The last time we talked about marriage, we talked to the men. We unpacked Ephesians 5:25-33 and looked at how that passage plays out in real life. If you missed that post, read God’s Rules for Marriage – to the husbands first!
Responsibilities are different.
If we were to sum up a husband’s responsibility in a few words, it would be Love your wife well.
If we were to sum up a wife’s responsibility, it would be Respond well.
It’s clear that God expects husbands to initiate the love and life in the relationship. Marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church, and Christ is the one who made the first move. Without being asked, he put himself in a position that none of us would be willing to take, just because he loves us. He had no guarantee that anyone would love him, believe in him, or follow him.
He just did it and waited for us to respond.
So like it or not, wives respond to what their husbands are doing. This isn’t to say that women don’t have their own issues, but she will reflect his treatment of her.
Think about the last time your husband did something especially loving or thoughtful. How did you feel about yourself? Was it easier to love and respect him in return?
Now think about a time he was inconsiderate or hurtful. Your thoughts and feelings spiraled in the opposite direction, didn’t they?
It becomes a cycle.
This is the way women are wired. When he initiates love and life, you naturally respond by loving and respecting him in return. In a good relationship it becomes a continuous cycle where you eventually can’t tell who started it – you are just loving each other well.
Unfortunately the cycle also works in the opposite direction. If he is constantly initiating hurt and apathy, you naturally respond by withholding your love and respect and giving what you are getting.
Eventually you can’t tell who started it – you are just hurting each other well.
Both men and women can affect the cycle.
That is how marriages fail. One hurt at a time, one instance of not loving followed by a response of not respecting and hurting back. Obviously men can mess it up by not loving the way God has commanded them, but women can also mess it up by responding poorly, especially when he makes an honest mistake.
A personal example
Let’s say your husband’s love language is time. He is lounging about in bed one morning while you’re catching up on chores. You walk into the bedroom and he pulls you down onto the mattress and says let’s talk.
Many women would swoon if their guy wanted to talk, but not you. You’re an acts of service kind of girl. Your to-to list is a mile long, and you have no desire to lie in bed while the tasks are looming over your head. You extricate yourself with a comment about his mental stability and go back to the kitchen to scrub pots.
Yeah, I did it too, way more times than I care to admit. It’s one of the biggest regrets about my failed marriage.
Because really, I could have taken 10 minutes to make him feel loved. The pots weren’t going anywhere, but my refusal to spend the time he needed said I don’t love you. I wish I would have understood that then. Instead, I got hung up on the fact that his lazing around while I was working my but off sounded like I don’t love you to me.
Isn’t his job?
But isn’t it his job to initiate love? you ask. Well, yes. And what I didn’t recognize then was that he was trying. He just didn’t get it right. He didn’t understand that I needed something different, and I didn’t understand the message I was conveying by rejecting his attempt.
If I could go back, I would spend that ten minutes, and I’d tell him that nothing says I love you quite like scrubbing a pot. Then maybe this whole scenario, played out ad nauseum, wouldn’t have reached its logical conclusion. He stopped trying, and we spiraled downward.
No one’s perfect, but don’t give up!
Admittedly, he gave up way too easily. But a friend of mine likes to say that although men try to be Christlike, they are not Christ. They are not perfect and there is only so much rejection they can handle. They can only keep at this so long without some encouragement, and I’ll admit I gave way too little back when it would have made a difference.
So what if it’s not a mistake?
What if he knows – and I mean knows, as in you have had a clear conversation about what you need or how he is hurting you – where he is missing it and continues to do the same thing? What if he is manipulating or abusing you?
In that case, the proper response is to set and hold clear, firm boundaries. God does not expect his daughters to be mistreated, and you are not helping him or yourself by allowing it. Standing up for yourself may be the catalyst he needs to become the man God wants him to be.
Appreciate that he’s trying.
Otherwise, choose to see his attempts at loving you for what they are. If he’s not scratching where you itch, let him know that you appreciate that he’s trying and ___ would hit the spot.
Remember, love is not selfish, so don’t refuse genuine efforts just because they’re not exactly what you want. Respond by giving him what he needs.
If you don’t know what he needs, ask.
Couples who understand this cycle of initiating and responding and keep it going in a positive direction tend to stay together no matter what life throws at them.
Couples who don’t, don’t.
Make sure you’re not the one who’s tearing your relationship apart. Respond well.
How are you responding in your marriage? What needs work?