Oct 09 Real relationships
Is this how it's supposed to be? Katharine Hill advises a struggling young wife
What does it mean to be a godly Christian wife today?
I am a 24 and I have been married for just over a year to a 25-year-old christian husband. I love him dearly, but I am really struggling with his selfishness, and I am confused about what it means to be a godly christian wife. It’s the small things really - like when we get in from work. His first thoughts are about how tired he is and what he can do to relax, whilst I'm expected to go and start dinner. If he's hungry, he asks me to get him some food, even if it's as simple as making a sandwich. I know this is only one or two examples, I guess it’s more thoughtlessness than selfishness really - his thoughts are for himself, whereas mine are usually for him, and I very rarely put my needs above his.
If he gets tired and worn down, I do everything I can to help him relax (give him a back rub, run him a bath etc) and help him with any responsibilities he has. But, if I get tired, he tells me off for doing too much, even though most of what I do is to serve him. I feel so much pressure on my shoulders to keep things running smoothly and make sure we're on top of everything.
This must sound like he's an awful husband and really he’s not, but I have seen so often that situations like this cause women to become stressed, nagging and fustrated wives/mothers, and I don’t want to become like that.
I long to be a wise, loving and supporting wife, but I just don't know what that really means in day to day living, and I'm finding myself getting more and more stressed and exhausted. As a Christian wife, am I purely there to serve him? Where do the boundaries lie between being dutiful and being taken advantage of? Should I try to explain to him how I feel, or should I put aside my feelings and concentrate on him. I want to be a support for him, but what support should he be offering me?
The early years of marriage can be an exciting - but also a challenging time, as couples begin to learn through the ups and downs of every day living what it means to become ‘one’. It can be a season of adventure and discovery but, as you have discovered, one that can be tinged with times of disappointment, when expectations and dreams of wedded bliss are left unmet.
Marriage is a lifelong learning experience, each learning to adjust our step and walk together. In some seasons of marriage, the learning curve is steeper than others. In the first year of marriage, as two individuals from two different backgrounds come together, much adjustment by both is needed in order to navigate the challenges and unwritten assumptions that will inevitably arise in day to day living.
For example, in my own marriage the respective homes we grew up in led to us having very different expectations regarding the issue of gardening. Whilst my father would do the gardening, it was a job taken on by Richard’s mother, and this issue became a focus of conflict, disappointment and missed expectations when we were newly married.
I remember on one occasion we went to the garden centre with great enthusiasm and bought some spring bulbs. I then considered my contribution to the task over. The bulbs stayed in a bag in the hall until early summer. Neither of us was happy with this state of affairs, and both secretly thought the other was being lazy and selfish in not getting on with what we thought was ‘their’ job. Essentially, we were simply mirroring the roles our parents had adopted while we were growing up.
It was only when I expressed my frustration at the lack of garden activity that we were able to discuss it and discover our different expectations. In your situation, being able to talk about how you feel is important. Find out whether this is a pattern of behaviour that your husband saw modelled as he was growing up, that he may have adopted without realising it.
Being honest and expressing how we feel is a challenge and, even after 24 years of marriage, we still get this wrong. Whilst there are some differences that will never change, on this occasion it is worth asking yourself whether this is an issue you want to leave unaddressed and live with for the rest of your life. If the answer is no, then it is worth a discussion.
When raising the issue there are a few golden rules to bear in mind
* Choose a good time (never late at night)
* Talk about how the behaviour makes you feel
* Avoid using the phrase ‘you always’ and ‘you never’
* Make sure he understands how you feel by asking him to repeat back to you what you have said
* Swap roles and listen to his feelings on the issue
* Try to find a joint solution that you are both happy with
Thirteen years into our marriage we came across the book The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman. In it he outlines five different ways we give and receive love. For some it is time, for others gifts, words, actions or touch. For each person one or two of these ways will communicate love more powerfully than the others. Problems may come if you are unaware of what the other person’s ‘love language’ is.
It would be well worth finding out what love languages you and your husband speak.
If his is time and words, instead of exhausting yourself preparing a meal and ‘doing’ lots of things for him, all he may really need is to have you sitting by him watching TV and affirming him as a person, and in his role as a husband. Likewise, your husband can learn how to show he loves you in the way that best connects for you.
Most of us don’t know our husband or wife’s needs, and if you can get this right in the early years of marriage with some good honest communication, you will be laying firm foundations for the year ahead.
It’s good that you mention not wanting to become nagging and critical. This will be especially important if his love language is words. If words are important to him, he will tend to find negative, critical words exceptionally hurtful.
We live in a culture that emphasises our rights, whereas the Bible’s advice on marriage turns this on its head and talks about our responsibility – both for husbands and wives. It paints a beautiful picture of giving and receiving, privilege and responsibility, seeking to meet each other’s needs.
But meeting each other’s needs begins with understanding what those needs are. You could use Care for the Family’s 21st Century Marriage DVD course, or attend The Marriage Course (www.themarriagecourse.org) if one is nearby, to get an opportunity in a safe environment to learn more about each other.
Meet our advisor
Katharine Hill is Head of Family Life at Care for the Family. She has been married to Richard for 24 years and they have four teenage children. Together they wrote Rules of Engagement, a book for newly engaged couples. In her previous experience as a family law solicitor, she saw first hand the pain associated with marriage breakdown and is passionate about strengthening marriage. She has toured nationally speaking on marriage and relationships.
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