Early in my marriage, I was afraid of my wife.
No, not physically.
I was afraid of challenging her. Of rocking the boat.
Here’s how it went. Maybe you husbands (fiancés, and boyfriends) can identify.
- I’d notice a pattern in my wife’s behavior that needed to be challenged.
- Option #1 (my first, and usual, response) – I’d be afraid of challenging her, stay silent, and grow resentful. Oh, and feel like a coward.
- Option #2 – Eventually, after I got bitter enough, I’d call her out in anger.
- Option #3 – In other cases, she could see my bitterness, ask what was going on, and I’d either respond with Option #2 or kinda sorta bring things up in a mousey way.
- Then we’d have more conflict about the way I handled it.
My wife brought her own issues to our marriage, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is for us men to own our issues with conflict, understand what’s going on, and take steps toward the healthy conflict that will help our marriages (current or future) thrive.
What’s At Stake
It’s easy to feel like conflict just isn’t worth it. But in a fallen world, it’s unavoidable and essential if our lives are going to be all that God is calling them to be.
And yet, in the moment it can feel like death, so we need some serious motivation to engage in what I’ll call holy fighting. There are probably more, but here are three important reasons to pick a holy fight:
- her holiness – if we really believe that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick’ (Jeremiah 17:9), and that husbands are called to play a leading role in sanctifying their wives (helping them become like Christ; see Ephesians 5:25-27), then it’s obvious we need to speak loving truth into the lives of our wives. Like us, they have blind spots, and God means for us to help uncover them. The end goal is that they would be like Christ, for Christ.
- your manhood – no matter how often, we fail, our identity should be rooted in Christ and what he did for us. If you’re at a place where you can’t stand up to your girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, that doesn’t change the way God feels about you one bit. But men in particular are called to be brave and stand for what’s right, so if you’re not standing for much in the most important relationship in your life, it’s going to bother you. It’s going to erode your confidence and your sense that you’re living a life that matters for God.
- God’s glory – Christians know that our lives are meant to bring God the honor, praise and fame – the glory – that he’s due. And – this is awesome – living that way will bring us the most joy and fulfillment, too. In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul tells us that our marriages are a parable of a greater marriage, one between God and his people, the church (Ephesians 5:25-33, esp. v.32). If you’re a Christian, God has married you in a very real way. Because he loves you and wants to refine you. When we challenge our wives on God’s behalf, they’re refined and God is honored. (Same is true in reverse, so marry someone who will call you out.)
Why We Hate Conflict
If you struggle with conflict, here are some possible suspects to get you started. If we can better understand what’s going on, we can bring that to God (and others) and ask for help.
- our family history – if you grew up in a home where conflict was avoided or hidden, you might feel like conflict is abnormal, or, a sign of failure. On the other hand, if conflict was out in the open and handled badly, that may make you run from it, too.
- awkward emotions – many (not all) of us guys are not comfortable with strong emotions. We’d rather camp out in the world of thoughts, ideas, and plans because it feels safer that way.
- out of control – whether we’ve been in one argument, or 10,000, we know that we never know how it’s going to go. Easier to just stay off the path and avoid the unpredictability, right?
- pride – this one is kind of like ‘Jesus’, the Sunday School answer that sounds like a cliché, yet explains everything and is actually helpful if we mean it. Truth is, we hate being exposed as less than perfect and conflict puts our weaknesses front and center.
- fear of feeling stupid – some guys fear conflict because their wives can ‘win’ most arguments through their superior verbal skills. It’s not that their wives are necessarily more intelligent or in the right, but sometimes our spouses are quicker on their feet (or tongues) and have learned they can avoid our challenges if they redirect them or push back hard enough. This can make guys feel stupid and fearful of bringing things up in the future.
What else can you think of? (Share it in the comments below!)
How To Pick A Holy Fight With Your Wife
OK, so how can guys move from being afraid and silent to courageous and vocal? And without over-correcting and becoming a jerk?
I’m still a work in progress here, but this is what has helped me. I believe it will help you, too.
Before you challenge her
- admit where you are and ask God for help. Deep, lasting change is always rooted here. Real men confess their shortcomings without excuse and know that God is easily able to grant massive progress. ‘For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:4, 10).
- talk to your wife and pray for her. When you’re not in the heat of an argument, ask your wife if you can talk. Tell her how you’re feeling. For example, ‘I’m feeling really discouraged… I want God to use me in your life, but I feel like you’re defensive when I bring things up’. With God’s help, the problems in your (singular) marriage can become your (plural) problems. In his series on Love, Sex & Marriage from Song of Solomon, Pastor Tommy Nelson helpfully applies Song of Solomon 2:15 along these lines: ‘Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards’, where the ‘foxes’ are problems in the ‘vineyard’ of your marriage.
When you challenge her
- check your heart for anger and pray. Technically, this could go in the ‘before’ category, but I’m talking about just before you talk. Ask God to help you be ‘for’ your wife instead of self-protective. Ask him to help your wife, fiancé or girlfriend receive it in love.
- know your wife. How does your particular wife best receive difficult truth? One woman might need you to hold her, while another may want you to drop ‘the bomb’ and give her some space. My wife appreciates when I tell her kindly, then let her process it on her own. (See how Jesus, for example, treated Mary and Martha differently in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:17-32.)
- ask questions. Sometimes a great question is worth more than a thousand rebukes. Good questions help our wives (and anyone, really) be less defensive, demonstrate humility, and, help us figure out what’s really going on. And, of course, Jesus used them all the time.
- be gentle. This isn’t the time to channel your inner prophet. ‘Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way…’ (1 Peter 3:7)
- be direct. We should be gentle and kind, but direct. This requires you to be clear on what your concerns are, and, courageous. If you feel like a lost puppy in the middle of a corn maze, don’t just wing it and proceed with abandon. Stop and work it through with God first.
- if she’s not ready to listen. But what if your wife won’t listen? It all depends on your wife, but, in my experience it’s worth pushing back some within limits. If she’s truly not ready, there’s no sense in ramming ahead. You can end the conversation graciously, pray, and try again when the time is right. Remember, all change is ultimately God’s work. We are just the messengers.
I’ve got to admit that I’m still on this journey with you… and my wife. I still get afraid sometimes. But there’s been a ton of progress and I’m much more willing to speak up for her benefit in a way that’s firm but loving.
The bottom line is that, if you’re willing to be honest about where you are and ask God for help, you can be used by Him to make a tremendous difference in your wife’s life.
Let’s live it out: What’s one practical way you could grow in challenging your wife? Share it with us in the comments below.