[Editor’s note: We’re all aware of the many tragic instances of husbands verbally abusing their wives, but this article relates how the wife can do the same. Still, all the principles related here apply equally to husbands.]
The other day at the store, I saw a husband miserably pushing a shopping cart behind his wife as she browsed; he occasionally picked out something, asking, “How about this one? This looks good.” Each time, his wife had a cutting remark: “Our kids don’t like those. They never have. How could you not know that?” or “Are you joking? Do the math—the multi-pack is cheaper.” Sometimes the man’s wife gave no response beyond a sigh and eye roll. Eventually, the husband stopped trying and stood mute, demoralized. At one point he pulled out his phone; his wife responded with a disgusted look.
This is an all-too familiar scene; I’ve witnessed or heard dozens of stories like it. Now, this might not seem like a big deal. At least they weren’t outright fighting. No blatant insults or abuse. But, it hints at a problem in our culture.
Women, we often treat our men like trash. Not all of us, mind you. And for those of us who do, sometimes we aren’t even aware of it. But it is a common habit. We often feel miserable or complain about our marriages and husbands, and that discontent spills over into how we treat them. It has permeated our culture to the point that it isn’t limited to our home and has become acceptable enough to shamelessly shame in public.
This does not come without consequences. Because of it, marriages suffer, happiness suffers, and we, our husbands and our children suffer.
I am not guiltless. Through trial and error, I’ve learned a few things and have some real things to say. They all have to do with how we treat our husbands.
- Stop believing the media portrayal of relationships.
The first way Hollywood undermines marriages is by glamorizing only the “falling in love” part—the part filled with excitement, being high on love and having found an amazing, perfect person. But after that—Hollywood skips town. This gives a vastly unrealistic vision of what marriage is supposed to be; we fully expect that “twitterpated” feeling the entire time. This, in fact, is completely unsustainable. Said C.S. Lewis:
The state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?
The adrenaline, energy and exhaustion of such a constant state, sustained long-term would probably kill us.
And so, we face a harsh reality check when we discover our spouse isn’t perfect. Faults that didn’t exist before now creep out of our newlywed walls. Things once endearing are now annoying. Our disenchantment leads us to believe we’ve made a terrible mistake: How can I possibly have married this person who has such glaring flaws? And many couples just call it quits. Why stay with someone you are so obviously not “in love” with?
What the media leaves out is that with time and a lot of hard work, that state of twitterpation is just a prelude to something much greater. C.S. Lewis:
But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit;…They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself…‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.
Once we realize that being “in love” isn’t what marriage is all the time, we can stop being disappointed and instead work on building something more powerful—lasting love on a foundation of trust, life experiences, friendship and mutual respect.
- Stop believing the media portrayal of men.
The media portrays men as basically ignorant, messy children. In television shows, most husbands are fat, lazy nincompoops who get everything wrong. This leads to a message polar opposite to “happily-ever-after-in-love-as-newlyweds”: Once married, we are doomed to a miserable-ever-after life with a buffoon.
Now, I’m not saying that any of us go around consciously thinking these things, but in the back of our minds, it’s there. We’re right, they’re wrong. We have it together, they’re a mess. We’re the mature adult, they’re infantile.
We cannot buy into this demoralization of men. Of course, our husbands aren’t perfect. But they are also not stupid doormats for us to wipe our feet on—they are equal partners worthy of respect and admiration. It’s time we dignify their presences.
Besides the moral implications of such behavior, treating men badly is a first-class ticket to divorce, disastrous relationships, and unhappiness in your own life—indeed, a miserable-ever-after existence.
- Stop the husband-bashing
In the first couple years of my marriage, I noticed that when I got together with my gal pals, we spent a good deal of time complaining about our husbands. We laughed, we cried, we vented and ranted. We were a group of women unabashedly husband-bashing, writing it off as a form of “necessary venting” and “supportive friendship.”
Here’s the thing though: after a while, I noticed that every time I got home from these sessions, I did not feel unburdened. Hashing out my husband’s faults had not sent my frustration out the door; actually, it planted those frustrations more firmly in my mind. I eventually realized these sessions were not helping my marriage, but only feeding the fires of discontent.
I teach a principle to my students called “group polarization,” which states that when you discuss something with a group, you walk away with feelings more extreme and intense than before. So, if we think unloading our woes about our husbands is a healthy way to feel better about them, we are actually missing the fact that it does exactly the opposite.
This isn’t even addressing how disrespectful and demeaning it is to our husbands. Think about it: “Yes, I love my husband! Now let me proceed to demean and insult him to everyone!” We show love not only by what we say to them, but also in what we say about them. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy: how you speak about them will influence how you feel about them.
Over time, as I observe married girlfriends of mine that are genuinely happy in their marriages, I’ve noticed they all have one thing in common: they avoid speaking poorly of their husbands…and something tells me this is not because they have perfect husbands. Coincidence? Of course not.
I’m not saying that every once in a while we can’t have a good chuckle over the occasional hilarious story, but that’s a far cry from openly mocking the person who is supposed to be your true love, the man you chose to spend life with, your partner in parenting, love, trials and every single moment. If we want to be happier in marriage, we need to be happier in how we speak of our marriage and about our partner in that commitment.
So, ladies, we need to treat our men better. Yes, we are powerful as women. Included in this awesome power is the ability to equally empower our husband, or to strip him of dignity. We don’t empower him by criticizing or demeaning, but by accepting and respecting him. We can embrace his differences instead of rejecting and supplanting them. We can love instead of nag. Instead of taking our marriage cues from the insidiously dangerous messages of the media—cues that say we can live happily ever after with no effort, or that we are doomed to living miserably-ever-after—let’s take a step back and consciously mold our relationships into something more powerful than just man or just woman. Let’s embrace the power of our union, the power of marriage, and our role in making that a reality.
From Inside-Out Minds