This week I got a message from an old friend. He got married this year, and… well… he wanted some advice.
Him: Hey Sarah, your articles and writings on emotional and mental abuse made me think about how I treat my wife. I’m a selfish, arrogant jerk and I knew that going into this. I also knew I’d have to make sure my pride didn’t ruin a good thing. Now that I’m married it’s even more blatantly obvious, and boy do I need some work, lol! I want to be a good hubby, but selfishness and pride are my two biggest hindrances. A soft tongue is my daily problem right now.
Me: Ok so first, kudos to you on recognizing it in yourself and taking action to change! So what are you currently doing to become different?
Him: I’m working on nicer phrasing to say the same thing in a more uplifting way. Instead of “that doesn’t go here, that goes there,” it should be “thank you for putting that away, here’s where I usually keep it. Is that OK with you or would prefer it there?” I come across as harsh sometimes and it’s not in a mean spirit. But I have some bad habits, for sure.
Men, let me break it down. The way you treat your wife flows out of how you perceive her as a human being. Emotional and verbal mistreatment is the result of mindset, not circumstances.
If you believe you have the right, God-given or for any other reason, to control, dominate, or take power over your wife – you will end up verbally and emotionally mistreating her (at the very least).
Think of it this way:
- Thoughts create feelings.
- Feelings create actions.
- Actions create habits.
- Habits form character.
- Character determines destiny.
Everything starts with our thoughts. Everything that takes root in your heart and comes out of your mouth first started in your mind.
“But I love my wife!” you say. “She’s my equal and my best friend and I want to be a good husband.”
Wonderful! Now the key to achieving this, is to intentionally refuse to do anything that would take away her voice or her personal agency. It’s all about choosing to protect without control.
Do you find it hard to stop controlling her? Or others? If something goes wrong, do you grab hold to control it and fix it? Are you overbearing when you do so?
Guys, this is where following Jesus is counter-culture to mainstream society. For men, taking control is generally applauded out in the world, but also at work, at church, on the sports field, etc.
For women? Not so much. Women get far more of the subconscious message that they are to be sweet, cute, pliable, intelligent but not intimidatingly so… in essence, women are taught from a young age to be controllable.
But taking control of others goes directly opposite to the character of God. It has no place among the Fruit of the Spirit. And… shockingly for some… the Fruit of the Spirit are not listed by the Apostle Paul for women only.
The Fruit of the Spirit is the baseline benchmark for men, too.
That means, men who are committed to following Jesus Christ must rewire their minds to measure themselves against an entirely different standard than the world.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — Paul says these are the standard for a godly human. That includes godly men.
And yes, I’m aware that it’s the opposite of everything brash and rough that the world usually tells men to be in order to feel powerful and masculine. But it’s how God defines true power – in the ability to control oneself.
Does that mean I’m saying men should be weak? Feminized?
Does that mean I’m suggesting men should avoid using the strength they’re born with?
Not at all.
It means that, according to the Bible, the benchmark for masculine behavior is not “How fast can I take control of the situation?” but rather “Am I acting in a way that is: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, good, kind, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled?”
It means measuring your tone and words and attitude against the positive standard God has set for all humanity.
But wait, what about the soldiers? The law enforcement officers? The men who have rough jobs that make the world a safer place? How do you factor in being gentle and yet being able to break down a drug dealer’s door or take a predator down? How can you resolve these dichotomies?
Imagine yourself as a shepherd.
A shepherd is tender with the lambs and the sheep. He binds up their wounds, he carries them when they’re tired. He places himself between them and the wolves.
He does NOT stop to kiss the scrapes on the wolf’s knees. Instead, the wolves get the butt end of his staff. He uses his strength, his fierceness, his warrior-qualities to protect the sheep in his care.
But with the sheep, the shepherd is gentle. He’s patient. He gives them whatever time they need to grow from lambs into ewes. He looks out for their safety, their security, their stability — their best good at all times.
The shepherd controls himself. He submits his needs to the needs of the sheep, placing them first. He serves them, even at the risk of his own life. (And he doesn’t confuse the sheep with the wolves.) He’s crystal clear on which ones need his protection.
In Genesis, Jacob talks about making his caravans go as slow as the slowest lambs. The children and baby animals set the pace. Could Jacob and his warriors and even the adult women, have traveled much faster? Of course. (See Genesis 33:13-14.)
But even when Esau was rushing him, Jacob didn’t rush ahead just because he could. He slowed the pace to accommodate the smallest ones. That takes patience, and peacefulness, and extraordinary self-control. It €™s also part of what made him GREAT. True greatness is found in serving others according to their needs.
All power that comes from God is given to protect, not to exploit.
When you take down drug dealers, you are using your power to protect.
When you berate your wife, you are using your power to exploit.
As a man, your power is healthy when it is directed externally, outside the marriage relationship, to protect your wife and your children and your home from harm. This may even have to include protecting her from your own family, if they mistreat her. Far too many marriages have been eroded from the inside out because a husband allowed his mother or his family to mock, deride, or dishonor his wife.
Your power becomes unhealthy, as soon it is directed internally against your wife — to control her, remove her voice, dictate her freedoms, or determine her choices.
There’s nothing wrong with having power. Bosses have power over employees. Parents have power over children. Men and women have different forms of power, in different ways, at different times.
The crucial question is, “How do I use my power? Am I submitting my wants and needs to first make sure the needs of my family are met? Am I doing this with a patient, gentle Spirit that shows the fruit of God’s work in me?”
Only Satan coerces or controls.
Jesus uses His power to set us free.
If you’re a man who wants to become more emotionally safe for your wife, check out the Center for Peace.