Every Tuesday we’ll post something to do with restoring marriages. Hope it helps.
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wife?
Make a generalization about men and women and someone will point out an exception, proving that generalizations are only generally accurate. That said, I’ll still make one: Lots of men are afraid of their wives. Hold on – I’m not saying these guys are wimps, or that their wives are amazons. I’m only saying that something happens in many, many marriages whereby the husband lives with ongoing fear of his wife’s disapproval, causing a distance between them because fear, as John noted in his epistle, torments. (I John 4:18)
So why the fear? Hard to say. Some people simply have stronger personalities than others, so passive men sometimes marry aggressive women who can shoot them down verbally and dominate them generally. No mystery there. Other men are usually pretty assertive but, having messed up in some major way and feeling deeply ashamed of it, they’re like whipped St. Bernard’s: huge, but guilty and cowering. Still others aren’t sure, as Christian men, exactly how much they should take before standing up for themselves. Thinking that Paul’s injunction to “love your wives as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25) means “take whatever your wife dishes out,” they do just that. (And become resentful and embittered in the process.) Still others cry “Abuse!” when their wives are simply responding to the husband’s wrongdoing through honest expression or proper boundary setting.
Those are pretty common scenarios, and workable if both parties are willing. A passive husband can step up a bit while his more outspoken wife tones down her aggression; a guilty man can ‘fess up, straighten up then speak up, and a man wanting to love as Christ loves the church can remember that His love for the church is direct, honest, and when needed, corrective. (Revelation 3:19)
But I often see another scenario come up, one in which the man is not so much frightened by his wife as he is by the prospect of letting her down, and the avalanche of emotional misery he’ll feel if he does. That, in fact, is the situation so many of my clients describe when they relate their fears. It goes something like this:
“I’m scared of telling her the truth.”
“She’ll be hurt. Or angry. Or both.”
“And I’ll feel rotten.”
Well, on the one hand feeling rotten is the high price of love, since you can’t love deeply without being hugely effected by it if/when you hurt or disappoint the one you love. On the other, it’s also a self-centered dynamic, one I’ve experienced way too many times in my own marriage. When I say or do something letting Renee down, I’m partially hurt for her sake; partially for my own. I’m not afraid of her, but I deeply fear the pain I know I’ll go through when I fail. And that’s the fear that turns into an unwarranted resentment of poor Renee, who’s done nothing to deserve or create it. I fear what I’ll experience, and that, I believe, is the fear many a man means when he says “She scares me.”
The Big Bad Wife is, in cases like that, neither big nor bad. She’s just the chosen partner who has the power love grants her: the power to impact a man in unfathomable ways because she has access to his heart, and that’s not a fault of hers. It is, in fact, a credit to her. It means she matters, and if the fear of hurting or angering her exists because of her significance, then the perfect love which chose her to begin with can also, thank God, become the perfect love casting out the unwarranted (and unnecessary) fear.
So if per chance I mess up this week (God forgive me – “per chance?” Ha!) I hope I’ll embrace the pain of remorse I feel, rather than fearing it, and see it instead as a badge of honor signifying how deeply this imperfect vessel loves and treasures the mate he’s been given.
The week is young. We’ll see.