I believe that for our husbands, shame is often a very serious issue.
Shame can deepen and become entrenched in a man’s heart to the point that it becomes extremely toxic – total imprisonment. When a man is feeling shame, he will generally retreat into himself to protect himself from exposure.
Sin is always progressive – it all snowballs and gets bigger and more destructive.
As Greg, my husband, shared with me the research he has been doing about shame in a man’s life, I was struck by how many men probably experience shame and by how paralyzing and isolating shame can be for a man.
A Common Pitfall for Men—Shame
Greg said that when a man becomes increasingly trapped in shame, other men generally do not reach out to them – because that would be “unmanly” to imply to another man that you think he needs help.
Men tend to wait for other men to ask for help – but to ask for help is seen as “weakness.” And then there is the issue that there are not too many men who are well-equipped to help a man through the healing process for shame even if they did want to help someone.
So – many men feel completely trapped by shame over their sins, shame over not being “man enough” at home, at work, at church, or shame over their failures (real or perceived).
A number of our men feel shame simply for being men in our culture today. They are told they should feel, think, and act like women. And when they don’t – they hear a clear message that they are “wrong” or “evil.”
What an incredibly awful place to be! To think that just by existing and being masculine as God designed them to be – they are seen as being “wrong.” (I am not talking about sin here, but just masculinity in general.)
This absolutely breaks my heart!!!!! I don’t want ANYONE to be isolated and trapped like this, feeling that they are completely alone in the world and unable to break out of that snare.
Interestingly, the cure for a man’s shame, in Greg’s research – is vulnerability.
The Most Important Thing for Wives to Understand about Men and Shame
If a man can become vulnerable and open with someone he trusts who is safe – he can begin to heal from his shame and find hope. The place a man is most likely to look for help and healing is his wife.
But the clincher is – a man will NEVER be vulnerable with someone who disrespects him. Why would he share the deepest parts of his heart with someone who seems bent on doing him harm?
Greg told me,
“a man would rather be unknown than to be known for his weaknesses.”
We wives long for our husbands to be vulnerable and open with us. We long for them to share their hearts. But – if we are disrespecting them (even unintentionally) – we are communicating a clear message that we are not safe and that they cannot open up to us.
Unfortunately, our disrespect can block one of the best paths to healing a man might be able to find. If a man believes that his wife is not safe and no man will help him – but there is another woman at work or somewhere who admires him and accepts him – what a recipe for disaster.
Most men do not have close guy friends. We may be the only one who could offer them a ladder to get out of the deep hole in which they find themselves.
Will we throw a rope to them to help them, or will we shovel in more dirt over them and bury them alive?
When a man feels completely trapped in shame over a long period of time, he may eventually “snap” and lash out in really destructive and sinful ways toward himself, his wife, and others (sometimes this comes as something like a “mid-life crisis”).
Ultimately – men need the same thing women need – a relationship with God through the healing that only Jesus can offer!
Ways Wives Can Make Things Worse for Husbands Stuck in Shame
We can push our husbands deeper into the mire, deeper into hopelessness/despair, and further away from Christ:
- be negative about him and to him
- complain about him
- argue with him
- punish him
- shame/scold/condemn him
- mother him
- tell him he is not good enough, not “man enough,” that he needs to, “man up”
- have a critical, judgmental spirit
- be bitter
- refuse to forgive
- think or say, “He doesn’t deserve my respect!”
- be needy and clingy
- make our husband into an idol – expect them to meet the big God-sized needs that only Christ can meet in our souls
- demand our husband abide by our own personal convictions
- manipulate him
- hate him, hold him in contempt
- be cold
- tell other people our husband’s faults and weaknesses
- humiliate and embarrass him in public
- refuse sex or demand sex (refusing sex to a husband who wants it, demanding sex from a husband who feels too pressured/disrespected)
- try to control him
- be afraid and freak out a lot
BOTTOM LINE: if we are sinning against our husbands or against God – we may inadvertently compound our husband’s pain and shame.
Ways We Bring Healing, Hope, and Help to an Emotionally/Spiritually Wounded Husband:
- abide in Christ and be filled with His Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control)
- know our identity in Christ
- extend grace
- extend forgiveness
- share the good things we see – the things we truly admire and respect (usually briefly – i.e.: a sentence or two per day or per week)
- if our husbands are open to us talking about spiritual things, we can share the hope that is in Christ – that He takes away all of our guilt and shame – and that in Him, there is abundant spiritual life available. There is a fountain of Living Water. They can have God’s Spirit and the fruit of His Spirit. They can have wholeness, healing, purpose, godly power, and God can transform them to be more like Christ and make them mighty warriors in His kingdom for His glory!
- be vulnerable ourselves – sharing our feelings, desires, and needs – softly, respectfully, humbly, gently
- be honest but in a respectful way, considering our husbands’ needs and feelings
- refuse to build walls ourselves
- be able to hear hard things – even when we don’t agree
- not demand perfection, but accept our men are human – just like we are
- be willing to be flexible and try to understand our men’s very different perspectives
- receive any wisdom our husbands may have to share
- appreciate anything our husbands do for us to show their love – even if it is nor our favorite way of receiving love
- keep our husbands’ faults, failures, and weaknesses to ourselves and be trustworthy and loyal by keeping confidences (unless there are really serious issues going on, then we must reach out for help, but only to appropriate, trustworthy counselors and sources)
- choose our closest friends/advisors wisely (to be sure that they will honor and respect our husband and marriage and point us to God’s truth in the Bible, not worldly wisdom)
- tear out every root of bitterness
- accept them (not to say we accept sin, but we can accept our men and not try to change them)
- affirm them and build them up (in sincerity, not in a fake or manipulative way)
- give them the space they need to process and grow
- trust and begin to follow their leadership, understanding that it will take time for them to learn to become strong leaders (unless there are really serious issues like abuse, unrepentant infidelity, uncontrolled mental health disorders, etc.. where trust would need to be rebuilt first)
- trust God’s sovereignty in the marriage
- smile that beautiful smile that lights up the whole room – and makes him feel like a million bucks
BOTTOM LINE: if we are seeking to allow God to transform and regenerate our souls and we are living in the power of God’s Spirit and walking in holiness and obedience to Him – we can be an instrument in God’s hands to bring healing and hope to our men.
We lift up our husbands and our brothers in Christ who are trapped in shame and who can’t see the way out. Open their eyes to You! Open their eyes to what Jesus has done for them. Let them turn to Him and be healed and bring them up out of the pit! Let them fully submit themselves to Christ as Lord and become the godly men, the holy generation, that You call them to be for Your glory!
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Galatians 6:1-5