and sweet. There's a sermon on how mothers are God's gift to all of us, and then women get roses or chocolates or something. Now fast forward to Father's Day. What is the typical sermon? Shape up, men. You're ruining your families.
In my experience, the church definitely puts a lot of onus on the husband to shape up, as it should.
But here's the issue, and here's where we skip to the second part of my question: if the husband isn't interested in shaping up, then what do you do? It really does no good to say, "the husband needs to shape up; end of story," if he's not interested in changing. And besides that, very rarely is anything entirely one person's fault. There is always something we can do, even if it just revolves around how to find peace and contentment ourselves.
That's essentially what my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum addresses: how to change YOU so that YOU can be peaceful and contented, even if he never changes. Because the only thing that you have control over is yourself.
If you are waiting for him to change, it is very unlikely that he ever will. First, you aren't doing anything to make him change (nagging doesn't count. That just makes him dig his heels in deeper). And talking to him doesn't count. He can too easily tune you out. You have to change your behaviour and your attitude not to change him, but to help yourself. Do you see the difference?
In the comments, one woman wrote that the church is always telling her to change herself so that the marriage will change, and that doesn't work. But the change I'm talking about isn't becoming a doormat. It's change so that we get our peace in God. It's change so that we find a way to be grateful for what we have (and for what God has given us in Jesus). It's change so that we decide that we are primarily responsible for our own happiness, not our husbands. It's change so that we start ensuring that we have a well-rounded life, and have friends, and interests, and hobbies, so that our lives don't revolve around resenting him.
It's change so that we learn how to love him even if he doesn't return the love in a way we need him to. Again, this doesn't mean becoming a doormat. If he yells when he's angry, remove yourself from the room. If he expects dinner to be ready, but never tells you when he's going to be home, tell him dinner will be ready at a certain time, and after that he'll have to heat it up (I'm talking about someone who treats you with disrespect; not a man who's trying but sometimes gets caught in traffic). If he demeans you in front of his friends, say gently that you would prefer that he not talk like that, and leave the room.
I am not saying you need to accept disrespect and meanness. Absolutely not. But the change I'm talking about means going to God with your feelings, and asking Him to fill your life so that He is your living Water. And then learn how to love yourself and respect yourself again. And learn how to love sacrificially, too. Loving sacrificially is not being a doormat. It's simply modeling Christ, and He was not a doormat.
You are not primarily responsible for your marriage. But you are primarily responsible for your attitudes and your behaviours inside your marriage. Certainly God judges your husband, too, and wants him to love you. But if he doesn't, that isn't an excuse for you to get out of it. You still need to serve and love.
But you can also take steps to make sure that others are treating you with respect. You don't need to accept meanness, and nor should you, because that meanness will adversely affect the children. You can respond quietly and calmly that you would love to talk to him, but you don't think you should be spoken to like that, and when he is ready to talk normally, you really want to hear what he has to say. Do you see the difference?
The commenter seems like she's really angry because Christian women keep telling her that she needs to change, while they're not saying anything to her husband. I'd love to talk to your husband, but as far as I know he's not reading this blog! So I am telling you, the best I can, what can help your marriage using the only tools at your disposal: your own actions.
If we women start resenting our husbands and dig ourselves into a corner, saying, I will only change when he does, we're basically deciding to be miserable forever. Is that what you want?
Or we can decide that we can take control of our own feelings, and go to God with them. We can seek out good friends. We can find hobbies. We can make our lives richer so that we have more emotional batteries and emotional support in our marriages. And then we can start treating him differently.
Men react well when they feel they are competent. They retreat when they feel they are not. If you are always telling him that he is a lousy husband, he will tune you out and stop spending time in the marriage. Is that right? No. But that's how men work. If you want things to change, you have to realize that.
If you can love him, and affirm him in his strengths, you build him up and he is more likely to respond to you. But even if he doesn't, you are learning how to be a bigger person. And that is worth something in and of itself, isn't it?
Unconditional love and acceptance does an amazing thing to a person. When you can love your husband, without strings, and he senses that, chances are he will respond. Some men never will, but most will react to it. Again, I'm not saying you accept verbal abuse (let alone physical abuse). But you need to love him as he is, and stop waiting for him to change to be happy.
I hope that helps. I know it sounds harsh. But nobody has a magic wand that can change him. You work with what you have. And you have your own actions, and you have God's help to love sacrificially. Those two things can transform your life. Don't underestimate them!
My podcast last week is on this topic, and might be helpful. Listen in here.
About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.