Several wives wrote to me who were very perplexed after they realized the extent of their disrespect and control and wanted to fix it but weren’t sure what to do. They ended up being too quiet and felt like they couldn’t say anything anymore. That doesn’t work either! Here is my response. (PS, there is a note to the husbands at the bottom)
This is the first phase that wives go through after they realize the enormity of their disrespect and control. If you are like I was – you used to spend almost all your waking time constantly thinking about how things “should” be and how to “make” things happen the way you know they ought to to be sure everything would be OK. I worried A LOT. ABOUT EVERYTHING. My mind was whirling and spinning about various conflicts or how I was going to get my husband to do things differently and change him and make situations and circumstances and other people do what I thought was best. My way was the only right way, after all! I was anxious and was very used to constantly speaking every negative thought that popped into my head. That meant I was complaining a lot. I was tense. I was fearful. I was negative. And I am sure you can tell – I was LOTS of fun to live with!
Suddenly, I became aware of my disrespect and control when I read “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs and I completely clammed up. The guilt and shame were unbelievably overwhelming for days. I had no idea I wasn’t a wonderful wife for all those 15 years. And to finally see myself as God and my husband saw me was unbearable. It was humbling. It was humiliating. I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like the biggest failure as a wife ever in the history of the planet. I saw the problem clearly for the first time – and I was deeply remorseful and wanted desperately to change, but I had no clue what to do or how to function, what to say, how to even just be in a room with other people… I just wanted to hide from everyone and go live in a cave! That way I wouldn’t hurt anyone.
I was terrified that I was going to say something disrespectful. I didn’t know what was and was not disrespectful at first. So I went almost completely silent. That is the first phase for most wives on this journey. It takes time to begin to sort out what is respectful and what to stay quiet about. It is a process of learning discretion and wisdom. It feels like you can’t be “yourself” at first – but what it really is – is a shaping process where you are learning to be a BETTER self, you are learning to be your best self. Your old self has to be crucified, and your new self is powered by the Holy Spirit!
So it is very frustrating at first. In my view, this is THE MOST DIFFICULT and FRUSTRATING part of the whole transformation into becoming a godly, submissive, respectful wife with a gentle and quiet spirit that does not give way to fear. You know you have a problem. You know you’ve done wrong – maybe a LOT of wrong. But you have almost no tools to change it yet or to make it better. I felt like I was walking through a minefield and didn’t know when I would accidentally step on something by doing something wrong.
And when you do venture to say something – it is likely to be wrong. Then you have more guilt on top of the mountains of guilt that are already burying you alive. That just reinforces the concept that being quiet and saying nothing is better than risking making a terrible mistake and causing your husband pain again. Worldly guilt brings death, but godly sorrow leads to repentance and real life and soul change. Keep seeking God’s will and His face during this time! He has the power to get rid of all that sin and guilt and make you into something new, beautiful and glorious!
I realized I was completely blind to the entire world of masculine respect. It was daunting – like learning a new foreign language. It was even more challenging for me because my husband wasn’t sure what was respectful or not himself. So I would ask him (OFTEN) if something would be respectful or disrespectful, and he would almost always say, “I don’t know.” This is one of the reasons I write this blog. I want to get more information to other wives when they start on this journey of respect and submission and obedience to God than I could find when I started. As my husband got more used to being respected, he began to be able to tell me himself what he thought and he began to know his own mind and grow confident in his leadership abilities. It was amazing to watch him blossom into such a godly leader! The wives who have husbands who do try to communicate to you about what is disrespectful – that is a huge blessing! You don’t have to try to guess. Yes, it’s painful to hear that you are doing things that are hurtful – but you can’t fix a problem that you don’t know exists. Better to know and be able to make it right than to keep unwittingly wounding him and destroying your intimacy and unity!
So, first you go almost totally quiet. You aren’t going to stay this way forever. It will take days, weeks or months to begin to figure out how to say what you want and how you feel in a calm, respectful way and how to let go of the “Needless Emotional Turmoil” as Laura Doyle calls it in “The Surrendered Wife”. At first, you have to clamp your mouth shut and force yourself not to say all the controlling and negative things you usually say. It is HARD! It feels like torture. It begins to dawn on you that apparently almost all the words that come out of your mouth are controlling, negative and disrespectful. That is very disheartening. Then you begin to see that things are actually ok without your negative comments and that your husband is truly capable, intelligent, wise, competent, responsible and able to make decisions. Wow! Who knew?
Then you start learning to say some good things about what he is doing and what you like. It feels awkward and weird if you aren’t used to doing this. But you may notice that he actually smiles at you occassionally again. Hmmm… maybe this will be worth it!
Eventually, you actually start thinking about the good things and don’t think as much about the negative comments. It feels good not to have regrets about all the negative comments anymore. There is real peace beginning to grow in your heart. It’s getting easier to think of things to be thankful for and not dwell on the bad stuff.
Later you almost completely stop thinking about the disrespectful and negative things and fill your whole mind and heart with only good things all the time practically. And you realize that what God asked you to do wasn’t a sacrifice at all, it was a path paved with many blessings. And you would NEVER go back to the old you for anything!
You are going to have a LOT of free mental and emotional time on your hands that you have never had before. It is part of learning to have peace! But it feels like you need to be carrying all that heavy mental/emotional weight you used to carry around for no beneficial reason. You will eventually be able to set it down and leave it down and feel free without it. I began using all that free space in my head to sing praise songs to God, to pray, to think over all the things I respected about my husband, to think of things to be grateful for, to rehash the books I was studying. It was refreshing! Now I use that space for prayer, praising God and thinking about my next post and about the emails I get. I like this MUCH more than all that pointless worrying I used to do!
It is going to take some time to work through this stuff. I pray you will be patient with yourself.
And you CAN say what your feelings are and what you want. But if he wants to buy a car – you can say, “I trust you to make the best decision for our family.” If you REALLY hate the idea of a car, you can say something like, “I don’t want to buy a car right now.” In a calm way – without yelling, cussing, name-calling or even slightly raising your voice. Ideally, with a pleasant tone of voice and facial expression – and only ONCE. Or you can say, “This makes me nervous. But I trust you with the decision.” or ”I would really like X brand of car. And I would like our budget to be Y.” (If your husband is currently involved in infidelity, an uncontrolled mental disorder or an active addiction – you may need face-to-face godly counsel before you are able to submit to him. And please do not submit if your husband asks you to sin or go against God’s Word!)
You don’t have to agree to things you don’t like. You can say what you want and don’t want. But you can’t MAKE him do what you want. He gets to choose what he wants to do. You can choose what you want to do. When it comes to a joint decision, you tell him your feelings and what you want respectfully and then trust him to make the best choice and trust that God will use that for your good and His glory. Yes, really. You can do this!
As he feels more and more respected, your husband will begin to care even more about your feelings and will often do what you want just because he wants to see you happy. As you focus on the good and stop the negativity, he will feel like it is actually possible to please you again and he will start thinking it could be worth the risk of trying to do wonderful things for you since you might actually act happy about it now!
What you are going through is growing pains of becoming more spiritually mature and more the woman of God you want to be. You will be fighting your flesh, your sinful nature, Satan and your old thinking and speaking habits you have had for most of your life. It is HARD! But it is worth it!
But it will feel like spiritual and emotional torture and contortion at first. You will be taking your “safety net” of thinking you are in control away for the first time. It feels like you are flinging yourself off of spiritual, emotional and mental cliff. You haven’t experienced using your faith and trust muscles before – hardly at all. They are atrophied and weak and it will take time to build them up. You are going to be terrified. This is probably the scariest thing you has ever done. Tearing down the idol of control makes things seem very out of control at first – you believed (probably since you were a child) that trying to control things kept you safe. It really didn’t. You actually were not in control. But you THOUGHT you were. You will have to practice trusting your husband and trusting God and seeing that everything is actually fine several times (or many times) before you can begin to relax and breathe and not have to “white knuckle” it.
You are used to a constant running tape of worry and figuring things out all the time. When that stops – it is scary. It’s hard to know what to think about or what to talk about. When all you usually do is say negative things constantly, it’s weird to have silence and hard to know what to replace it with at first.
Most husbands have NO IDEA the mental, emotional and spiritual gymnastics it is going to take to get from where you were to having God’s peace and being able to respect and submit. It’s a long process. This is a cross country trip. You are not going to magically be mature in a week. This is probably a several year long journey for most wives, maybe even longer.
I know it seems simple. Many people would just say, “Don’t worry.” It’s so much more complicated than that when there is idolatry involved. And there is here! It’s an addiction to trying to be in control of people, your marriage, your family, and even God – thinking that will keep you safe. You think deep in your soul that YOU are much more powerful than God right now. And you think you are more wise than God and your husband. Or – that is how I actually thought. I never consciously thought that, but when I really dug down and looked at how I lived, that was how I truly believed in my heart. It’s an illusion. The more you try to control, the less you actually control. Only God is truly sovereign and in control. Thankfully, we can trust Him!
You will have to face your deepest fears and discover how HUGE God is and that He is big enough to handle your fears – all of them. You will have to realize that your picture of your husband was way, way, too wimpy, too. Just like your picture of God is tiny and impotent – if you are like I was. And you will discover that your husband and God are both much stronger, bigger, more powerful, wiser and more trustworthy than you had ever imagined.
With love for my dear sisters who are beginning this journey!
If and when your wife does wake up to her disrespect and controlling behavior – it is a REALLY shocking and overwhelming discovery to find out just what a wretched sinner she truly is (no, she may not have realized it before) and it may send her emotionally and spiritually reeling for days or weeks. I pray you will be patient with her as she learns. It is going to take time for her to really “get it.” She may see her sin suddenly, and she may feel like she has fallen into a deep pit and can’t get out. She doesn’t know how to be a godly wife yet. She wants to meet your needs. She wants to learn to be respectful and submissive. She wants to stop making mistakes that hurt you. But at first, all she can see is the crushing weight of guilt and shame and it takes time to learn to shed all the old ways of thinking, speaking and acting and put on the new healthy ways.
I pray for wisdom for you as you lead your wife and family. I pray for discernment for you and for grace to give to your wife as she learns and stumbles and tries to get up again. She will stumble. Eventually, it will be less and less often and the severity will decrease. But she won’t be perfect at this immediately.
It is your kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, prayers, patience, love and affection that will give her the strength to keep going. I pray you might be able to keep pointing her to Christ, His ocean of love for her, His will, His forgiveness, His grace for her and His design for your precious marriage and family.