The letters I answer in this space were made up. They are at best a composite of various counseling situations I’ve been involved in over the years. If you recognize yourself in any of these situations, please know that that is most likely because they are very common situations.
Dear Dr. Lawyer,
I ran across your blog and read the posts you wrote called, “Rising Above: Husbands” and “Rising Above: Wives.” There are some similarities between my situation the both of these situations. My wife and I have been married for five years, I’m a lot like the husband in the wife story and my wife is a lot like the wife in the husband story. I don’t hit my wife or children, but I do throw things. I’m careful, when my temper breaks out, not to hurt anyone, including myself. In fact, what I hit and throw is the nearest pillow. I know that sounds funny and maybe a bit strange, but I know I have a problem and don’t want it to escalate into something worse. Which is why I’m writing to you.
Here’s what I think is going on: if my wife, Ruth, would just stop telling me what to do all the time, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get angry. She really cranks me up. I think she does it on purpose, but of course, I can’t read minds. I’ve talked to her about it, but she just says she isn’t being mean, she’s just trying to help. At the same time, she says, when I am angry that I’m like a big child. Instead of taking care of two children, she has to take care of three. So, at the end of the day, she’s naggy and I’m angry.
We attend a good church, don’t get drunk, take drugs, and are in good health overall.
What do you suggest?
Frustrated, not angry.
Thank you for writing. Your situation is not uncommon at all. In fact, there are elements of what you describe in almost every marriage counseling situation I encounter. Before you read what I’ve written below, if you haven’t already, go back to that post and re-read what I suggested to the husband in Rising Above: Husbands and do it. You can find it here.
As I mentioned in an earlier letter, we need to call things what they are. To do that, however, we need to learn to recognize things as they are first. You say you are frustrated, not angry. In my experience men who are frustrated are almost always, actually angry. They don’t want to call their frustration anger because being frustrated is socially acceptable and being angry isn’t. So, if you are angry, call it anger. If it is sinful anger, or if in your anger you sin, confess the sin and repent of it.
You need to know early on that being angry with your wife and expressing it in an angry way is sin (You are in sin for being angry and you are in sin for expressing it in a sinful way). You may not yell at your wife, you may not throw or hit things such that she is afraid, especially if she is constantly living in fear. You may not use your size, voice, or other actions to intimidate or corral her. You need to do everything you can to make your home a haven of peace, hope, and joy. Your wife and children should be thrilled when they hear your car door slamming shut when you come home and even more thrilled when you come through the door.
It’s one thing to tell a guy what to do and another to tell him how to do it. As I said in the blog post you mentioned, you need to begin by confessing your sin. After confessing your sin, you need to repent from your sin. Confessing and repenting are not the same thing. Confessing is admitting wrong doing, whereas repenting is making a plan to not do that sin again in the future. And sometimes that’s the hard part.
In order to repent, you need to not only know what you did that was sinful but how you got to the place of sinning and what to do instead.
The great thing about all this is that while it is hard, it also isn’t hard. James tells us that sin begins with temptation. Temptation begins with desires. He said, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jas 1:14). So, temptation comes to us when our desires are enticed to something that God has not provided for us or when God has given us something that we don’t desire—we desire not to have it. Later, when talking about fights and quarrels, he says, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war…” (Jas 4:1–2). Again, our desires, when enticed, present us with the opportunity to sin.
How might this look in a normal day to day situation? It would really help if you gave me an example of when you blow up at your wife, but I’m guessing that it goes something like this: You come home after a long hard day at work. You’re tired and you just want to sit down and read the paper while sipping on a tall cool one. Your little Johnny comes into the room with his toy airplane and while running around the room makes airplane noises, loud airplane noises. When he comes in, you say, “Hello, young Lindberg, please take that plane in the other room so I can read my paper in peace.” He leaves. So far, so good. Then, little Suzy comes into the room making chirpy little girl noises as she pushes her dolly around in her stroller. Again, sweet and kind (sort of), you acknowledge Suzy and ask her to play with her dolly in another room so you can read your paper in quiet. She leaves. Right after that, your wife comes into the room, pushes your newspaper aside, puts her face right in your face and tells you that she’s working on dinner and you’re going to start the BBQ in a minute.
Doesn’t she know how tired you are? Doesn’t she know how hard your day was? Doesn’t she know how much you’ve looked forward to sitting and reading your paper? Does she even care that you are already busy doing something? Doesn’t anyone in the house care about you and your comfort and ease? Even for a few short minutes? And you proceed to tell everyone how hard your life has been—at the top of your lungs (with accompanying gestures and props). They need to know how hard your life is! They need to give you a break, a rest, leave you alone, stop trying to get your attention all the time! They need to know who the head of this house is! They need to get a grip!
When it is all over, you’re standing there, feeling like a schmo, but you’ve come too far. You can’t be finished, you’ve got your pride and you’ve said and done things you aren’t happy with, so you stomp out of the room, for emphasis, and go into the basement to finish feeling sorry for yourself.
Now, what do you do? First, you humble yourself and acknowledge that you’ve sinned against God and everyone else in your home. You go upstairs and humbly tell everyone that you’re very sorry for ruining their evening by getting angry and yelling and throwing things and terrifying everyone. You apologize for being a bully and for using your size and voice volume to intimidate everyone into doing what you wanted. You ask them to forgive you. Then you tell them that you are repentant and will never do that again.
Here’s what you mean by repentant. You need to figure out what you should have done in the first place and then do that from now on. The best way to do this is to figure out what desires were enticed and when they came into play. You mentioned that you had had a hard day at work. Does this mean that you sinned all day at work? Do you need to go back to your co-workers and confess your sin there? When a person is out of fellowship with God and others, he doesn’t get back into fellowship by simply switching locations. If you sinned at work, you need to fix things there also.
For now, let’s assume you were simply tired after work and there was no sin that you hauled you’re your home, and go from there. What could you do differently? First, you might remember that you have a wife and two children at home who need you and love you. You need to assume that when you go through the door, you have left the world of work and have entered into their world. So, I suggest that you take the time you are in your car to prepare for how things will be when you get home. Give all your work problems to God to deal with. Listen to some Bible on your phone through the sound system in your car. Spend a good hunk of time with the Lord, talking with him and asking him to prepare your heart to serve your family. You might even call your wife to see how things are going and to see whether she would like you to pick anything up on the way home. If the weather is nice, let her know that you would like to cook on the BBQ if it would help her. Make your coming home a preparation for serving your family.
You should also include your wife and kids in what you are going to do from now on. You can ask for suggestions about how they would like you to love them better. What you are doing in this is enlisting their help, but you are using the situation as a teaching time. You will be teaching them how to deal with sin, how to repent, and how to live life with God and family. So, it isn’t all about you. You are the head of your home. Up until now, you have been teaching them how to be a fathead. Now you need to teach them how to be godly.
But wait, you say, what about me? Don’t I get any rest? Yes, you do get to rest, after everyone else is taken care of. The Bible tells you to love your flock like Christ loved his flock, dying and giving himself for it. If you will pour out your life for your family, you will find that you will have more time to yourself not less. And the time you have will be sweet time, not grumpy or guilty time. If you had come through the door, kissing everyone and hugging everyone, they wouldn’t have bugged you so much later. If you had gotten down on the floor and played with Billy and his airplane, you would have given him a gift he would have remembered for the rest of his life (even if he didn’t remember the specific instance). If you had stopped reading the paper when Suzy came into the room with her doll and offered to care for her, you would have furthered your bond between you and your daughter that would have lasted until she took her husband. If you had gone into the kitchen and asked how you could help your wife, she would have loved you more deeply than anything else you could have done. And all of this would have taken a lot less time than it took you to blow up, ruin everyone’s evening, and then to come back, confess your sins and then spend the rest of the evening in the shadow land. The life God gives us is not about our being happy, comfy, rested, or relaxed. God calls us to joyful service.
One last wrinkle. What if your wife is a shrew? What if she spends all day thinking about how to ruin your evening? What if she hates you and everything you stand for? You still don’t get to sin. The Bible tells us to imitate Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; Eph. 5:25-28). What did Jesus do? He loved people who hated him by letting them kill him. Lay down your life for your wife and children. Serve them, love them into loving you. The Ephesians passage I just alluded to says that Jesus’ love for his wife is what made her lovely. She was not lovely when he loved her, his love made her lovely. So, love you wife into loving you. My guess is that at some point in your life, she loved you. My guess is that she has a long list of reasons she doesn’t love you now. Are the things on her list accurate? Are you still the guy who created her list? Ask her about it. Confess the true things as sin. Let her know that you are going to work with all the power of God in you to become better than the man she loved at first.
One more thing. I can imagine a wife purposefully hating her husband, but most of the time, wives desire to help and love their husbands. They just don’t understand how and they don’t understand why things aren’t going better. So, if you’re in this situation here is an idea about how to proceed. At a time when things are calm, after the dishes are done and the kids are in bed, ask your wife to have a little chat with you. Let your wife know, again, that you are very sorry for getting angry and for making the evening difficult. Ask her how you can make her life better. She may not have an immediate answer, and if that is so, tell her to take a few days and make a list. Let her know that you would like to work on the things she comes up with so that your life with her will be glorious someday.
Then a few days later, get back with her and listen to her list. Ask her if you can take the list and think about the things she has there. Then, take a few days, reading and praying about her list. Ask God to open your eyes to the things that are accurate and that you need to change. Then go back to your wife and discuss the items on the list. Don’t be defensive, but don’t ignore what she has shared with you. Remember, if she has opened up to you, she has shared her heart with you. She wants you to change so your family can change.
Work on the things you can work on. Then after a few weeks, ask her how you’re doing and whether there is anything you can change, in how you are working on the things on her list. Add those comments into your hopper and ask God to help you make those changes.
After a month or so of this, have another chat with her and ask her if she would be open to your sharing with her some things that would make it a lot easier for you to serve her well. Don’t use this as a dumping ground. Be careful to build her up, while being honest with her. Come up with ways to tell her what you think without belittling, confusing, or making her feel anything less than like you queen. Don’t tell her what she is doing wrong so much as tell he how she can do better. Instead of saying, “Don’t tell me about the BBQ right when you need it” say, “it would be wonderful if you could give me a ten-minute warning about when the BBQ needs to be started.” Then, when she does let you know, get all excited, jump up and enthusiastically work on the dinner. You might also suggest that she send you a text at work so that you can change your plans for how you will be prepared when you come home.
I’ll be praying for you. I hope this helps.Lawyer