A Common Way That Wives Sabotage Their Marriages

I just tripped over an email that one of our daughters had asked me to write to a friend of hers back in 2004. Her friend's marriage was all messed up, and, in her own words, she was seeking some serious straight talk.

Help. Advice is needed, but please do not try to give me sugar coated encouragement. I need real, hardcore advice on my next move. Give me the truth.

I guess our daughter asked me to reply for at least these reasons:

Although I've done a minimal amount of editing (to remove names, to fix typos, etc), what's copied below is exactly what her friend wrote and how I responded. It wasn't an on-going conversation. I'd divided up a single email from her friend into its individual points, and then responded to each one.

I'm sure there'll be some (maybe lots of) women who'll summarily dismiss what I had to say as mansplaining how to be a good wife. To all of them, I simply ask:

If your marriage is a mess and this advice works then whose splaining is worth heeding?

Our daughter told me about the problems you and your husband are having with respect to your marriage and said that you're looking for advice. What follows is mine. At its root are a few basic principles:

Wife's Statement My Response

We're on separate paths, it seems,

What path are you on? What path is he on?

He thinks it's my fault and I think it's his.

You probably both are. The actual ratio, however, is ultimately of no real consequence. Your worrying about how much of the problem is his fault not only is unproductive but also is giving you an excuse to believe that you have some kind of right to make demands of him. You don't. As your husband, he's the head of your home. If you think this isn't fair then you're right because it isn't. That's just how a chain of authority works. Your job is, quite simply, to be the best possible wife he could ever hope to have. If you do this then his conduct is strictly between himself and God.

Are we lost completely?

I doubt it.

I misled myself into believing that marriage could actually work for two people like us.

Like what? What are you like? What's he like? Where do you believe the impasse is?

I am not sure if he will change.

What about him do you believe needs to change?

What do you think he might say needs to change about you?

I see people. I don't think he sees me anymore.

Of course he does. The real question is what does he see when he looks at you. If he sees a wife who's trying to run his life then he won't be pleased. If he sees a wife who thinks he's a failure then he won't be pleased. If he sees a wife who's standing in the way of his goals then he won't be pleased. If he sees a wife who seems to not love him then he won't be pleased. If he sees a wife who's grown cold to his intimate needs then he won't be pleased.

The light has totally gone out of his eyes... and mine as well. I am sure this is normal. We love each other but are bored stiff by the other's presence.

No, I don't think that's right. Before you married, you were both engulfed in the euphoria created by a tremendous sexual desire for one another. One of the natures of this euphoria is that you only saw each other's good points and that you wrote off what few faults you were willing to acknowledge as being negligible. Now that you've been together for some time and, therefore, have gotten this need under control, you see each other more clearly. Each other's good points don't seem quite so significant any more. Each other's faults seem much, much worse now.

To top it off, we don't even recognize God in our marriage.

If God was there to start with then He's most assuredly still there. You can't determine if God is there or not based on your feelings. Perhaps He just wants you to learn some bitter lessons the hard way since you didn't take His advice and obey His commands at the outset.

If you believe you're saved then there's a much more important question that you should be asking. Do you see Godliness in your responses to your husband's failings? If you don't, and if that's your trend, then perhaps you're not actually saved at all.

so I don't. I am a fool to be involved with such a person.

That's the wrong perspective. Perhaps you were a fool for marrying him and/or perhaps he was a fool for marrying you. That no longer matters. The fact is that you two now are married to one another. Your only choice is to proceed in a positive way from now on.

Nagging, bugging, encouraging, loving, positive, negative, nothing works.

Stop trying to change him. You can't. He's a fallible human being just like you are. Be as forgiving and understanding toward his faults as you know you want and need him to be toward your own.

Then he gets mad at me and says that I am keeping him down... I don't let him make enough decisions... when I allow him to make all final decisions in my life.

Really? Are there times, for example, after you two have had a serious battle when he wishes to show you, through sex, that he still loves you? Are you, at those times, as warm, affectionate, and inviting as you ought to be, or, rather, do you tend toward responding to his advances with coldness, dryness, etc?

I think about what he would say in any instance, whether it is finances or even how to wash the freakin dog.

Would his perception be that you do so cheerfully or begrudgingly? Does he even know that you do so?

I ask him his opinion and go with his advice.

When you go with his advice, do you ever say anything to him which shows an appreciation for and an understanding of why he gave it?

I can not live up to his state of perfection, however, so he can over exaggerate my flaws when we argue.

Don't get too self-righteous. I suspect that he's also not living up to your super-human expectations and that you're exaggerating his faults.

Allowing him to be the decision-maker in our household apparently means I can have no preference or state it if I do.

So what? That's just pride talking. As his wife, your preference should be to please him.

I just don't care enough anymore to really "save" him like I did in the beginning.

What, exactly, do you mean by "save him"? What have you been trying to save him from? Is it that he's an unbeliever and you've tried to force him into God's Kingdom? Is it that you've been trying to protect him from the negative consequences of his bad decisions?

I feel like crap right now and I can't change it.

It may well be true that you feel "like crap" right now, but it's certainly not true that you can't do anything about that. Your feelings should be a slave to you rather than you being a slave to your feelings. If he says something rotten about you that's true then you can immediately feel much better by beginning to fix it. If he says something rotten about you that isn't true then you can immediately begin to feel good by realizing that his mere opinion has no power to make its assertions true. You need to understand that you're always in full control of how you choose to respond to negative events. You can't change the events themselves, but you can and must respond well to them.

The worst part is, I don't even feel like changing it.

Not true else you wouldn't be asking for help.

Help. Advice is needed, but please do not try to give me sugar coated encouragement. I need real, hardcore advice on my next move. Give me the truth.

As you can already see from the foregoing, I'm counting on your sincerity with respect to this claim. So long as you're willing to continue this conversation, I'll continue to be very direct with you.

I think the issue is now, how do I love him?

Unconditionally accept him for who he is ... faults and all. Make no attempt whatsoever, ever again, to try to change him. Even if he does something which you believe to be profoundly stupid, let it go and welcome him home to you with wide open, loving, craving arms.

Research just what it is that he expects from his wife and be that kind of wife. Forget your own personal goals. Make him your goal. Just what earthly goal is more important to you than your marriage anyway?

Patiently and with genuine interest and compassion be one to whom he can come to describe his problems to. Be attentive as you listen. Apply your mind to helping him find solutions to them. Gently offer counsel at those moments when you feel he'd be receptive to your advice. Let him know through your persistent conduct that he can always count on you to be there to support his endeavours.

he has really, really low self-esteem and takes out his frustrations on me (and oftentimes projects his feelings of inadequacy to my behavior.)

He probably directs his frustrations at you because you've been a major cause of them. I'm not saying that this was your intent, but I am saying that it was probably the result. I'm sure that you've been trying to improve him so that others would think better of him, but that's not how he'd likely have interpreted your actions. A man can usually handle insults from practically any direction. An insult from his wife, however, is a completely different matter. It tends to cripple him because the one and only place that he wants and ought to be able to resort to for support has failed. You must understand that when you tell him "you need to improve" that he'll most likely interpret it to mean "you just don't measure up".

He's very hyper-sensitive about a lot of issues... so one day he is joking and fun and the next I don't know what will set him off.

That's usually a symptom of something else. Some people are not as good as others at managing several things at once. This usually shows up in all of our lives to some degree when we're too tired. If your husband is facing many problems at work all at once, for example, then it's very possible that even small aggravations at home are enough to push him beyond what we might call his concurrent problem management threshold. You need to be sensitive to this and just let it go. Just tenderly show him via whatever form of affection works best with him that you still love him. I suspect that his anger is a reflection of how much turmoil is going on in his own life rather than a reflection of any loss of love for you. If, however, you respond in a way which gives him the impression that your love for him has waned then that'll only add to his burden the perceived problem that he's losing you too.

This time what did it was whether or not to use soap on the dog when I washed her. Seriously. We were out bike riding and having a great time when the dog started to over heat. She got a drink and I took her over to the lake to let her get her feet wet to cool down. Well, the dumb dog laid down in the water with mud and goose poop. I told him I would spray her down with the hose when we got home because I planned to wash her next week before my party. He freaked out. He told me I had to use soap and that he wanted it done when we got home.

This looks like an example of something you're doing wrong. You're too quickly jumping to the conclusion that he's being unreasonable. I think the real problem is that he just isn't able to express himself very well.

He probably knew from experience that any amount of that kind of dirt left on the dog would eventually track all over the house and, therefore, felt that it'd be much better to get rid of all of it before the dog set even one toe inside. He knew you were going to throw some kind of party in a few days and didn't want a last minute major cleaning frenzy to scrub the whole house when a much simpler immediate scrubbing of the whole dog would've prevented the larger effort.

I think you really need to stop and think about why your husband is saying what he's saying. Forget about how he says it. Just take the time to figure out why he's saying it. Those extra few seconds may be just what it takes to calm you down and prevent you from responding foolishly. That kind of analysis will also help you to get to know your husband better. Instead of assuming that he's being irrational and/or stupid, you might just discover that you've actually married a very wise man.

I told him that if he wanted it done his way, then he could help me (since I am the only one who ever washes the dog to begin with) and he got really mad at me.

You described this incident as being an argument about whether or not the dog should be washed with soap. That just isn't so. It was an argument rooted in a total lack of appreciation for one another. He probably responded angrily because you showed no appreciation for the good sense of his reasoning. The facts that he didn't give you his reason and that he presented his desire in a less than ideal way are his to deal with, but the fact that you didn't assume the best with respect to his intention is yours to deal with.

Here's the kind of response you could've given him which might've gone a lot further in the right direction:

You know ... you're absolutely right! I shouldn't be that lazy. The problem is that giving a big dog like her, especially given the length of and knots in her fur, such a thorough cleaning is a huge job. Would you mind giving me a hand with it? We might even have a lot of laughs as we watch her thrashing around in all that water and soap. In fact ... why don't we put on our bathing suits so that we can join in the games? This might just turn out to be an even more fun afternoon than we initially set out to have.

So, he made me feel bad by saying he would just "cancel his plans" so he could wash the dog.

What were his plans? Might it be that you yourself, without realizing it, were equally guilty of the same crime? Might it be that you, too, had plans which such a major washing of the dog would also interfere with? It may just be that you either had to make dinner or needed some rest, but those, too, would've been plans.

He ranted in the car as well, telling me I make him apologize for everything (which is mostly true, I have pride issues, I know this) and when I tried to talk, he screamed in my face, "SHUT UP!!!!" which is something he's never done before (but sadly, I have) and I flipped out and told him to stop or I was jumping out of the car. He did and I got to walk the last 5 miles home.

Why didn't you just "shut up"? He wasn't being mean. He was telling you that whatever was overloading his mind at that moment was being aggravated by you so what he desperately needed at that instant was for you to stop contributing to his problems. He may well have been on the verge of a degree of anger wherein he suspected he might do something he'd regret. You need to stop taking his statements so personally, and to understand that, nasty as he may have sounded, he was only trying to protect you from himself. His plea for you to be silent was, as I see it, an expression of the love he still has for you.

I have issues of abuse in my past

So what? You can't go back and change any of that. You can, however, and must take full responsibility for how you behave right now. Using past mistreatment as an excuse for present misconduct is irresponsible. If you didn't like others having been cruel to you then don't be cruel to others. Since you know how wrong those who were cruel to you were then you're double guilty when you're cruel to others because you have a deep personal knowledge regarding the harmfulness of your own actions.

I feel wronged

But that's hypocritical since you know that you've wronged him too. How's your conflict ever going to be resolved as long as neither of you is willing to stop feeling wronged? Isn't it better to do right than to feel wronged? One of you needs to make the first move. Will that be you?

and he won't even talk to me.

You've scared him off with your own anger and rebukes. He probably recognizes that the intensity of the situation may cause him to speak carelessly. He doesn't want to risk alienating you further. You need to create an environment wherein he can feel free to be himself. Once he can finally relearn how to be relaxed around his own wife, his anger will probably, for the most part, go away.

I don't even care about an apology. I would rather yell and scream at one another than be ignored

Start slowly. You can't make him talk, but what you can do is show that your love for him is still very much alive. Start sitting beside him silently. After a while, start touching him gently. Begin holding his hand warmly. Not a word need be spoken. Just let him know by your conduct that what you really desire in life, to the exclusion of all else, is his closeness.

The background of this really has to do with his feelings of inadequacy, not fulfilling his "dream" job and other misc. things happening right now.

You see ... you do ultimately understand the root of his problem. You know that the problem isn't related to you so stop contributing to it.

What was his dream anyway?

I am so confused and angry and hurt and disappointed with marriage.

Marriage isn't about being selfish ... it's about giving. Give your husband all that he needs and I suspect that he'll eventually begin to give you what you need. Make it your business, though, to simply generously give to him without expecting anything in return. That's what it takes to make a marriage work.

Dave Mielke
EMail: Dave@Mielke.cc
Twitter: @Dave_Mielke