Feel Stupid and Wrong? Part 2: Don’t Let It Define You
When we feel stupid and wrong in the marriage, we can draw conclusions about ourselves that are untrue in the eyes of God and react in ways that won’t remedy the pain. In part 1 we discussed a husband who felt that the remedy for his situation was divorce. Now hear from a wife who felt stupid up against her brilliant husband and began to believe the lie that she really was stupid and wrong.
I was wondering if you have any experience dealing with a wife's stupidity as a barrier to motivating a husband to love? I know that the "I" in "C.H.A.I.R.S." means to respect a husband's insight, and I do, but that's easy because my husband is brilliant. He's a nuclear engineer, writes music, you name it, he can do it. I, on the other hand, am pretty average . . . possibly a little below at times :).
My husband, while he loves me, is continually exasperated by this and cannot seem to get over it. Anytime I make a mistake (and I'm not talking about disrespectful communications, I'm talking about forgetting to buy milk at the store, breaking a glass by accident, or not being able to give good directions; things that other people see as just everyday life) he blows up . . . I know it is good to be aware of one's flaws but the constant criticism makes me sad.
I try to use humor to lighten the situation, I admit what I did was stupid, I use Respect Talk to appreciate him, especially focusing on praising him when he chooses to take a mistake in stride rather than becoming angry. But lately I am getting worn, especially in the sense of humor department, from dealing with the constant, underlying simmering aggravation that I know is waiting to leap out at me the second I screw up. I feel like I can never relax, or ask my husband for help with anything or else he will sigh and bemoan the fact that I'm too incompetent to do it myself. I know that I should be focused on the Rewarded Cycle and how God still loves me, but I want my husband to love me too.
I wrote her back:
Thanks so much for reaching out. My heart goes out to you, because I can sense your sweet spirit and obedient, humble heart.
But you have been misled. You are not below average in intelligence—I can tell that from your letter!
And your husband’s frustration and impatience with you is not your fault and it is not your issue—it is his issue.
It also has nothing to do with his intelligence. Many extremely intelligent people are patient, gentle, and kind.
Your husband sounds like a perfectionist who has learned to treat his wife disrespectfully by living with a father who treated his mother the same way. He learned that it’s not okay to make mistakes so he became a perfectionist to reduce the chance of his father directing his criticism and humiliation at him. But even a brilliant perfectionist makes mistakes! And the pressure and stress of trying to be perfect out of fear of being a failure results in depression and deep-seated anger and frustration that spills over onto you.
I am not saying your husband does not have goodwill. I’m sure he loves you and is not aware of how demeaning his comments are to you. The examples you give are human, ordinary mistakes!
You no doubt have many strengths that your husband does not have, in fact, many are evident from your e-mail: patience, empathy, a forgiving spirit, gentleness, and a sense of humor. The Bible calls those virtues! God has created you with many unique gifts that your husband is very blessed to be the recipient of. You are a jewel!
Do not believe the lies that you are stupid and incompetent. We all do stupid things and make mistakes (even your husband!) but that does not make us stupid.
The struggle for such a person is to live with a person who angrily lips off about their ineptness without letting that person define who they are.
Many wives in particular struggle with this. They give voice to the fact that they have no voice. They identify themselves as a person who has no identity.
This pain is real. My heart goes out to such a woman.
But she has to come to a place where she derives her sense of self from what God says about her as a human being. I think of the Proverbs 31 woman. We read in Proverbs 31:25, "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.”
Every godly woman needs to be a woman of strength and dignity in the face of a husband who makes her feel weak and undignified. This very marital problem allows her the opportunity to make that decision, and this is a decision. She is not a hopeless and helpless victim who has no option but to feel like an imbecile who can never do anything right.
No! Her husband’s opinion of her does not define who she is. Her husband’s opinion of her only shows how foolish he is. In this wife’s case, she may be married to a rocket scientist but that only means he has a high IQ. Having intelligence does not mean one possesses wisdom. I have met more foolish smart people than I care to remember.
What such a wife needs to avoid is becoming what another wife shared with me. Listen to the story of a woman who went emotionally crazy:
Nothing I do is ever good enough, never enough, and never right . . . all those crazy women from his past that he had told me about, he was so glad he found me, a wonderful sane woman, all of a sudden I became worthless and useless and all these other women were wonderful and amazing . . . I tried to prove myself . . . I tried to give him a reason to change his attitude but it just became worse . . . the harder I tried the worse it got . . . the only time anything changed was if I would completely lose it and blow up and then only temporarily . . . you know women just have to have something to yell about and they will rant and rave and then they will get over it and everything will be okay, but not me I just rant and rant . . . I was yelling and cussing and acting like some crazy person I knew I was not . . . when I started throwing things I knew things had to change . . .
In the Bible, Abigail was married to Nabal. Nadal was a fool, which is the meaning of his name. When this husband and wife are introduced in the Bible we read, "the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings” (1 Samuel 25:3). His servants said about him, "he is such a worthless man that no one can speak to him" (v. 17).
Who Nabal failed to be did not cause Abigail to fail to be who God called her to be. She was a woman of strength and dignity independent of Nabal. However, that did not make her life easy. She had to put up with this harsh man for many years before marrying King David after Nabal’s death.
Some marriages bring pain but in the end God honored Abigail for not losing her strength of character and self-respect.
Yes, the offender will affect us emotionally. We are not robots indifferent to unkind comments. But at the end of the day, neither are we robots that they can control. A mature adult must grasp that mere negative words cannot determine who God made us to be. That other person does not have the power to create us in their own image. God created us in His image and this other person has no right or authority to mess with God’s image of us and in us.
Is your spouse unhappy? That does not predestine you to be an unhappy person. A godly, wise man remains firm in his faith, strong, and acts like a man. He will be who God calls him to be even though his wife calls him stupid and wrong. As much as that hurts he will accept the challenge to work hard on managing the household with wisdom by creating win-win proposals. He will not be engaged half-heartedly but wholeheartedly as he discovers several months later that his wife is warming up to his strong but humble demeanor and wisdom in his proposals.
As for this woman who feels stupid, she will recognize as did Abigail that she may not be able to change her Nabal. But as foolish as her husband might be, she is not stupid because he says she is stupid. In the eyes of God she is a woman of strength and dignity and she must act in accordance with God’s image of her, and in her, not her husband’s image.
All of this is a process, but it is a journey that one must take. The good news is that it does not become a dead-end trip. Instead, one begins to realize the inner wisdom one feels and the rightness about how one is living, even if a spouse refuses to acknowledge it.
Questions to Consider
- How would you advise the woman who wrote Emerson on how to judge what his her husband’s insight and what is his unloving and uncalled-for judgment?
- Why is it so difficult to not let the accusations and judgments from someone you love define who you are?
- Have unfair and harsh judgments from your spouse ever caused you to go emotionally crazy, as was the case for the woman in the second letter? Did reacting in this way help or hurt the situation?
- Who are you in God’s eyes? What does it mean to “act in accordance” with this?