I got a heartfelt email from Victoria* (not her real name), a sweet lady in Nairobi who has been married about a year.
I'll paraphrase some of her statements, and then paste my response to her. Please keep messaging me about your marriage experiences concerning submission. Not just the pain but also the joys of it.
Here we go.
-Our first year has not been a walk in the park for us.
-We are both ambitious personalities(high energy, direct, very focused).
-This makes our disagreements explosive.
-He calls me abrasive.
-He thinks I'm trying to be the man in the relationship, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
-He won't listen to any of my suggestions or ideas. He thinks I'm criticizing him.
-So now I just stay silent to keep the peace but I'm very unhappy and unheard.
OK. Evidently, there is a lot to say about her husband. I'll get to that when I do my last two posts on husbands. So ladies, breathe, be patient. I'ma be calling them out too in a bit.
My email response to her, is primarily about what she should do while in the difficult situation. I'm not exempting her husband from his contribution to the conflict. I'm just focusing on her right now. Husbands, stay tuned.
Keep at the fore of your mind through this entire series: Marriage is two sinners sleeping in the same bed. Both of you are going to hurt each other. That's why you vow before God to stick with it, for better or for worse. And sometimes, many times in fact, it will be you that is the "worse" in the equation.
I have a book I bought the year before we got married. It's called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I go back to it frequently and will share a lot from it in this email. Its entire premise is that marriage is primarily and indeed wholly of the Lord. His glory, His mercy. His sanctification in our lives. His forgiveness and patience with us. His pruning of us.
Dissatisfaction in marriage stems from a lack of self-repentance in our walks with God. Early marriage tends to shock people about how different they really are from when they were dating. I couldn't believe how selfish I 'became', how snappy I could get with Bryan, so easily exasperated. I learned in our second year, that I genuinely believed I was always right, about everything. I believed it through and through. So Bryan was the difficult one; why wouldn't he just listen to my reasoning to realize that indeed my way was the correct one? And that was the major root of my unsubmissiveness. I never wanted to listen to suggestions. I wanted to be the planner of our entire lives, but I didn't see it that way.
Boy did we fight. Some seasons felt as though we would never laugh again. These arguments revealed the curse over woman in Genesis. Your desire shall be after your husband but he shall rule over you. We are hell bent on controlling our husbands. And it's an issue of constant repentance. It is a position from which to learn humility: a certain honesty, and childlike willingness to acknowledge our faults, to recover from them, and to submit to the advice of experienced people in the matter.
We need to enter marriage with a view to becoming cleansed spiritually. Realize, that marriage is a spiritual discipline. So we shouldn't enter it predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged (all good things).We need to enter marriage to become more like Jesus Christ. We need to get comfortable with the reality that our flaws will be constantly exposed to our partner, and thereby having them exposed to us as well. Sin never seems quite as shocking when it is known only to us; when we see how it looks or sounds to another, it is magnified ten times over. It is hard to hide when you share the same bed.
Why did I start with this angle? Well, from my own, sometimes very painful experience, this verse has become central to how I approach any disagreement with Bryan:
Matthew 7: 4-5
4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye? 5You hypocrite! First, take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
You see, it is effortless to point out where your spouse has done wrong, every harsh word they have spoken to us. What takes true grit, is to pause before you speak and ask yourself:
Where have I made a mistake here?
What should I not have said?
Has my attitude been wrong the entire time?
Have I really been listening to his side of the story or am I making incorrect summarizations of his position?
Be honest with yourself and with God.
When you have your answers, you'll be able to think the situation through clearly. If in your assessment, through praying and scripture, you are vindicated in what you're asking of your husband, then gently let him know that he is in the wrong.If he has been mean and hurtful, let him know. If he is not listening to you in the marriage, tell him. But do all of this without being argumentative, because God is your Rock, not your husband. Don't expect a sinless man. Lean on Jesus for that. It doesn't exempt your husband or give him a pass for being dismissive and cold in his speech towards you, not in the least. He has his own repenting to do before God. I'm not saying that conflict is always your fault because you are the woman refusing to submit. That is a commonly held position, which is WRONG, and extremely destructive to a marriage.
What I'm trying to explain is that you need a way to thrive in your Christianity and your marriage, even when the days are dark and washed with tears.
Be kind when it hurts the most to be kind.
Show him grace when he is the most undeserving.
Be patient when he has blown every chance you have given him.
Love him, when he has become a most unlovable creature.
Do not withhold your body from him, even when his words have cut you like swords. There is a remarkable and unmatched power of healing and forgiveness when you come together as man and wife in the middle of the storm raging between you.
Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Even what you deem is unforgivable.
Jesus did this for you and for him. And the Holy Spirit has filled you with the power of Christ, to be like him. It isn't a pipe dream; with Him, it is doable. Harder than walking through a fire, but it can be done.
Please know that I'm not patronizing you. I know how impossible, ridiculous and unfair this all sounds. Maybe even impossible. I'm preaching to myself with this email because I'm still so far from the mountain top.
I echo your thoughts.
How can I forgive him?
How could I possibly give myself to him after the way he spoke to me?
How do I submit to a man so dismissive and so difficult?
But that's where the good news comes in. Our God is in the business of making the impossible, possible.
Work hard to seek the counsel of married people strong in the faith, whose marriages you admire. Let your husband know you will be asking for help from them. Encourage him to do the same. Don't go at it alone.Jesus redefined family for us; they will be your actual brothers and sisters that you are reaching out to.
Whatever you do, DO NOT sit with other wives and malign your husband's name, embarrass or shame him. If you have friends gunning for you to keep your jaw stiff and not compromise on anything with your husband, to refuse to be silenced, to outwit and out-shout him in every argument until you win...drop them like stones. You may as well pour arsenic into your pot of stew every night.
Most crucially: PRAY. There is no argument you could present, no course you could do, no counseling you attend for that will be more powerful than praying to our Father in Heaven. Pray for him, sweetheart. He is your husband, your beloved. You are one flesh. God will answer you in the waiting. He will comfort you. He shall fill you with his peace, which makes no sense in any kind of human construct. He will make you joyful. And Christ exuding from you will melt your husband's hardened heart. Wait on God friend. He is listening.
Always remember, your husband saw you, loved you and made you his own. You are the jewel in his crown. Failing you is his worst fear. He is consumed with the responsibility to protect you, provide for you financially, give you a wonderful life. It's overwhelming, even for a godly man. And some days he gets scared that you will regret saying yes. So pray for him in this regard too.
Love one another. Speak gently. Do not interrupt one another. Do not assume you have understood your spouse's position; if they tell you that you're not listening and that you aren't getting it, it means you aren't listening and you still don't get it. Whatever you do, do not stop coming together in your marriage bed.
Let us not run from the difficulties in marriage or sink into despair. It is such fertile soil to grow in our faith and mature in Christ-likeness.
Do not waste the struggle. Do not let it be for naught.
I'm praying. Let's keep talking.
Christian, wife, mom, doctor, and an alien on earth, on my way to the city of God.