What do you do if your friend lets her husband treat her horribly? How can you help her stop being a doormat?
It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today I want to talk about what to do if you notice that a marriage around you has some very unhealthy patterns of behaviour.
As most of my regular readers know, I’m a big believer that God’s primary goal for all of us is that we become transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Too often in Christian circles, however, submission is taught to women in a way that enable both husband and wife to look less and less like Jesus all the time.
That was one of the themes of my new book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. God doesn’t want us covering so much for other people that we actually encourage them to act in ungodly ways.
Today I want to share a story with you that I heard from a follower of my Facebook page, and then we’ll take a few lessons from it.
The woman writes:
I have a friend who I really like. We were not close, but we got along well. We were both stay at home moms and went to the same church. We also lived on the same side of town so we started hanging out together.
The more we got to know each other the more I liked her, as a close friend, but her husband I could not stand. He just was not a man that could treat his wife with respect or be responsible. He floated from job to job, and eventually quitting his job right after they bought a house so he could start a small business. He always did everything half-way, sloppily, and it always made things hard for her, because she not only had to raise her four and try to homeschool; she had to do a lot around the business.
I would always come to help her clean, help them move the multiple times they moved, etc….but I did it to help her.
Over the years the house would always get messier no matter how much I helped to clean because he always undid all the progress. It got really frustrating but I kept helping because I wanted to help her.
The last straw occurred right after she had her 5th baby. They could not afford their house and moved in with her parents, living with them for about 6 months. She had her fifth baby via C-section. It had been a hard, difficult labor and the section was a last minute emergency. She was sent home to recover at her parents’ house.
Three days after the baby was born, the day after she came home, she called asking if I could come be with her because her parents needed to go somewhere and her hubby was not there and she couldn’t get up to take care of the other four kids. I assumed he had to go back to work so I came right over. I loved babies, wanted to spend time with her, and I did it happily.
Happily, that is, until I got the kids fed, tucked into bed, and then went to chat with her. Then I learned that her husband was not at work. He was at an all-day movie marathon with friends.
She said he had been working so hard the past 3 months, and he really wanted to go to get a break, she just didn’t have the heart to ask him to stay home.
Mind you: she just had a baby via c section; she had four kids 7 and under; and they have been living with her parents for the past year. And he went to the movies all day long because he wanted a break.
And she couldn’t tell him no….
She even called him in between movies and asked him to come home because she was tired and wanted to sleep but couldn’t sleep without him there. He told her to take a sleeping pill.
What man tells his wife to take a sleeping pill to sleep when there would be no one else there to take care of the newborn??
That is when I realized that all I was doing was making it easy for her to be a doormat. My being there, my helping her clean, my helping them move many times, was just helping to clean up messes he made and didn’t want to be responsible for so she wouldn’t have to put her foot down.
This story makes me so sad. And so let’s just look at a few things:
1. People Should Reap What They Sow
One of God’s primary methods to help people learn character lessons is the principle of reaping and sowing. You should feel the consequences of your actions.
Unfortunately, in many relationships, one person is sowing laziness and irresponsibility, but they aren’t reaping the consequences of it. Others disrupt the law of sowing and reaping by stepping in and rescuing, and they stop any benefit from it.
As this woman learned, her friend’s husband was sowing crisis after crisis, but she was the one reaping it, as was the wife. She had to stop what she was doing so that the husband would be forced to deal with the consequences of his actions.
Helping people out is an extremely Christian thing to do. If a friend or relative is in crisis, of course be there for them. Of course let them in your home.
But if that crisis is of their own making–like if a husband is too lazy to work, for instance–and they are doing nothing at all to fix it, then stepping in doesn’t actually solve the problem. It just creates more.
2. Some Women Need to Grow Up
This sounds harsh, I know. But what does it mean to grow up? Growing up means taking responsibility and stepping up to the plate. It means realizing that you have choices and then starting to make appropriate choices.
Many women are simply not grown up–and often for very good reason. They grew up in homes where life was chaotic, and so they often felt helpless. They couldn’t make choices or make their lives better because they never knew what was coming around the corner. Making plans, working towards a goal, accomplishing something–these were all quite foreign because of the family situation.
Many women in these situations are drawn to men who are also irresponsible. This husband, for instance, sounds like he talks a good talk and he is the life of the party, but he doesn’t actually do anything or accomplish anything either. But she was likely seduced by how charismatic he was. And by him being domineering, she felt safe. She didn’t have to make decisions again. He would make all the decisions. Life felt comfortable, like what she was used to, even if it wasn’t good.
Then, as life started spiralling downhill, and her husband became increasingly irresponsible, she likely became more and more forlorn. The worse things got, the more helpless she felt. She’d make excuses for him (as she did to the friend who wrote me), rather than facing the truth. She won’t let herself get angry, because feeling anger means that she would also have to act on that anger, and acting is the one thing that is far too scary to do. So she just withdraws, retreats, shrinks, and copes less and less.
If you want to be a friend to someone like this, and to help her stop being a doormat, then coach her on how to set boundaries early, before the crisis happens. Teach her how to talk to her husband. Encourage her to see a counselor.
And then start preparing her to look out for herself. Make it a long-term project to help her get training in case she has to support herself and her kids. Quite frankly, if her husband won’t earn an income, she will have to. Somebody has to support those kids. So she will have to grow up in a hurry.
3. We Need More Community
So many of these situations could be fixed, I think, if we reached out more as couples and got to know other couples in our churches, so that when there was a crisis, a couple could come alongside them and say, “this isn’t acceptable.” We need men to talk to men and tell them to man up.
And then, if he won’t man up, as a church community we need to be there to support families as they try to build a life for themselves. We need churches who will call this guy at the movie theatre and say, “Your wife needs you. What you are doing is selfish and is unsafe for your wife and your kids. If you don’t come home to help, then we will have to remove your wife and kids from your home and take them into ours to give them a safe place to be. We want that safe place to be with you, and we will do all we can to help you. But their safety is our main priority, and so if you don’t step up the plate, we will have to.” If more churches did that, fewer couples would be in crisis.
4. You Can’t Help Everyone
Finally, this is the hard one. If you have a dear friend that you care for so much, likely you can see all the steps that she should be taking to make life better for her and her kids. And you want her to do those things so desperately.
But she can’t do them because she is not you. She doesn’t have your background. She’s not used to taking responsibility. And the thought of acting–of actually making a decision–likely scares her to death.
If you have prayed, counseled, and helped pave the way for her to build a better life, and she doesn’t take it–that’s not on you. And sometimes we have to move on.
Sometimes there is one person who is sapping so much of your emotional, spiritual and physical energy, and it needs to stop. There’s a principle in Scripture of “shaking the dust off of your feet”. If you told people the truth, and they don’t accept it, you shake the dust off and you move to the next town where maybe they will listen to you. And the guilt is on the people who won’t listen; it’s not on you for not doing enough.
It’s hard to let go, especially when a friend is in a dire situation. But ultimately they need to decide to change, and you can’t do it for them.
Now it’s your turn! If you’re a blogger, leave the URL of a marriage post in the linky below to get some blog traffic. And then be sure to link back here so other people can see these awesome posts!