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Wrap-Up: Doormats or Wives?

Thanks so much for sharing all your advice on this week's Wifey Wednesday! I wrote about a woman who is married to a man who has basically withdrawn from all areas of their life together. He doesn't go to church with her. He doesn't do things with her. He doesn't believe it's his responsibility to do any housework or cooking. He asks her to work full-time. He spends most of his time with his best friend and the best friend's wife, with whom he seems to have more in common, in their business on the side.

What should she do?

It's going to be hard to summarize all the advice, because it was really insightful, but let me focus on three main areas, and then we'll break it down into individual points.

1. Whatever she does, she has to focus on her own relationship with God first. Her sense of worth, her joy and peace in life, her contentment needs to come from God. So go to church. Pray for yourself (and not only that God will change him). Cling to Jesus, because He is the rock no matter what your marriage does. And the stronger you are in Christ, the stronger you will be in your marriage.

2. Focus on your own issues first. Again, always important. Take anger and bitterness to God and work through that anger and bitterness before you talk to your husband. Don't talk to him out of anger; talk to him out of a sincere desire to make the relationship better. If you're hurt, take it to God. Going to your husband out of neediness or anger when the relationship is already strained doesn't help; it often comes across as nagging, whining, or controlling. Focus on the good things in your husband and reinforce those. Don't talk about the bad things about your husband to anyone except maybe one mature mentor. Pray with gratitude for the good things in him.

3. Here's the controversial one, where not everyone agreed. In any marriage, I think #1 and #2 are key. Often when we change our attitudes towards our husbands, and ask God to equip us to be the best wives we can be, our marriage does change already. For many, all you need is #1 and #2. But there are times when we need a #3. And here's what it is:

When your action (or inaction) contributes to narcissism or unChristlike behaviour in another person, then it is time to change your action.

In other words, by simply being a loving wife and not confronting him on issues, and continuing to do everything in the relationship, you can actually be hurting the relationship.

That's one of the central focuses of my book, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum: When You Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and Mother. James Dobson also talks about this in his book Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis. Though it's written specifically for those who have had affairs, his thesis is still true: sometimes what people need is a good dose of reality if they are going to make the right choices. By catering to their every whim and need, we prevent them from having to make those choices, and we can further damage the relationship by being TOO loving.

I do not believe that God calls us to enable selfish behaviour. At the same time, I'm not saying that we should treat our husbands like children, or that with every small infraction we should come down hard. But in a relationship like this woman's where he has given up any responsibility for the marriage, and has consistently pulled away, I do think some action on her part is necessary.

What that action is, however, is up for debate. Let's go over some of the things that were suggested:

A. Seek counselling, either for yourself or for both of you together. Good idea. If you're going together, try for a male counselor. He may listen better.

B. Confront him, not in anger, about the things that he is doing. Insist that you have a date night or frequent time together.

C. Implement consequences. If he does absolutely nothing around the house, while you both still work full-time, then you stop doing his laundry. Do only what is necessary for you, and he can deal with the rest.

(My instinctive problem with this one, though many mentioned it, is that he may honestly not care. Many men, especially young men, don't. All you do, then, is create a bit of chaos for yourself to live in, which can further damage your own mental state. I may agree with not doing his laundry, but I'm really not sure the rest will work).

D. Insist that he stop spending time alone with this woman or communicating with her frequently on email. This business that they're involved in is not worth their marriage, and if the business is taking him away from the marriage, it's time to start again or do it differently.

E. Invest in yourself. Develop your own hobbies, your own interests, your own skills. Do not just wait around for him to suddenly decide to be your husband. Grow as a person. Show him that you are worth pursuing, and stop pursuing him so much. Show kindness and love to him, but that is different from pursuing him. Personally, I would stop asking all the time if he wanted to spend time with me. I would stop asking if we could do things (other than insisting that we have one night together, or one ritual we do together). I would instead focus on building myself. Right now he knows that anytime he feels like being with you, you are there. That's not exciting. And no wonder he takes you for granted! You become, then, not really an equal partner, but instead some sort of lap dog that is there to be kicked around, but comes running back if ever you offer to pet it.

Don't separate emotionally from the marriage, but you have to change the dynamic.

Think of it like this:

Your marriage is like a teeter totter. Your actions and his actions together have caused it to be balanced in a certain way. You want him to change. But you can't make him change. But as you put more, or less, weight on the teeter totter, he changes, too. It just happens.

So you need to start doing things differently.

4. Stay in the marriage.

Here's the hardest one. While not everyone agrees with me on #3, I'm sure not everyone will agree on #4 either. But I believe that marriage is for life. Except for cases of adultery where vows are broken, or for cases of danger, like addiction or abuse, marriage is for life.

He may not be loving towards you. He may be a jerk. But God does not give a "Jerk-Free" Get out Card. It's not fair. It's not nice. It's not the way the world works. But it's the way God works.

But at the same time, let me offer some hope. Many of the commenters said that their husbands used to be like that, too. It was an issue of maturity. But as their husbands were older, and as they did see a counselor, things changed.

Many men act very differently at 40 than they did at 25. It hasn't sunk in yet that they are responsible for a family. I look in my own extended family at a man who spent no time with his kids and never lifted a finger around the house. Today he's a very involved grandpa who does all the grocery shopping and all the vacuuming. You never would have believed that's what he'd become, but he did, and they're very happy together. If she had bailed on that marriage earlier, she never would have reaped these rewards, and seeing her kids and grandkids at holidays would have been so much more complicated.

(Note to parents: I am still in favour of early marriages. Just make sure your girls marry someone who is mature! And for pity's sake, raise your boys to clean toilets.)

Sometimes the best growth happens in these crisis times, when we are forced to rely on God. For many women, those times stretched into years. It isn't easy. But during those times, focus on the good things in your husband. Run to God for your peace. Invest in yourself, and stay an interesting person. Love him, but do not smother him. Act in such a way that you command respect. And you just may find that God brings him back.

I hope that helps. Leave any other comments you want here. Maybe we'll come up with some more good thoughts! But thanks for writing, sarahe, and I hope that this blesses you!

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At 11:03 AM , Blogger Tessa said…

A little off topic: I went into the bathroom yesterday and Caleb had grabbed the toilet scrub-brush was ready to start scrubbing. Cleaning toilets at 20 months already, he's going to make and excellent husband some day!


At 3:13 PM , Anonymous Kristine McGuire said…

An excellent summation of all the advice not only for this woman's particular situation...but for marriage in general.


At 11:24 PM , Blogger Karen (Forgiven and Loved) said…

You said, "But I believe that marriage is for life. Except for cases of adultery where vows are broken, or for cases of danger, like addiction or abuse, marriage is for life."

I have to add my $0.02....
Just because these things have happened does not mean divorce must follow. I know, for a fact, that marriages after affairs can be thousands times better than before the affair. Of course, a repentant spouse helps.

It also pains me to hear women say, "Well, I have biblical grounds for divorce....." and not even TRY to forgive or work things through.

God can work amazing things in a marriage that stays together despite the circumstances. And OH...the testimony for HIM that it creates!


At 11:43 PM , Blogger sarahe said…

Thanks again so much for the input, encouragement and prayers. I am definitely going to start working harder on leaning on my relationship with the Lord as well as being honest with him in love instead of just catering to his desires. To those who don't know, we found out two days after this original post went out that his primary job is going to be ending b/c the business is going to close. This is throwing us even deeper into relying on the Lord and also will bring many blessings as he will be home more often. Our biggest issue with the loss of the job is now finding medical insurance that will accept me with all my health issues, but I do not think that this is a coincidence at all--God is definitely in this and I am committed to sticking by his side through all of this. Please keep us in your prayers, and thank you again!


At 1:31 AM , Blogger Chocolate Vegetables said…

Marriage and parenthood have been the two most hardest things I have ever done. Sticking with my marriage in the hard times, making sure my husband understands that I feel I deserve his commitment to our relationship, that I won't tolerate certain behaviours, has certainly helped. I now have a great relationship with him. We can honestly and fairly fight and there is a lot more harmony and humour now. I am seeing the rewards for sticking with it. On the other hand I still have a long way to go to see the rewards in parenting, but then every thing to its season, right?!


At 4:45 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Hi Sheila,

Since we seem to be in agreement on #1, #2, and #4 I'm only going to comment on #3. :0)

I heard the "Tough Love" concept expressed in a helpful way when some young married friends of ours were struggling. She was a nurse, a nurturer, a rescuer. He was an "adultescent" who couldn't hold a job, hung out with the wrong crowd, and became addicted to drugs.

But she loved him! She didn't want to leave him (not abusive or unfaithful), so she kept enabling. Finally, the counselor told her, "You keep waiting for him to hit bottom. Don't. Bring the bottom up to him."

I don't know all the details after that, but it involved her separating (temporarily) from him - no longer paying the rent, bills, etc, and not returning until he went into drug rehab. In fact, they moved to a different city to give him a fresh start.

I know, the situation was extreme and the details won't be the same, but the principle is good - don't wait for the situation to hit bottom. Bringing the bottom up reveals the need for change.


At 8:47 PM , Blogger Alex Headrick said…

I'm one of the success stories of reaping the fruits of my work. I was 20 when I married Kevin, and had I opted out those first few years I know I would have been sorry. He was addicted to porn, couldn't hold a job, frequently irritable, lied, put us into financial trouble numerous times. But I loved him. I stuck through it and now he just got a raise in the job he does have, it an amazing emotionally sensitive man who has helped me take care of my dad and now my nonna. (we live with her since we don't have children yet and she needs the help.)

I'm now 25. I'm for young marriages. I think it's like baptism by fire, you grown closer when you walk through fire together.


At 11:36 PM , Blogger Chocolate Vegetables said…

I am further along in my "young" marriage than you (married at 21yo and still together after 16 years) and I totally agree with you that growing up together helps you to grow together also. Good on you for sticking with your dh and best wishes for the future.

Best wishes
Jen in Oz

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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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