If you think there’s something wrong in your marriage, or you feel hurt or distant from your spouse, is it okay to confront your spouse and bring it up?
That may seem like an odd question, but hear me out on this. I’m in the middle of our “iron sharpens iron” marriage series, which will run every Monday in January on this blog. Marriage is supposed to make us better people. We’re supposed to help each other grow. I talked last week about how the way that we act in marriage can either point people to God or enable bad behaviour, even if we’re not meaning to. I’d like to help us point people to God!
But what I fear often happens is that we end up enabling bad behaviour because we have heard marriage advice that makes it sound like doing anything else is actually wrong or sinful. See if you recognize any of these:
“You can’t change anyone else; you can only change yourself.”
This is true–you cannot change anyone else’s behaviour. What we’re supposed to do instead is to work on ourselves, and love others but also have good boundaries.
HOWEVER, just because you can’t change someone’s behaviour does not mean that you can’t talk about things. Sometimes this teaching is taken so much to the extreme that it sounds like we’re simply supposed to learn to live with anything that our spouse does. In a healthy relationship, you talk about the things that are bothering you.
“You shouldn’t have expectations in marriage.”
The root of so much marital unhappiness is unmet expectations. If you grew up in a family that had family dinners and weekly family board game nights and took family camping vacations, you may have a very different idea of what family life should look like than a spouse who grew up with uninvolved, workaholic parents. You may feel as if your spouse doesn’t want to spend time with you because you pictured marriage very differently than they did.
Or maybe he grew up in a house where everything was picture perfect, and he married a woman who is more of a free spirit and who doesn’t prioritize house cleaning. Letting go of the unspoken expectation that the house is supposed to look like his mom’s can help the marriage tremendously.
HOWEVER, just because expectations can be harmful to marriage does not mean that we should simply settle for whatever our marriage is. It’s okay to want to feel closer. It’s okay to want to grow together.
In a healthy relationship, you talk about the things that are bothering you.
“If you want your spouse to meet your needs, you need to meet their needs first.”
Are you feeling unloved? Unappreciated? Lonely? Likely your spouse is, too. One of the best ways to grow the marriage is to stop waiting for your spouse to do the right thing and to reach out and meet your spouse’s needs and help them feel loved. That can change the dynamic in the relationship, so that they stop feeling unappreciated or judged, and they find it easier to reach out to you, too. The tension evaporates, and you can rebuild.
HOWEVER, meeting someone’s needs does not guarantee that they will become better people overnight. Sometimes people are just plain selfish, and if we give more, they simply take more.
We recently finished a survey of 22,000 Christian women, asking about their marital and sexual satisfaction. The results will be out first in our book The Great Sex Rescue, in spring 2021, with more books to follow. But, as you can imagine, we have so much great information that I’ll be sharing little nuggets along the way!
One woman answering the survey said this, which I thought was especially relevant to today’s post:
The Love Language book left me with the impression that if I just keep loving him the way he needs to be loved, that he would reciprocate. That never happened. It’s only when I started speaking up about what was wrong with our marriage and trying to expect it differently that he started to change.
Yep. That’s a really common dynamic!
And then there are the gendered messages that we hear about how confronting things or bringing up issues is a sin:
“You should love your wife as Christ loved the church, giving up everything for her.”
Yes, husbands are to love their wives sacrificially.
HOWEVER, Jesus let go of all of his own needs for a purpose–to help us reconcile with God. If husbands let go of all of their legitimate needs in marriage, they won’t be building a marriage. An intimate marriage requires the sharing of two hearts, which means that you can’t stuff all of your emotions down, or else you have nothing to share. A one-sided relationship where one person gets all of their needs met and the other is taken advantage of is not one that glorifies God.
What I hope to show next week and the week after is how we can talk to each other and act in such a way that we are loving sacrificially, but we are also working towards greater intimacy–which involves sharing our own legitimate needs, too. It can seem loving to give up all of your needs, but God created you with those needs. If iron is supposed to sharpen iron, then we must also act like iron. It’s okay to speak up when something is bothering you.
“Wives are to submit to their husbands.”
Yes, we are to serve our husbands sacrificially and honour them.
HOWEVER, our husbands are not Jesus to us. We are to always seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), not just seek to make our husbands happy. God wants us to be GOOD, not just nice, and the way that we do that is by acting in such a way that we point our husbands to God, which involves bringing up issues that we think are destructive to our husbands or to the relationship.
Do You Have a Difficult Time Standing up to your Husband?
“It’s disrespectful to your husband to confront him on something he has done wrong.”
No, we should not harangue, mock, or belittle a spouse.
HOWEVER, simply talking about something that is bothering you is not disrespecting someone, even though it’s a really common accusation often hurled at women (and I’ll use the book Love & Respect as an example). Emerson Eggerichs defines respect as an acronym–CHAIRS–which includes Conquest, Hierarchy, Authority, Insight, Relationship, and Sexuality. You must do all of these things to respect your husband. Included in those is allowing him to lead the family and make the decisions, and listening to his insight rather than your own. In fact, you’re supposed to ignore what you think because as a woman you are more easily deceived, and thus he is more likely to be right about something than you are (p. 230). This means that to speak up about something you think your husband is doing wrong is inherently disrespectful, because it’s ignoring your husband’s insight.
in fact, Eggerichs gives an example in his appendix of how a wife should confront her husband about his workaholism. She’s allowed to say 2-3 sentences about it, and then she must not say anything else for 10-20 days (I’m serious; that’s literally what he wrote). And what is it that she should say?
“Your son (daughter, children) needs you at home more. You have a unique influence on him. In certain areas, nobody matters to him as much as you do. It may not appear that way to you, but your positive presence has the power to mold him. I know you are swamped and have little time, but I also know that you want to give him that part of you that no one else can give to him. Thanks.”
Note here that the wife is feeling neglected. But to mention her own feelings is apparently disrespectful. To even ask him specifically to change is disrespectful (saying “your son needs you at home more” is not the same as saying, “I would like you to make a commitment to be at home more.”) All you’re allowed to do is give him your observations, but then you must leave it to him to draw conclusions. To do so yourself is disrespectful.
He has other examples, too–his wife asking him to stop putting wet towels on the bed apparently was “disrespectful”; his wife saying to him, “you never spend any time with me and you’re always busy” was apparently also disrespectful. In fact, throughout the book, any time his wife mentions anything that she doesn’t like that he is doing, Eggerichs frames it as being disrespectful (perhaps that’s why Love & Respect was the most mentioned resource that harmed marriages in my survey!).
Many women grow up hearing this, and it is hurting marriages. So let’s look at a healthier way to see this with another example.
Let’s say your husband made fun of you in public, with a joke at your expense that was in poor taste.
Here’s what I would suggest:
When you are alone, in a firm tone of voice, say:
“What you said was unacceptable, and I’m really disappointed that you would treat me like that in front of your friends. This isn’t like you, and I know you want to do better than this. You owe me an apology.”
You are owning your own feelings. You are calling him out for an infraction that he made against you. You are pointing the way to how the relationship can be restored and can grow.
What if, on the other hand, you acted more like Eggerichs instructs, and simply gave your observations, rather than your conclusions, your thoughts, or your feelings? Then you might hint at something like,
“Isn’t it nice that I say so many nice things about you in public with you friends?”
or perhaps you try,
“Couples seem to grow together in marriage when they speak well of each other.”
You hope against hope that he’ll get the message, but he most likely will not. And you’ll become sadder and sadder.
Or perhaps you say nothing at all because you don’t think you’re supposed to. However, you’re still hurting. That night, when he wants to have sex, you push him away, or else you go through the motions. He knows something’s wrong, but he doesn’t know what it is. So he gets frustrated and pulls away as well.
In that scenario, you have not owned your feelings. You’ve made him responsible for figuring out what they are.
So which is really disrespectful? Is it to tell your husband the truth, or is it to expect him to figure it out on his own, and then to withdraw when he does not?
In fact, the Bible tells us specifically that we are to talk directly to someone when they have sinned against us or done something that we don’t think is right.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
We’re supposed to point out the other’s fault!
God wants us looking more and more like Jesus.
God desires that we be transformed to look like Christ (Romans 8:29). That means that we should be like iron sharpening iron.
Last Christmas, when the kids were home, I asked for some help making dinner. They were chopping up vegetables while I was marinating something. As Connor tried to cut the carrots, he paused and looked at the knife, and asked me if I had a knife sharpener. A light went off in my head. That’s what that funny shaped long metal thing was. I dug around in a drawer, found it, and Connor ran the edge of the knife along it for several minutes. Over the next month, as I went to use that knife, I was amazed at how much better it cut.
Many of us are not acting as iron in our relationships. We aren’t strong. We aren’t powerful. We’re letting ourselves get pushed around.There’s no sharpening that’s happening, and our spouse is going to become less and less useful and less and less fruitful.
That’s not what you want. It’s okay to speak up. Next week we’ll look practically at how to do that, and the week after that we’ll look at what to do if things still don’t change.
What are your thoughts? Let’s talk in the comments!