By: Gary Thomas
In my boyhood days, our family had a dog that loved to chase cars. One fateful afternoon, she finally caught one and was seriously injured. My dad ran out to the road to retrieve her, and our family pet became a monster. Frenzied with fear and pain, that dog kept biting my dad as he gathered her into his arms. He had rushed to help her and bring her healing, but the pain so overwhelmed her that she could only bite the very hands trying to nurture her.
Your husband can be like that. Even if he had extraordinary parents, he most likely still brings some woundedness into your marriage. Maybe his siblings teased him. Maybe a former girlfriend broke his heart. Maybe he had a cold and calculating mother or father. The possibilities are endless, except that he comes to you as a hurting man. Maybe you even married a deeply wounded man.
Unfortunately, hurting men bite; sometimes, like our dog, they bite the very hands that try to bring healing.
As I have stated many times over in this blog and my books, I am not talking here about accepting or condoning abusive behavior or a pattern of him threatening you. This post is not meant for those who need to escape their marriages because their marriage has become unsafe; it is meant for those who want to help their wounded but safe husbands learn how to be more gentle and understanding and learn how to process their frustration, anger, and shame in more mature ways.
One of the ways to do this is to view your husband’s actions through this lens: “What if he is a deeply wounded man acting out of shame and pain?” Before a dating relationship morphs into a permanent commitment, many women see a hurting man and think, I want to help him. But something about marriage often turns that around and makes the same woman ask, Why does he have to be that way? The man’s needs once elicited feelings of nurture and compassion; now these same hurts tempt his wife toward bitterness and regret.
Can you go back to that dating mindset now that you’re married?
The time to make a character-based judgment (“Do I really want to live with this man’s wounds?”) is before you exchange vows. Once the ceremony is over, God challenges you to maintain an attitude of concern and nurture instead of one of resentment and frustration.
I realize marriage reveals more clearly a man’s heart. And men sometimes change after they get married. Having children, getting fired from a job, or losing a parent can all be triggers that release the negative, buried propensities in a man, so I am not chastising you for a choice you made in the past. But you did make a choice. In light of that choice, can you maintain a soft heart over his past hurts, patiently praying for long-term change? Or will you freeze him in his incapacities with judgment, resentment, condemnation, and criticism?
Which attitude do you honestly think is more likely to bring about healing and change?
I believe marital healing comes when one or both partners learn to maintain a nurturing attitude instead of a judgmental one. It really does help if you look at your husband’s faults through the prism of his hurt— not to excuse him, but to plot a strategy for healing and then positive change. It’s a legitimate question to question your husband over something he has done. But before you do that, reset your attitude by asking yourself, “Why do I think he might be inclined to act this way?” You’re not looking to excuse him, you’re looking to understand him. Hurt can lead us to make unwise choices and respond in unhealthy ways. Knowing that’s what we’re responding to can be part of the process to learn how to respond in better ways.
Look at it this way: How would you want your daughter- in- law to treat your wounded son? That’s likely how your husband’s heavenly Father wants you to treat his wounded son.
My oldest daughter is dating a good guy, and they’ve been dating long enough for him to know some of her foibles. Ally has her mother’s forgetfulness. I couldn’t tell you how many times Lisa has lost her wedding ring, or credit cards, or wallet, or forgotten her purse. It is a miracle of God that Lisa still has a ring to wear.
On one relatively early date with her boyfriend, Ally left her purse in a restaurant. That meant her boyfriend had to drive an hour (round trip) to retrieve it.
What I wanted to tell him is that if he stays with Ally, things like this will become a normal part of his life. I look at all the positive qualities my daughter brings into a relationship and have a father’s natural “nurturing” attitude toward her weaknesses, and think the positives far outweigh any small foibles. In the moment of frustration, however, it’s more difficult for a boyfriend (or husband) to look at it that way.
Men, viewing Lisa as God’s daughter has revolutionized my marriage. She was so young when we got married (19), but nineteen years is long enough for any person to bring in plenty of family and social baggage. Rather than expecting her to “get over it” now that we’re married and begin performing with robotic like Christian perfection, I want to accept Lisa as a woman “in process.”
I’ve seen this apply when a woman comes into marriage having been sexually abused, betrayed, financially insecure, or fighting food addictions. All of these are likely to have long-term implications for your marriage. Accept the fact that you married an imperfect and wounded woman. Acceptance, love, and a nurturing attitude will bring her much further along much faster than continually reminding her of what she already knows is true: she has issues and problems and you resent her for it.
You married a wounded woman because every woman is wounded in her own way. You made a choice to accept those wounds when you accepted this woman. Rather than obsess over that choice, learn how to make the best of that choice by asking yourself, how would I want a son-in-law to treat one of my daughters who might have these same issues? That’s the same nurturing attitude you should adopt toward your wife.