I wrote this after receiving a Christmas letter a few years ago in which the wife referred to her ‘four children.’ As you can see, it touched a nerve. Don’t get me started, because I have a lot more I could write! Anyway, enjoy . . .
HE’S NOT YOUR CHILD, HE’S YOUR HUSBAND
So there he is, sitting on the couch, beer spilling down his beard and an inane grin on his face. His team has just scored. He’s just a little boy in a man’s body, isn’t he? He’s your husband, and he goes to work, and he pays his taxes, but really, he’s just a child. Which is why you call him one of your children. You even write it in your Christmas letters. My four children, you write. Three under 14 and your husband makes four. Ho ho ho. Isn’t that funny? But it isn’t funny. It’s a tragedy and a disaster. Sadly, it’s one that by your actions, you perpetuate in a vicious circle you aren’t even aware of. Because in actual fact, you don’t really want a child for a husband, do you? You want a man. A real man. One who is strong and thoughtful, kind and brave. You want someone you can respect and love and honour and be proud of.
But look at him! There he is burping and farting and acting like a kid. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like an adult. He loses things, he needs to be organized, and it’s just so much easier to categorize him as one of the kids. You wash his pants, tell him off for wearing muddy boots in the house, and you remind him where he needs to be for his appointments. You even print out documents he needs. He asks you where he put his watch, and he forgets the names of the people you’re visiting that evening. He acts just like your 13 year old. So that’s how he should be treated. Like a teenager, and sometimes like a 10 year old. Treat him that way, because that’s all he deserves.
He’s used to it now. He doesn’t expect anything different. He’s been patronized for so long now, he simply lives up to the expectations placed upon him. He jokes with his mates about “getting into trouble,” as though he’s talking about a teacher at school. And he knows that your disapproval of the things he enjoys, like watching football and cricket on TV, is unending. The alienation that comes from your disapproval of his untidiness and his habits sinks deeper and deeper into his psyche. Well done! The man you fell in love with is now the child you would never want. One who forgets things and needs to be told to be nice to the Westmacotts and told, “please don’t make comments about the décor in her house. Please!”
Perhaps this doesn’t accurately describe your man. It probably doesn’t. Most of the married guys I know aren’t like this at all. This is a stereotype to prove a point. But this much is true. Women are constantly encouraged to take charge. It’s their house, they run the schedule. Men had better fit in, or find themselves shoved to the edges of the family. The whole modern set-up lends itself to one of two extremes: either domestic terror inflicted by an angry man, or female domination. It’s the latter I’m addressing here. Obviously. Perhaps we men deserve such a state of affairs. We’ve mistreated women for so long, we deserve our comeuppance. After all, he’s the one who’s forgetful, who takes off to do his own thing, and leaves you to clean up and take care of the kids. No wonder you’re frustrated, and no wonder you patronize him when given the chance. He deserves it.
But here’s the problem. You want a mature man. Someone to admire and love and respect. But the way you treat your man ensures you will never ever get such a man. Never. Ever. Because the way we’re treated in a marriage profoundly affects the way we respond. The mirror effect is powerful indeed. If you treat me kindly, I’ll be kind to you. If you love me, I’ll love you back. But if you treat me like an idiot? If you describe me as your child in our Christmas letter, and it’s all just a big joke, then guess what? I’ll probably act like that idiot and I’ll find ways to escape the oppression of your patronizing tone and your condescension.
The argument that if a husband acts irresponsibly, he deserves to be treated as an irresponsible child, is deeply flawed. The whole premise that you should get what you deserve crashes into the extravagant grace of the Christian gospel. Christian wives shouldn’t treat their husbands this way, because they haven’t been treated this way by their God. It’s that simple. Christian wives are sinners. Just like Christian husbands. They deserve to pay for their sins, to be treated like the wretched creatures that they are. But God, in his mercy, has forgiven them, and has restored them. He treats them, in fact, in a diametrically opposite fashion to the one they deserve. The Christian wife, who treats her husband in the way described above, is like the servant in Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Having been reprieved of an enormous debt, he turns on another for a small debt and sends him to prison. Christian wives too often send their husbands to prison. They’ve been forgiven themselves, but they won’t extend grace to their life partner. They prefer to act out of the pain and disappointment that comes from living with a flawed husband, and belittle the one they’re supposed to respect. The whole thing is a mess, isn’t it?
How to fix it? How should a Christian wife treat her irresponsible husband? It’s easy to suggest that without counselling, nothing is likely to improve. And that may well be the case. Until the problem is acknowledged, it’s unlikely to be solved. But there are things that can be done, even without professional help. Not surprisingly, it involves an understanding of how behaviour changes another person. The mirror is in view yet again. If we act badly when treated badly, the same is true of the reverse. But it’s no good hoping and waiting for your man to behave well. Many husbands have been in prison for so long, they don’t expect to be treated with anything other than contempt most of the time. Which is why they run off to their caves and hit the remote.
But suppose you started treating your husband with love and respect, even while he acts badly. Imagine that. Giving someone something he doesn’t deserve. Extending the same grace that you received from the hand of God. What would happen if you deferred to him, when you know he’s going to mess up? What would happen if you stopped criticizing him and started encouraging him? What would happen if you gave up some of the power you wrested from him a long time ago, and learnt to share responsibilities in the home? Imagine if you showed interest in the things he likes, even though those aren’t your favourite things. And finally, why don’t you speak well of your husband in your Christmas letters and in public, so that he knows you’re proud of him, even though he’s still tottering around struggling to find his feet after being released from prison.
If you treat him with respect, stop running him down and start building him up, you may find that the man you really desire has a chance to emerge. He won’t emerge fully developed, of course. And he won’t ever be perfect, but he’ll be a great deal closer to the man you hoped he might become when you first got married. What’s more, you may discover that the love that has died under a thousand harsh words, will once again find expression. Because when we’re loved, we discover new ways of expressing our own love, and in a marriage, it’s love that binds two people together.
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