Last week I wrote a post called “His Wife, Not His Mother,” and I heard from many of you about your personal experiences with this scenario. I got an email from a frustrated wife, asking me HOW to stop treating her husband as if he’s a child. As I told her, I don’t know if there’s a one size fits all answer to that question, but I did think of a few ideas that may help her, and I decided to share some of them with you, in case you were also hoping I would get to the how-to at the end of that post.
Give him a little respect.
One of the most important things that a man needs to feel from his wife is respect. I know this sounds very old fashioned, but pick up any marriage book where the writer has surveyed men, and I guarantee that this is the top need that a man has almost every single time. He needs to feel that she respects him as a person, and that she admires him.
Sometimes it’s difficult to express respect toward your husband when you don’t feel that he’s acting very respectably. A few years ago I heard a helpful illustration on this point. There are certain positions that you give honor and respect to, even if the particular person in the position isn’t living up to his potential as a leader. The presidency, for instance. School teachers. Your parents. You offer respect because you have respect for their position, not necessarily for them personally. So, keeping that idea in mind can make it easier to express respect for your husband even before he has earned it. He is your husband and the father of your children, and, according to the Bible, he is the leader of your family. So, even if he isn’t leading particularly well in some areas, you can still show him respect and honor, even if the way you do it is to simply say the words “I respect you,” or “I admire you,” while showing him by not over-criticizing. It’s amazing how something as simple as that can change a man’s attitude.
Create an image of him that he can live up to.
Most people respond better to positive reinforcement than they do to criticism or negativity. For instance, a newlywed couple is just learning how to keep a house. The wife is a terrible cook, as she is just learning. But, her husband goes all over town telling everyone what an amazing cook she is and how he loves it when she cooks for him. This encourages her to keep going, keep working at it, and over time she becomes the amazing cook that he said long beforehand that she was. Alternatively, a young couple gets married, and the husband tells everyone how bad her cooking is and how he would rather have his mother’s or he would rather go get fast food. The criticism discourages her so much that she quits cooking and just spends her time watching Netflix instead. She, too, lived up to what her husband told her and others that she was. I think we all underestimate the power of our words.
Find ways to praise your husband and build him up. Say things that you know COULD be true, even if they aren’t now. Not something outrageous, like, “You’re the best trash taker-outer ever,” if it’s been well-established that he’s terrible at doing that. But, find something else, like telling him what a great dad he is and how much the kids love spending time with him, what a difference he makes in their lives. Then give up on the trash and decide that will be your job or if your kids are old enough, assign the job to them. Then you won’t constantly be disappointed and frustrated and angry that he didn’t take out the trash.
Look for his strengths.
Sometimes it takes many years and lots of work to discover your husband’s real strengths. As women we all have our pet things that we think our husbands should do or should not do. But, many times if we step back and look at other things that he’s doing, we will realize that he is expressing love and respectability in all kinds of ways, just maybe not the ways that we WANT him to.
For instance, I love words of all kinds. As my husband has grown older, he’s gotten less likely to write me a sweet note than he was at 20 years old. As he aged, he started feeling sort of foolish writing love letters. (And, in his defense, he still gives me some of the best love notes ever on occasion.) So, I spent several years being hurt by that. Then one day I realized that he regularly washes my car for me. He mows our yard. He pulls the kids teeth because I hate it so much. He holds me close at night. And, it dawned on me that there were small acts of love all around me that I was missing because he wasn’t doing the one or two things that I thought he should be doing.
So, take a close look at your life and look for those small things that matter more than you are probably acknowledging. I’m saying this to you as someone who spent years blind to all of those little things. Once I opened my eyes, I loved and respected my husband more than ever, and I saw so many ways that he sacrifices that I had never noticed before because I was hung up on one or two issues.
As far as communicating with your husband on a “manly” level, I would suggest being perfectly honest about your dilemma. Tell him that you are worried that he feels you treat him like a child, and that’s the very last way you want him to feel because you respect and honor him as the love of your life. Ask him if he feels that way, and ask him how you could communicate things that you would like for him to help you with without making him feel like you’re nagging or talking down to him. Tell him that you don’t want to act like you’re his mother, but you need help figuring out how to communicate in a way that shows him respect. Just ask him how he feels about it, and ask for specific wording that you can use that won’t make him feel like you’re mothering him. You might be surprised when you hear what he’s thinking.Say good things about him.
And, the all-important rule that will make all of the difference in the world: don’t talk badly about him to others. (I’m not talking about counseling/mentoring conversations.) You are his wife, his biggest cheerleader, his main supporter. The more he hears you heaping praise on him to his face and to others, the more he will want to live up to your expectations of godly manhood. And, don’t let little things like underwear on the floor make you forget about all of the ways that God has blessed you in your marriage.
I hope these ideas will help some of you in your quest to treat your husband like a man instead of a boy. The majority of men want to please their wives. Chances are your husband wants to have a happy, healthy life with you. I know it can be frustrating to be married. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re the only one taking this thing seriously. But, with hard work, prayer, and plenty of communication (and probably some marriage counseling for many of us), chances are good that you can enjoy a long and truly happy marriage.
Praying for you all as you go forward. Don’t get discouraged just because love doesn’t come easy. There’s probably no other area of your life where you are more often called to love like Christ–sacrificially, completely. And, as human beings, that’s tough to live out. But, God can do anything, even in imperfect, childish husbands and imperfect, scolding wives. We are all just sinners who need a Savior.