You’ve begged your husband, maybe for years, to help you more around the house.
You’ve cried that you feel so alone. You’ve told him that you feel like he doesn’t really care about you–he doesn’t do nice things for you, he’s not affectionate, he’s all bottled up. You never have serious conversations. When there are issues, he refuses to talk about them, and if you bring something up, he gets mad and tells you that you’re just making trouble.
Does any of that sound familiar?
I hope not, but I know for many of you it does.
Today’s Wednesday, the day we always talk marriage.
And today I’m going to start a two-day series on what to do when you’re married to a guy who just doesn’t seem to care about you–and your husband won’t change.
- I’m going to tell you a story of a woman like that.
- Then I’m going to let Gary Thomas diagnose the problem, using a blog post that he wrote called “Why Men Won’t Change.”
- Then we’re going to come back here tomorrow and answer the question: What does she do now?
So let’s jump in as I tell you all about a woman I’m going to call Heather.
Here’s Heather’s story:
Heather grew up as a people pleaser. Her house was filled with tension, and she learned the best way to survive was to not be noticed. She wouldn’t talk about her feelings or her problems; she’d bottle them up. She learned how to care for the house, because that seemed to make her mom happy–and besides, when she didn’t cook, often there was nothing for dinner.
She dreamed about a life where she would be with a man who truly cherished and loved her and who would keep her safe. They would spend hours talking each night. He would be interested in what she had to say. She would finally feel like she was part of a team.
She met Bill, a man who was a pillar in their church. He came from a long line of strong Christians, and he had volunteered in different church ministries and in city-wide ministries for years. He was involved in Bible studies. He was a good guy. When they got married she could picture her happy family.
Unfortunately, Bill had grown up with a distant father. He was very close to his mother, who often babied him, because he was his mom’s emotional connection. His dad was harsh and quite unaffirming. So Bill didn’t know very much about affection or intimacy.
When they married, Heather was looking forward to a partnership. But in that first week of marriage, Bill kept asking, “what’s for dinner?” Heather hoped they’d discuss it together, but she realized Bill expected her to make dinner. So she did.
Bill never cleared the table, so Heather did.
Bill would leave his dishes around the house, so Heather would pick them up and put them in the dishwasher.
Heather felt more and more disappointed.
Bill sensed it, and began withdrawing a little more everyday. When the kids came along, their marriage had a renewed vigor because now they had something really in common. They could talk about the kids and the logistics and what they would do to plan for the kids. But they never really talked about their couplehood.
Over the years they had other issues–money issues, in-law issues, job issues. If Heather tried to bring something up, Bill would say he had it under control and would storm out of the room if she kept pressing. “He won’t talk to me,” she would say.
They both were great parents, but Heather did everything, and was starting to resent the fact that nobody helped her around the house–not even any of the four kids. She’d complain, but no one would do anything. And she spent almost every night chauffeuring kids somewhere.
One night, while on one of her chauffeur runs, her car was hit by a drunk driver. Heather’s son emerged with minor whiplash, but Heather hurt her back terribly. She spent weeks in the hospital, during which her family relied on takeout and the laundry piled up.
She was released from hospital with a surgery date six months later and strict instructions to stay off of her feet. If she lifted anything too much, or bent too much, she would endanger the chances of success of the surgery.
So Heather gets home, and the place looks like a tornado hit. She hobbles up the stairs and lies down on the couch. Her husband comes in the room, looks at her on the couch, and says, “do you want me to order pizza?”
Heather looks at him in astonishment. “Well, what do you expect me to do?”
The next night, when Bill comes home from work, he finds Heather on her feet, trying to clean up the living room. He sits down on the couch and asks, “what’s for dinner?”
Heather loses it, and for the first time in her marriage she yells at him. She can’t walk, and he can’t even make dinner?
This is it, she decides. For almost two decades she has done everything for this man. She has tried being nice. She has made the home livable. She has raised their children. She has washed laundry and cooked countless meals. And now she’s done. If, after all that, her husband can’t even make dinner, then what is the point of even being married? No one truly cares about her. At least if she were on her own she wouldn’t have to clean up his messes.
How could a man who loves God so much treat his wife so terribly? How could he not see what she needed? How could he be so heartless?
Okay, ladies, that’s the story.
I hope you can’t relate, but I know some of you can, because I have heard pretty much this exact same story from three women who are very close to me (and this story is an amalgamation of their stories).
Why would a man who is so good to everyone else take his wife for granted so badly? Why would he not see what he’s doing to her? Why won’t her husband change?
Gary Thomas has the answer, in a brilliant blog post called “Why Men Don’t Change“.
Based on his work with Dr. Melody Rhodes, a gifted counselor, Gary argues that many men suffer from “functional fixedness”, where you’re not motivated by your wife’s pain to do anything. You’re only motivated by your own pain. So a wife can complain and cry and try to explain how much she’s hurting, and the only effect will be to have him try to cut off the conversation, because the conversation makes him uncomfortable (and it’s his own discomfort that he cares about).
According to Dr. Rhode, men don’t normally change if what they’ve been doing appears to work for them. For example, when a woman allows her husband to treat her with disrespect, he has no motivation to change—and so it’s unlikely he ever will.
You really need to read the rest of the article. Now.
Did you read it? If not, go read it. Gary Thomas explains the spiritual repercussions of functional fixedness, and how we should approach it. He doesn’t lay out what a wife in this situation should do–that’s for another blog post that’s coming, he promises–but the analysis is spot on. It’s something I argue a lot in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage–God does not want us to allow others to treat us with disrespect. It’s not good for us, but it’s also not good for them. It makes them spiritually stunted.
What's in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage?
In 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, we look at what God really wants for marriage–for both of us to look more and more like Him. And sometimes the way that we act in marriage makes that less likely. We become angry and bitter, but our husbands also learn that it’s okay to treat us with disrespect.
See how getting a different view of what God wants in marriage can actually transform your marriage–so that you’re both loving and respecting each other properly.
But I want you to hold on to that idea–that people tend to continue to do what is working for them. And then tomorrow we’re going to revisit Heather’s story, and ask the question: “Is Heather’s best move to leave the husband who is treating her so badly?”
I have a lot to say on that subject, but before I give my opinion, why don’t you all give me yours? Leave a comment and tell me what you think of Gary Thomas’ diagnosis, and what you think Heather should do!