In the Christian wife/Mommy blogosphere, a lot of patterns are evident. Many of us who write give very similar advice. Rely on God. Focus on being the best wife you can be, not on changing your husband. Care for your marriage & kids first. Create a nice home. These things are all true, and I hope that people can come here for some encouragement in doing the most important job in the world!
I think most of you who do come here come to get help around the edges. In general, things are going well, but they could always use some tweaking! Most of my posts, I think, are written with these types of readers in mind. You have a family you’re committed to, and you’re trying to work the kinks out. You love your husband, even if he does have faults (which you can obviously name).
Sometimes, though, people live in a much more desperate situation. I was talking to a friend who finally ended a very dysfunctional marriage last year. She said that sometimes she would read my blog and feel so sad, because it didn’t matter how much she did what I said, nothing ever changed. The typical answers and typical advice weren’t cutting it.
Married, but alone
A lot of women out there feel very alone in their marriages, and if you’re in a marriage where you feel like you’ve found your soul mate, try to put yourself in these women’s shoes for a moment. Here’s a comment that was left yesterday:
I still can’t get myself to accept things. My husband does not have a physically demanding job. The past 4-5 months especially have been easy. He is admittedly not doing anything at work.
I cook, I clean. I care for the kids when they’re sick, no matter what time of day or if he’s off work. I run our special needs child to his three-days-a-week appointments. One of those days my other son has an appointment at the same place so of course he goes as well. Sick or not, I take care of the kids. I had the flu two years ago and the first day I was sick he dealt with the kids, but after that? He was pissed that I was still laying around and not doing anything so he got to slamming our bedroom door when he’d go out, not shushing the kids if/when they got loud, etc. That’s one of many times where he’s been less than considerate.
Of course if he has a headache and stuffy nose he’s swearing he has a migraine and he take several different types of medication and sleeps for 10-11 hours straight, yelling if the kids are getting loud.
We’re supposed to move and our house is nowhere near ready to put on the market. It should have been on by now but while he had 3 months to lay the new flooring in our house, he didn’t finish. One room still needs to be done. I, on the other hand, have all of the daily issues on top of painting every room in the house, getting the outside painted, repainting our kitchen cabinets, painting the cabinets in the hall and bathrooms, redoing the tile in our hall bath, rebuilding our master bath shower that he gutted two years ago and never finished, tiling both bathroom floors, de-cluttering and organizing so that the movers know what is storage and what goes…. I don’t have the money to hire those jobs out so I have to do it.
He occasionally mows the yard, and when our kids start a sport he’s gung-ho in the beginning but by the second week in he’s sighing and rolling his eyes when I ask if he’s taking one of our boys to practice. Inevitably they’ll have at least one practice or game per week that coincides with the other’s practice or game, and I count myself fortunate if they’re in the same park or building. Many times they aren’t and because he’s oh-so-worn out and has computer games to play, I’m running like a headless chicken. Throw in an active toddler and I’m busy, worn out, worn down, and just plain beat.
Yes, I’m bitter and resentful, not to mention completely jealous of women who have husbands who help out even when the husband has a busy work schedule.
Don’t suggest I have a talk with him because I have. Many, many times. And many times he’s sworn he’ll change and help out. The only reason I’m still with him is because when I left him a few years ago, I couldn’t get a job anywhere and began having anxiety attacks. Not to mention lack of support from family and being made to feel like we’d worn out our welcome and I needed to quit being a child and just go back to my husband. So here I sit.
I can feel this woman’s pain. Can you? Honestly, what would you do if you were married to a man who did not care for your kids, played computer games all day, and didn’t lift a finger to help you? Now, admittedly, we’re only getting this woman’s side of the story, but I have talked to women who are living something very similar. It happens. Very frequently.
So what would you say to her? I’m going to take a stab at it now, but I invite you to answer in the comments, too. Perhaps we’ll have different approaches to it, but hopefully we can offer something that would be helpful.
First, let me say that To Love, Honor and Vacuum was written exactly for women going through this. In fact, I based the book on two women I was close to who were experiencing virtually exactly the same thing. So I know from whence I speak.
And let me tell you what I told them.
You cannot change him; you can only change yourself.
But you have a lot of power within you to change. God is there to help you create a godly home, where everyone respects each other and grows closer to Him. That is what He wants. Your job is to ask God to show you how to build respect and godliness within your home.
Part of that job may be to stop enabling others to act in an unChristlike manner.
It sounds like you do all the housework, and he does very little. That means that you do a lot for him. You don’t have to keep doing this. You could sit down and tell him that you are exhausted, and some things are going to have to come off of your plate. Offer him alternatives. But show him that some of these things will directly affect him. (Laundry, for instance, or making the kinds of meals he likes. If you can live on sandwiches & cereal, it’s a lot easier to make, and it’s still nutritious!). Then take some of that time that you save and use it to do your devotions, to have a bath, to knit, to relax, to do what you need to do to rejuvenate. Don’t do it to punish him; do it to create a new dynamic so that you can keep going.
If you’re busy running the children everywhere, and he won’t help, ask him what it would take for him to start driving a child to soccer.
Ask him if this is possible. Don’t ask him when you’re angry; ask him because you simply want help. If he can’t give it, you’re no worse off than you are now. But ask him what is keeping him from doing it? Is he not getting enough sleep?
Or take it from a different perspective. Ask him what are the most important goals he has in life. Share with him yours. Write them on your fridge. Now ask how he’s meeting them. If he wants to be a good father, then ask him how you can help him engage with the kids during the week. Does he want to take soccer? Bath time? Bedtime? If he doesn’t, and he’d just like to play computer games, then ask him how he’d like the kids to think of him. Does he want them to remember him always being on the computer, or does he want them to remember him cheering them at games?
But if he just won’t, you have a decision to make.
Can you keep living like this? If you were a single parent, you could not do it all. You could not run a house and keep the kids in all kinds of activities and hold down a job. You couldn’t. You would get help, or you would cut things out.
So if your husband won’t help, you basically are acting as a single parent. What will you cut out? Even if your husband has abdicated responsibility for the family, you can’t. And you can’t abdicate your responsibility to your marriage, either. I would suggest getting the kids out of activities as much as possible and making your schedule as easy as possible, so that you don’t burn out and you can keep going.
Finally, make family fun.
Cut down as much as you can so you can get enough rest and sleep. And then use that energy to make your home fun. Play games. Go for walks. Laugh a lot. When family is fun, he’s more likely to want to be involved. When it’s all chores, he won’t. And the more unhappy you are, and the more you nag him, the more he will retreat.
Some people are just plain selfish.
He very well could be one of these. Your job is to find peace and fulfillment in God, and then find ways to transfer that peace and fulfillment to the rest of those in your family. Don’t always resent. Don’t let yourself get bitter. Change your family life so that you do have more energy and things do get done.
Oh, and about the house: stop it. Don’t move. Stay there. Don’t put it on the market. So you lose money. I know that’s tough. But if you are always stepping in and doing everything, he never will step up to the plate. Talk about what’s reasonable for both of you to do, and then you do your part. If he doesn’t do his, then you can’t sell the house. Don’t nag him about it. Simply do your part. Whether or not he does his is up to him. And if he starts to suffer financially for it, then maybe that will inspire a burst of energy. Right now, he’s probably waiting for you to come through, like you always have in the past. Don’t enable irresponsibility.
One other thing about how to act biblically in marriage: there are two sides to the Proverbs 31 woman.
First, yes, she did a ton and cared for her family well. But second, she had help, as someone pointed out in the comments yesterday. She had servant girls, but she also had a husband who was engaged in the family business, too. He was in the public square, transacting business, where he praised her. Yes, we’re to be the Proverbs 31 woman, but it’s difficult to do all of this without at least some help. If you don’t have that help, I think you need to readjust what’s expected of you so you don’t burn out.
God designed marriage to be a genuine partnership. Sometimes it isn’t.
Sometimes it’s very lopsided. Now if your spouse isn’t much of a partner, that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to live up to your partnership. We’re to care for our homes and our kids and our husbands regardless. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean that we should do everything for those who persist in laziness, enabling very un Christ like behaviour.
So that’s what I’ve got to say. What about the rest of you? Any thoughts on how to help her? Am I being too easy? Too harsh? What do you think?