Ever feel like a doormat?
I sometimes read Dalrock’s blog on marriage. He’s not writing from a Christian point of view, but he is very interested in marriage and in keeping marriages together, and as such he frequently comments on how today’s culture works to undermine marriage.
In particular, he highlights how often women become “unhappy” because they expect men to meet all of their needs. In one recent post, he was commenting on a study of marriages where women felt this way. He quotes the research:
Langley reports that she interviewed just two men who responded effectively to the challenge of their wives’ disloyalty.
The first man took the initiative and filed for divorce after his wife expressed on several occasions that she was unhappy and considering a separation. Before the divorce was final, his wife was trying to reconcile, but he chose not to because of her [lack of interest] in working on the marriage prior to his filing for divorce.
The second case was a man in a second marriage who had made all the usual mistakes the first time around but, unlike most husbands, managed to learn from the experience. As soon as his second wife started talking about a vague “unhappiness,” he inferred that she had met another man. He put down in writing clear conditions for remaining married to her and refused to agree to any separation, knowing it would only be a prelude to divorce. Insisting she break off her extramarital affair at once, he wrote: “I will not allow my spirit to deteriorate because of your indecision.” Rather than attempting to remove all possible grounds for his wife’s discontent, he simply told her: “complaining is no longer acceptable. If you want me to do or not do something, you must tell me what it is. I do not expect you to read my mind and I will no longer try to read yours.” This worked.
I find this second case very interesting, though I don’t think it matters whether it’s the wife or it’s the husband who is unhappy. The principles are the same.
I know several women whose husbands are unhappy in marriage. Their husbands blame the wives for everything, but are unwilling to do anything to grow the marriage (date nights, counseling, even just communicating). They won’t tell their wives what the real issue is.
Now, I have spoken at length in this blog about how you have to learn to show your spouse love in their language, and how we need to make sure that we are loving our spouses, even if they are not showing us love. But that does not mean that I think we should be doormats or lose our self-respect.
My mother, for instance, when she was married allowed herself to get walked all over, and tolerated really horrible behaviour on the part of my dad, because she was so scared of being left alone. And in the end, all that bending over backwards did absolutely nothing.
When you bend over backwards and try so hard to become what the other person wants, you cease being yourself. You’re not looking to be what God wants you to be; you’re looking to be what you think your husband wants you to be, and those are not necessarily the same thing. A truly intimate marriage relationship is based on two individuals who can cling to each other, confide in each other, talk to one another, and feel like partners. If you don’t feel like your husband’s partner, but instead feel like his maid or his slave or even his mother, then you’re not building a good marriage. You’re pushing him farther away from real intimacy.
James Dobson talked about this well in his book Love Must Be Tough. His central thesis was this: the whole way we do marriage counseling is backwards, because in the vast majority of troubled marriages, only one person is willing to work on things. The other doesn’t care if they’re hurting the spouse. They don’t care how the spouse feels. They don’t care what happens to the relationship, because they’ve become completely caught up in what they want.
So they’re not going to go to counseling. So what do you do if you want to work on the relationship but your husband doesn’t, and can’t even admit there’s a problem?
Dobson says you need to do have them feel the consequences of their actions, because that’s the only way out of the selfish fantasy land they’re in. They believe that they can keep daydreaming about leaving, and threatening to leave, and talk about being unhappy, because you’ll sit there and take it and bend over backwards to try to satisfy them.
So stop bending over backwards, and show them what it will be like if they follow through and leave. Protect yourself and keep your self-respect, because a person cannot fall in love again with someone who has become a doormat and who no longer values herself.
And that’s what the husband did in this example. He had already been burned by an ex-wife, so when the next wife starting talking about being unhappy, he said, “you either put up or shut up”. If you want to work on the relationship, fine. But you can’t just complain about it, because I won’t live with someone who complains like that all the time. You need to commit. Commit, and we’ll work on it together. Continue to hold out and say you’re not sure and I’m making you unhappy and you need to test me, and that is not acceptable.
God hates divorce, but where Christians err is that we often think that the proper response then when a spouse starts talking about divorce is to try to do everything possible to appease that spouse. Appeasing, though, doesn’t work, and can cause us to do things that God wouldn’t want us to do. We may put up with things like affairs, or we stop respecting ourselves or our kids because we don’t want to rock the boat. What we do need to do is to show proper love. Proper love always points people to God; inappropriate love allows people to act in an unChristlike manner. When we love inappropriately, by allowing people to walk all over us, we actually encourage them to go further from God. We need to show people that if they leave, life will be difficult, but they need to make a choice. We need to stop tolerating affairs, or pornography, or flirtations, or addictions, or things which will eventually ruin the marriage anyway. The best way to help your husband get over pornography is actually to not tolerate it.
If you’re in this kind of a marriage, I’d recommend both Love Must Be Tough and Boundaries. Both books show what is your responsibility in a difficult relationship, and what is not. And remember: the best way to get positive change in a marriage is often through realistic consequences, not by becoming a doormat!
Now I know this is controversial, and I know there is a thin line between pushing someone away and calmly showing consequences. I know we are called to be gracious and to forgive, but I also don’t believe we were called to tolerate indecision or evil. So if you have any pointers on how to walk that fine line, and do what’s right, please leave a comment!
Now, what advice do you have for us today? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!