This one’s going to be a doozy. I received a very thoughtful email this week from a regular reader of this blog. She wants some advice, and she laid out in detail what was going on in her marriage. Now, I only have her side of the story, but I do believe her, because I have seen an almost identical situation in two other friends’ marriages. In fact, it was watching these friends walk through their marriages that inspired me to write To Love, Honor and Vacuum in the first place.
So I want to address it today. Here, in a nutshell, are her issues:
1. Her husband does not value spending time with her. He does not take her on dates; he works and then he plays on his computer.
2. He doesn’t lift a finger around the house. He says that she cares about it more than him, and so she should have to clean it since he really doesn’t care. (She works full-time too, by the way. But they don’t have kids yet).
3. He’s not overly eager to have kids, though when they were dating he always talked as if they would.
4. While he started out their marriage going to church, he’s stopped lately. Though he promised her upon their marriage that he would go, he says he’s just not into it, and she shouldn’t try to make him.
5. He wants her to work full-time because he wants the extra income.
6. He has a close female friend that he does a lot with online.
7. The wife has now developed depression and other clinical disorders, and needs medication to control it. She’s worried that she’s going to spend the rest of her life depressed about her marriage, but she doesn’t know what to do. She’s afraid of bringing children into the relationship.
What’s the answer?
Let me tell you the similarities first between her and the other two women I knew. All had husbands who spent time with “the boys”, but didn’t have time to date their wives. None helped around the house. All wanted their wives to work so they had the income. The other two (I’m not sure about this one) closely monitored what their wives bought, because they didn’t want them to waste any money, but they themselves spent money on whatever they wanted. When kids came along (in the other two cases) they really didn’t spend any time with them, either, and felt that it was the wife’s job.
I want to help this woman. But I am very, very afraid of the “typical” Christian answer. I don’t think the typical Christian answer offers very much to this woman. Sure, we can say that she should pray, because she can’t change anyone. We can tell her to concentrate on meeting his needs, because that is what she is called to as a wife. We can tell her that her job is to love him, and that God will be with her while she does this.
I have said all those things in different posts, and I do mean them. But I think there’s a point where we need to go further, and I think this marriage may be at that point.
As I said, she is similar to my friends, and in their cases it became quite clear that their husbands were not interested in a marriage. They were interested in being children who just happened to be grown up. They got everything they wanted; they got to do whatever they wanted; they had no boundaries; they lived life exactly how they liked it. They didn’t consider the effect it had on their wives (and in fact, both my friends were also on Prozac after a few years of marriage). They simply wanted to keep doing anything they pleased because they had a woman at home to cook them meals, make their beds, and occasionally have sex with them. They absolutely had it made. They had marriage without any obligations.
I am not saying that all men are like this, or that no women are. I have also known women who have acted like this in a marriage. I simply want to address these types of relationships because it was asked.
Here’s my feeling: God does not want us to enable unChristlike behaviour. When Christ served, he often did very lowly things, like washing people’s feet. But it didn’t mean He himself was lowly. And when He served, He pointed people to God.
I believe that we can get into relationship patterns in marriage where our service to our husbands does not point them to God; it points them away from God. If our husbands are able to act however they please, and be completely selfish, immature, and border on controlling, then our marriage is not honouring God. I’m not saying that we should get out of the marriage; I am just saying that there is something amiss with our patterns of interacting.
I don’t think people should be allowed to treat others with disrespect. I don’t think that’s Christian, and for far too long I believe it’s been asked of wives. Those are not the kinds of marriages that honour God.
So please, ladies, I am truly imploring you today: don’t come up with the pat answers. Honestly, without leaving the marriage, what should she do (or can she do) to turn it into a more God-honouring relationship? Telling her to sit there and take it, or that she needs to submit, even if you word it nicer than that, is not going to help.
Let me share some of my thoughts, and then I invite you to bounce around your own. Talking directly to this woman, then, here is what I would say:
1. We don’t have to put up with being treated as a maid. He is asking you to work full-time so that you make a good income, and to then clean the entire house, using as justification the fact that “he doesn’t care anyway”. I would practice the art of having a conversation calmly without blaming him, but just talking. Here’s how it would go:
Sit him down, and ask if you can talk together about what goes into running a house. Let’s look at how much income we need. Now let’s look at the maintenance on the house. The housework. The cooking. He may not value those things, but ask him if your opinion should have any weight in this discussion. Then explain to him that if he thinks that the house is entirely your responsibility, then you are going to have to cut back from paid work.
Now, the setting of this conversation is important. Choose a time when he is not stressed. Try a time when he is happy. Go for a walk together after dinner (if you can get him to). Try a Saturday morning when you both have nothing to do. Ask him beforehand if you can spend the day talking or planning. If he refuses to discuss it, or he gets angry when you bring it up, say something like, “I am sorry you are angry. I really don’t want this to get into a fight. I wanted to discuss it. But since you don’t, I’ll just tell you that I’m going to quit. If you have another suggestion that results in a more balanced workload, I’d be happy to listen.”
The key is not to get emotionally invested in the conversation, if you can help it. You are trying to discuss something with him so that you can have a conversation (which it sounds like you don’t do very often). You would like his input. But if he won’t give it, he won’t give it. That’s not your problem. Do not react in anger; feel peace in your heart and not bitterness before you talk to him. Ask God to help you with this. And then start having that conversation.
2. Get used to these conversations, because you’re going to need to have some more! Two, in fact. The first one has to do with the female friend he has. Absolutely no way is that acceptable. To me, this is a make it or break it issue in a relationship. He needs to choose between her and you. Perhaps others may think I’m being too harsh, but I believe affairs get their start in things like this. Besides, an affair is not only physical. If he is meeting his relational needs in another woman, he is cheating on his wife already.
3. Here’s the third conversation. You need dates. You need regular times when you talk and connect. Ideally that would be at dinner, but he doesn’t seem willing to sit down and eat dinner with you. Talk to him about when is the best time to carve out time for the two of you. Give him some choices–like “do you want to go for a walk every evening, or would you rather have every Thursday be a date night when we go out for dinner?” But don’t give him the choice of nothing. And then insist on it. If he is on the computer and refuses to leave (which many husbands do), then I would sit down and have another serious conversation about how that computer is getting in the way of your marriage.
4. Now you need to work on yourself. I’m really worried about the depression. The reason many women in marriages like this get depressed is because they feel helpless. They’ve been told their primary purpose is to serve their husbands; they do this, but their husbands don’t love them in return. So their dream for their life is gone, and they see no way out. They feel very unloved.
You need to find your strength in God. Your husband will never love you as God does anyway; you need to grow close to Him. Concentrate on having a quiet time with Him everyday. Go to church, even if your husband won’t, and concentrate on Jesus, not on the deficiencies in your marriage. Learn to love God again.
And then learn to love yourself. You are a child of God. You are precious. You may not feel precious to your husband, but you are precious to God. So treat yourself with some respect. Exercise, eat right, and be healthy. That goes such a long way! Get involved in the community and volunteer. Take up a new hobby.
One problem that often happens in marriages like this is that the woman becomes so passive that it both encourages her husband’s laziness, and it allows him to see her as someone who isn’t really worthy of passionate love. She’s mousy and quiet, so it’s hard for him to get excited about her (I’m not talking about sex, although that’s a component. I’m just talking about feelings).
Don’t be mousy! Don’t let yourself be trampled upon! No matter what is going on in your marriage, you are more than a wife. So use your brain and learn a hobby. Watch interesting shows. Read interesting books. Grow a business. Start a garden. Do something that you can take delight in. When we are delighted, it shows in the rest of our life.
As you do this, though, try not to pull away from your husband. Bring your new things into your life with him. Don’t develop super close friendships with others to fill a void from your marriage, because that can drive you further apart. Don’t run to your parents, no matter how wonderful they are, because that can also drive a wedge. Instead, focus on finding happiness in what you do so that you can be happier when you are with him.
The one area where I’m really stumped is on children. I know you want kids, and I know you’ve dreamed of kids. But it sounds like your marriage is really unsteady right now. I get the impression you’re still young (if you were in your mid-thirties, I may have a different opinion). I think I’d wait and pray about it. But I could be wrong.
And finally, let me say that I wrote To Love, Honor and Vacuum exactly for women like you. Read more about it here, or here’s the Amazon link. It may be worth buying for yourself for Christmas!
Now, the rest of you: please help. I know there are others reading this blog in very similar situations. What advice would you give? How do you stop such dysfunctional patterns, especially before she has children? Please, no pat answers. Really think and pray about it, and be sensitive to the fact that as sacred as marriage is, some women are living through really tough relationships. And they need our compassion and help!