A Man and His Wife By Dr. James Dobson
We turn our attention now to the relationship between husbands and wives, which reminds me of a telephone call I received recently from a man who had read my previous book The Strong-Willed Child. It did not answer his questions. Furthermore, he said he had read my earlier book What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, and it didn't satisfy his needs, either.
"What I want you to write," he continued, "is a combination of those two books on the subject "How to Live with a Strong-Willed Woman"!
I told him I wouldn't touch that topic with a shovel, yet here I am about to wade into an equally volatile matter. I want to discuss the characteristic of women that men complain about most, the vice versa. In fact, I plan to speak more bluntly in this chapter than in any statement on the subject I've every written. That should be enough to win me some enemies among both sexes, but the time has come for straight talk to husbands and wives.
Perhaps you know that the divorce rate in America is now higher than in any other civilized nation in the world. That is tragic. Even more distressing to me is knowledge that the divorce rate for Christians is only slightly lower than for the population at large. How could that possibly be true? Jesus taught his followers to be loving, giving, moral responsible, self-disciplined, honest, and respectful. He also explicitly prohibited divorce except for radical circumstances of infidelity. With these instructions, He provided an unshakable foundation for a stable and loving relationship between husband and wife. How can it be, then, that those who claim to have accepted Jesus' teaching and devoted their lives to Christian principles are hardly more successful in maintaining harmonious families than those who profess nothing? There's an enormous contradiction tucked within those words. As Howard Hendricks said, "If your Christianity doesn't work at home, it doesn't work. Don't export!"
The truth is, the same circumstances that destroy non-Christian marriages can also be deadly in the homes of believers. I'm not referring to alcoholism or infidelity or compulsive gambling. The most common marriage killer is much more subtle and insidious. Let me explain.
Suppose I have a counseling appointment at four o'clock tomorrow afternoon with a person whom I've never met. Who is that person and what will be the complaint that brings them to me? First the counselee will probably be Mrs. Jones, not her husband. A man is seldom first to seek marriage counseling, and when he does, it is for a different motive than his wife seeks it. She comes because her marriage is driving her crazy. He comes because his wife is driving him crazy.
Mrs. Jones will be, perhaps, between twenty-eight and forty-two years of age, and her problem will be extremely familiar to me. Though the details will vary, the frustration she communicates on that after will conform to a well-worn pattern. It will sound something like this.
"John and I were deeply in love when we got married. We struggled during the first two or three years, especially with financial problems, but I knew he loved me and he knew I loved him. But then, something began to change. I'm not sure how to describe it. He received a promotion about five years ago, and that required him to work longer hours. We needed the money, so we didn't mind the extra time he was putting in. But it never stopped. Now he comes home late every evening. He's so tired I can actually hear his feet dragging as he approaches the porch. I look forward to his coming home all day 'cause I have so much to tell him, but he doesn't feel much like talking. So I fix his dinner and he eats it alone. (I usually eat with the kids earlier in the evening.) Frankly, I like for him to talk on the telephone just so I can hear his voice. Then he watches television for a couple of hours and goes to bed. Except on Tuesday night he plays basketball and sometimes he has a meeting at the office. Every Saturday morning he plays golf with three of his friends. Then on Sunday we are in church most of the day. Believe me, there are times when we go for a month or two without having a real, in-depth conversation. You know what I mean? and I get so lonely in that house with three kids climbing all over me. There aren't even any women in our neighborhood I can talk, because most of them have gone back to work. but there are other irritations about John. He rarely takes me out to dinner and he forgot our anniversary last month, and I honestly don't believe he's ever had a romantic thought. He wouldn't know a rose from a carnation, and his Christmas cards are signed, just "John." There's no closeness or warmth between us, yet he wants to have sex with me at the end of the day. There we are, lying in bed, having had no communication between us in weeks. He hasn't tried to be sweet or understanding or tender, yet he expects me to become passionate and responsive to him. I'll tell you, I can't do it. Sure, I go along with my duties as a wife, but I sure don't get anything out of it. And after the two-minute trip is over and John is asleep, I lie there resenting him and feeling like a cheap prostitute. Can you believe that? I feel used for having sex with my own husband! Boy, does that depress me! In fact, I've been awfully depressed lately. My self-esteem is rock bottom right now. I feel like nobody loves me...I'm a lousy mother and a terrible wife. Sometimes I think that God probably doesn't love me, either. Well, now I'd better tell you what's been going on between John and me more recently. We've been arguing a lot. I mean really fighting. It's the only way I can get his attention, I guess. We had an incredible battle last week in front of the kids. It was awful. Tears. Screaming. Insults. Everything. I spent two nights at my mother's house. Now, all I can think about is getting a divorce so I can escape. John doesn't love me anyway, so what difference would it make? I guess that's why I came to see you. I want to know if I'll being the right thing to call it quits."
Mrs. Jones speaks as though she were the only woman in the world who has ever experienced this pattern of needs. But she is not alone. It is my guess that 90 percent of the divorces that occur each year involve at least some of the elements she described--an extremely busy husband who is in love with his work and who tends to be somewhat insensitive, unromantic, and noncommunicative, married to a lonely, vulnerable, romantic woman who has severe doubts about her worth as human being. They become a matched team: he works like a horse and she nags.
In the hopes of making husbands aware of the universality of their wive's complaints, let me illustrate the point further, only this time, we'll deal with real people instead of a fictitious prototype. Reproduced below is an actual letter (modified to protect the identity of the writer) which represents a thousand others I've received.
Dear Dr. Dobson:
I have read your book What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women. It hit right where I live. Especially the part about low self-esteem. In today's world where so many women have jobs, it is sometimes hard to feel you are worth much if you aren't employed. I mean, some people look down upon a mother like myself who devotes full time to her children and family. But I know Christ doesn't see it that way, and that's what counts.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get my husband to read your book, which brings me to my problem. It is really hard to communicate with my husband when I have to compete with the television, kids and work. At mealtimes, which should be a time for talking, he has to listen to Paul Harvey news on the radio. He's not home for the evening meal because he works the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. I really would like him to listen to your "Focus on the Family" program, but he won't
I'm not permitted to go to Bible Study now (I attended for one year) because he says the kids will pick up diseases from the children. Of course, I know that's not the real reason. I have a 2 1/2-year-old son and a 3-month-old baby and feel I need to get out among adults. Oh well, I guess I'll keep on praying.
Keep broadcasting your good shows. It would be nice for you to devote another program to husband-wife relationships, mainly communication. Thank you for listening to me.
Another woman handed me the following note after hearing me speak. It says in a few words what others conveyed with many.
Will you please discuss this. Dad arrives home, reads the newspaper, eats dinner, talks on the phone, watches T.V., takes a shower and goes to bed. This is a constantly daily routine. It never changes. On Sunday we go to church, then come home. We take a nap and then it's back to work again on Monday morning. Our daughter is nine, and we are not communicating, and life is speeding by in this monotonous routine.
I can hear masculine readers saying, "If women want a slower lifestyle, less materialism, and more romantic activities with their husbands, why don't they just tell them so?"
They do tell them so, in fact. But men find it very difficult to "hear" this message, for some reason.
I'm reminded of the night my father was preaching in an open tent service which was attended by more cats and dogs than people. During the course of his sermon, one large alley cat decided to take a nap on the platform. Inevitably, my father took a step backward and planted his heel squarely on the tail of the tom. The cat literally went crazy, scratching and clawing to free his tail from my father's 6-foot 3-inch frame. But Dad could become very preoccupied while preaching, and he didn't notice the disturbance. There at his feet was a panicky animal, digging holes in the carpet and screaming for mercy, yet the heel did not move. Dad later said he thought the screech came from the brakes of automobiles at a nearby corner. When my father finally walked off the cat's tail, still unaware of the commotion, the tom took off like a Saturn rocket.
This story typifies many twentieth century marriages. The wife is screaming and clawing the air and writhing in pain, but the husband is oblivious to her panic. He is preoccupied with his own thoughts, not realizing that a single step to the right or left could alleviate the crisis. I never cease to be amazed at just how deaf a man can become under these circumstances.
I know of a gynecologist who is not only deaf, but blind as well. He telephoned a friend of mine who is also a physician in the practice of obstetrics and gynecology. He asked for a favor.
"My wife has been having some abdominal problems and she's in particular discomfort this afternoon," he said. "I don't want to treat my own wife and wonder if you'd see her for me?"
My friend invited the doctor to bring his wife for an examination, whereupon he discovered (are you ready for this?) that she was five months pregnant? Her obstetrician husband was so busy caring for other patients that he hadn't even noticed his wife's burgeoning pregnancy. I must admit wondering how in the world this woman ever got his attention long enough to conceive.
There's another aspect of the male-female relationship that should also be discussed for the man who wants to understand his wife. Appreciation is expressed to the well-known author Dr. Dennis Guernsey for calling to my attention the research by Rollins and Cannon* and others which reveals a contrasting pattern of "personal satisfaction" by husbands and wives. A woman's satisfaction with her home (which represents the primary job for a homemaker) is never higher than at the time she gets married. But alas, her attitude is likely to slide. It typically deteriorates with the birth of her first baby and continues to sink through the child-rearing years. It reaches a low point in conjunction with the empty-nest syndrome--when the kids leave home. Her satisfaction then rebounds considerably and remains stable during the retirement years.
The husband's job satisfaction follows an opposite pattern. His low point occurs during the early years of marriage, when he accepts a poorly compensated, non-status position. But as he works his way up the ladder, he draws greater emotional rewards (and more money) from his work. the increasing job satisfaction may continue for twenty years or longer, with his work encompassing every more of his time and energy.
The chart on page 127 will illustrate this contrasting job satisfaction by men and women. Obviously the point of greatest danger occurs in the late thirties and forties, when the wife is most dissatisfied with her assignment and the husband is most enthralled with his. That combination is built for trouble, especially if the man feels no responsibility to help meet his wife's needs and longs. (Please remember that these studies merely reflect trends and statistical possibilities. Individuals may respond very different.)
In the absence of strong and loving support from husbands, how do women cope with the circumstances I've described? We all know that behavior does not occur in a vacuum;it is motivated by powerful emotional currents running deep within the personality. Thus, I've observed eight avenue of response that may be taken by a depressed and frustrated wife. They are nonexclusive; in other words, more than one approach can occur simultaneously, or one can lead to others. The eight are as follows:
1. A woman can detach herself from home and family, reinvesting her emotional energy in an outside job. The "back to work" phenomenon by Western women is, in part, a product of this coping mechanism (combined with the pressures of inflation).
2. She can become very angry at men and society for their perceived insults and disrespect. This source of hostility helped to power the now defunct women's liberation movement and gave it an aggressive character. Fortunately, both men and women quickly recognized that that was not the answer.
3. She can remain at home in an atmosphere of great depression or despair. Depression is "anger turned inward," and is usually related to low self-esteem. This woman often becomes a classic nagger.
4. She can attempt to meet her pressing needs by getting into an illicit affair. This disastrous avenue usually becomes a dead-end street, leaving her more depressed and lonely than before. We'll discuss its implications in greater detail in chapter 13.
5. She can turn to alcohol and drugs as a temporary palliative. Many homemakers are yielding to this alternative, as evidence by the rising rate of alcoholism among American women.
6. She can commit suicide (or make a suicidal attempt as a call for help).
7. She can denounce the responsibilities of mothering, by either remaining childless, or by failing to meet the needs of her kids at home. Or she can run away and let Dad take over.
8. The depressed woman can, of course, seek a divorce in the hope of starting afresh with someone more understanding and loving. Today, more than ever, this final alternative looms as the accepted method of coping with marital frustration.
None of these coping mechanisms is very productive. In fact, each of the eight has specific negative consequences. Not even attempted suicide is certain to attract the attention of a mate. I counseled with one woman approximately two weeks after she was released from the hospital. Having made every possible attempt to make contact with her husband, she slid deeper into depression and despair. Finally, she resorted to the ultimate decision. In full view of her husband, she brought all available prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet and proceeded to swallow 206 assorted pills. Her husband stood watching in disbelief. She then went to the bedroom to lie down and die. But she didn't want to leave this earth, of course. It was a desperate method of dramatizing her condition to the man whose love she needed. Unfortunately, he did not respond. When she realized that he had no intention of rescuing her, she pulled herself together and drove to a nearby hospital. After pumping her stomach, the hospital staff telephoned her husband who came to her bedside. He held her hand for two hours without ever asking why she hadn't want to live! In fact, the day he brought her to my office, more than two weeks later, he made his first comment about the event. As he walked around the car to open her door, he said, "I want you to know that you nearly scared me to death a couple of weeks ago!"
Readers might find it difficult to believe that this man loved his wife, but it's true. His lack of attention to her needs was related to a potential business failure that made it difficult for him to "give" to his wife--or even hear her cries. He was facing a crisis of his own, which often occurs in disintegrating marriages.
If the usual coping mechanisms fail to deliver viable solutions to the problems of marital conflict, what is the answer? That brings us back to the promise, made in the beginning of this chapter, that I would offer some straight talk to husbands and wives. Never before have I abandoned diplomacy in dealing with family issues, but I beg your tolerance in this instance. The current crisis in marriage demands a bold approach that is equal to the magnitude of the danger. You can't kill a dragon with a pop-gun, as they say. therefore, I'll first take a few shots at men and then turn my guns on the ladies.
A message to the husbands of Christian homemakers:
It is high time you realized that your wives are under attack today! Everything they have been taught from earliest childhood is being subjected to ridicule and scorn. Hardly a day passes when the traditional values of the Judeo-Christian heritage are not blatantly mocked and undermined.
--The notion that motherhood is a worthwhile investment of a woman's time suffers unrelenting bombardment.
--And the idea that wives should yield to the leadership of their husbands, as commanded in Ephesians 5:21–33 is considered almost medieval in its stupidity.
--And the concept that a man and woman should become one flesh, finding their identity in each other rather than as separate and competing individuals, is said to be intolerably insulting to women.
--And the belief that divorce is an unacceptable alternative has been abandoned by practically everybody. (Have you heard about Sue and Bob?)
--And the description of the ideal wife and mother, as offered in Proverbs 31:10–31 is now unthinkable for the modern woman. (She's come along way, baby.)
--And the role of the female as help-meet, bread-baker, wound-patcher, love giver, home builder, and child-bearer is nothing short of disgusting.
All of these deeply ingrained values, which many of your wives are trying desperately to sustain, are continually exposed to the wrath of hell itself. The Western media—radio, television and the press—are working relentlessly to shred the last vestiges of Christian tradition. And your wives who believe in the spiritual heritage are virtually hanging by their thumbs! They are made to feel stupid and old-fashioned and unfulfilled, and in many cases, their self-esteem is suffering irreparable damage. They are fighting a sweeping social movement with very little support from anyone.
Let me say it more directly. For the man who appreciates the willingness of his wife to stand against the tide of public opinion--staying at home in her empty neighborhood in the exclusive company of jelly-faced toddlers and strong willed adolescents--it is about time you gave her some help. I'm not merely suggesting that you wash the dishes or sweep the floor. I'm referring to the provision of emotional support...of conversation...of making her feel like a lady...of building her ego...of giving her one day of recreation each week...of taking her out to dinner...of telling her that you love her. Without these armaments, she is left defenseless against the foes of the family--the foes of your family!
But to be honest, many of you husbands and fathers have been thinking about something else. Your wives have been busy attending seminars and reading family literature and studying the Bible, but they can't even get you to enter a discussion about what they've learned. You've been intoxicated with your work and the ego support it provides.
What better illustration can I give than the letter quoted on page 94. It came from a desperate woman whose husband is rarely at home, and even when he's there he has nothing to say. He prefers the company of Paul Harvey, who asks no questions and expects no answers. Furthermore, he's a first-class punkin eater." You know the story.
Peter, Peter, Punkin Eater
Had a wife and couldn't keep her
Put her in a punkin shell
And there he kept her very well....
Yeah, Old Pete has got his little woman right where he wants her. She's cooped up in a house with two children under three years of age, changing diapers and wiping noses and cooking meals for him and Mr. Harvey. That's some existence for living, breathing, female with deep needs to be loved and respected. Not only does Peter not intend to met those needs, but he forbids her to take them elsewhere. He doesn't even want her to go to a Bible study class because, would you believe, he fears his kids will catch a disease. Never mind the disease that is choking the life out of his wife—the disease called loneliness. To the wives of all the world's punkin eaters, I say, "Go to the Bible study class anyway!" Submission to masculine leadership does not extend, in my opinion, to behaviors that will be unhealthy for the husband, the wife, and the marriage. Nor should a woman tolerate child abuse, child molestation, or wife-beating.
The message could not be more simple or direct to a Christian man: the Lord has commanded you to "love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, giving His life for it." She needs you now. Will you fit her into your plans?
A message to the wives of busy and unresponsive men:
There are two sides to every coin, and it's time now that we flipped this one over. This chapter has been dominated by the feminine perspective, not because that point of view is more valid or significant, but because it is so poorly understood by the majority of men. I wrote an entire book entitled What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, for the purpose of conveying some of those frustrations to men. Nevertheless, husbands have their own legitimate complaints to make, too. So brace yourselves, ladies I'm coming your way.
My strongest words are addressed to the wife of a good man, whom we will call Fred. He loves Barbara and the kids. Honest! He would literally lay down his life for them if required. He doesn't drink. He has never smoked. He has no compulsion to gamble. He wouldn't touch another woman under any imaginable circumstances. He gets up every morning and plods off to work, perhaps holding down a boring, menial job for forty-five years. He brings his salary home and does his best to stretch it through the month. He lives by a moral code that is remarkable for this dishonest era. His income tax return is scrupulously accurate, and he's never stolen so much as a paper clip from his boss. He doesn't beat the kids or kick the dog or flirt with the widow next door. He is as predictable as the sunrise, and I'm sure that God has a special place for him on the other side.
But Steady Freddie has a serious flaw. He was raised in a day when little boys were taught to withhold their thoughts and feelings. "Children are to be seen and not heard," said his parents. He can't remember being hugged or praised, and everybody knows that boys don't cry. So Fred learned his lessons well. He became tough as nails and as silent as the night, but in so doing, he lost touch with his emotions. Now, he cannot be spontaneous and affectionate, no matter how hard he tries. It just isn't within him. And most of his thoughts remain unspoken and private.
One would hope that Barbara would accept Fred as he is, since she knew his nature before they were married. In fact, it was his quiet reserve that made Fred attractive to her when they were courting. He always seemed so strong, so in control, compared to her impulsive flightiness. But now Barbara is fed up with her unromantic husband. She is deeply angry because he won't communicate with her, and she nags him incessantly about his alleged "failures" as a husband. He can do nothing right and she makes them both miserable year after year.
Let's bring the illustration closer to home. Fred and Boiling Barbara do not represent an unusual combination of personality characteristics. I have seen hundreds of husbands and wives who share their conflict. Many men—not just those who were taught to be inexpressive—find it difficult to match the emotions of their wives. They cannot be what their women want them to be. But instead of looking at the whole man, assessing his many good qualities as they counterbalance this "fad," the wife concentrates on the missing elements and permits it to dominate their relationship. She's married to a good man...but he's not good enough!
Only men who are married to such women fully understand just how wretched life can be. King Solomon had at least one malcontent in his harem, for he wrote "It is better to swell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman" (Prov. 21:19, KJV). He later referred to her dissatisfaction as resembling "a continual dropping in a very rainy day" (Prov. 27:15, KJV). He is right! An agitated woman rants and raves and cries and complains. Her depression is perpetual, destroying vacations, holidays, and the months in between. She may, in retaliation, refuse to cook or clean or take care of the kids. The husband then has the great thrill of coming home to a shattered house and a bitterly angry woman five days a week. And the sad part of the story is that he is often unable to become what she wants him to be. He has seriously attempted to rearrange his basic nature on five or six occasions, but to no avail. A leopard can't change it's spots, and an unromantic, noncommunicative man simply cannot become a sensitive talker. The marital impasse is set in concrete.
Churning in the mind of the depressed wife is the possibility of divorce. Day and night she contemplates this alternative, weighing the many disadvantages against the one major attraction: escape. She worries about the effect of divorce on the kids and wonders how she'll be able to support them and wishes she didn't have to tell her parents. Round and round go the positives and negatives. Should I or shouldn't I? She is both attracted and repelled by the idea of a dissolution.
This contemplative stage reminds me of a classic documentary film which was shot during the earliest days of motion pictures. The cameraman captured a dramatic event that took place on the Eiffel Tower. There, near the top, was a naive "inventor" who had constructed a set of birdlike wings. He had strapped them to his arms for the purpose of using them to fly, but he wasn't totally convinced that they would work. The film shows him going to the rail and looking downward, then pacing back and forth. Next he stood on the rail trying to get enough courage to jump, then returned to the platform. Even with the primitive camera of those days, and film has captured the internal struggle of that would-be-flier. "Should I or shouldn't I? If the wings work, I'll be famous. If they fail, I'll fall to my death." What a gamble!
The man finally climbed on the rail, turned loose of the nearby beam, and weaved back and forth for a breathless moment of destiny. Then he jumped. The last scene was shot with the camera point straight downward, as the man fell like a rock. He didn't even bother to flap his wings on his way to the ground.
In some respects, the depressed homemaker is like the man on the ledge. She knows that divorce is a dangerous and unpredictable leap, but perhaps she will soar with the freedom of a bird. Does she have the courage to jump? No, she'd better stay on the safety of the platform. On the other hand, this could be the long-sought escape. After, everyone else is doing it. She wavers back and forth in confusion...and often takes the plunge.
But what happens to her then? It's been my observation that her "wings" do not deliver the promised support. After the wrenching legal maneuvers and custody fight and property settlement, life returns to a monotonous routine. And what a routine. She has to get a job to maintain a home, but her marketable skills are few. She can be a waitress or a receptionist or a sales lady. But by the time she pays a baby sitter (if she can find one) there is little money left for luxuries. Her energy level is in even short supply. She comes home exhausted to face the pressing needs of her kids, who irritate her. It's a rugged existence.
Then she looks at her ex-husband who is coping much better. He earns more money than she and the absence of kids provides him more freedom. furthermore (and this is an important point), in our society there is infinitely more status in being a divorced man than a divorced woman. He often finds another lover who is younger and more attractive than his first wife. Jealousy burns within the mind of the divorcee, who is lonely and, not surprisingly, depressed again.
This is no trumped-up story just to discourage divorce. It is a characteristic pattern. I've observed that many women who seek divorce for the same reasons indicated (as opposed to infidelity) will live to regret their decision. Their husbands, whose good qualities eventually come into view, begin to look very attractive again. But these women have stepped off the ledge...and they must yield to the forces of nature.
Divorce is not the answer to the problem of busy husbands and lonely wives. Just because the secular world has liberalized it attitudes toward to the impermanence of marriage, no such revision has occurred in the Biblical standard. Would you like to know precisely what God thinks of divorce? He has made His view abundantly clear in Malachi 2:13–17, especially with reference to husbands who seek a new sexual plaything:
Yet you cover the altar with your tears because the Lord doesn't pay attention to your offerings anymore, and you receive no blessing from him. "Why has God abandoned us?" you cry. I'll tell you why; it is because the Lord has seen your treachery in divorcing your wives who have been faithful to you through the years, the companions you promised to care for and keep. You were united to your wife by the Lord. In God's wise plan, when you married, the two of you became one person in his sight. And what does he want? Godly children from you union. Therefore guard you passions! Keep faith with the wife of your youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says he hates divorce and cruel men. therefore control your passions--let there be no divorcing of your wives. You have wearied the Lord with your words. "Wearied him?" you ask in fake surprise. "How have we wearied him?" By saying that evil is good, that is pleases the Lord! Or by saying that God won't punish--he doesn't care (TLB).
If divorce is not the solution, then what can be said on behalf of the emotionally staved woman? First, it will be helpful for her to recognize the true source of her frustration. Granted, her husband is not meeting her needs, but I doubt it men have ever responded as women preferred. Did the farmer of a hundred years ago come in from the fields and say, "Tell me how it went with the kids today"? No, he was as oblivious to his wife's nature as Fred is of Barbara's. Then why did the farmer's wife survive while Barbara is climbing the walls? The difference between them can be seen in the breakdown in the relationship between women! A century ago, women cooked together, canned together, washed clothes at the creek together, prayed together, went through menopause together, and grew old together. And when a baby was born, aunts and grandmothers and neighbors were there to show the new mother how to diaper and feed and discipline. Great emotional support was provided in this feminine contact. A woman was never really alone.
Alas, the situation is very different today. The extended family has disappeared, depriving the wife of that source of security and fellowship. Her mother lives in Connecticut and her sister in is Texas. Furthermore, American families move every three or four years, preventing any long-term friendships from developing among neighbors. And there's another factor that is seldom admitted: American women tend to be economically competitive and suspicious of one another.
Many would not even consider inviting a group of friends to the house until it was repainted, refurnished, or redecorated. As someone said, "We're working so hard to have beautiful homes and there's nobody in them!" the result is isolation--or should I say insulation—and its first cousin: loneliness.
Depriving a woman of all meaningful emotional support from outside the home puts enormous pressure on the husband-wife relationship. The man then becomes her primary source of conversation, ventilation, fellowship, and love. But she's not his only responsibility. He is faced with great pressure, both internal and external, in his job. His self-esteem hangs on the way he handles his business, and the status of the entire family depends on his success. By the time he gets home at night, he has little left with which to prop up his lonely wife...even if he understands her.
Let me speak plain to the wife of the busy but noncommunicative husband: you cannot depend on this man to satisfy all your needs. You will be continually frustrated by his failure to comply. Instead, you must achieve a network of women friends with whom you can talk, laugh, gripe, dream, and recreate. There are thousands of homemakers around you who have the same needs and experience. They'll be looking for you as you begin your search for them. Get into exercise classes, group hobbies, church activities, Bible studies, bicycle clubs—whatever. But at all costs, resist the temptation to pull into the four walls of a house, sitting on the pity pot and waiting for your man to come home on his white horse.
Many times a man's most irritating characteristic is a by-product of the quality his wife most respects. Perhaps his frugality and stinginess, which she hates, have made him successful in business, which she greatly admires. Or perhaps his attentiveness to his mother's needs, which his wife resents, is another dimension of his devotion to his own family. Or in Fred's case, his cool stability in the face of crisis, which drew Barbara to him, is related to his lack of spontaneity and exuberance during their tranquil days. The point is, God gave your husband the temperament he wears, and you must accept those characteristics that he cannot change. After all, he must do the same for you. "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:11–13, KJV).
There is nothing so ugly as a husband or wife who bitterly attacks and demeans his mate. But nothing is so beautiful as a loving relationship that conforms to God's magnificent design. We'll conclude with a brilliant example of this divinely inspired love. It was written by the surgeon who experienced it. Perhaps you will be deeply moved by his words, as was I.
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.
"Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks.
"Yes," I say, "it will. It is because the nerve was cut."
She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles.
"I like it," he says. "It is kind of cute."
All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze.
One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.
From Straight Talk to Men by Dr. James Dobson
Copyright © 1991. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.