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How to Support Him without Being a Doormat
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.

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At 10:01 AM , Blogger Fruitful Vine said…

Excellent post! This is exactly what I've tried to tell wives before hoping they would listen. Thanks for telling the truth in love.


At 10:02 AM , Anonymous Carol @SheLives said…

What you're saying here applies to pretty much every relationship. We are responsible for our own action and we can not change other people. What we can change and control are our own responses to people, the way we treat them. How we behave does influence how others perceive us and how they respond to us in turn.

Again, we can only control ourselves and where we fail, God is ready and willing to kick in and help us out.

So says the pot to the kettle, right?


At 11:28 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

I guess I should clarify some things.

I come here because reading stuff like you have been writing does help me to an extent. My husband and I have just been through some counseling that in every session the pastor tells me where I am wrong and what has to change and he never says anything to my husband. My husband and I have both talked about this and even HE says it is wrong and unbalanced. So when I say "the church tells women it is all their fault" I am talking about MY church and not any church in general.

My husband and I actually talk about this topic (very civilly and nicely) a lot. He says that he does things wrong and that it frustrates HIM that women are blamed for all of it a lot of the time. I don't know if you've read the book by Debi Pearl "Created to Be His Help Meet" but that is very popular at our church and in that book it is stated that most marriage problems are the fault of the women.

Sometimes I am resentful, not all the time. A lot of what I write here is in frustration. I am a highly strung person LOL. While my husband doesn't read this blog, if I were to show him my comments he'd probably understand to a point where I am coming from. And we do talk about some of the stuff written on blogs like this.

I've even asked him if we can buy your book on Feb 4th and he's all happy to do it if it even MIGHT help me.

I have been in some churches that teach that ALL women must submit to ALL the men in the that's another story and we don't go there anymore...

It's just that lately this topic has come up on blogs a lot. Someone even used some highly offensive, woman hating blogs to try to prove their points. I just think that we are being a little unbalanced. We are assuming the problem is feminism and then we are going to the total opposite extreme and "learning" from men who make it clear that they absolutely hate women and don't believe there is any such thing as a good woman.

My husband and I are both just sick of the bias and want to find what we believe is balance. Our marriage isn't great yet but it's not bad either. We haven't been married long and we're working on it. I do know he's slower than me to want to try new things etc too.

By the way, I believe that trying to manipulate a husband is wrong, so I believe it is wrong to change what I am doing as a wife IF it is only so that it will change my husband. My heart needs to be in the right place changing me for GOD.


At 2:06 PM , Blogger Ann Dunagan said…

Nice article, Sheila.

I love your heart. (And thanks for signing up for my "Mission-Minded LIFE" blog as well.) I'm enjoying your friendship and insight.

Ann Dunagan
The Mission-Minded Family


At 2:26 PM , Blogger Mrs. Querido said…

Mrs. W:

I understand the kind of church you are going to. My parents went to that kind of church. Everything was my mom's fault and my dad could do no wrong.

Personally, I think you should maybe think about getting counsel outside of your church. If what you are doing now isn't helping your marriage, then maybe seek professional counsel. I think that often the church tries to keep everything "in-house" and they aren't equipped well enough. Some of the best marriage counseling we had was outside of our church.

Also, I say this at great risk of saying the wrong thing. Do you think that perhaps your marriage is being harmed by the unbiblical views your church is touting? When a couple is in extreme disagreement over church, it really affects the rest of their marriage. I should know. For the first three years of our marriage, I spent it fighting about church. Oh, we fought about other things too, but primarily it could be based in how I disagreed with the values of the church.

When my husband decided to leave and go to a different church, a lot of our marital dischord became harmonious. No, it wasn't a magic cure for all of it, but a lot of our fighting stemmed from church issues.

Okay, so let me clarify here. I am NOT saying you should leave your church if you and your husband don't have peace about it. You ABSOLUTELY need to be in agreement about this. Otherwise it will just become another bone of contention to gnaw on.

And I don't think that Sheila was implying we should manipulate our husbands by our actions. I think that she is saying if we take the first step, he is often willing to take the next one. After all is said and done, the only person that you can change in the relationship is you :) (That was a lesson that took me a LONG time to learn)

Mrs. W, I also think you should get God's perspective on being a woman. It helped me to realize what He had created me for and what my function was. Never in the Bible does God place women in a place of subservience or inferiority. In fact, Jesus was the first One to blow the ridiculous religious perceptions, of that day, concerning women out of the water! He went out of His way to show us that as women we are loved, valued and cherished in His eyes.

My final advice, which was totally unsolicited, is to pray. God is the One Who brought you guys together. He knows how you both feel and react to certain things and situations. He can teach you how your husband needs to be loved. When I started praying for wisdom regarding my husband, things started turning around.

My disclaimer for this last part: My marriage isn't perfect and it never will be. There are two imperfect people who are in it together. This in and of itself is a recipe for disaster. But when you factor in Christ at the center, He is the glue that holds us together and bind us closer together.

One of my favorite verses is Colossians 1:17 (Amplified) "In Him all things consist, cohere and are held together." Even my marriage :)


At 2:43 PM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Mrs Querido

Thanks for the comment. Our church is awesome and both my husband and I are in total agreement over being there. The one or two unBiblical things are far outweighed by all the Biblical things. We tend to believe that we aren't going to agree with any pastor 100%.

We don't really do official "counseling" anymore, BUT we both talk with couples whose marriages we respect and who we are good friends with...outside the church, and they help us out a lot. I have one woman in particular that I go to. She's awesome.

Yes God did bring us together in an amazing way and I totally agree that we are supposed to be together.

Also evaluate anything I say knowing that I am pregnant and trying to not let my hormones affect me but when I am passionate about something sometimes my message that I want to convey doesn't come out quite right.


At 5:09 PM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Thank you, Sheila. That's all I wanted to say.


At 9:55 AM , Blogger Sheree said…

I just want to thank you for this post. I hope more women are blessed by it the way I was. THANKYOU!!


At 11:40 AM , Blogger Karen said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 11:41 AM , Blogger Karen said…

Another great post, Sheila! I love visiting your blog :)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

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.

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