He's no help.
Whether you're a stay-at-home mom or an executive, you're probably swimming in endless tasks and to-do lists. When you come home from work or running errands, are you barely able to pull off your shoes and coat before the "second shift" begins? There's dinner to be made, dishes to be washed, laundry to be sorted, homework to help with, and children to feed, bathe, and put to bed. Whether it's 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m., there's always another meal, another dish, another toy, or another mishap that requires your attention.
With all that you have to do, why wouldn't you be just a little perturbed when your "knight in shining armor" comes home, heaves a sigh of relief that his workday is done, and sits down? While you're taking a call, stirring the pots, and tending to the toddlers pulling on your legs, he's zoned out in front of the TV or computer screen? unacceptable!
That's exactly the sentiment expressed by the wives I recently polled. The vast majority ranked the lack or inadequacy of help with household duties as their number one gripe. It seems that the day-to-day upkeep of the home overwhelms wives and underwhelms husbands.
One wife complained that "he keeps the den a mess," while another was irritated that her husband would "wash the dishes but not wipe the counters." Several wives were at their wit's end over their husbands? "leaving dirty clothes on top of and around the hamper" rather than inside it.
These might seem like petty grievances, but when you add up all the little complaints, they quickly become serious issues that lead to contention in the home.
"My husband seems to think that letting his clothes pile up on the chair in our bedroom is no big deal because they will get put away eventually," said one frazzled wife. "But the problem is that after a month of them piling up, he doesn't put them away? I do!"
The molehills become mountains as wives? to-do lists get longer and longer and they sense no impetus on the part of their husbands to share the burden. So what do we do?
Some women give their husbands a good tongue-lashing, while others hold their peace for the time being, but tuck the grievance in their mental file under "R" for revenge. But surely there's a better way to bridge the gap between our expectations and our husbands? actions? or inactions.
Christian author Shaunti Feldhahn thinks so. Her book For Women Only provides an enlightening view of men's inner thoughts. First, she suggests that because men don't think like women, the little things they do that drive us crazy are not premeditated. Often guys don't notice those little things. They don't see that the counter is covered with crumbs; they don't notice the clothes piling up. So they may really be oblivious to their carelessness and not just trying to make our lives miserable.
Second, contrary to popular belief, the male ego is not overgrown testosterone-filled pride that we must deflate. In fact, by trying to "take them down a notch" with critical words, we actually do more harm than good. Feldhahn says that the male ego is a fragile characteristic similar to a woman's emotions. Men may not cry when they're hurt or disappointed, but the injury is the same when we berate them for their inadequacies. Criticizing a husband for all the things he doesn't do only ensures that he will do less, she says. Verbal badgering leads to defense and retreat.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a no-nonsense radio host and family therapist, says that women undermine their own happiness by attacking and criticizing their husbands for all the things they do wrong rather than using that same energy to praise them for the things they do right. So he doesn't wipe off the counter after washing the dishes? Rather than criticize the oversight, praise him for the task that he accomplished. Maybe you can even slip in a request at the end: "Thank you so much for doing the dishes. That was such a big help to me! Would you do me a favor and wipe those crumbs off the counter too? I don't want to attract any ants. Thanks? you're the best!"
A husband confided in me that his wife has no idea how powerful her words of praise and encouragement are. "If she told me how much she appreciated me, then asked me to move the house a few feet back from the road," he shared, "people would think I was crazy 'cause I'd be out there trying to do it!" It may surprise us how effective kindness can be a much greater motivator than callousness.
So praise him for the little things, and he will willingly tackle the bigger things (or smaller things, since it's usually the details that drive us crazy).
He can't communicate!
It's probably not a surprise that wives often feel ignored by their husbands. "He just says mm-hmm, as if he's listening to me while I'm talking and he's watching sports," said one wife.
Another wife recently discovered that a permanent marker had gone through the wash, ruining several pairs of expensive pants. As she expressed her frustration, her husband said, "You're overreacting. It's not worth ruining the day over." She shares, "I just wanted him to validate my feelings and acknowledge that this was a bad thing to happen! Sure, I knew it wasn't life-altering, but it was irritating. I didn't need him to downplay it or tell me how to solve it. I could figure that out. But a little commiseration would go a long way. Just validate my feelings!"
However, John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, recognizes these situations as typical moments of miscommunication caused by basic gender differences. Women, Gray says, must talk things out; talking is their way of working through problems. Women need an audience; someone who is sympathetic, caring, and willing to listen and give affirmation and feedback but not unsolicited advice. Men, on the other hand, prefer to work out their problems in solitude ("solitude" for a man, Gray says, may mean being physically alone or mentally "zoned out" with TV, video games, or some other diversion). They will talk only when they need more information to solve their problem, when they think someone has specific knowledge about the problem that may help them (which may explain why I have overheard my husband talking to his brother about a problem I didn't even know about!), or once they have managed to solve the problem themselves.
As you might imagine, when "Martians" and "Venusians" try to communicate, a Venusian becomes frustrated that a Martian won't talk to her and won't listen when she talks to him. And the Martian can't understand why the Venusian won't just take his advice on how to solve her problem, then leave him alone to figure out his own!
If we wives are aware of these differences, though, it's just a matter of speaking our husband's language. For instance, trying to start up a discussion in the middle of the Super Bowl will only set us up for disappointment. And if he comes home from work and sits on the couch, let's not assume he doesn't care that we're up to our ears in kids, critters, and chaos! Instead, let's give him a few minutes to shake off the sludge from his day.
Feldhahn says that men shoulder a much greater burden than we realize. Quite often they are internalizing their anxiety over being good providers for their families. Their roles as priest and protector weigh heavily on them, and they don't always know how to express that to us. Therefore, we should show the concern for them that we wish they would show to us, then gradually and ever so kindly ask them for whatever we need.
They don't verbalize their stresses the same way we do, and they don't shift as quickly from work mode to "home work" mode. That's just how it is, and no amount of yelling is going to change that or help us find the middle ground.
So to get your husband's undivided attention, allow him some time and space before making your requests (not demands).
He wants, um, sex.
"My husband seems to want sex all the time when all I want to do is sleep!" one wife stated. Another wife shared, "He just wants sex; what about love?"
Sex, love, and respect all connect to the other areas of our marriage in ways we may not have realized before. Women have always dismissed the male sex drive as if it were a triviality, but it's not! Now, I'm sure there are men out there who use women for sex with no thought for intimacy or personal connection, but we're not talking about those men; we're talking about our husbands!
They don"t want sex from us just because they're animals in heat. They want sex from us because they crave love and affection as much as we do, and sex is how that need is fulfilled. Feldhahn's research found that most husbands equated an active and fulfilling sex life with a "sense of well-being and confidence in all areas of his life." More important, "fulfilling" meant more than just the act itself. Men need to feel as though their wives want them and are not having sex solely out of a sense of duty.
Wives confided in me that when they're having a "good week" and making love regularly, they notice a change in their husband's demeanor. He's more positive and upbeat, as opposed to those "bad weeks" when work, worries, and woes interfere with the sex. Then he's less communicative and more irritable. Feldhahn says that sex makes men "feel better" not only physically but also emotionally: "They are more confident and alive when their sex life is working."
Building our husband up seems to be the key to his "and our" happiness. Sex is one way to do this, and respect is the other. I don't think many of us realize just how important it is for a man to feel that his wife respects him. Feldhahn insists that it's the same feeling that a woman has when she knows that her husband loves her. Therefore, if we think that our husband's affection and romance are signs of his love for us, to reciprocate we must honor our husband with our respect (see Ephesians 5:33). He doesn't need flowers and candy; he just needs us to trust his judgment, express our confidence in him, and always assume the best about him rather than the worst.
This last point is crucial. Have you ever been angered by something your husband has done "or not done" and your knee-jerk response was "He did this out of spite?" There's this underlying belief that his love is not true, that he has intentionally offended us to bring us hardship or pain. But this is a feeling we must resist, because it will lead to only more hardship and pain!
More often than not, the difficulties we experience in our relationship can be traced back to miscues and each of us seeing an issue from our own perspective. Yet if we remember that men and women think differently, we will remember that we can't expect him to think and do as we would. Instead, we must think about the language "audible or physical" that we know he will understand.
So to be happy in your marriage, love your husband the way he needs to be loved: with sex and respect!
He's just so . . . different.
"My husband and I just don't see eye-to-eye on anything," one wife said. Another shared, "I've heard that opposites attract, but they sure have a hard time living together!"
God made men and women to complement one another, so believe it or not, all the differences between us are actually blessings! If nothing else, the challenges we face in our marriages serve as character-building tools. Certainly the most difficult part about getting married is giving up yourself, surrendering the selfish "me" for the selfless "we." Most couples spend the first year or two negotiating the phenomenon, but the truth is that the negotiation is an endeavor, not an event, so it continues throughout the marriage.
We come into this world believing that we're the most important person in it. When we're out on our own, it's all about "me," and we go in search of someone who suits us, who makes us happy. Once we build a relationship, however, we begin to understand how difficult it is to shift the focus away from ourselves. Yet in forgetting about ourselves and looking to the well-being and happiness of our spouse, we discover an awesome paradox: the more we give, the more we receive.
It's God's love lesson. Certainly it's easier said than done. The selfish "me" does not die easily. Again and again she rises from the dead and lashes out at marital bliss, insisting that she be given what is due her: attention, adoration, acknowledgment. Who cares if she hasn't given much, it's not about him; it's about me!
But it's not about me. It's not even about him. It's really about God and that lesson of love He keeps trying to teach us. He made us in His image because He is love and love can't stand to be alone (1 John 4:7-12). Love is all about others and never about self (1 Corinthians 13).
Lucifer introduced the notion of self when he insisted that he should be number one. "I" reared its ugly head for the first time and demanded its "rightful" place, and "I" has been fighting ever since to take away God's perfect love and replace it with a sorry substitute (Isaiah 14:12-15).
Yet contrary to logic, God says that it is when we give our all to Him that we receive everything we need. It was when the little boy gave his loaves and fish that thousands were fed (John 6:9). Had he kept them for himself, only one would have eaten that day. When the widow gave the last of her oil and grain to make bread for the prophet, instead of starving to death, she and her son had bread to last through the famine (1 Kings 17:7-16).
Jesus says that those who love their life will lose it, but those who are willing to lose their life for His sake will live for eternity (Matthew 16:25-27). Marriage is all about dying to self. Marriage is surrender: first to God, then to our spouse (Ephesians 5:1, 2, 19-32). It is only when we let go that we can truly receive (Philippians 1:21).
So remember to apply "the golden rule" to your marriage (Matthew 7:12).
Many wives who responded to my survey were quick to qualify their complaints with the disclaimer that other than these numerous annoyances, their husbands are "really great"! High on the list of attributes was their rapport with the children, or as one woman put it: "He doesn't panic when I leave him alone with the kids!" Another big score was for those husbands who know their way around a kitchen. One wife expressed her appreciation for her husband's willingness to cook "even if every pot is used to make boxed mac and cheese!" Another wife said that her husband won't cook "but he will buy dinner," which is just as good!
The wives used such words as "charming" and "loving" to describe their husbands, and I think these are important to focus on. Why do you love him? Why did you marry him? What did you see in him that day you said "I do?" You certainly didn't see dirty dishes or smelly socks. You saw compatibility, the way he brought out the best in you or made you want to be better. You fell for his quirky sense of humor as much as his dissonant singing voice or awkwardness in social settings.
He allowed you to rest in his love, and you knew, without his ever saying it, that his only desire was to keep you safe. You trusted yourself to him and trusted his devotion to your well-being. You knew that day that together you could conquer the world and any trial. It may have been naive and idealistic; who isn't on their wedding day? But now that you're wise and realistic, do you doubt that any of those things are true?
Here's the last solution for you to test out in the days, weeks, months, and years to come: Trust God to give you the wisdom, the patience, and the vision to look beyond the clutter of the moment to that Rock on which you built your house. Then it will stand through any storm (Matthew 7:24-27).
Kem Roper is a full-time graduate student, wife, and mother of two, so she knows a little about stress! She is thankful, though, for the support of her married women's group, and lately she's been putting these solutions to the test. "So far so good!" she says of her 11-year marriage to Everett, her "knight in shining armor."