We all see it over and over, not just in Christian marriages, but actually happening in church! How can a woman be nodding along to a sermon and singing praises to God one minute, and then scold her husband for having another cup of coffee the next minute – in front of strangers? As we discussed in the last post, this shouldn’t be.
But this raises a related question: As Christian women trying to be godly wives, when we see other women – even Christian women – doing this, what should we do? Even if we don’t talk negatively about our husbands, does staying quiet when others do imply that we approve of it?
Let’s start here: Our culture has normalized the image of women talking negatively about their husbands – gathered together in gossip circles and even publicly scolding them. Sadly, not only have women bought into this image, but many men have as well. Many men have been emasculated to the point where they will accept this from their wives – even if it happens right in front of them.
If we look carefully, we’ll often see our men exchange knowing glances when one’s wife starts in. It’s that “sorry, buddy, but I’m glad it’s not me” look. Or the “you know how it is” look. Or the “thank goodness she’s not my wife” look. Is that really what we want to be? More to the point: Do you want people to feel bad for your husband because he’s married to you? Do you want to be the reason other men pity him? If so, scold, nag, and degrade him in front of others. If not, don’t.
Because our culture normalizes this sort of public chastisement – nearly encourages it, really – it’s very easy to do. However, “don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” (James 4:4)? We shouldn’t look like the world. Our marriages shouldn’t look like the world’s marriages.
So: what if we didn’t “conform any longer to the pattern of this world”? What if instead we were “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s]” (Romans 12:2)? This world and its prince (the devil: John 12:31, 14:30, & 16:11) want to sabotage Christian marriages. The devil wants to make our Christian marriages look just like every other marriage. And you know what? For the most part, he’s doing a great job.
If we can change this culture of scolding and nagging and griping, if women and men can see that we don’t have to accept “normal” for our marriages, our marriages can be transformed.
But we have to make a choice. A conscious, repeated choice to change this culture of complaining by choosing something better. In the Bible we have the illustration of serving two masters – they will eventually conflict, and we will have to choose a side. We can’t serve God and money, for instance (Matthew 6:24). We also can’t serve God and our sinful desires (such as complaining about our husbands to others). In the Bible we’re told our sin nature and God’s Spirit in us are always conflicting (Galatians 5:17). We have to, in God’s power, deny our sin nature and choose instead to follow His Spirit. And to be clear, choosing God is not a natural choice; it is a supernatural one, a choice for something (and Someone) better than normal.
One reason it’s so difficult not to engage in this sort of behavior is that it seems like everyone else is complaining about her husband. As women, it’s so tempting to jump into that conversation. We like to relate verbally. But remember: To have the marriages God wants for us, we must give up this fake intimacy with these women for true intimacy with our husbands. This is a choice we have to make.
Remember: We can be different. We can be the light.
Being the light, of course, looks different depending on the audience. I’m not suggesting that you start lecturing your non-Christian friends about their attitudes towards their husbands (1 Corinthians 5:12). But I am suggesting that you steer conversations towards positive aspects of our husbands. If a friend is having real problems (and some of my friends have), obviously you need to listen and help; but if he won’t fix the garbage disposal, the topic can be changed. And, above all, do NOT join in the griping. This is the biggest thing: Don’t join in. Let her see that your marriage is different. Let her see that there is a way for marriages to be happy. You don’t have to say it directly (unless you feel led to); instead, let your life, your attitude toward your husband speak for itself.
Among Christian women, however, I think we need to be more intentional. Steering conversations away from complaints about our husbands is a good start – but also prayerfully consider asking questions that get more to the heart of the matter, such as “This sounds like a long-term problem. Have you and Bob sought counseling? How has God spoken to you about this during your quiet time with Him?” Etc. Again, I’m not saying you need to lecture her – in fact, this is rarely the best approach – but I would prayerfully consider trying to help her turn to the right resources, whatever those might be in her situation: a pastor, a Christian counselor, her husband (often real communication between husband and wife can fix these issues), and especially God (He should be her source of strength and wisdom). Again, above all, do NOT join in the griping!
I’m not saying we all have to suppress our problems and pretend everything is perfect. In fact, I think that sort of fake happiness is really damaging to the church. I think it prevents people from openly addressing their struggles, and I think it makes many of those struggles worse. But there are ways we can help. For those of you who are in happy, Christian marriages, you might consider talking to your husband about how much he’s comfortable with you sharing with women who are struggling in their marriages. If the two of you have overcome certain struggles, you may have opportunities to be invaluable resources to couples who are currently struggling. It can help those couples to know that people have faced similar problems and made it through. Spend some time talking to your husband and thinking about how God led you through your difficult time. Consider what you might be able to share with a woman whose marriage is struggling. Remember: The idea here is to keep the focus on the real solution (God) and to build our husbands up in the process.
While it’s important for Christian women to help other Christian women, it’s also important for churches to be brave enough to speak up when there’s a problem. Women complaining about their husbands is a problem. The church shouldn’t be afraid to call it a problem just because some women might not like to hear that. Yes, that message might make some women uncomfortable or angry. But honestly, the sermons and Sunday school lessons that make me the most uncomfortable and irritated are usually the very ones I need to hear.
I think the reason some of us are hesitant to face problems head on is that, as Christians, we’re to love one another – and too often we translate “love one another” into “don’t cause anyone to be uncomfortable.” But truly loving a friend doesn’t mean overlooking serious problems and destructive tendencies in her marriage so she doesn’t get mad at us. Allowing a marriage to be unhappy (and potentially fail) because we’re afraid we might upset someone is cruel. And let’s face it: It’s usually our own comfort we’re looking out for. I like talking to my friend. I don’t want to jeopardize that friendship. Trying to truly help her might (at least initially) make her mad at me. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable. So we just watch the show.
Most of us have heard some variation on this: To not share Christ with others is like holding a life raft on the shore and not throwing it to them – choosing to watch them drown while holding the very thing that could save them. Watching a friend’s marriage fail is similar. You see her going down a destructive path. You know she needs to turn around. But you let her go. You choose to watch your friend’s marriage fail while holding the very thing that could save it.
These are touchy subjects, and anything we say to others about these topics requires prayerful consideration. But we must remember: Women complaining about their husbands to others is a problem. We can’t stay neutral on this topic. The default position on this in our society (and sadly, in most churches) is that it’s okay. If we don’t share that opinion, there may be a time when we have to speak up. In Scripture we’re told:
Proverbs 17:4: A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue. [When we listen to this type of talk, we’re complicit in the behavior. We’re giving our approval.]
Proverbs 18:8: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. [We will internalize what’s being said. And while, if our marriages are strong, listening to other women degrade their husbands isn’t likely to make our marriages fall apart, listening to this type of talk is still unhealthy for us and our marriages.]
The other thing we have to remember is that there is a solution to this problem of women complaining about their husbands to others. The marriages around us can be happier. We just have to be careful to learn what our role in that may be. In Scripture we’re told:
Proverbs 15:23: A man finds joy in giving an apt reply — and how good is a timely word! [A good reply to a situation is good for everyone involved!]
Proverbs 26:20: Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. [Don’t be the wood on this fire. By standing and listening, we’re fueling the fire.]
Proverbs 31:26: She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. [The Proverbs 31 woman is wise when she speaks. She instructs others faithfully. Notice this does not say she silently disapproves of sinful behavior. It also doesn’t say that she stands in the town square and randomly decries various sins. Instead, we’re given a much more intimate picture: That of a woman wisely, faithfully instructing others.]
So, the challenge this week is not to confront the next woman you hear talking negatively about her husband. The challenge this week is to ask God how He might use you to help His vision for Christian marriages be realized. And remember, this starts with your own marriage. We’ve got to get the planks out of our eyes before addressing the specks in others’ (Matthew 7:3-5). But if, by God’s grace, you’ve made some progress in this regard, it may time to consider: Does He want you to broach this subject with a close friend who is always negative about her husband? Does He want you to bring it up in a women’s class you attend or lead at church? Maybe you lead a small group of high school girls and He wants you to discuss this topic with them, to help them prevent the problem in their own future marriages? Maybe He wants you to begin thinking about this topic to prepare you for a time when a daughter or friend or co-worker asks you a question about it? I don’t know what His task for you will be. But He knows. Ask Him!
Next week: (remaining) Thankful
Want to read more?
Start of the wife series: (becoming) a godly wife
Start of the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted
Start of the stewardship series: (becoming) a good steward
Start of the role model series: (becoming) a role model, part one
Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one
Start of the Proverbs 6 series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6
Start of the Christmas series: (becoming) peaceful
Are you a worrier? Try this post: (becoming) less of a worrier