Too many times I run into wives who live in fear of their husbands. This damages the institution of marriage by destroying bonds between spouses and setting a horrible example for children of either sex. If people only realized that whatever they do to their wife, they do to God as well. I have to admit that i am quick to anger when I perceive a spouse as mistreated. The following experience left me with an interesting perspective. I’ll be less quick to judge from initial appearances in the future, even though this is likely the exception not the rule.
The other day I was picking up dinner at a Chinese take-out place when a woman walked in accompanied by her husband and two small children. He was both rude and overbearing from the start, barking orders at his bedraggled wife like a drill Sargent. There was fear in her eyes as she stammered out the order and paid the bill. Her hands shook as she signed the slip, and the attendant disappeared into the kitchen. The husband told her gruffly to wait for the food and left. The little girls sat next to her and tried to comfort her. She hung her head and started to cry. I had at least 10 more minutes to wait myself and my heart was torn. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help and she said, “would you pray for my husband? I’m Catholic, but I don’t know how much more I can take…”. The words flowed like a river, I guess helping was just listening that day.
Turned out they were new in town, and things had gone downhill after her husband had lost a good job to downsizing right after returning from a long deployment to the Middle East, and was now doing any job he could. It had taken a huge toll on him, as it does everyone, and as things spiraled downward so did his attitude towards her. She was in that horrible place where she saw a side of him that he had kept hidden for the prior 5 years and she felt a sense of loss and grief. She professed that she still loved him, but she sure didn’t like him anymore. Apparently he had not resorted to physical violence, but she was sure that that was just an employment rejection or two away. With a determined look in her eyes, she looked at me and said – “he just needs a job that can support us, just a job Lord, then he’ll be a man again.”
Deeply empathetic, she realized the core problem for him was his employment search failures and fear of loss. He was squeezing his family so tightly that he was strangling the life out of his marriage. It was after hours for the church, and they had a place to stay for the week and some money but their order wouldn’t feed them and the children a decent meal. He had gone outside to return a call from a potential employer. I pulled out my phone and gave her the number of a local deacon that could help, the location of the adoration chapel, and the pastors personal cell phone number and my name to use when and if she called either. I let her know about catholic charities and their job placement. She dried her eyes, brightened up, and looked more like a person. My order was up and her husband returned as I went to the counter. The little girls were demanding “Chinese Chicken” and French fries which they had not ordered due to strict budgeting, and they had not relented until the father came in and the mother quickly quieted them so I slipped a 10$ bill to the attendant to make a “mistake” and then insist they keep the extra Chicken and fries. Then I left… Feeling troubled.
I’ve stewed over it quite a bit, the more I thought on it the more I realized there was something about the encounter – a lesson for all of us. For her, the pain was in seeing the man she loved descend into a personal hell and tormented by feelings of inadequacy. I suspect he was trying to protect her by overreacting and trying to project strength and control. I suspect his pride was all he thought he had left, and while his wife desperately tried to be there, he pushed her away in his shame over his inability to reliably provide. Instead of pulling together, he was pulling them apart. I also noted that she asked me to pray for him, not herself – and I did. Hoping that it was in God’s plan to help him find a job. I also hoped that they called Father after they ate, but one never knows.
I do know one thing – being a Catholic husband is an awesome responsibility, and it encompasses far more than an obligation to provide for your family. They look to you for leadership, and love. If you show fear or desperation then they no longer feel safe. If you show anger then they feel threatened and will eventually resent you. If you show hope and love in adversity you can make an impression that lasts a lifetime, and more importantly you must allow yourself to be loved and comforted. The world is not just on your shoulders but on both your shoulders – there is no shame or failure in sharing the burden with your other half, it is far more honorable to do so than to collapse under the weight of a burden you cannot bear and forcing the whole burden onto your wife and children along with your own issues of inadequacy.
Control is something a husband should exercise over himself. His family should feel love and respect for him, never fear of him. Lashing out solves little when directed at your wife, what you do to her you also do both to yourself and to God. What they need to see is an inner light breaking though the cracks in you, and if you cannot muster that – then at the least the strength of your love for them. Though I didn’t agree with the fact that he was emotionally mistreating his wife, I did admire that he understood and took seriously his responsibility to her and those children. It seems to be a rarity in this world sometimes. I also admired just how persistent he was being in his search for employment, but I admired the wife more. She suffered as I imagine a saint might, gentle and doing her best while bearing both his suffering and her own. She remembered that she LOVED him, and made the choice to continue doing so even though she disliked him at this moment. She recognized he was in pain, understood why, and did her best to forgive his transgressions and sooth him as he would let her. She knew that he was questioning both his manhood and his worthiness to be her husband through this tribulation, and she prayed and asked for prayers – not for herself but him. If only he would have let her in, she could have shared that strength with him.
With the husband, I understand very clearly. I have been where that man was – but my wife and I worked together and prospered in spite of adversity. She bolstered my spirits and kept me positive the whole time – because I let her in. I have to tell you, that telling my wife I had been laid off ranks as one of the hardest things I ever did. I drove around the block twice working up the courage and composure to relay the news. In the end I was ashamed of myself that I ever feared her reaction. She was my rock and a font of good and level headed counsel, some of which I didn’t want to hear. She was right too. She told me that God never closes a door without opening a window, and we were not terribly religious then. God didn’t seem to mind, and he watched over us anyway – just as he watches over all his children. In weathering this storm of life we grew closer together and learned a great deal about each other.
God made married couples as partners in life and I realized that our relationship with God is the same way, if we cannot let our wives share our burdens and ease our pain, then how can we hope to have God do so either? I’m wondering how varied the experiences of others have been on this subject, please comment if you have one you would like to share.
**Please feel free to write or comment on this post, I’d really like to hear from those that are able to have this experience and how it is changing their marriage, their wives, and their lives.