He sat across from me in my office, silent. His hands were fidgeting as he continued to look down and shifted in his chair. Was he contemplating the non-existent pattern in the carpet? Had he heard me, I wondered?
Almost a complete minute of silence had passed since I had asked him the question. Apparently, it had provoked a deep introspection. We had been discussing the value of communicating thoughts and emotions in his relationships. As his griefs had surfaced over the past season, so had a deep confusion over his identity. For this man, it had always been easier to logically assess a situation, plan a practical task, and move forward, ignoring the effects of his words and actions on those around him.
Relationally, he was oblivious. Until lately.
Now, in the midst of the cost of his marriage, his Inner Life was waking up. My question had been a simple one: “If you were your wife, what would you think or feel about you?”
I have learned over the years, to allow my clients time to think through their answers, and wait for responses. But, as the silence wore on in this particular session, I began to realize we were on unknown ground for this particular gentleman.
I broke into his reverie. “Are you having trouble?” I asked.
“She told me before she left,” he replied. “I just didn’t want to listen, I guess.”
“What did she say?”
“She told me that I didn’t want her.” He stopped. “Why would she say that? We never talked about this stuff. Where would she get that idea?”
And there it was. After years of ignoring his wife; expecting her to take care of him without verbal or relational connection; leaving the care of the children and the home completely in her hands; acknowledging her only in public… this client was surprised at his wife’s apparently inconceivable decision to leave. Hadn’t he been a provider, he reasoned? That should be enough. After all, he was the man, he said.
“What do you think you would think or feel?” I repeated the question.
“I guess I would feel lonely,” he sighed a response. “I just didn’t know I was supposed to care about those things. It never occurred to me how she might feel. I mean, she took care of everything. I really thought she was happy. In control, you know…..”
“Did she ever tell you she was unhappy?”
He shifted in his chair again. “Well, a couple of times when we had fights. I would bring something to her attention, and she would burst into tears and ‘go off.’ You know, hormonal.”
“What does that mean: ‘you would bring something to her attention?’”
“Like something she needed to change — about herself; or about the house, or how she was handling something with the kids.”
“Did you help her?”
“I didn’t have time to do that. I was working.”
“Were you critical of her?”
“Probably, but only to help her.” He looked at me. “Isn’t the wife supposed to take care of the husband? Isn’t that her Biblical reponsibility?”
At that point, I called him by name. “Do you realize that when you try to change your wife in that way, you are telling her that you don’t really want her as your companion? What she hears is that you want someone else who will act and respond in a different way, and be a different person than she is. You are telling her that you don’t want her. Not only that, but when that is the only communication she is receiving, it is doubly damaging.”
He looked at me, dumbfounded; his mouth and eyes wide open, like a deer in the middle of a road facing bright headlights.
“Not only that,” I continued. “But as to Biblical responsibilities, the Word has much more to say about the man’s responsibility to care and nurture his wife than it does about the woman’s role.”
“For real?” he asked.
Being female, it amazed me that he hadn’t known this. This man, although he loved his wife dearly, had been content to live and function on a facts level only, ignoring his family, making demands. In contrast, his wife had been living in emotional starvation since their days of courtship. Then, through the years of marriage, this husband had mistakenly assumed that because he could explain away her complaints and emotions as “not being logical,” they didn’t matter. If he could discount them, and find an alternate perception, it became his habit to expect her to consistently adjust and make personal changes.
This man had expected his viewpoint to determine Acceptable Truth. Apparently, there had been no alternatives; no team; no unity. He felt it was his God-given privilege.
Since that meeting several years ago, I have encountered many in our culture with the same issues; many marriages with the same struggle. Sadly, in my own experience, situations like this one are even more prevalent within the mindset of the Christian church, than in the secular environment.
God’s original design for marriage is that each partner seek to outserve the other one; not one-sided or demanding. The husband submits his life to Jesus, and loves his wife without condition, laying his life down for her. The wife responds by submitting her life to Jesus, and honoring his intentional choice to serve. Together they are a team, seeking to build each other up — without asserting rights, choosing to learn how to grow together, living their growth honestly and vulnerably in front of their children and the rest of humanity. This is the way of the Kingdom.
When we come to Christ, he calls us to forsake the desire to put ourselves first. We become disciples — learners. We choose to serve. A marriage doesn’t work when one partner does more serving than the other — because it isn’t God’s plan. Such a relationship becomes selfish. The non-communicative partner becomes the center of the orbit; with everyone seeking to gain their approval…… this is narcissism. Sadly, it lives in the American Church as well; in marriages that would like the label “Christian.” But Christianity is about what Jesus would do — not about our rights, our feelings, or our comfort.
We are not called to rule each other — we are called to serve each other. We are called to empathy.
I have had the exhausting joy of helping many broken and abused women over the years in rebuilding some semblance of their lives. I still find myself getting angry when legalistic dogmatics contend for some sort of “scriptural” selfishness and entrapment when it comes to abuse in Christian marriages. In a day when our American culture has become increasingly self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed, there is a desperate need for more than surface answers in our homes and families.
It is time for a house-cleaning from the attributes of Denial, Entitlement and Religiosity.
It is time for Honesty, Healing and Growth.
If you are in a relationship like the one described here, let me encourage you to seek help. Find a good, solid, Christian counselor who won’t offer platitudes; but will speak real solution. God’s plan for marriage is that it reflect the relationship Jesus has with His Bride – Honest, Safe, Secure, Loving and filled with Grace. Within the context of Reality; it means growing, learning and communicating; allowing your spouse to know your entire life, with nothing held back — ever.
I’m glad to say that in that particular appointment years ago the husband began a process in working, hard, I might add, to win his wife’s heart back. What took many years to destroy, God rebuilt in a season of months — in fact, I spoke with him not long ago, and he said, “Thanks. We’re still learning– every day!”
Aren’t we all? (Thank God!)
Welcome to Discipleship 101.
(c)2010 DG Awakened to Grow. Duplication without permission prohibited.