Early in my marriage I surprised my wife by setting up a Christmas tree (that shed wanted but I’d said we shouldn’t get) while she was at work. She was … not happy. For her it wasn’t about the tree, it was about us getting a tree together. The fight lasted awhile. My point is that disagreements happen easily, and with best intentions. One easy way to avoid this is to be as honest as we can. That’s what today’s post from Gary Thomas is about. Enjoy!
Some wives can literally stew in their disappointment about their husbands’ relational shortcomings:
“Why won’t he help me?”
“Why won’t he talk to me about this?”
“Why doesn’t he seem to care?”
They fail to realize that their husbands may not know what to do. Some women accuse their husbands of being uncaring or unloving when, in fact, the husbands may just be clueless. I don’t mean “clueless” in a ridiculing way; I mean it objectively. We may not have a clue what you’re asking us to do. It’s possible that we’re not trying to be stubborn, uncaring, or unfeeling; we may just honestly not know what you need or what we’re supposed to do in response to that need. And there are few things most guys hate more than not knowing what to do.
This is a key insight: it’s easier and less painful for us to ignore the problem than to admit incompetence.
One mature wife said to the younger wives in a small group for married couples, “Women often feel that if their husbands loved them, the men would know what they are thinking and what they need. This simply isn’t true. As wives, we need to learn to speak our husbands’ language; we need to be direct in our communication and tell them what we want them to do. When we want them to listen to us and not give advice, we need to tell them so. When we want their help on something, we need to ask them directly.”
My brother once frustrated his wife even while trying to please her. The kids had run out of toothpaste, so he went to the store and purchased something he thought his kids would love: Star Wars toothpaste gel. His daughters squealed with delight, but his wife hated it. “Have you ever tried to clean up that blue gunk?” she pointed out. “It sticks everywhere!” But she understood this as a case of good intentions gone bad.
Sadly, far too many wives assume the husband doesn’t care or worse, that he’s trying to make their lives more burdensome, when the reality may be that he just doesn’t have a clue. My sister- in- law could choose one of two ways to look at the toothpaste fiasco: either my brother cared enough to make the trip to buy toothpaste her daughters would delight in, or he intentionally made his wife’s life more difficult by purchasing a brand that creates a cleaning nightmare.
Another wife told me that when she and her husband first began traveling together, she would want to stop to eat but asked him indirectly, “Are you hungry yet?” He’d say no, and she’d sit and stew because obviously he didn’t care about her. When she learned to say “Hey, I’m hungry; let’s stop for lunch,” her husband was always accommodating. She eventually realized that her husband wasn’t trying to be thoughtless; he just wasn’t catching the hint. He would never intentionally want her to endure being hungry.
Her mental fight was about nothing. And it went on for years.
May I slay a very destructive myth? Perhaps you think the more your husband loves you, the better he’ll become at reading your mind. That’s a romantic but highly unrealistic and even destructive notion. It can create havoc in a marriage and hinder mature communication by keeping you from being direct, while at the same time tempting you toward resentment when your husband proves utterly incapable of telepathy.
Here’s a healthier strategy. Instead of resenting your husband’s occasional insensitivity, try to address him in a straightforward manner. Be direct instead of hoping he’ll guess what you need. His seeming reluctance to help may well result from his having no idea what you want. One wife I interviewed for this book told me that early on in her marriage, she said to her husband, “Honey, the lightbulb is out”—and her husband thought she was making an observation, while she thought she was asking him to change it.
Before you slam your husband with the serious charge of not caring or intentionally hurting you, make sure he’s not misunderstanding or misreading you. As a starting point, give him the benefit of the doubt.
I talked to a husband recently whose wife didn’t fit the stereotype that “men are microwaves and women are crockpots.” They work together and on work trips with an upcoming night at a hotel he’d start suggestive talk and touching, hoping to set the mood for a hotel romp later in the evening.
The problem is that his wife really is a microwave. She can isolate work and romance and prefers to do so. During the day as they were working, she found his advances annoying. She always knew what was coming up but didn’t want to be distracted while doing business.
Her husband thought he was being rebuffed and shut down. He didn’t want to get all “revved up” and have to deal with the frustration so he sat and stewed in disappointment. Later that evening, his wife came out of the hotel bathroom and essentially said, “Here I am!” and his response was an angry, “You’ve got to be kidding me! You’ve shut me down all day long and now I’m supposed to get revved up?”
The wife was frustrated because husbands are “supposed” to always be ready for sex, regardless of what has happened during the day. And the husband was frustrated because wives are supposed to respond to all-day “foreplay.”
This pattern went on for nearly a decade because neither spouse took the time to truly understand what each one was thinking. They made assumptions based on stereotypes. The wife wasn’t a crockpot. The husband wasn’t a “microwave.” If he felt rejected all day long, sudden opportunity wasn’t all that enticing to him.
Men, none of us marry a stereotype. We marry a real woman. Get to know her. When you’re confused about something, ask her what’s really going on before judging her or jumping to conclusions. Don’t fault her for being unique or original if she doesn’t fit the stereotype. Celebrate her one-of-a-kind nature by being curious and by giving her the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes, refusing sex can be about power plays. Just don’t assume that that’s always happening in your marriage simply because your wife isn’t playing the “role” others have said she should play.