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A Message to Husbands and Wives

  • Family Talk
  • December 6, 2017

To Husbands

It is high time you realized that your wives are under attack today! Everything they have been taught from earliest childhood is being subjected to ridicule and scorn. Hardly a day passes when the traditional values of the Judeo-Christian heritage are not blatantly mocked and undermined.

–The notion that motherhood is a worthwhile investment of a woman’s time suffers unrelenting bombardment.

–And the idea that wives should yield to the leadership of their husbands, as commanded in Ephesians 5:21–33 is considered almost medieval in its stupidity.

–And the concept that a man and woman should become one flesh, finding their identity in each other rather than as separate and competing individuals, is said to be intolerably insulting to women.

–And the belief that divorce is an unacceptable alternative has been abandoned by practically everybody. (Have you heard about Sue and Bob?)

–And the description of the ideal wife and mother, as offered in Proverbs 31:10–31 is now unthinkable for the modern woman. (She’s come along way, baby.)

–And the role of the female as help-meet, bread-baker, wound-patcher, love giver, home builder, and child-bearer is nothing short of disgusting.

All of these deeply ingrained values, which many of your wives are trying desperately to sustain, are continually exposed to the wrath of hell itself. The Western media–radio, television and the press–are working relentlessly to shred the last vestiges of Christian tradition. And your wives who believe in the spiritual heritage are virtually hanging by their thumbs! They are made to feel stupid and old-fashioned and unfulfilled, and in many cases, their self-esteem is suffering irreparable damage. They are fighting a sweeping social movement with very little support from anyone.

Let me say it more directly. For the man who appreciates the willingness of his wife to stand against the tide of public opinion–staying at home in her empty neighborhood in the exclusive company of jelly-faced toddlers and strong willed adolescents–it is about time you gave her some help. I’m not merely suggesting that you wash the dishes or sweep the floor. I’m referring to the provision of emotional support…of conversation…of making her feel like a lady…of building her ego…of giving her one day of recreation each week…of taking her out to dinner…of telling her that you love her. Without these armaments, she is left defenseless against the foes of the family–the foes of your family!

But to be honest, many of you husbands and fathers have been thinking about something else. Your wives have been busy attending seminars and reading family literature and studying the Bible, but they can’t even get you to enter a discussion about what they’ve learned. You’ve been intoxicated with your work and the ego support it provides.

What better illustration can I give than a letter that came from a desperate woman whose husband is rarely at home, and even when he’s there he has nothing to say. He prefers the company of Paul Harvey, who asks no questions and expects no answers. Furthermore, he’s a first-class punkin eater.” You know the story.

Peter, Peter, Punkin Eater
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her
Put her in a punkin shell
And there he kept her very well….

Yeah, Old Pete has got his little woman right where he wants her. She’s cooped up in a house with two children under three years of age, changing diapers and wiping noses and cooking meals for him and Mr. Harvey. That’s some existence for living, breathing, female with deep needs to be loved and respected. Not only does Peter not intend to meet those needs, but he forbids her to take them elsewhere. He doesn’t even want her to go to a Bible study class because, would you believe, he fears his kids will catch a disease. Never mind the disease that is choking the life out of his wife–the disease called loneliness. To the wives of all the world’s punkin eaters, I say, “Go to the Bible study class anyway!” Submission to masculine leadership does not extend, in my opinion, to behaviors that will be unhealthy for the husband, the wife, and the marriage. Nor should a woman tolerate child abuse, child molestation, or wife-beating.

The message could not be more simple or direct to a Christian man: the Lord has commanded you to “love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, giving His life for it.” She needs you now. Will you fit her into your plans?

To Wives

There are two sides to every coin, and it’s time now that we flipped this one over. This chapter has been dominated by the feminine perspective, not because that point of view is more valid or significant, but because it is so poorly understood by the majority of men. I wrote an entire book entitled What Women Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, for the purpose of conveying some of those frustrations to men. Nevertheless, husbands have their own legitimate complaints to make, too. So brace yourselves, ladies I’m coming your way.

My strongest words are addressed to the wife of a good man, whom we will call Fred. He loves Barbara and the kids. Honest! He would literally lay down his life for them if required. He doesn’t drink. He has never smoked. He has no compulsion to gamble. He wouldn’t touch another woman under any imaginable circumstances. He gets up every morning and plods off to work, perhaps holding down a boring, menial job for forty-five years. He brings his salary home and does his best to stretch it through the month. He lives by a moral code that is remarkable for this dishonest era. His income tax return is scrupulously accurate, and he’s never stolen so much as a paper clip from his boss. He doesn’t beat the kids or kick the dog or flirt with the widow next door. He is as predictable as the sunrise, and I’m sure that God has a special place for him on the other side.

But Steady Freddie has a serious flaw. He was raised in a day when little boys were taught to withhold their thoughts and feelings. “Children are to be seen and not heard,” said his parents. He can’t remember being hugged or praised, and everybody knows that boys don’t cry. So Fred learned his lessons well. He became tough as nails and as silent as the night, but in so doing, he lost touch with his emotions. Now, he cannot be spontaneous and affectionate, no matter how hard he tries. It just isn’t within him. And most of his thoughts remain unspoken and private.

One would hope that Barbara would accept Fred as he is, since she knew his nature before they were married. In fact, it was his quiet reserve that made Fred attractive to her when they were courting. He always seemed so strong, so in control, compared to her impulsive flightiness. But now Barbara is fed up with her unromantic husband. She is deeply angry because he won’t communicate with her, and she nags him incessantly about his alleged “failures” as a husband. He can do nothing right and she makes them both miserable year after year.

Let’s bring the illustration closer to home. Fred and Boiling Barbara do not represent an unusual combination of personality characteristics. I have seen hundreds of husbands and wives who share their conflict. Many men–not just those who were taught to be inexpressive–find it difficult to match the emotions of their wives. They cannot be what their women want them to be. But instead of looking at the whole man, assessing his many good qualities as they counterbalance this “fad,” the wife concentrates on the missing elements and permits it to dominate their relationship. She’s married to a good man…but he’s not good enough!

Only men who are married to such women fully understand just how wretched life can be. King Solomon had at least one malcontent in his harem, for he wrote “It is better to swell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman” (Prov. 21:19, KJV). He later referred to her dissatisfaction as resembling “a continual dropping in a very rainy day” (Prov. 27:15, KJV). He is right! An agitated woman rants and raves and cries and complains. Her depression is perpetual, destroying vacations, holidays, and the months in between. She may, in retaliation, refuse to cook or clean or take care of the kids. The husband then has the great thrill of coming home to a shattered house and a bitterly angry woman five days a week. And the sad part of the story is that he is often unable to become what she wants him to be. He has seriously attempted to rearrange his basic nature on five or six occasions, but to no avail. A leopard can’t change it’s spots, and an unromantic, noncommunicative man simply cannot become a sensitive talker. The marital impasse is set in concrete.

Churning in the mind of the depressed wife is the possibility of divorce. Day and night she contemplates this alternative, weighing the many disadvantages against the one major attraction: escape. She worries about the effect of divorce on the kids and wonders how she’ll be able to support them and wishes she didn’t have to tell her parents. Round and round go the positives and negatives. Should I or shouldn’t I? She is both attracted and repelled by the idea of a dissolution.

This contemplative stage reminds me of a classic documentary film which was shot during the earliest days of motion pictures. The cameraman captured a dramatic event that took place on the Eiffel Tower. There, near the top, was a naive “inventor” who had constructed a set of birdlike wings. He had strapped them to his arms for the purpose of using them to fly, but he wasn’t totally convinced that they would work. The film shows him going to the rail and looking downward, then pacing back and forth. Next he stood on the rail trying to get enough courage to jump, then returned to the platform. Even with the primitive camera of those days, and film has captured the internal struggle of that would-be-flier. “Should I or shouldn’t I? If the wings work, I’ll be famous. If they fail, I’ll fall to my death.” What a gamble!

The man finally climbed on the rail, turned loose of the nearby beam, and weaved back and forth for a breathless moment of destiny. Then he jumped. The last scene was shot with the camera point straight downward, as the man fell like a rock. He didn’t even bother to flap his wings on his way to the ground.

In some respects, the depressed homemaker is like the man on the ledge. She knows that divorce is a dangerous and unpredictable leap, but perhaps she will soar with the freedom of a bird. Does she have the courage to jump? No, she’d better stay on the safety of the platform. On the other hand, this could be the long-sought escape. After, everyone else is doing it. She wavers back and forth in confusion…and often takes the plunge.

But what happens to her then? It’s been my observation that her “wings” do not deliver the promised support. After the wrenching legal maneuvers and custody fight and property settlement, life returns to a monotonous routine. And what a routine. She has to get a job to maintain a home, but her marketable skills are few. She can be a waitress or a receptionist or a sales lady. But by the time she pays a baby sitter (if she can find one) there is little money left for luxuries. Her energy level is in even short supply. She comes home exhausted to face the pressing needs of her kids, who irritate her. It’s a rugged existence.

Then she looks at her ex-husband who is coping much better. He earns more money than she and the absence of kids provides him more freedom. furthermore (and this is an important point), in our society there is infinitely more status in being a divorced man than a divorced woman. He often finds another lover who is younger and more attractive than his first wife. Jealousy burns within the mind of the divorcee, who is lonely and, not surprisingly, depressed again.

This is no trumped-up story just to discourage divorce. It is a characteristic pattern. I’ve observed that many women who seek divorce for the same reasons indicated (as opposed to infidelity) will live to regret their decision. Their husbands, whose good qualities eventually come into view, begin to look very attractive again. But these women have stepped off the ledge…and they must yield to the forces of nature.

Divorce is not the answer to the problem of busy husbands and lonely wives. Just because the secular world has liberalized it attitudes toward to the impermanence of marriage, no such revision has occurred in the Biblical standard. Would you like to know precisely what God thinks of divorce? He has made His view abundantly clear in Malachi 2:13–17, especially with reference to husbands who seek a new sexual plaything:

Yet you cover the altar with your tears because the Lord doesn’t pay attention to your offerings anymore, and you receive no blessing from him. “Why has God abandoned us?” you cry. I’ll tell you why; it is because the Lord has seen your treachery in divorcing your wives who have been faithful to you through the years, the companions you promised to care for and keep. You were united to your wife by the Lord. In God’s wise plan, when you married, the two of you became one person in his sight. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. Therefore guard you passions! Keep faith with the wife of your youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says he hates divorce and cruel men. Therefore control your passions–let there be no divorcing of your wives. You have wearied the Lord with your words. “Wearied him?” you ask in fake surprise. “How have we wearied him?” By saying that evil is good, that is pleases the Lord! Or by saying that God won’t punish–he doesn’t care (TLB).

If divorce is not the solution, then what can be said on behalf of the emotionally staved woman? First, it will be helpful for her to recognize the true source of her frustration. Granted, her husband is not meeting her needs, but I doubt it men have ever responded as women preferred. Did the farmer of a hundred years ago come in from the fields and say, “Tell me how it went with the kids today”? No, he was as oblivious to his wife’s nature as Fred is of Barbara’s. Then why did the farmer’s wife survive while Barbara is climbing the walls? The difference between them can be seen in the breakdown in the relationship between women! A century ago, women cooked together, canned together, washed clothes at the creek together, prayed together, went through menopause together, and grew old together. And when a baby was born, aunts and grandmothers and neighbors were there to show the new mother how to diaper and feed and discipline. Great emotional support was provided in this feminine contact. A woman was never really alone.

Alas, the situation is very different today. The extended family has disappeared, depriving the wife of that source of security and fellowship. Her mother lives in Connecticut and her sister in is Texas. Furthermore, American families move every three or four years, preventing any long-term friendships from developing among neighbors. And there’s another factor that is seldom admitted: American women tend to be economically competitive and suspicious of one another.

Many would not even consider inviting a group of friends to the house until it was repainted, refurnished, or redecorated. As someone said, “We’re working so hard to have beautiful homes and there’s nobody in them!” the result is isolation–or should I say insulation–and its first cousin: loneliness.

Depriving a woman of all meaningful emotional support from outside the home puts enormous pressure on the husband-wife relationship. The man then becomes her primary source of conversation, ventilation, fellowship, and love. But she’s not his only responsibility. He is faced with great pressure, both internal and external, in his job. His self-esteem hangs on the way he handles his business, and the status of the entire family depends on his success. By the time he gets home at night, he has little left with which to prop up his lonely wife…even if he understands her.

Let me speak plain to the wife of the busy but noncommunicative husband: you cannot depend on this man to satisfy all your needs. You will be continually frustrated by his failure to comply. Instead, you must achieve a network of women friends with whom you can talk, laugh, gripe, dream, and recreate. There are thousands of homemakers around you who have the same needs and experience. They’ll be looking for you as you begin your search for them. Get into exercise classes, group hobbies, church activities, Bible studies, bicycle clubs–whatever. But at all costs, resist the temptation to pull into the four walls of a house, sitting on the pity pot and waiting for your man to come home on his white horse.

Many times a man’s most irritating characteristic is a by-product of the quality his wife most respects. Perhaps his frugality and stinginess, which she hates, have made him successful in business, which she greatly admires. Or perhaps his attentiveness to his mother’s needs, which his wife resents, is another dimension of his devotion to his own family. Or in Fred’s case, his cool stability in the face of crisis, which drew Barbara to him, is related to his lack of spontaneity and exuberance during their tranquil days. The point is, God gave your husband the temperament he wears, and you must accept those characteristics that he cannot change. After all, he must do the same for you. “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:11–13, KJV).

Conclusion

There is nothing so ugly as a husband or wife who bitterly attacks and demeans his mate. But nothing is so beautiful as a loving relationship that conforms to God’s magnificent design. We’ll conclude with a brilliant example of this divinely inspired love. It was written by the surgeon who experienced it. Perhaps you will be deeply moved by his words, as was

I.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

Posted In: Family Talk

Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson

Since 1977, Dr. James Dobson has been a leading voice and advocate for families, helping marriages and parents thrive through Biblically-based advice. Dr. Dobson has authored more than 30 books, was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, and his dairy radio broadcast provides encouragement to Christians around the world.

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