Marraige problems are NOT all the husband’s fault.

May 8, 2012

in Reader Requested, Seeing Clearly, Understanding Her

Wolf-man and woman © Ivan Skvortsov | Dreamstime.com

"Bad husband! Bad, bad!"

I had an email recently that thanked me for not having the common “marriage ministry philosophy” that the man is wrong because he is a beast and he needs to be tamed. The specific comment was about sex, and that sometimes we feel like being passionate and even a bit aggressive. I agree with this, but it made me think of a bigger problem I see in parts of the marriage ministry world – the idea that the man is always wrong and if he would just get it right his marriage would be fine. The corollary to this is that anything a wife is doing wrong is his fault, and as soon as he gets it together, she will immediately change.

I know that sounds crazy, and anything but biblical, but it’s out there. I went several rounds with a fellow who teaches that, and has a book which says the same thing. The reason this couple teaches this is that their marriage was this way, and his changing did fix everything. The problem is that not every marriage is this way; I’d say very few are this way. Occasionally it’s almost entirely the man, occasionally it’s almost entirely the woman, and most of the time they each have things that need to be dealt with. Any change either makes may precipitate change by the other, but it neither causes nor guarantees that the spouse will change – or that if they do change it will be for the better. If the husband is the vast majority of the problem, then a book that makes the husband the problem will help. If both have things to deal with, a book that blames all marriage problems on him won’t help, and will likely make things worse. If the wife is the vast majority of the problem, a book that puts it all on him will make things much worse!

The “it’s always the man’s fault” approach to marriage problems is a result of the “one size fits all” method of dealing with things. I’ve seen some well-meaning people do a lot of harm because they assume everyone is like they are, and everyone’s problems are the same as theirs are or were. It would make things easy, but it’s not true! Stay away from anyone who has a one size fit’s all answer for marriage problems, as well as from anyone who has a “guaranteed fix”. These things will work for some, but not for all, and they will make things worse for many.

By the way, this applies to anything I say as well. Often I give a bit of advice that will work for most, but very few things are universally true in the area of marriage. I’d say 5% to 10% of what I share here I don’t do in my own marriage because it would not work or is not the best option. My bride is unique, as am I, and that makes our marriage unique. In many areas, we are “average”, and that means the common solution works well. However, like all couples, there are places where are not normal, and that means that the normal solutions won’t work, or won’t work well enough.

The bottom line is that you must be a student of your bride. If you’re not sure about something, try it gently, and see how it goes. Just because something worked for another couple does not mean it will work for you. Even more importantly, just because something did not work for you does not mean there is no solution.

20 comments
UK Fred
UK Fred

Not being a counsellor, but having been a counsellee, I would want to know on what basis it is helpful to give one gender or the other a higher standard to meet. Both husbands and wives have requirements of Scripture to meet. If one party does not meet that requirement, that does not give the other party a fee pass to fail to meet their requirement somewhere else. My understanding is that i am responsible for my failures and my wife is responsible for hers when we arrive at that heavenly appraisal meeting. The table on Dalrock's posting Reframing Christian Marriage has an interesting view of how some Christian men see the teaching in the Church. http://dalrock.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/reframing-christian-marriage/

Nathan Martin
Nathan Martin

Fred, for me it's about individual accountability. For a man to take his rightful role in spiritual headship, he also has to take his necessary responsibility. It's one of those "the buck stops here" kind of things. The scriptures give examples of higher responsibility: "To whom much is given, much is required...Let not many of you become teachers knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." And I go back to the statement of the man being compared to Christ and the woman being compared to the church. That seems to imply a higher standard. But again, for me and my wife in our counseling of others, we each hold the same-gender counselee to the Scriptural standard. As for Dalrock, I read the link and found it interesting. While I've seen point 1 being promoted at times (Five Love Languages, His Needs/Her Needs, etc), I've not seen points 2 or 3 advanced by those writers or by healthy church leaders. Definitely not something my wife and I ascribe to or promote. Again, just my $0.02.

UK Fred
UK Fred

Hi Nathan Thanks for the thought-out reply. The church is required to follow Christ and those parts that do not are described as sects or heretics. If we live in a society where a woman will not follow the lead of her husband, can she really be described as a Christian wife or should we use some other word? I know that many of the guys who post on Dalrock have been divorced for reasons that they believe are not biblical by wives who claim to be Christian. There ae forums on the web which claim to be Christian where, unlike the marriage bed, some of the female posters are openly direspectful of their husbands (one calls her husband butt head) and where postings akin to "I'm unhappy. I don't care what the Bible says. I'm going to divorce him" are met with encouragement to divorce and not a reminder to look at Scripture. Dalrock's does have an agenda: to make people realise that US Divorce laws are not compatible with marriage as a life-long partnership between one man and one woman and that poor teaching in the church, and in particular refusal by preachers to admonish women abut their neglect of marriage gives the present legal environment moral legitimacy.

Nathan Martin
Nathan Martin

Just to add a couple more cents to the topic (although I don't know if it will add any more sense...) :) .... My wife and I counsel together and we have found that I am often harder on the guys and she is often harder on the girls, both because we recognize cop-outs when we see them. So we each try to hold our gender to a higher standard and understand individualized, as well as shared, responsibility. My reasoning for holding the guys to the higher standard is we are told to love as Jesus loved, and the ladies are not held to such a standard. I accept that as a challenge and a responsibility. That may seem a bit OSFA for some, but it's a starting place for us in joint counseling, and has worked well for many couples. Just another $0.02, Nathan

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Nathan - I think we either hold our gender to a higher standard, or we tend to give them a pass. The former certainly seems like a better choice. In a situation like you describe, with both being held to a high standard by a member of their own sex, it works. Of everyone does it to one spouse, and gives the other a pass, that's going to cause problems. As to a higher standard for men based on what we are called to vs what our wives are called to, I agree. My example is Jesus, and I won't ever meet that. Her example is the church, and that's not always as high a bar as we'd like it to be! (BTW, great to hear from you!)

Nathan Martin
Nathan Martin

Well said, Paul! I pray we raise the bar! BTW, though I comment rarely, I read daily and refer others often. Thanks for your tremendous work for the kingdom!

DaveR
DaveR

Paul, You totally hit on a point that I think a lot of guys don't seem to get. You said "The bottom line is that you must be a student of your bride." I would posit a slightly different level of interest, since some of us learned to get through school minimal effort because it came easy for us... I would say stalk your wife...in love! :) I know this sounds creepy at first, but as Christians we should be used to redeeming terms the world has twisted into something ugly, like submission...but I digress. Think about how much effort a stalker puts into knowing their target; and if our wife is to be our most important earthly relationship then can't we put as much effort into knowing our wives to whom we intend nothing but love, tenderness, and imaging Jesus Christ to? I'll admit that when I first heard of this idea I was like "Am I supposed to follow her to the gym and hide out?" No, but maybe it would behoove me to know when she usually goes to the gym so maybe one day I could arrive home and leave her "surprise flowers". Bottom Line...the better you know your wife, the better you can lover your wife. And I'm pretty sure that the bible doesn't ask us men to do that. It commands us...

Bryan
Bryan

Early in my marriage my wife and I decided we needed counseling. We went to a "Christian counselor" who helped us address very useful topics like me not fully communicating my feelings and me not touching my wife in non-sexual situations. Since my wife would orgasm nearly every time we made love, she was normal and we didn't need to address any of her "areas". Consequently, 20 years have passed and all that time, if I voiced a concern about lack of sex, for instance, it was my fault. Every time it was my fault. Until I grew up and gave her everything she always asked for, backrubs, non sexual touch and all the communication she could stand, but saw no improvement in our sex life. At that point I called her out and she admitted the lack of sex has always been her and not dependent on my actions or behavior. The bad counsel we received as newlyweds led us down the wrong path for 20 years and nearly cost us our marriage.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Bryan - Ah yes, the ever popular "her orgasm proves she's fine". I know plenty who believe this, including a fair number of husbands. The reality is orgasm can happen even when a woman does not want it, if sufficient stimulation is provided for enough time. The other error I see is that there was no imparting of the idea that "this is what's needed now, but it's not the answer for the rest of your marriage." Even if you wife did not have anything significant to deal with at that time, she would not go her entire life without things she needs to work on!

Ol' Will
Ol' Will

Amen, Bryan. Nothing I have ever done for my wife has ever turned her on to me. Pay off the house - no celebration. Build the side fence. No celebration. Build the back fence after Hurricane Ike. No celebration. Have a birthday. No celebration. Coming home after an absence. No celebration. Go to dinner. No celebration. Go to a movie. No celebration. Valentine's Day with flowers and a nice card. No celebration. Long vacation trip to the destination of her choice. No celebration. "Again?" "Aren't you done yet?" "You KNOW that life happened yesterday and I'm too tired!" "You KNOW that life happened today and I'm too tired!" "You KNOW that life is going to happen tomorrow and I've got to be rested for it!" She began weaning me from kisses almost from the end of the wedding ceremony. I think she thought I wouldn't notice. It's clear to me now that part of her plan was to have me done with sex by our fifth anniversary. It's hard to excite a woman without kisses or the encouragement of her letting you know where she likes to be touched. She had these lies (about me) why she wouldn't kiss me and then one day I heard her tell her mother that she never had like "those wet kisses". Well, she gave me plenty of them while we were dating. She has turned me down a thousand times and then asks, "Why don't you ever initiate?" She is a lying, controlling, contentious woman. If I do or plan something without her suggesting it first, it doesn't fly. If the DA accused her of loving me, there wouldn't be enough evidence to get an indictment from a grand jury, much less a conviction. This could get longer but the idea is that she has these rigid ideas and she is not about to accommodate me by changing, else I win.

Tony
Tony

I should probably thank you as well. While I'm frequently critical, suggesting that at times you suggest men are largely the problem, I also believe that you don't hold on to that truth. While we may disagree on the numbers of men and women involved in affairs, (for every man, there is at least one woman willing to go along, and vice versa, meaning the participation rate for each gender is essentially the same) I don't think you subscribe to the views held by J, whom I believe you refer to above. Bottom line, thanks for what you are doing. If there were more men and women in churches like you and your wife, perhaps we would see the divorce rate among those who claim to be Christians lower than the rate of society in general. Instead, I think churches are filled with more who subscribe to the view that if something is wrong, it's the man's fault. My anecdote, which I freely share is that my pastor, when presented with my ex-wife's affair, asked me what I did to force her to have an affair. Essentially what you describe, blaming the husband for the wife's bad behavior. We don't accept this sort of blame shift when it comes from a man abusing his wife, so why would we then accept the blame shift when we blame the husband for the wife's bad behavior. We shouldn't. I challenge folks to compare and contrast their Mother's Day and Father's Day sermons. I suspect you'll see all sorts of sermons, articles, etc on how mothers are wonderful, etc. On Father's Day, you'll see the same articles (wrongly) suggesting that men are not there, that they need to step it up. When you hear such an article, ask them who is breaking up the family more? Do more men, or more women file for divorce? Since men and women are no better or no worse than one another, we are all sinners, there is no basis for the argument that men behave more badly. The argument that the reason that more women file for divorce than men is because men are to blame is another example of that same "blame men" blame shift. If we are who we say we are, believers in Christ, hungry for the truth, we must reject the lies in such blame shifts. I'm not saying men are blameless. I am saying that men are no worse than women when it comes to relationships. Men are as well equipped to carry out their ordained roles in marriage as are women. Men nor women are not better, nor worse than one another when it comes to relationships. They may not have the same strengths, but if they did, one would be redundant. So that final lie that blames men must also be put to death. Men are as well equipped for marriage as are women. They may not be equipped to do the same things. But then again, I don't think they are called to do the same things. It's time we stopped measuring men by an inappropriate standard. Much of what passes for marriage advice and counsel today is just that, measuring men by a wholly inappropriate standard.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Tony - I think "What might you have done to contribute to this problem" is ALWAYS a valid and necessary question, but it's only a part of the issue and never the primary part. Too many default to "It's his fault" and either won't look at the wife, or won't let him off the hook even if she is clearly the primary problem. I wonder if part of the reason for this is that the average church is now about 2/3 female?

Tony
Tony

Had he asked that question, it would be one thing. Or had he agreed to try to get her into the office to tell from her perspective, that would have been fine too. The question was, what did you do to FORCE her to have an affair. Not what did I do to contribute to the problem. Which is simply evidence of that OSFA lie that way too many buy. Besides, who forces their spouse to sin? When someone comes to you and says their spouse is in sin and hurting you and the family you don't ask them what you did to have them hurt you. You would ask that same question of an abuse victim. An adulterous affair is as abusive as anything else one might consider. Dr Willard Harley equates the impact of an affair on the betrayed spouse to that of being raped or losing a loved one to death. Would you ask someone what they did to force their attacker to rape them? Of course not. So why ask a betrayed husband what he did to force his wife to have an affair? I do think you are on to something about the church. After all, the only pictures you see of Jesus in the typical church are the "Breck Girl" Jesus with perfect hair, blue eyes, etc. I think Jesus lived with a bunch of guys. So he's probably more like a character on Band of Brothers than he would be the images you see portrayed in most churches. I don't know many guys who will be drawn to the Fabio or Breck Girl Jesus images.

Tony
Tony

I believe I know who he is talking about as I had a run-in with the same fellow. I reviewed his e-book on Amazon and he went off on my about how I was not willing to give him my wife's contact information, how I had no accountability, etc. I reminded him that I had already told him my two best friends are ministers who hold me accountable, and how if he couldn't even be trusted to truthfully relate simple details, that it would be difficult to trust him with something as serious as my marriage. I think J (of J&K, that's as far as I'll go saying who it is) projects his faults upon everyone he sees.

Rico
Rico

Thank you - this attitude does seem to be pervasive in the Christian community. Fireproof, Mark Driscoll's constant "man up" drumbeating, etc. Women are just as capable of screwing up and hurting a marriage. Yes, men are called to lead the marriage, but that doesn't mean the wife is absolved of her responsibilities as well.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Rico - I'd not thought of Fireproof as part of that. I can see how it might be, but I think it does a fairly good job of identifying the situation in which it will work well. And, in the movie the father tell his son that he, the man, received this treatment from his wife. Additionally, the man is not shown as the only problem, but rather as the one who decided to do something about it. While the movie shows the man doing the heavy lifting, the Love Dare book is offered for both men or women. In part the book is about addressing what one has done wrong, but it's also about rebuilding a loving marriage. The latter does not place blame, but rather says either husband or wife can take action that may result in a total change in the marriage. As to Mark, I will need to do more study. I've heard what you are saying, but have not seen it in what little I've read and heard. I sounds like he figured out that he was wrong in some significant areas, and that he made important changes. If he is painting all men with that, it's a problem.

UK Fred
UK Fred

Paul With regards Mark Driscoll, you can easily see the sifference between how he speaks in his sermons in his series on ! and 2 Peter, "Marriage and Women" and "Marriage and Men". The former is encouragement, the latter is almost a diatribe and rant to "man up". On examining "Fireproof" in the first conflict scene between Caleb and Katharine, all we learn is that she is denying him sex and he is looking at porn on his computer. Only one of her friends is willing to warn her about her emotional affair and all of the other of her friends are egging her on to get a divorce even though she does not appear to have biblical grounds for one. The entire film seems to major on Caleb not being a good husband to Katharine, but there was little criticism of her leaving her marriage for no good reason.

Levi
Levi

Are you willing to give the name of the "marriage problems are almost all the fault of husbands" book? Did the author take your constructive criticism well, and did he agree that because this was his problem he was able to write a book which is helpful to some (but not all) marriages?

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Levi - I've had the "one size does NOT fit all" with several marriage ministers of the last dozen years. Some heard me, some did not. Some have moved away from OSFA, some have not. I think the solution to OSFA thinking is not for me to out someone, but for many to do what Tony did. It is the multitude of voices, and voices not seen as responding to a battle cry, that will change someone's thinking. I'm also aware of how easy it is to fall into the trap of OSFA. I look at things a wrote ten years ago and see bits of it. I'm sure some still shows up today. My effort to avoid this focuses on hearing many, many voices both of those who minster to couples and couples who have found solutions. The more aware I am of the diversity, the better.

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