We’ve been talking about emotional health this month, and it reminded me of something I wrote a while back about the Queen Mother’s relationship with her husband, King George VI. I’d like to revisit that again today, because I think it’s a beautiful picture.
But before we get to the story, let’s envision what emotionally healthy support looks like in a marriage.God made us to be relational. He said that it was not good for Adam to be alone, because we do need each other.
What is it, though, that we need from each other? Certainly companionship, and someone to be with and shoot the breeze with. Certainly practical help, because we can’t do all the work alone. Sharing burdens helps immensely.
But more than the practical, God made us for intimacy–to be truly known by one another. Obviously relationships this close, where you truly know someone, will be rare. We do not bare our souls to everyone. But we should bare our souls to someone, or to some people.
However, in baring our souls, there is a danger. What if we are rejected? What if we are laughed at, belittled, or reprimanded? Intimacy requires vulnerability; vulnerability requires risk.
One of our deepest needs is for intimacy that affirms: Intimacy that says, “I see all of you, and I still want to be with you.”
That’s what our children are looking for from us. That’s what leads to securely attached children and emotionally healthy children.
But it also leads to emotionally healthy adults. We all need that feeling of absolute acceptance. In a healthy marriage, you’ll see this.
This doesn’t mean that you accept everything about someone, or that you don’t require them to change destructive behaviours. And it doesn’t mean that if they do something that breaks the covenant that you have to continue to show unconditional affirmation. I’m not talking about accepting someone’s alcoholism or porn use or abuse. But in healthy relationships that are marked by love and goodwill, accepting someone despite foibles is one of the most healing things in the world.
Today I’d like to tell a story about such affirmation and support of a husband, on the part of the Queen Mother.
The fourth season of The Crown has dropped on Netflix (I’m planning on binging it this weekend!), but before there was The Crown, there was The King’s Speech, a masterpiece of a movie that depicted the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II’s mother and father.
King George VI, and his wife Elizabeth, better known to us as “The Queen Mother”, apparently had a lovely, though all too short, marriage. And The Queen Mother has always been one of my favourite royals. I guess the entertainment industry made a pact that they would not tell the story of her marriage until after she died, but then she lived forever! And they finally made this remarkable movie, which I highly recommend.
It follows the true story of Bertie (King George VI’s real name was Albert) overcoming his stuttering as he is thrust into the role of king unexpectedly when his brother abdicates. The king must find his voice to inspire and rally Britain as World War II opens. And, with the help of an unusual speech therapist, he does.
But it is his wife who I was really drawn to. Helena Bonham Carter plays her wonderfully, but I noticed three main things:
- She never made an issue out of his stuttering when it was not affecting his role or the nation. When it was simply a personal struggle, she didn’t even notice it and wasn’t bothered by it
- When it became an issue because he was made king, she supported and encouraged him to find help
- But at the same time, her attitude was never one of babying him. She never showed him anything other than, “I believe you can do it, and that’s all there is to it.”
She was very matter of fact about the whole thing. Before he gave a huge speech, she wouldn’t hold his hand and say, “don’t worry, Bertie, no matter what happens, I’m still here for you!” She simply gave him a quick kiss and said, “you’ll do great.” It was that simple.
And she told him, throughout the movie, why she admired him. He was a great man. He was a kind man. He was an honourable man. When he was ready to give up on speech therapy, she managed to make him keep going. When he quit, she managed to get him to start again. We don’t see all these conversations on screen, but I can imagine the way she handled them. She would say, “I see something wonderful in you. And I want others to see it, too.” When a therapist was ridiculous, she put a stop to it immediately because she didn’t want her husband to go through that. But she always believed in him, at his core.
And on a personal level, she saw beyond the stuttering to the man underneath. She never allowed herself to be personally embarrassed by his stuttering. It was only ever an issue because of his own duties and his own embarrassment, not hers.
We can make two mistakes when it comes to supporting our husbands: the first is that we fail to do it at all.
We notice all his inadequacies, and focus on those, rather than noticing what is good about him. We allow ourselves to be embarrassed by his foibles–even foibles that we already knew about when we married him–and increase his own embarrassment and communicate rejection or contempt. I am not saying that we should not all strive to be better people and to grow, but we can’t expect someone to be something that they are not.
If your husband is not brilliant, you can’t get mad at him for not being a doctor or not having an intellectual job. If he’s just not a go-getter, but is more passive, you can’t get mad at him for not moving up the corporate ladder as fast as you might like. If he isn’t the type who would relish having his own business, you can’t berate him for wanting a secure job.
I think of one man, now retired, that I know well. The best word I can think of to describe him is jolly. Everyone loves him. He exudes friendliness and is the first to offer to help when someone needs him. He worked all his life for one company, and became a manager, and was wonderful with keeping clients.
But he never made a ton of money because he wasn’t the type to strike out on his own. Even though he was very amiable, he also had a very conservative streak in him that wanted the security of a paycheck. That’s what he had always been like. His wife, though, didn’t berate him for this. She knew who her husband was. And they made a great life for themselves, with tons and tons of friends, but without the worry of his own business.
(Now, I realize that many men also fail to support their wives, but just like stonewalling is predominantly, though not entirely, a male issue, so this can be one of the mistakes that many women can make. But it’s not exclusively women, so if it’s the other way around in your marriage, just switch it!)
The second mistake is to confuse supporting your husband with babying your husband.
Supporting an adult should not be done in the same way that you would praise or encourage your four-year-old child. That doesn’t make someone feel supported; that makes him feel like you think he’s a child who can’t handle this without you. That doesn’t communicate support, but instead pity or condescension.
Sometimes we can think we’re affirming our spouse, when we’re really giving him the message, “I don’t think you can handle this.” The Queen Mum (well, she was just Queen Elizabeth back then) always just patted his arm or gave him a quick kiss and said, “you can do it.” He felt that she believed in him (because she did).
Maybe your husband doesn’t stutter, but he might be out of work and worried if he’ll find another job. Or he may have a horrible one where people put him down. Do you treat him like a 4-year-old, or do you communicate, “I hear you, I want to listen, but I totally believe that you can handle this because you’re awesome.”
Supporting your spouse well gives him the key to success. Encourage your husband. Admire and affirm him, but don’t treat him like he’s four-years-old. That’s what a queen did, and it worked on her king.