Both husbands and wives can be mean to each other. This truth is sad as well as a call to mobilize your attitudes and actions to come alongside the erring spouse. How do you do that? How do you care for a mean spouse?
Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
- Mean Wives and Husbands Who Should Love Them
- Diagramming the Heart of the Angry Person
- Forcing Someone to Change Could Blow-up the Relationship
Member Question – I liked your Mean Wives article and was able to benefit from it practically. Would it be possible to turn the article around by talking about mean husbands? How can a woman serve a husband who is manipulative—specifically angry and demanding. I was thinking of someone who wants to honor the Lord by being submissive but does not understand how to practice Galatians 6:1-2 in that context.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2
One of the hardest situations to be in is a place of submission when the person you are to submit to is unkind, uncaring, and unloving. This situation is what Peter was addressing in chapter two of his first letter.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it, you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. – 1 Peter 2:18-20
After Peter lays the groundwork for suffering in a master/servant construct, he gives us the solution, which is how to live out the gospel practically while being persecuted (See 1 Peter 2:21-25). If the gospel is not the functioning foundation for your suffering, you will not be able to endure suffering well.
Peter points us to the gospel (Christ) as the answer as well as the steps (1 Peter 2:21) we are to follow. Practically living out the gospel, as it pertains to unjust suffering, is one of the most challenging things you will ever do.
I suppose the first retort could be that suffering within a relational construct is not unjust, and you are probably right. In most marriages where one person is mean to the other person, there are varying degrees of meanness coming from both spouses.
I do not recall counseling a marriage in trouble where there was an innocent party. There is almost always a “reciprocality effect” of sin, but rather than dissecting who fired the first shot, I am going to stick to the questioner’s question. How do you serve an unkind husband?
It should go without saying, especially if you have spent any time reading my work, that the first thing you must do is examine the log in your eye (Matthew 7:3-5). If you do not start here, anything you try to implement into your relationship will more than likely backfire.
Your Best Life Now
It is so easy to become intimidated, fearful, hopeless, regretful, bitter, angry, and depressed when you believe your marriage binds you to a mean man. The parallel that comes to mind is an unfair prison sentence. Nobody submits to marriage thinking it will be like prison.
But there you sit, locked behind the “bars of your marriage” with no hope of ever being released. And to compound your misery, the warden of your prison is a mean-spirited, manipulating, and unkind person.
The first thing an inmate must do in a situation like this is to embrace the reality of the situation. For the spouse of a mean man, there is a possibility that he may never change (2 Timothy 2:24-25). As hard as it is to hear, that potential is where I would begin.
I know that the possibility of a lack of transformation is not foreign to you. You have thought of it before. The difficulty is accepting that possibility, which rubs hard against what you want.
The truth is that if you begin from any other place than the possibility of a lack of change, you are going to be like Red Redding in Shawshank Redemption, who repeatedly came up to his parole hearing, hoping to be released, only to be disappointed one more time.
Some of you might raise an eyebrow to my negativity. I understand. But if you do not “embrace” the current unchanging reality, you will be set up for daily disappointment until you finally turn into a bitter, angry, and cynical woman.
Jesus asked His Father to let His suffering pass from Him (Matthew 26:39). There was a “momentary thought” that the Father would deliver Him from the suffering that His Father set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). That was Christ’s preference on that soul-crushing night.
Then He decided it would be best to embrace the unchangeable situation. He did. And His acceptance led to more suffering that only escalated until the political authorities crucified Him on a tree.
When I talk about your reality never changing, I am talking about the idea of you hoping for a lifestyle that suits how you think things should be. Desiring a lifestyle to suit your preferences does not make you a bad person; it makes you human.
- Jesus wanted a better life.
- Victoria Osteen also wants a better life.
Jesus and Victoria are similar that way. They both have prayed to God for a better life. The difference between Jesus and Victoria is Jesus had an other-worldly view of what your best life now could look like for Him and His followers.
This tension will be your challenge, too. Do you want to walk in the steps of Jesus or Victoria? Both of them want a good life, but their definitions of “good” are worlds apart.
Do You Have a Superhero Marriage?
Lose Your Life Now
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. – Luke 17:33
Jesus gave up on His desire for how His life could be by embracing the radicalism of the gospel. He adopted a fuller expression of the gospel, which cuts against the grain of humanistic thinking.
You must get to this spot if you want to be free. I know it is hard. I have been there. I have stood on the edge of time and looked into the hopelessness of my future and saw nothing but more of the same—lonely, unchangeable darkness.
The more I “kicked” against it, the more an evil stick stirred the bitterness in my heart. It was when I knelt (literally) and pleaded through many tears for the Lord to forgive me for the angry grumbling that flowed from my disappointed soul, that I began to change.
My idea of good and the Lord’s idea of good were colliding in my situation, and I did not like it. I prayed many times for the Lord to change my circumstances, but He would not budge (2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Job 23:13).
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21
As I practically embraced the call to die, I began to find a new way of living that ultimately set me free. This attitude is your first step, and if you cannot make it to this place, your life will continue to turn into constant shades of disappointment.
Loving from Brokenness
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24
When your heart is indeed broken by the Lord and for the Lord, you are ready to serve the Lord. You cannot give a courtesy nod to this truth; you must experience genuine brokenness that is authenticated by how you respond to your husband.
Paul said in Galatians 6:1-2 that your restorative efforts toward your husband must come from a spirit of gentleness. The only way to have God-given, Christ-magnifying, and Spirit-empowered gentleness toward a difficult person is for you to die to yourself. Dead.
Life comes from death, and if you are not genuinely dead to your agendas and motives, the “presence of Christ” will not see the light of day. If you die, you will produce fruit. The way you can assess your fruitfulness is by taking the fruit test (Galatians 5:22-23). Are you ready to test the genuineness of your death?
Love – Does your husband feel your affection in practical ways? For example, does your body language give off a fragrance of undeserved love toward your husband in a similar way in which you received the undeserved love of Jesus (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:8)?
Joy – Does your attitude manifest a joy that transcends your troubles? The works of God in you are higher (1 John 4:4) than the actions of a mean husband. Which one has more significant power over you?
Peace – Is your soul practically anchored by the peace of God, which like your joy, surpasses human understanding (Philippians 4:7)? How is God’s peace stabilizing you in a dysfunctional marriage?
Patience – The call from Jesus is to forgive forever (Matthew 18:21-22). Perhaps your husband is not asking for forgiveness, but that should not interfere with an “attitude of forgiveness” that you can demonstrate toward him.
Kindness – The most effective way to help your husband change is by being kind to him (Romans 2:4). We are not called to live from an eye-for-an-eye worldview (Matthew 5:38-39). Is your kindness toward your husband consistently greater than your desire to be mean to him (Matthew 5:20)?
Goodness – Are you regularly befuddling your husband by being good? Jesus was a good man, and it was apparent to all. His goodness confused even those who acted out the most heinous things against Him (Matthew 27:3-4).
Faithfulness – The object of your faith will determine the quality of it. Your life is not about a better “faith,” but a better “object.” The strength of your faith is determined by where you have placed it. If your faith is more about a desire for a good marriage, rather than the Lord, your hope will waver every time you are disappointed by your husband. What has the power to interfere with your faith in the Lord?
Gentleness – Your husband’s meanness implies that sin has captured him. You can yell at him if you want to, but Paul’s call is for you to try a gentler approach. Would your husband characterize your attitude and actions toward him as gentle?
Self-control – Anger is not strength, but weakness. Anybody can become sinfully angry with anyone. That takes little power or energy. Some of the weakest people in the world are the most upset. Christians have a power that is over their power, and that kind of power comes from the Lord. Is God’s power stronger than your desire to be angry at your husband?
- How are you doing when measured by this test?
- How do you need to change?
Call to Action
In one sense, it does not matter who the mean person is in your marriage. You may adequately apply these things to either spouse. The appeal to walk in the Spirit, which He affirms by how you live out the fruit of the Spirit is not gender specific.
If your spouse is a mean person, begin addressing what God (god) has the most control over your heart. Either the Lord will be God, or your spouse will be. You will know the answer to that question by the attitudes and actions of your life, as evidenced by how you live out Galatians 6:1-2 and Galatians 5:22-23.
As you address the questions presented, it is imperative for you to remember you were never designed or encouraged to fight the harshness that is in your life alone. Nobody should do this.
If you are struggling in your marriage, find a community—people who will hold you up in prayer and encourage you. There is a chance your spouse will never change, but that does not mean you have to be stuck or that you cannot change.
You can be the freest person in the world, even when bound in chains–even the chains of a marital prison. This worldview is one of the most radical expressions of the gospel.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has served to advance the gospel so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14