This is the fourth in a series of posts in which Chris Taylor (of Forgiven Wife) and I dialogue about ideas and issues brought up in her post, A Wife’s Heart. (Here are the links to part 1, part 2, part 3 part 5, part 6, part 7 and part 8.) Chris and I have chosen colors to help with reading clarity in trying to incorporate our comments into her original text; my comments are in blue and Chris’s in purple.
In this, the fourth chapter of our discussion, Chris and I start discussing her recommendations for helping a wife in the process of healing her heart. In her article, Chris presented eight “action steps” for husbands who want to work on their marriages. In today’s colloquy, we discuss the first four. (Chris had them highlighted with bold text.)
One approach I’ve written about (see this post) is to create an atmosphere in which she feels loved and safe enough to understand herself and begin to trust him with her heart—and with her body.
Help her grow in her walk with God. Encourage her to seek the Great Healer. Do Bible studies with her if she is interested. Pray with her and for her.
Chris, when I first read this, I had one of your ‘reactions’ against it. Further examination shows me that this has a built-in caveat, “if she is interested.”
One thing that I know you and I both have seen often is the resistance to spiritual leading. We’ve read the stories of husbands whose wives have refused to read or do studies with their husbands. We’ve seen where resistance and refusal isn’t just sexual, it’s spiritual. Thoughts?
The spiritual resistance is why I say “if she is interested.” I was resistant both spiritually and sexually. (I understand now that my real issue was the relationship I had with God, not with my husband.)
How a husband approaches his wife with the offer of a Bible study might make a difference. If he says, “Wife, we are going to read this book about God’s design for sex,” she may well think, Yeah, right. This is just you trying to manipulate me into more sex. Do you really think I’m going to fall for that? In fact, if it is a study about marriage in general, she may still think it is an attempt to guilt her into more sex.
However, he could offer to do a Bible study with her about an issue that matters to both of them or a book of the Bible that isn’t known to contain one of the big marriage verses. This could help them grow more intimate spiritually. They may both learn about the other’s heart.
You know, if the wife is as hurt as you’re presenting, I’m thinking that ANY suggestion coming from the Hubs that they do Bible study is going to be seen as criticism and manipulation. Example:
HIM: “Why don’t we do a Bible study on Love Languages?”
HER: “Are you saying that I’m not a loving wife?”
In this area, maybe the adage, “Don’t poke a sleeping bear” applies.
An offer might go over better than a suggestion. An offer presents an option that benefits the recipient. A suggestion implies a need and places pressure.
There are ways to frame said offer as a reflection of care and understanding:
“You say you’ve been feeling stressed lately. Would it help you if I sat down with you once a week so we could do a study of the Psalms?”
“If you would like me to do a bible study with you, let me know.
The important thing is this: Help her grow in her walk with God.
The offer of a bible study can be one way to do this, but it may not be the best thing in all situations. It certainly isn’t the only way to nurture her Christian growth.
When my children were little and I was working full-time during the first sleep-deprived year after my twins were born, my husband connected me with a women’s covenant group through our church. We met every Monday night at another woman’s very clean, quiet, and chaos-free house while my husband stayed home and took care of our children. Providing a time for me to be away from the responsibility of having to nurture anyone else was a huge ministry to me in itself, even aside from the wonderful spiritual growth I underwent as part of that women’s group.
My husband gave me a gift, and there were no expectations. He looked at my life and saw the spiritual desperation there—and he found a way to address it.
A wise husband will encourage his wife’s spiritual growth, and that won’t look the same in every marriage.
I like that. Offer, rather than suggest. That leaves the ball in her court, with no pressure. This brings to the forefront the issue of “eggshells”, doesn’t it? Subject for another conversation, I guess.
Demonstrate care for her feelings. When she shares something difficult for you to hear, it likely has been difficult for her to say. Honor her courage and trust. If you have done something to hurt her, listen to her. And repent. And ask for forgiveness—for what you did in the first place and for not having heard her before. My husband is a good man and never meant to hurt me—but his acknowledgement of that hurt was what I craved more than anything else.
First, “Difficult for you to hear” – as a storyteller, I’m
blessed/cursed/blessed cursed with the ability able to imagine so many different scenarios, so, could you clarify this, please? I’m assuming “You’re a perv, you’re a lousy husband!” don’t come under courage and trust?
Since I was writing about when the wife is dealing with hurt that her husband has caused or contributed to, I was thinking about hearing difficult things such as the following:
• “When you invite your family over without talking with me first, I feel like you don’t care about me.”
• “You often tell that story about the time we were at the soccer game and I laughed so hard that I peed. I was so embarrassed and hated my body for that. Every time you tell that, I think about how much I hate my body—and you think it’s funny.”
• “You pressured me to have sex before we were married. Instead of acknowledging that this was wrong and that you hurt me, you tell me to get over it because it was a long time ago.”
The first time the guys hears it, IF IT’S TRUE, yes, he does need to confess sin.
Two if’s, however. You see the first one, “If it’s true.” We both know that guilt-shifting is common. The reason I offer this caveat is because, many times the wife is dealing with her own guilt in not having had the moral strength to say “No”, and by putting all the blame on him, assuages these guilt feelings.
The second “if” is predicated on this being the first time the boy hears this. IF, however, it is the fifth, tenth or 91st time after he asked forgiveness, then it’s not a “hard thing to hear”, it’s a grudge.
Yes, guilt-shifting happens sometimes. It’s hard for me to address this one. As I reflect on the entirety of my relationship with my husband, two things stand out as things he did that hurt me. One happened before we married, and one happened ten years into our marriage. He has apologized for one of the two things, and he has asked for forgiveness for neither of them.
I have forgiven him, although I know some hurt remains in my heart. Forgiveness has removed the power that hurt had over me, but I know it would still mean a lot to me if my husband were to ask for my forgiveness. I am no longer holding a grudge, nor do I bring those things up to my husband.
I don’t know if it’s an apology I really wanted as much as I wanted him to acknowledge that I had been hurt. It mattered less to me that he own his actions than it did that he see what my heart had experienced.
If a wife is holding a grudge, I see it as a sign that there is still hurt she is processing—although after his genuine repentance and apology, she should do what is needed to let that go.
• “You asked me to agree to sex once a week, and I did—and then you started pressuring me for twice a week. I can’t trust you, and I wonder if I will ever really be enough for you.”
If the “agreement” was last week, yeah, the guy needs to back off and give it time to work out. But if this “hard to hear” statement is a decade or two later, the guy does have standing to discuss added frequency. Depending on the time element, this comes across as either valid or the dodge of a gatekeeper. I don’t think she gets to act as if these agreements are carved on tablets of stone.
I think it is best if a man is truthful about his desires. My husband would ask for a frequency he thought he could live with rather than what he thought his desired frequency would actually be. It was an attempt at a compromise. I would have been better off knowing what he really wanted so I wouldn’t feel betrayed every time he strayed from the agreement.
At the same time, I understand that a husband who hears “no” far more often than “yes” doesn’t really know what his desired frequency actually is.
[Chris continues, from above] I do want to point out something really important here: a husband is not responsible for his wife’s feelings, nor should her feelings drive the relationship. Caring for her feelings means that he acknowledge that those are her feelings, express genuine regret for any of his sinful actions that have contributed to those feelings, and go forth and do that sin no more.
Far too often, a wife’s feelings drive the entire relationship. We’ve all heard the expressions “happy wife, happy life” and “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I understand that men want peace in their homes—but temporary peace sometimes leads to long-term pain and strife.
So when I say to care for a wife’s feelings, I am not saying that he should turn the other cheek and become a doormat for his wife.
CSL, maybe you can put that into guy speak for me.
I take it you mean in terms other than “Get over it.”
Hmm…. Guys. neither you or your wife have been dipped in alabaster, so neither of you are saints. You
will make have made mistakes and so has she. As a fellow guy, I know that we have a hard time admitting our mistakes (sins?); after all, deep down we still want to think that we can be our wives’ heroes. But you’ve got to be able to acknowledge your imperfections and slips.
Chris speaks of trust, so let me make this plain. Look at our politicians, particularly the lying dogs we have now. Do you trust any of them? I know I don’t. Okay, now apply that to you and your house. Have you violated trust, and are you willing to work to try to get it back?
That said, you are going to have to understand that marriage is more than just food, bills and sex. Men have to transition into Husbands, and one thing Husbands have to have is a good BS Meter. Chris said it: just because your wife has “feelings” doesn’t mean that you become supine. You have feelings too, and she needs to take them in account, as well. It’s not all about her. And you need to be able to stand up for yourself.
Oh, and watch this space. I’m working on a couple of posts about this very topic.
Politicians aside, I think we all understand the importance of trust. Sometimes the best way to love a wife is to say something that will be hard for her to hear. Saying it with love and staying calm while she reacts can make a positive difference in the long run.
[This is still under the Demonstrate Care For Her Feelings segment]
Second (excuse me, Chris, while I speak to some of our readers) – Yes, guys, learn to apologize! You aren’t perfect! Like I said above, you aren’t a saint, yet, so you need to learn to apologize. I’m a guy and I know how hard it is to appear less than perfect to my wife. But if you are going to have a marriage that lasts 40-50+ years, you’ve got to learn how to mesh, as a couple. Apologizing for a wrong isn’t weakness in front of her, it’s awareness of her.
When my husband apologizes, it not only shows me his awareness of me, it shows me a piece of his heart. It helps build intimacy. It is a good thing.
Guys, this is why being able to apologize is a good thing!
That said, Chris (I’m back), I believe that wives need to be willing to jettison the account books, right? After all, if the Hubs is a Christian and God has told him, “I will remember your sins no more”, doesn’t there come a time, somewhere down the road, when the wife should do the same? (After all, even our flawed legal system has a statue of limitations concept.)
Yes, and I tell wives that on my blog. Sadly, it is hard to do that when there is hurt to plow through. I have learned to forgive my husband—but when I am hurting because of something he’s done, it is incredibly hard. If a husband does little more than announce, “Wife, you should forgive me,” he isn’t likely to get too far, is he?
Maybe not, but maybe he should. Again, are we talking about musty account ledgers with accumulated dust of decades covering them?
I’m talking about a man telling his wife she should forgive him when he has given neither words nor actions of repentance.
Demonstrate a willingness to do hard work for your marriage and for her. A[s] clear as it may be that your wife is the one with the problem, show her that you will work to grow as well. Show her that she is worth your effort.
Even I believe that it is almost NEVER the case that it is just one person with the problem, but it’s nice of you to phrase it like that.🙂
It’s nearly impossible to identify one spouse as the only problem. Even if a wife comes into the marriage carrying the belief that men are perverts and that it is her job to control his sex drive, his response may worsen the situation. Over time, it is clear that both spouses have contributed to the problems in the marriage, even it is clear that just one of them started it. (Slight tangent: I think of how many husbands and wives will be standing before God’s throne to be told, “Children, I gave you to each other. Yet you squandered my great gift to you. What do you have to say for yourselves?” And the husband and wife, as so many children do, will point to each other, and say, “But s/he started it!”)
I SO wanted to break into that paragraph, but let it stand intact. To my mind, your example was not well-chosen. You and I both know of a couple of cases in which wives, in essence, came into the marriage with sexual aversion, and nothing could be done. No response would have made it better, and both ended in divorce.
I agree that in those cases, a different response may not have made it better—but I do think a different response might have kept it from getting worse or would have helped the husband see that the marriage was not a real marriage much earlier.
In an effort to be loving an understanding, many men tolerate sexlessness for such a long time that by the time they realize that it isn’t getting better, the marriage has deeply ingrained patterns of interaction that make change even more difficult than it would have been earlier in the marriage.
It doesn’t hurt anyone to grow more, does it? Even if a husband is completely blameless, working on himself can make him stronger and better able to help his wife in her journey.
God-directed, spirit-led growth, yes. Needed growth, yes. Hoops disguised as growth? Not so much.
I’m assuming that this isn’t an open-ended proposition, correct? That your statement about “helping with her healing, not her complacency” still applies?
Absolutely. That always applies.
Share your heart and feelings with her, and not just about sex. Yes, this means to talk about your feelings sometimes. It doesn’t have to be deep serious stuff, either. When she asks about your day, share a joy or frustration—and be sure to include how you felt. Saying “I was frustrated” or “I felt encouraged” invites your wife into your world. (If this sounds overwhelming, you may find this list helpful.)
Again, Chris, pardon me while I talk to the readers:
Okay. I’ve covered my ears. La la la la la la la la la . . .
Guys, talk to the girl! Let me quote myself, from the fourth post in my Why and How of My Now series:
Don’t get me wrong, the sexual intimacy, the re-kindling of our sex life, was great, but the best that that happened was that we talked. Sex was only happening 2x a week. But we were going to bed together seven nights a week, putting on music, lighting a candle, and enjoying being with each other.
We talked about how we had come to believe the things that we did, that had created such skewed views of our life together. There were apologies, there were heaving petting sessions (now there’s an old term!), there were totally silly fits of laughter and giggling. And I shared what I had read or heard from the blogs, the Marriage Bed forum, and the podcasts that I was still accessing. And we talked politics, church, family; basically every night, we solved the problems of the world.
Wife and I first met on the phone; we talked for an hour before we even met in person. Our dates were nothing but talking. Guess what? She still likes to hear me talk to her (remind me to tell you about aural sex, some time.)
Okay, Chris. I’m back. Yeah. Spot on!
Uh, Chris, I’m back! HELLO!
I was using my manners and letting you have the last word because it’s your blog.🙂
Manners? What are those?🙂
There you have it, folks, Another colloquy is in the can, and again, no bloggers were hurt in the production of this post. In our next discussion, Chris and I will be dialoging about the second set of four recommendations she suggests for helping a wife in the process of healing her heart. Maybe. 🙂