I just finished a four day Men’s Intensive for men who have admitted to being emotionally abusive with their wives. Most came reluctantly; some came feeling outright resentment.
“It’s a 50/50 problem,” one man said sharply.
“Sure, we have our work to do,” another began, “but they have their work to do as well.”
“My wife cuts me no slack,” yet another said. “I am supposed to do everything she says and she is hardly listening to me.”
After a moment of silence, a fourth man spoke softly.
“I don’t agree. I’ve found that if I submit to her need, she will submit to my lead. She isn’t going to trust a word I say if I’m still losing my temper, blaming her, and resisting everything she says. She can’t trust me. I’m betting you guys are all in a similar boat. We’ve lost her trust and have to earn it back.”
The room became quiet as they listened to this man. He continued.
“I haven’t protected her heart. When I protect her heart and really listen to what she desperately wants me to hear, when she feels safe, she will follow my lead.”
There are many moments in counseling when I learn more from those I’m counseling than my schooling ever taught me. This man’s words echoed truth. They also echoed Scripture:
“Treat your wife with understanding as you live with her. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3: 7)
Of course, women are not going to follow the lead of a man who clearly is not protecting her heart. Certainly, women will not trust a man who seeks to win every argument, dominate the choices in their marriage, and manipulate her. She cannot settle into a trusting, confident place when she is on guard and frightened. This only makes sense.
“So, do we have to be perfect?” one man asked sarcastically.
“No,” I said. “But you do have to show her, consistently, you will keep her safe from harm. Remember, consistency convinces more than any words.”
“Also remember men, that you are here to work on you. You are here to become the man God wants you to be. You are to love her sacrificially, not keeping score regarding what she is doing. This is an incredible opportunity for you to critically look at yourself, let go of denial, and delve deeply into your emotional issues. I agree with what has been said, that if you submit fully to her need, tending to her heart, she is more likely to follow your lead. But, you all have a ways to go before that can happen.”
“Still doesn’t seem fair,” another man said.
“Actually,” I said, “it is fair, because remember, you’re here because of years of how you’ve treated her. You’re here because you should have been here a long time ago. She has her work to do and she’s been doing it. Now it’s your turn.”
Let’s consider some additional steps on how submitting to her needs helps her follow your lead:
First, you must submit to her need. Submitting to her need means men must understand what she needs, accepting them as legitimate needs to be respected. You stop resisting them, rebelling against them, and pushing through her boundaries about them. You become a “secondary protector” of her needs.
Second, you must create a safe place for her. Women need safety. They are desperate to have their physical, spiritual and emotional needs protected. They cannot grow, feel healthy and alive, unless they feel safe. They need to be safe from chaos, safe from criticism, and safe from emotional abuse.
Third, you must protect her from harm. Women need to be assured that all harm has stopped. They need to know their thoughts, feelings and values will be protected from any harm. They need to know their mate has their back and will speak life into them. They need to know they will never be spoken about negatively to others.
Fourth, you must guard your expectations. Women need their mate to guard their expectations. If you don’t guard your expectations, you won’t be able to manage your frustration. You will be manipulative, expecting a payoff for positive actions. If they sense they must act a certain way, they will walk on pins and needles around you.
Finally, love her. It has been said that love means extending yourself for the welfare of another. Certainly, 1 Corinthians 13 has much to say about how love is to be played out in marriage—where you are to not be self-seeking, but rather seeking to meet her needs. If you meet her needs, she will ultimately, in time, likely follow your lead.
How are you doing at submitting to her needs? Does your wife feel protected, safe and cared for? Would she say it is easy for her to bring concerns to you? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
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