The insecure husband and critical wife is a complex relational problem but not one without a gospel solution. This case study and Mind Map will carefully walk you through how to untangle this marriage problem.
You may want to read:
- The Insecure Wife Who Lives With a Harsh Husband
- Read Rick’s 31-Day Marriage Devotional
- Communication – Redeeming Talk Trouble
Biff and Mable married 21 years ago. They have three teenaged children, boy, boy, girl. They attend a Reformed church in town. Both Biff and Mable are active members of their local church. And they do not like each other. Mable is a nag and Biff is insecure. It doesn’t matter–at this point–who fired the first shot; the reality of the situation is they are hardly in love and have been doing marriage-by-rote for a long time.
It is not that they can’t stand each other. If you asked Biff and Mable on a good day, they would tell you that they are in love. That’s what they periodically put on their Facebook status updates.
If you don’t look too deep into their marriage and don’t ask too many probing questions, you would not know they have this low-grade anger and unforgiveness that runs under the surface of their lives.
In many ways, they are representative of a million couples who name the name of Christ. They are under-discipled. They entered the church, plugged into the ministries they wanted to plug into, and no one asked them hard questions about who they are.
The problem with this kind of pragmatic approach to church ministry is that the accumulative effect of unresolved sin in people can destroy marriages, families, and pockets of the local church (if not the entire church), not to mention the defaming of God’s name.
Per usual or as these things tend to go, Biff got caught in sin. Interestingly enough, Mable did not want out of the marriage. She wanted him to get help because of “how this might look on them at the church.”
They came to counseling. During one of our counseling sessions, I built a Mind Map of their problems, as we were talking. Here is a reconstructed version of that Mind Map.
Breaking Down the Mind Map
Idolatry Cluster – In the upper left-hand section of the Mind Map, you will notice an idolatry cluster. This cluster is how Biff rolls. See the series of “I need to be…significant, appreciated, respected, loved,” etc.
All of these cravings are mostly the same. It is eight ways to say the same thing. The reason I put eight of them on the map was because I knew that all of them would not resonate with Biff equally.
Usually, it is best to communicate in synonyms. I could have asked, “Do you desire for your wife to honor you?” Maybe he would have said, “No.”
So I said the same thing, eight different ways. Biff noted how all of them were desires that he wished his wife would meet. Unfortunately for Biff, these unmet desires had escalated in his heart to demands.
It was even more unfortunate that his wife would not see these things, which is why the arrow is pointing from “wife” to Biff’s eight cravings. She chose stubbornness over building up her husband. She was tenaciously harboring and exercising a critical spirit toward him.
Biff had unwittingly set his wife up to be “god” in his life. I told him,
When cravings for respect, love, significance, acceptance, and appreciation begin to control your heart, you are dependent on the person you expect these things from to satisfy your longings. Your unguarded desires make that person your “god.”
Un-cooperating god – The bad news for Biff is that his god was not cooperating. She was not only refusing to meet his cravings with him, but she was tearing him down by her critical spirit.
It is one thing to be on fire, but exponentially worse when someone throws gas on your burning body. Biff was on fire and out-of-focus. Rather than aligning his mind to the truths of the gospel, he was putting the fire out through ungodly means.
Anger – Initially, Biff would resort to anger as a way of manipulating his wife. He would yell at her for a while, and she would cow down and become more cooperating.
His method was not a long-term fix. Sadly, Biff was a lazy man who was looking for immediate results. Lazy people use lazy means to accomplish selfish desires.
Porn – Biff used porn as his secondary thirst quencher when anger no longer worked. Porn is also a lazy man’s relief. He knew he could beckon the cyber ladies to his aid.
Though his wife would not cooperate, porn was a “risk-free,” slam dunk absolute. These ladies always appreciated him. When brutish tactics like anger didn’t gain him the respect he craved, he went to his “go to girls.”
Biff’s secondary thirst quencher is why they were in counseling.
The Critical Wife – I’m not sure if most women understand how detrimental a critical spirit is to a husband. The power of the wife is in her tongue. In a matter of seconds, she can build him up or tear him down. She has the strength to do this.
Guys are not as strong as the American egotistical image would like for us to believe. Guys are sinners too, and they have weak egos. Though the critical wife is not the cause of Biff’s sin, she can compound his pre-existing challenge to reorient his mind to the gospel.
In the case of Mable, she has unresolved hostility toward her husband. There are many things in 21-years of marriage that she has not come to terms with regarding how they relate to each other. Some of them are her fault, while some belong to Biff.
Rather than dealing with the problems like a mature Christian, on occasion, she says hurtful things to Biff. Her bitterness comes out through the cutting harshness of her tongue.
Sin Is a Context for Grace – When Mable is unkind to Biff, he has a choice. Though there is “temporary hurt” from her words, he has the option of sulking in his sinful desires or realigning his heart to the gospel.
The bottom section of the Mind Map highlights this. Biff typically chooses one of three options:
- He can let hurt overcome him, preferring to respond in anger. Anger, of course, sets the stage for another battle royal. Each time he gets angry, his wife responds in kind. She, like Biff, feels justified: you sinned, therefore I can sin against you. It’s an endless loop of “reciprocal sinning” that cannot end well; not until one of the combatants presses the “I’m gonna be a Christian right now” button.
- He can let hurt overcome him, but soon afterward plead for God’s mercy. If he does this, there will be grace for his sin. Grace appropriation will not only release him from his sin, but it will allow him to serve his wife, to help her work through her sinful attitudes.
- He can immediately apply the gospel to his life and begin an immediate process of helping his wife so she can grow into Christian maturity.
Typically, Biff will sulk if his wife does not stroke his “eight idol cluster.” Then he will respond in anger. If his wife does consent, everything is pushed back down to their usual low-grade “anger and unforgiveness marriage” that they present to their unsuspecting friends.
Of course, there is never a resolution through this sinful process because the gospel is never authentically and practically applied to their marriage. Biff and Mable do not know how to do this. And their friends either do not care or don’t know how to be a friend at this level of redemptive relationships.
The center section of the Mind Map (in red) is the solution to this marriage mess. Neither Biff nor Mable are living according to the inheritance given to them through the gospel.
The Gospel Says – There is nothing anyone can say or do to Biff that is worse than what the gospel has already declared about Biff. The gospel says that Biff stunk–to high heaven. He wreaked to the core. He was the worst of the worst.
Biff was a lowdown, dirty, rotten sinner, without hope of ever being rescued. He was declared guilty by God, and eternal torment in hell was his destiny. Biff was a helpless, hopeless wretch of a person.
It is too bad that Biff cannot fully grasp this declaration of the gospel. His craving for reputation mutes this gospel declaration. He does not, cannot, and will not see that the pathway to freedom is found by cognitively grasping his depraved ruination before God Almighty.
The Gospel Says – If Biff could understand this kind of counterintuitive thinking and own it as his own, the insults of others would not gain the crippling access of his mind. I asked him,
Why do other people’s words, insults, or accusations bother you, in light of this gospel truth?
The answer to the question is that the truths of the gospel do not resonate with Biff. He has an intellectual understanding of the gospel, but he does not have an authentic, experiential application of the gospel.
I’m not saying that Biff is not a Christian. I am assuming, minimally, the gospel has not affected him the way it should biblically have an impact on a Christian.
The Gospel Says – The ironic thing about Biff’s cravings is that he already possesses, as a Christian, all of the things he craves from his wife. Because Biff is “in Christ,” all the longings of his soul are satisfied by Christ, which is another kind of declaration of the gospel.
Rather than resting in this declaration of the gospel, Biff is reaching for the fruit that can never satisfy. His insatiable longings for approval are only satiated in Christ alone.
Biff needs to repent to the core of his being. He needs to identify what these sinful longings are and fling himself on God’s mercy seat. Furthermore, he needs to invite a few trusted friends into his life so he can walk them through his sin and how it works out in his life.
Biff needs to be spiritually aggressive to neutralize and kill the sin that has gripped him for so long. His sin has sinfully caught him, and he should not be satisfied with rote praying or cursory repentance.
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
The Gospel Asks – “Why doesn’t my maturing relationship with Christ satisfy and even overpower my sinful cravings?” Biff must ask this question and apply the answer because he has a pronounced worship disorder.
To date, he has been out-of-focus, blaming part of his sin on his wife, his upbringing, and other things. He has not fully owned his sin, which is a common side effect of insecure people.
He is already insecure, so to own personal sin is to push him further down into his insecurity. But to appease him by not speaking the truth to his life is gospel-short-sightedness. The gospel is near Biff; it is at the door of his heart and knocking.
My appeal to him would be to open his eyes to the reality of the situation. It’s time to stop blaming and to start owning. It’s not his wife, though she needs to repent too. It is Biff who requires divine intervention.
My prayer is that he will ask the Spirit to help him to discern the brokenness as outlined in this Mind Map and to engage the community of faith to help him overcome his sin for the glory of God.
Call to Action
- Are you insecure? How does it play out in your marriage?
- Are you more controlled by what your spouse is or is not doing, or are you more controlled by the benefits of the gospel?
- Is your spouse insecure?
- Are you helping or hindering your spouse from overcoming this sin problem?