If you’re reading this as it’s being published, Keith and I are getting on a cruise ship in Buenos Aires to head to Antarctica!
But a lot of interesting things happened this week, and I wanted to chime in while I still have good wifi. The theme of all of this, I think, is mutual respect. We finished up our post in our Iron Sharpening Iron series to talk about how to draw firm boundaries if nothing is changing, and then Keith joined me on the blog to write his first blog post about how decision-making should be shared. Then, on Wednesday, I talked about Gary Thomas’ book When to Walk Away about toxic people.
So the theme of boundaries and decision-making was a big one! It seems to me that what we’re missing is agreement that mutual respect in marriage is important.
If you are not being treated with respect, that is a problem, and it’s okay if you do something about that.
Speaking of respect, Religion News Service covered my critique of Love & Respect!
So we broke out into the wider media! It was very even-handed and doesn’t really pick a side (as news articles have to do), but I’m so grateful that they linked to all kinds of posts of mine, and my open letter to Focus on the Family, so people can judge for themselves.
Take a look at the article here! And I’d love to know what you think.
Your opinion and feelings matter in marriage. That’s part of what it means to be respected.
That came out in so much of the discussion in the comments, and I want to point out two particular themes that Rebecca (my daughter) brought out in the comments. For context, here’s what she was addressing:
What about marriages where the husband does not expressly say that he has the final say but his actions prove that he makes the decisions unilaterally? My husband decided to buy a house and he told me he wanted us to buy the house on the morning of the viewing. I did not have any time to consider or ask around for opinions and in a way I had no choice but to go along. I am the one paying the mortgage.
Now he wants to sell this house and buy another one far away from my family. My family has always been good to him and I am puzzled why he is looking at houses so far away. Perhaps he does not like me being near them. He has been financially irresponsible and not faithful in the marriage. He seems to make all the important financial decisions even though he does not work and I am the sole breadwinner in our home. Does God even expect me to follow his lead when I don’t trust him.
Wow, Emma, I am so sorry you’re dealing with that. If your husband is making rash decisions that are negatively impacting your family I would address that head-on. If you’re the one paying the mortgage then I would simply say, “I’m not willing to put our family in financial jeopardy and move away from my family simply because of a rash decision. We can talk about it and then revisit it in a year or so, but this is a big decision and needs to be treated with the respect it deserves.” He can’t sell the house without your signature, so just don’t give it until you are also convinced it is the right decision for your family.
God does not ask us to follow a husband blindly. He gave you wisdom, he gave you intellect, he gave you the ability to problem solve. I often feel like the messages we are given about how the husband makes the decisions forces women to become like that servant who buried his talent–God gave us these things, so use them! Otherwise He gets frustrated that we wasted the gifts we were given, even if we had good motives (in the parable, he was scared of losing the talent so he kept it safe; in marriage, we are scared we’re not submissive enough so we just go along with what the husband wants).
If he has lost trust for financial decisions or even just general trust since he’s been unfaithful in the marriage, that is trust that needs to be rebuilt. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt simply because he’s a man. I would bring in a licensed counsellor and maybe some trusted family or friends to help you two sort out these issues of irresponsibility and infidelity because those are big issues that you do not need to settle for in your marriage.
And I want to add something in here, too.
Women, we need to grow a backbone sometimes! Look after yourself. Stand up for yourself and your kids! If you have a husband who won’t work and who is financially irresponsible, and your name is on the mortgage, you have a very easy way to make sure that he can’t buy another house and move the family. You just refuse to sign. It’s okay. It really is. And even if he took you to a viewing of a house and told you he wanted to buy it, you do not have to sign on the dotted line. You are allowed to say no. God does not want you being irresponsible. Please don’t just bury your talent; use your wisdom and discernment, too!
God wants us following after Him and seeking His will; not just doing our husband’s will. If you feel strongly that something would be a mistake, then ask your husband to wait and to pray about it with you. Or seek other counsel. As someone said on Twitter this week, which I thought was spot on:
A marriage takes two yeses and one no.
That’s right–if one person says no, it’s no. You pray. You wait. You talk about it. You seek counsel. But, in general, one person should not get to unilaterally decide something (though there may be exceptions). Instead, you should be seeking God’s will together.
Now, about seeking counsel–here’s another comment:
I agree; this time, a number of Sheila’s ‘boundary’ suggestions assume that the husband is on board with developing these new habits. That has to be true to keep it from devolving into a power struggle that just frustrates one party more. For instance, she suggest that “you can still reclaim your bedroom and insist that your spouse sleep somewhere else”, but what if the spouse says ‘if you don’t like it, YOU sleep on the couch’? What if you “say to your spouse, “Come on, we’re going to clean up the kitchen before we turn in.”” but the spouse says ‘I’m tired, I don’t feel like cleaning now, I’m going to watch this show’ or only makes a perfunctory effort and then wanders off? I think most of these are helpful if the spouse has acknowledged the problem and just needs help developing a habit; less so if they don’t admit their behavior is problematic and agree to attempt to form new habits.
I get what Sara is saying. What if you’re trying, but your husband isn’t going along with it? That’s when you call in reinforcements. And Rebecca makes a good point about that here:
Yes, that’s exactly it Sara. A lot of times when we have these conversations nothing changes and so a firm boundary must be put in place. E.g., with the kids in the bed example he may say “I’m sleeping in my bed and if any kids come into the bedroom I will be picking them up and putting them back in their rooms. If you want to sleep with them you can go to their room” but then she starts screaming at him and crying if he does so, this boundary doesn’t work anymore. But the fact that he is being firm and saying “This is the only acceptable option to me and I’m willing to be firm to make sure that this stops happening because it’s ruining our marriage” can often be enough to make the spouse realize this is a real issue that is catapulting them towards divorce.
If a spouse continues the bad behaviour, I think you’d have to bring in outside people. Talk to a licensed counsellor, then family, then friends, etc. Make a stink. Frankly, raise a stink within your community if needed because your spouse is completely unwilling to change when it’s just you saying “This isn’t OK.” Plus, then if you are being controlling and unreasonable people have a chance to call you out on it and your spouse also gets to say their piece (I actually called out one couple I know where he was being unreasonable of demands he was making on her as a stay-at-home-mom. He needed to hear from someone else he respected that what he was asking was simply not realistic, because both he and his wife were so emotionally entangled up in the fight it was difficult to separate out emotions from logic at that point.). But I think that airing issues in public should be the last resort (not including licensed counselling, any time is good for counselling), which is why this post is needed–to show how to be firm and make it very clear what is and isn’t acceptable. If your spouse still doesn’t listen or agree that there needs to be a change, then getting other people involved is often necessary and helpful.
Sometimes when we ask for help, you may just find that you weren’t seeing the situation clearly, either. We need community–community that we can trust and community that is wise.
You’ll be hearing more from Rebecca in the comments in the next few weeks as I’ll be on vacation and my wifi is sketchy. I’ve scheduled all the posts ready to go as usual, though! And I’ll jump into the comments when and if I’m able to connect.
Sexual healing takes time
Commenting on our podcast yesterday where Keith and I discussed two different scenarios where a wife had cut her husband off from sex, Jane Eyre said:
The problem with trying to give advice to men who have been shut off from sex is that there are a whole host of reasons why it happens, and there’s a whole spectrum of culpability.
I know of a couple wherein the wife unilaterally shut the husband off after the birth of their second child. Interestingly, they were in couples counseling at the beginning of their marriage because she didn’t want to have sex (with him), despite having been very active with any number of men (at least one married) prior to the marriage. That marriage ultimately failed when she walked out on him.
In those circumstances, your problem is that your wife was never invested in the marriage.
Then, there are plenty of women who find sex to be painful, get no pleasure out of it, and as a result, find it to be alienating rather than intimate. (I have never felt so disconnected from my husband as I have during and after intercourse.) In those circumstances, the lack of sex is a symptom of a larger problem, and focusing on that symptom is to focus on the consequence that happens to be uncomfortable for you, not the underlying cause.
If your wife hasn’t orgasmed in seven years and finally cuts you off, your problem is that your wife hasn’t orgasmed in seven years, even if what is causing you pain is the fact that she cut you off.
In those cases, you have a variant of the weight loss issue: they say if it took you X years to put the weight on, it will take X years to take it off. Get ready for the long haul, because these problems were a long time in the making.
She’s absolutely right. And sex needs to be something where both parties are respected. If she feels as if she’s just being used, sex will be distasteful and yucky that makes her feel like a non-person. To rebuild, it’s not just about sex. It’s about how she feels her experience and feelings have been ignored because of the pressure to have intercourse. It’s going to take a while to disentangle.
Finally, on a personal note, Keith saw his 1000th bird!
He’s an avid birder, and yesterday he hit 1000! It was a ruffescent tiger-heron.
Here he is taking the picture of the bird:
And here’s the bird!
So that’s it! Want to keep up with our bird pictures on our South American journey? Be sure to sign up for my weekly emails! That’s also where we’ll be sharing some more of our early survey stats, right in time for Valentine’s Day!
What do you think? What does mutual respect look like in your marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!