Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Harbour Lights: What She Needs (Jul-Aug 2002)

Filed under: — @ 6:45 pm and

By Michael Harbour
July-August 2002)

How many marriages do you know about that seem to be muddling through? Valerie called to talk about her frustration about her relationship with John. They have been married for eighteen years. He works hard and is very thrifty. He has saved enough money to provide a nice home and to pay their routine bills. He does not want her to work and she really doesn’t want to work outside the home, either. He does want her to keep the house spotless and to cook for him everyday. Cooking is not her gift. She keeps the house clean, but he is not satisfied with her standard of cleanliness. He has complained repeatedly about the way she does the laundry. In his frustration, John has chosen to do his own laundry for the last several years. Valerie says that he is emotionally distant. She feels nothing from him but contempt. She is a Christian, but John is not very interested in spiritual things. Valerie is unhappy. John is unhappy. If you were in their shoes, what would you do?

Some folks muddle through. Just twenty-five years, more or less, and one of them will die and the grueling trial will be over! Some folks will cut their losses and get a divorce. I have noticed that a lot of people who have been relationally inept have had a whole series of disastrous relationships. One bad marriage leads to another. What would happen if we were willing to re-evaluate our expectations for our marriage? Could we learn better ways? What if Valerie did not need John’s approval in order to be full of joy? What if John recognized that Valerie was never going to replace his mother?

If John were a Christian, I would tell him that God’s expectation for him as a husband is that he chooses to love Valerie. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not rude. Love is not selfish, or easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs. I would tell John about the Scripture that says, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus did not and does not love his church because we are so good. His love is sacrificial. His love takes the initiative, too.

What does Valerie need? If John were to give himself up for her, what would that look like? I have not seen a better list of needs than that provided by Willard Harley in His Needs/Her Needs. John’s frustration is sending a steady signal to Valerie that says, “You are a failure. You are not worthy. You are a disappointment to me.” John does not love his wife with his words or his deeds.

Valerie needs a different message. How would she feel if John called her in the middle of her day at home to say that he was thinking about her, that he was loving her, today? How would she feel if he came home with joy in his heart and gentle kiss and sweet embrace? What if he helped her in the kitchen both before and after dinner, like he used to do when they were falling in love? What if they went for a walk after dinner, holding hands through the neighborhood? How might her outlook for the next twenty-five years be changed?

She needs more than romantic affection, too. She needs him to share his hopes and dreams and fears with her. Valerie told me that she does not feel like John needs her for anything. She says, “He is a good man, but a lousy husband.” He goes to work. He saves money. He brings his sullen self home every night. He seems to love the children, but has no use for Valerie. His heart is closed. There is no partnership in the journey. What if John shared his feelings with Valerie? It would be dangerous at first. He is disappointed that Valerie is not willing or able to be a mother for him. However, if he would express that, she could say that she is sorry that God has not made her that way. She could say that she is not being obstinate, but that she is, alas, who she is. She could say that she will do her best, and that will have to be enough. What more could she do than her best?

Valerie also needs some sense of financial security. John gives her either ten or twenty dollars a week in discretionary money. He has solitary control over all of the family resources. He seems to handle it well, except for the fact that Valerie feels small. There is a roof over her head. There is food to prepare. However, she has no freedom because she has no means. She is ready to go back to work, except that John wants her at home. The situation smacks of slavery rather than love. “Husbands love your wives as Christ love the church, and gave himself up for her.” Jesus never coerces the church. He holds us loosely in his loving hands. Love does not envy and does not fear. Love always trusts. If John wanted to do the right thing for Valerie, he would share the wealth and set her free. If John won’t do this, Valerie needs to get a job!

Is there a chance for this marriage to live happily ever after? Their only chance is love. Without Jesus-style love, this will be an unhappy road. Do you know any marriages that are muddling through? There is a more excellent way!

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