Are You Really Seeking Help, or Only Someone to Confirm Your Victimhood?
Over the years, people write me out of a deep, authentic concern for their marriage. I always try to reply, especially when requests for help are made. But what I have found is that few people ever write back or say thanks, such as was the case with this wife. Here is part of her original email to me:
How do I respond when my husband initiates a conflict with a negative derogatory remark about me? What can I say that responds in love? No matter what he says, do I say, "I love you, even when you say things that hurt me deeply," and then leave the area or what? Please respond to this question if possible.
As she requested, I responded to her, asking for clarification.
A couple questions for you first.
1. Does he make some comment out of the blue? Does he just come in and is nasty? If so, he is a wicked man. Otherwise, his derogatory remarks would be without logic.
2. Or, from his view—and he can be wrong in this—has something happened that he feels triggered his remarks? Again, perhaps he is without justification for his comment, but in his mind does he feel quenched about something?
Our position isn't that you respond in love. You are already loving and he is confident of your love for him. No, the key is to give him the gift of respect. You ask him respectfully, "Did I just say something that felt disrespectful to you? I felt hurt by what just happened and am wondering if I failed to show respect."
Let me know what he tells you in response to that question. Again, use the word respect, not love. Further, he may not deserve respect, but that isn't the point. And you may not feel respect, but that isn't the point either. The point here is to discover what he says to you when you ask if you have somehow failed to show him respect. This will give us a clue to his inner world as a man.
Let me know what happens.
I never heard from her again.
Why do you think that is? I cannot say for certain why I never heard back from this wife specifically, but overall I think some people, both husbands and wives, when writing to me overstate the case against their spouse. I believe they do so in order for me to affirm them. They want me to agree that they are a victim. They want to hear that they are undoubtedly loving or respecting their spouse according to Scripture, and that they aren’t the problem; the problem is their spouse. But when I am slow to affirm what they are hoping and instead seek clarification and leave the door open for alternative viewpoints, it exposes their overstatement, and they decide to never write me again, especially when they realize that what I have said might just work favorably. On the other hand, maybe life intervened in this case, my email went to spam, etc. Things happen.
In this instance, we were still seeking to discover the inner world of her husband. I wanted her to explore my recommendation and get back to me with his response. When she never did, I concluded that she was overly frustrated at a point in time, which prompted her to write me, but it wasn't as horrible as she had portrayed. As well, her initial request had a hint of sarcasm in it as though I was counseling women to be doormats, basically teaching, "Let your husband hurt you but keep a stiff upper lift. We are here to defend men against women."
But it is certainly not only wives who cut off the communication when I respond with questions of my own. Here is a similar situation regarding a husband who emailed me.
Do I have to stay in this marriage if my wife has asked me to leave? She expects me to fulfill my duties as a husband but she doesn't fulfill any of her wifely duties toward me. There is no respect on her part. I am becoming resentful. Doctor, you said that I am an honorable man. I believe that I am. I do love my wife, but I still need her to respect me also. What can I do and how do I make a godly and honorable decision?
As he was no doubt dealing with some tough questions, I was quick to answer him:
Instead of bringing to her attention that she is unbiblical and trying to get her to respect you, I want you to look beyond her to Jesus. Jesus said, "As you have done this to the least of these, you have done this to me." Each time she is disrespectful you can choose to see with your eyes of faith the Lord just beyond your wife's shoulder. You are to love Christ, and your wife just happens to be in the line of fire, so to speak. Don't let her disrespect get to you. Just love her unto Christ. I want you to do this for 48 hours, okay? Tell me what happens. Every word and action is done unto Christ. She is irrelevant in that sense. Does that make sense?
I never heard from him again. Same song and dance. Had he also been guilty of overstating the situation at home and it really wasn’t as bad as he portrayed? Quite possibly. Was he hoping to get my permission to leave his wife? He wouldn’t have been the first spouse to email me seeking this way out of the marriage. After all, if a pastor and the author of Love & Respect recommends divorce, then it must be okay, right?
But when I ask for clarification, or propose a helpful challenge, or ask them to consider their spouse’s point of view, and then they cut off all communication, it tells me that they may have a lot to learn about what it takes to be teachable.
In Titus 2, Paul admonishes the older women of the church to “encourage the young women to love their husbands, love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” The older men in the church are to “urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.”
In short, the younger men and women needed to show themselves to be teachable and allow the elders around them to speak into their lives. And this included matters of marriage and family.
It is a wonderful attribute to be able to give others an inside look into your marital struggles and humble yourself enough to ask for help. God never intended us to go through life’s troubles alone. Having wise mentors and peers to speak into our life is an absolute must. But are you truly seeking their counsel, even if it challenges you beyond what you were expecting to hear from them? Have you shown yourself to be teachable, and able to trust that those you ask for help seek only what is best and what Scripture confirms?
If we’re unwilling to accept counsel or consider alternative viewpoints, we might as well email ourselves. Because it appears that is the only response we’ll consider.
Questions to Consider
- Have you ever sought someone’s affirmation that you are every bit the victim you thought you were in a situation? Did they not empathize quite as much as you’d hoped or even offer an alternate point of view? If so, how did that make you feel? Why?
- When have you been guilty of overstating a problem that involved your spouse? What made you realize your exaggeration?
- Do you have a mentor or other wise counsel in your life who has proven to be able to “speak the truth in love,” even if it’s not what you are wanting to hear? Why is it important to have such a person in your life?
- Do you believe you are teachable? If so, what makes you believe that? If not, how can you begin to become so?