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“I Thought I WAS Being Respectful! What Happened??”

Here is an email from a wife  and my response.  My focus here is not on what the husband could or should have done differently (Yes, there is plenty of room for improvement on his side).  I am writing for women, so I am only going to address what the wife could have done differently.  If we are married to a sinful person, and we all are… we WILL be sinned against.  
It is pretty pointless to focus on what the other person “should” do.  We cannot control other people.  We can influence them, but we cannot force them to do what we want.  I spent almost 15 years of our marriage focusing on what my husband “should do” and didn’t see the forest of sin in my own eye.  That was not productive at all!   
I believe we can and should voice our feelings, desires and perspective – in a way that speaks respect and a cooperative spirit.  Our power is to focus on what we think, say and do and our own responsibility/sin/accountability in the relationship:
Last night I messed up a bit.  My husband had moved some furniture for me.  And I was surprised to see that he didn’t put everything where I thought it should go.   I was (I think) respectful about bringing it up later.  Asking why he’d done that and did he agree it seemed a bit imbalanced now.
He was offended and mad, his voice escalated and he said something that hurt me. In some ways it reminded me of the lessons you’ve mentioned learning yourself. He was yelling and then he said that I was bullying him to get what I wanted.
I was so hurt, surprised and mad that I told him he’d ruined the night and I stormed offI actually re-did his work and put things where I wanted.  That was a big mistake I know, but I was hurt and so furious that he’d started yelling at me after I was respectful and appreciative.
He continued with the Sunday night things we’d usually do together, by himself.  I was so hurt.  By the time he came up to bed I was really hurt & fuming.  I tried to forget it, when he put his hand on mine in bed but I wasn’t able to.
I asked if that’s how he wants to move forward in our marraige now.   Just ignoring each other, blah blah.  Dumb, disrespectful things, I said.
He yelled at me that he didn’t know why I was “manufacturing drama” and he’d decided he “didn’t want to live his life like that” and he’d let it go hours ago.
What did he mean?  We got into going back and forth about it for a long while, but I was very respectful!! Trying to say to him that unresolved conflict is really damaging for me and I want to fix our argument sooner.   He blamed me for storming off.  Fair enough.  I was so respectful.  I was frustrated at times but never raised my voice. I worked hard not to interrupt.
We did make up finally and speak for quite some time about his future work goals, and hug a lot in bed.
I actually wouldn’t have bothered you with an email…
But today, he has changed his facebook profile photo from one of us both at our wedding, to one of him alone – a pic that used to have me in it, but as a favor I cut myself out and photoshopped myself out it so he could use it on LinkedIn.  It really stings and I have a lot of fear that he must feel the honeymoon is over?  Is our marraige is ok?  What did he mean he didn’t want to live like that” … scary for me.
I can tell you that many men bristle at the word “why” no matter what the tone of voice their wife has – for lots of men, that word implies that he made a stupid decision.  He may believe that you are questioning his wisdom, competency and abilities.  That one little word can make the difference sometimes between a man feeling respected vs disrespected.  Men tend to be quite sensitive to disrespect.  We don’t usually mean to come across disrespectfully, but sometimes that is what our men hear.  This wasn’t about moving the furniture – it may have been about your approach. 
You could say, “I would like to have this chair over here, please.”  with a smile and pleasant tone of voice and that would probably have gotten you what you wanted without a fight.  Problem solved.
I know you thought you were respectful and appreciative – that is GOOD! But what matters most is if HE is hearing respect and appreciation.  When he turns on you in anger like that (or some men suddenly stonewall and shut down) – he is probably feeling disrespected – whether the disrespect was unintentional or intentional on your part.
Later, in bed, he was trying to apologize when he put his hand on yours.  That was his way of attempting to begin to reconcile.  But more disrespect made him stop trying to offer you peace and intimacy. 🙁
He forgave you earlier.  He dropped the issue.  Men don’t always have to talk through things to forgive and reconcile – they forgive in their own minds sometimes and then want to just move on.  
Women usually do need to talk through things.  I totally understand if you feel like you need to talk more about the situation.  Let’s talk about how tell your husband your feelings in a productive way.  Most men will hear our feelings best when we calmly express them purely and simply with vulnerability (Laura Doyle – The Surrendered Wife):
  • I feel sad
  • I feel hurt
  • I feel upset
  • I feel afraid
  • I feel angry
  • I feel confused
  • I feel nervous

Instead of blasting our men with blame and labeling them “the bad guy”  – which will make them shut down or defend themselves – we can simply ask for what we need and say how we feel in boiled down, basic terms with just a few sentences.  Flooding our husbands with an avalanche of negatively charged emotional words can overwhelm them!  If we can keep our message fairly brief, to the point and calm, we  give our men a chance to hear us better, be our hero and to delight us!

So, in this situation, in bed, you could have cuddled up to  him and said something like, “I feel hurt/sad about what happened this afternoon.  I was trying to be very respectful, but maybe I accidentally said or did something that came across disrespectfully?  Maybe that is why you sounded so angry at me?  I want you to feel very respected by me – I know I still have a lot to learn about respect.  Is there something I could do differently that would feel more respectful to you?  It hurts me when you yell at me.”

I’m really proud of you for doing many things respectfully and not raising your voice and not interrupting him.  GREAT JOB!
If you have not apologized for being disrespectful (if he says he felt disrespected) – then please BRIEFLY and humbly apologize for asking “why” he did what he did (and maybe there was non-verbal disrespect, too?  Tone of voice or body language or facial expressions?)  That one little word, “why” screams disrespect to some men.  Try to ask your questions without using why.  I like to say “I want this, please.”  “I would like this.”  “Would it be possible to do X?”  “I would rather not do Y.”  “What about X?”
The apology is probably only going to need to be about one or two sentences: “I understand now that if I ask ‘why,’ it sounds disrespectful to you. I am SO sorry that I came across as being disrespectful.  I will be careful not to do that again!”  And then DO NOT EXPLAIN or justify yourself!  End of apology. 🙂
My take on his FB pic is – don’t ask him about that right now.   It would be easy to say, “WHY did you change your FB pic?  You obviously don’t love me anymore!”    That may only exacerbate the whole situation!  I think it is best to just wait a few days, see what happens and focus on the things he actually does say to you instead of making assumptions about his motives and see what happens.  (Love always trusts, always expects the best – I Corinthians 13:4-8)  
If you absolutely must talk about the FB picture right away- my suggestion would be to say something like, “I noticed you changed your FB picture after our argument.  It makes me feel sad/scared/upset to see that you took the picture of us together down.”  But then let him decide what to do about it.  Bob Grant says “No one likes to be told what to do.  But men REALLY don’t like to be told what to do.”  The more you try to force your way – the less likely your husband is to do what you want.  But if you share your feelings and then let him think about what to do about them, most of the time, husbands really do want to make us happy.
My take is not the only way to handle situations respectfully.  I am just giving women some ideas of options that may be helpful.  
There will be misunderstandings like this in every marriage.  It doesn’t mean the marriage is in danger.  It means that there is more growing and maturing that needs to be done.  It means that you are both sinners.  God is using marriage to make you both more holy.  And it is a great opportunity to learn to practice extending forgiveness, grace and mercy.
Now, today is a new day – so ENJOY your husband.  Savor the moments you share.  Don’t hang on to the argument but more forward and ask God how you can most bless and honor your husband today!
I placed the chair back where he had placed it. When he noticed, he was really pleased and I told him I would rather live with it than have him think anything was more important to me than him.  He told me “you’re so sweet.” And cuddled me.  I used the opportunity to give the apology you phrased.
Thank you,  April. That was a really bad one for us. I really feel blessed you replied!!!
I LOVE how this wife handled the situation at the end.  GREAT JOB!!!!!!

35 thoughts on ““I Thought I WAS Being Respectful! What Happened??”

  1. I posted on twitter that I think the husband should apologize as well. It seems to me that she was be respectful and he just went off on her. It seems as if your advice to her to let it go is very harsh. I can see where the husband was trying to make up with her by holding her hand. But for her the issue wasn’t over. I just don’t get your advice here. It seems to me the advice is more of what the world sees as submission-the woman never having a say.

    1. Tiffany,
      Thanks for your comment!

      Since I am only addressing what the wife can control – I did not mention all the things the husband could have or should have done in this situation. Is it possible to write a whole post on how he could have been a more loving, selfless husband? YES!

      Some men are extremely sensitive to being asked, “why.” I’ve had dozens of men comment about that on my site. Women generally do not intend to be disrespectful when we ask why. It doesn’t even cross our mind that our men might interpret the word that way. Could he have offered her some grace? YES. Could he have apologized first with words? YES. Could he have set a more godly example? YES.


      My concern is that when we focus on what the husband “should” do – we might miss some things that we could change to make the interactions better. Did she intend disrespect? No. But when she saw him react, she can ask, “Did I do something that came across disrespectfully just now, Honey?” Maybe she was only responsible for 10% or 20% of the arguments here. But she can take responsibility for her end of the relationship and work towards unity.

      I agree that the issue wasn’t over for her – that is why I talked about some ways she could approach the issue so that she could have the resolution she needed without adding more disrespect – which is like pouring gasoline on a fire.

      She certainly could ask her husband about the picture – to me – it is probably going to inflame the situation even more right now. If it is that big of a concern to her – maybe she could ask him about it in a few days. If she does bring it up – I would recommend saying something like, “I noticed that you changed your picture on FB after our argument. That makes me feel sad/hurt.” And then let him answer.

      I strive to give ways for women to speak their feelings and their pain and needs in ways that will be the most effectively heard by their husbands.

      Thanks for your comments! I hope this may have clarified a bit more.

    2. Tiffany,

      I reworked the post – I hope that the message is much more clear. I don’t EVER intend to say that wives’ feelings are not important. I believe wives can and should share their feelings and desires.

      And my prayer is that husbands and wives might seek God’s will and glory above their own will.

      May God richly bless your walk with him and your marriage. 🙂

  2. For Tiffany, the husband in this scenario did apologize as well.

    In the marriage I want, he needs to be able to express how he feels just as much as me, the wife. Is it necessary to make him apologize for doing that? No, it shouldn’t be, in my opinion. Yes it was hurtful – because I felt ashamed.

    I wouldn’t want Tiffany or anyone else to imagine there is anything less than generous and loving character in him. He’s always ready be loving. That’s the benefit of being a respectful wife.

    A great rlsp means looking out for ‘each other’s’ needs, not just him for me. Whatever your thoughts on the very mis-understood word, “submission” – there’s just no healthy marriage without respect for each other and a desire to give your partner, what your partner needs.

  3. Another thing to consider is the picture change may have been coincdental to the timing of the argument. She could bring it up respectfully by mentioning that she noticed around the same time as the argument and asking if they were related. Maybe they really weren’t and she’s feeling bad over a perceived wrong rather than a real one. Just a thought.

  4. Hi April, when i initially read this post the first thing that stuck out to me as well was the word ‘why’, but only because this was addressed at a professional development day I attended recently.

    The presenter modelled this by saying to an audience member “why are you sitting here?”. Instantly the audience member looked uncomfortable and defensive. She then explained that a much better way to ask the question would be to use ‘what’ or ‘when’ questions. For example “when you decided to sit here this morning, what was your reasoning behind that?” or ” What was it that made you sit here this morning, as opposed to selecting a seat at the back?”

    For some reason the question ‘why’ can feel like an attack when dealing with potentially tricky situations.

    Perhaps in the situation above the wife could have said something like “honey, when you rearranged the furniture yesterday, what was it you were hoping to achieve?” or “honey, when will you be able to put the furniture back for me?”

    I love the way the wife but the chair back as a symbol that the marriage peace is so much more important than a position of a chair and that spoke volumes of love and respect to her husband.

    1. Olga,
      That is super helpful! Thanks for sharing the info from your class!

      I know I don’t like it when people ask me, “Why did you…” So I can definitely see how husbands wouldn’t like that word either.

      Yes, I think the wife gave such a selfless gesture of love and respect at the end. Brilliant!

  5. I like April’s advice! She is right about the risk of “adding gasoline to fire.”

    The picture change could be coincidental, but even if it was intentional and a reaction to the argument, it is still not the bigger issue or root cause of the argument.

    If she were to address the photo (“the battle”), theoretically, she could still lose the relationship (“the war”) by not picking her “battles” wisely.

    Choosing to make the picture her main focus would be like trying to put a Band-Aid on her finger before chopping off her hand. If not careful, that choice could cost her both.

    By focusing only on her respect and apology to her husband, she could win the bigger issue (her relationship), and he may decide to change the picture back on his own later. Then, she could have both victories by only addressing the root of the problem.

  6. Thanks for your response April and other commenters. I see now that you only care about the wife’s point of view. By the way I totally agreed with the Facebook picture thing advice. That would just have put more gasoline on the fire already brewed.

  7. I asked my boyfriend and he said that the only time he seems it as disrespectful is when he probably did do something stupid. So… What should I do from there?

    His words were that when I ask “why” questions he sees it as me being curious. Not rude. Not demeaning. Then he said the above thing because I wanted to make sure that it was all out there.

    1. If your particular man isn’t offended by “why” – then don’t worry about it! 🙂 But if he already is feeling bad about what he did and asking why makes him feel disrespected, then might be better to phrase questions differently.

    2. Have you guys been together long? I think sometimes the longer you’ve been together the easier it can be to become offended by somewhat minor things. (they really do see all my faults/weaknesses) That’s why frequent encouraging words and liberally applied grace is so important to a relationship

      1. We have been together almost 2 years. We have known each other for 2 1/2.

        @Peacefulwife: Yeah. I’m going to pray about this and possibly watch in different situations. If it’s genuine curiosity (and he hasn’t done something particularly dumb), then I will probably just continue to my heart’s content like usual. If it is a situation where he might be offended then I won’t. I truly am a curious creature at heart. I’m so glad my man knows that because I try so hard to not offend people but sometimes I just want to ask things. Haha. <3

        1. I think most women are right there with you with the curiosity! Sounds like a good plan. 🙂 If you see him suddenly get angry or withdraw from you – check to ask if you somehow came across disrespectfully. 🙂

  8. I have read your posts and understand certain things. I have been married for 4 years. For 2 years we suffered due to my husband’s wrong judgement, his family and job situation. In that time i have lost respect for him and though i stood by him i blamed him for ruining my life. Since the day we got married he rarely had sex. Now its been 2 years. We have no intimacy. He doesnt talk to me much. I tried to get him to for few months and finally gave up. I wish he would lead me and i follow him but he usually is much slower in thinkin and acting. He is pretty immature too and has lead an overprotected life. My mistake was i used to do everything for him initially. He started acting like my kid and i his mom. I feel like a single mom with a teenager. I have tried to help him and myself but finally after 4 years i am ready to give up. He usually stresses me out. He talks but never acts on anything. These days we both just withdraw and do our own thing now. I dont have a peace or love or intimacy or family relationship with him. I am lost. I used to be optimisitic. He is a pessimist and always brings me down with his negativity in everything. He is a very nervous and scared man. I have become like him now. I dont know wat to do. I have lost my personality completely. I used to be a happy person. These days i have frown lines on my face. I am not myself anymore. I hav bad memory these days. I feel ugly. I jus go through the days. Im only 29 and i feel so old and hopeless. Please advise.

    1. Anonymous,

      Goodness! Such a painful situation. And with things in this kind of miserable condition for so long- it may take a lot longer for you both to heal. Are either of you believers in Christ?

      The good news is – there is great reason for hope! God’s wisdom and His power are plenty able to heal your marriage. But it will take being willing to get rid of your old ways of thinking and embracing God’s ways – even though it will seem counterintuitive to you at first.

      Is there any kind of mental illness, addiction or infidelity going on with either of you?

      Does he have a job now?

      Here’s the bad news. Taking control and doing everything for him forced him into a child’s role in your marriage. BIG MISTAKE. You obviously see it now. Men are not attracted to “an angry mother.” Disrespect and control will turn off just about any man sexually and will cause him to react with anger or stonewalling.

      What it will probably take for him to begin to lead is for you to step down and not get back in the leadership position. This is going to go against everything you want to do. YOu are going to want to take over. He will be infinitely slower than you are at making decisions and taking the lead. That is going to have to be ok! The only way he will learn to lead is if he has to. He is NOT going to rise up and forcefully take over the leadership position. For him to lead, you will have to allow him to have the reins.

      Another wife asked me the same question – about her husband won’t lead and says he doesn’t know whenever she asks him to lead. Here was my response to her:

      Peacefulwife’s response-

      That is how my husband was! It is how most passive husbands are. (I am talking about relationships where there aren’t major issues like alcohol/drug addiction/physical abuse/infidelity/uncontrolled mental disorders) Here are my suggestions – my way is not the only way to be respectful and to honor our husband’s leadership, but it is a place to start.

      Motivating your husband to lead will involve saying something like, “The kids want to go to camp this summer, I think it’s a great idea. But I am going to leave it up to you. I’m putting the papers here on your desk. Thanks so much, Honey!” And then you LEAVE IT. And you don’t touch it again. And you let him be responsible for whatever he does or does not do. No nagging. 🙂

      There will be a LOT of waiting in your future. That has to be ok. If you stand down long enough, he will eventually begin to lead. My husband did! And now he has become a godly, strong, loving, selfless leader! Every time he does lead just a little, praise him and thank him.

      You can even start now thanking him every few days for his God-given leadership in the family and tell him how glad you are that he is the man of the house. I did that! It helped him begin to think of himself as the leader – and I did that for weeks before he made a decision. This will be a SLOW, SLOW process. But it is worth it! It is the path to intimacy with your husband and with God and when you live in obedience to God and the power of His Spirit – you will have His peace and joy every day! IT IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!

      It will feel very foreign to him at first. He will probably be quite unsure of himself. Please offer grace if he messes up. Support his decisions as much as humanly possible. I personally did NOT offer my opinion for the first few months that my husband was learning to begin to lead. I was afraid he would not make decisions for himself because he was so used to me taking over. He wasn’t even used to knowing his own mind. So a lot of times, if a decision came up, I would say, “I trust you to make this decision. Whatever you think is best is fine with me.”

      Stay out of the driver’s seat. Just wait. Wait on your husband. Wait on God. Embrace the concept of waiting!!! It will take many months for him to begin to develop confidence as a leader – maybe years. That’s ok! He is just learning this stuff. The more you can be unflappable when he does make mistakes, the more faith you show in him, the more he sees that you actually trust him – the more he will begin to step up and he will begin to know his own mind and begin to listen for GOd’s voice and begin to actually become a better and better leader. He needs you to cheer him on. And he needs a lot of time.

      If he won’t make a decision, just let him know you are leaving it with him and that you trust him to handle it and don’t bring it up again whenever possible. That might mean he doesn’t call about the job interview. It might mean he doesn’t call his brother. He will have to face the natural consequences of his decisions, maybe for the first time ever – without having you swoop in to rescue him. He will be awkward and very afraid at first. But he has missed out on the opportunities he should have had to learn godly leadership earlier in the marriage. So he is getting a late start. Your trust and willingness to wait – no matter what – will spur him to begin to take ownership and to lead.

      CHeck out this post about respect and sexual attraction

      Also, please read the posts at the top of my home page about disrespect, respect and biblical submission. Let me know what you are thinking and struggling with!
      We can walk this road together. 🙂

      Much love to you!

  9. Here are the verses I use as a basis for my advice – It is my goal to apply these to marriage from a wife’s perspective:

    Ephesians 4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, so that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, just as in Christ God forgave you.

    Matthew 7:1-67 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

    3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    I Corinthians 13:4-84 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

    Romans 12:9-21 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

    14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

    17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]
    21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    Galatians 5:19-2319 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

    Matthew 5:43-48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    I Peter 3:1-6 (THIS IS ESPECIALLY HELPFUL WHEN A HUSBAND IS FAR FROM GOD) Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (From PEACEFULWIFE- I understand the “without words” to be not preaching, nagging, lecturing about the things of God, the Bible, church, spiritual things. A husband in direct rebellion against God cannot hear about godly things from his wife – but he CAN hear her respectful behavior and attitude.)

    Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men there sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

    There are more – but this may be enough to get started on!

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