Thursday, March 12, 2009


Since it is Lent, I thought it might be interesting to take a moment to write about temptations that interfere with a woman's vocation as a wife. No, don't worry; I'm not going to delve into the kind of deep marital issues that lead couples to counseling, retreats, and prayer, because while those sorts of things ought to be discussed, perhaps, they're not really subject matter for a simple blog post, and I haven't the sort of expertise necessary to write about them.

Instead, I want to talk about a few temptations that beset us wives from time to time, in the context of trying to be good wives to our husbands. Some of these I've experienced myself, while others I've only observed, but in any case I think they're the sort of things that are fairly common, and that can get in the way of good intentions to live as devoted wives.

My male readers may want to skip over this post. Or they may want to keep reading; perhaps to gain a little insight into certain struggles females can, on occasion, deal with.

Temptation One: Treating Him like One of the Children

In this temptation, the wife is, perhaps, a little exasperated by some minor, but perhaps repetitive, displays of what some might call Intentional Male Helplessness Syndrome on the part of her spouse. Perhaps he leaves his clothes draped on the end of a chair, or perhaps he, the king of most household technology, is thwarted by the moat called the "washing machine." Perhaps he wanders into the kitchen on Saturday and asks, "What's for lunch, dear?" oblivious to the fact that each of the children over the age of three has successfully made himself/herself a sandwich.

Giving into the temptation to see her husband as one of the children, perhaps a little older than the baby, the wife takes care of all these little things for him--but then she starts to assume that he really can't do anything without her (except for his job, of course, but that's different). From a little mild spoiling of the sort that's usually good for a marriage, she drifts into the character of a nursery governess, scolding him for drinking directly out of cartons, nagging him for leaving dirty socks on the floor, and adopting a tone with him that is partly annoyed, partly indulgent--not unlike the tone she uses with the toddlers in the family. This is not, of course, the best way to reinforce to the children the idea that Daddy is the head of the family; they may start to think of Daddy as a kind of uber-child who gets away with things even more than they do.

Temptation Two: Treating Him like a CEO

I think this temptation occurs when a wife reaches a point of "decision burnout." She's asked to make decisions for other people all day long: what should Billy wear today, how should Janet do her hair, what does Martin want for breakfast (a vast mystery that even Martin seems unable to discern), what time should Genevieve leave to get to her art lesson, what can be done to help Sylvia improve in math, and on and on and on. By the time one of the children has asked her to decide what color socks he ought to wear while another is pleading to know what book she should spend the afternoon reading, Mom no longer wants to make any decisions. Ever.

So she starts deferring to her husband, demanding that he decide on matters that pertain to the family and the household. Note: this isn't the same as asking for his input; a wife who plans to put new curtains in the kitchen should do her husband the courtesy of asking if he has some general opinions as to the color or type, perhaps. But when a wife treats her husband like a CEO, she starts expecting him to make decisions for her, and will not, for example, change the curtains at all unless she can pin him down to a decision involving the amount of money she ought to spend and what ought to be done with the old ones.

Moreover, she will start using Daddy's absence to put off making decisions at all. The children may ask all they like about weekend plans, desires for recreation, etc., but Mom's one answer will be "We'll have to ask Daddy." Pretty soon, the children will come to the belief that Daddy is not just a CEO but the whole corporation, and Mommy is a subsidiary--and this will make them want to bypass Mommy whenever possible. This is not, of course, the way to teach children that parents share responsibilities for the family, or that Mommy is usually capable of making decisions, even thought she will consult Daddy whenever the matter requires it.

Temptation Three: Treating Him Like a Guest

Perhaps this temptation occurs most when Daddy has to travel a lot on business, but I think it can happen in other circumstances, too. I think this one starts out, a lot of the time, as a praiseworthy desire on a wife's part to let her husband know how much she appreciates him; so she consults his tastes and cooks his favorite foods, works hard to create a homey, pleasant atmosphere for him, and goes out of her way to pamper him a little here and there.

All of that is just fine, of course--but the temptation comes in when a wife insists that her husband be treated almost like a visitor, not only by her but by the rest of the family as well. And she goes out of her way to hide anything unpleasant, uncomfortable, or otherwise difficult, anything that you wouldn't ordinarily want a guest in the home to experience. She instructs the children to keep their voices low and bribes them not to argue while Daddy is home; she never serves anything her husband even remotely dislikes, even if this includes most non-potato vegetables; she doesn't tell him about the dispute she's having with a neighbor or the trouble one of the children is having with his schoolwork; and in general she keeps him out of the loop of anything that might make home a less than perfect place to come home to.

But keeping her husband out of the loop means keeping him at arm's length from the family. The illusion of perfection will break the minute some problem which requires his aid comes up, and he may be puzzled as to why he never heard about the problem before it reached such a stage of crisis, not knowing that his wife was hoping to handle the whole thing before he ever heard of it. And treating him like a guest means treating him almost like a stranger.

Temptation Four: Treating Him Like a Handyman

Every wife probably has a "honey do" list somewhere, even if it's just in her head. And husbands should pitch in and help around the home, especially by doing those chores and tasks that require the ability to work with power tools while not being clung to by a toddler. There's nothing wrong with expecting our husbands to help us, and making reasonable requests to them to do so.

But this temptation is about degree. The wife suffering from it goes from appreciating her husband's help around the house to seeing him as an endless source of manual labor. The internal dialog running in her mind sees his helpfulness as proof of his love and involvement in their life together--which wouldn't be bad, except that the flip side of that dialog is for her to see any signs of relaxation on his part as proof of his lack of love and involvement.

To a woman suffering from this temptation, then, there is no sight more beautiful than that of her husband carefully installing a new floor in the kitchen--and no sight more painful than the sight of that same husband watching a baseball game on TV while drinking a beer. No matter how happy she is with their home, the house seems to change from a neat, snug, well cared-for place (while he's working on something) to a dingy, paint-peeling eyesore (the minute he sits down with a book, or takes a phone call from his mother). As long as she is in the throes of this temptation, she will be "measuring" his love with a yardstick, a level, and a carpenter's square--but perhaps a little reflection on the life of the Holy Family and its saintly carpenter may help her remember that love isn't something you can buy at the hardware store.

Temptation Five: Treating Him Like A Psychology Experiment

To be fair, the woman conducting this "experiment" probably has no idea she's doing so. She may tend toward the passive-aggressive side, herself: her feelings are easily hurt, and a little dose of male indifference is just like an attack, as far as she is concerned. Or she may be the histrionic sort, craving attention and alternating between rewarding her husband for giving her that attention and punishing him for failing. There are dozens of other types as well--but the one thing I think women struggling with this temptation have in common is that they're all quite convinced that something is wrong with their husbands, and that he needs them to analyze him and straighten him out.

Unless a wife is a licensed psychologist (and probably even then) this is a really bad idea. In the first place, unless a husband really is suffering from some particular mental issues, in which case he needs outside help, this is probably going to backfire badly. Few men like to be quizzed endlessly about their feelings, and even fewer want their wives to be doing the quizzing. And while there are times when a man really wants to open up to his wife to share conversations about his experiences or thoughts about life in general, chances are that he doesn't want that conversation to lead to lots of "Aha!" moments in which his emotions about something that happened at work today lead back to a conflict he had with his wife three weeks ago, and which she now triumphantly claims to understand.

Treating a husband like a clinical experiment, or even like a patient, is only going to try his patience. Chances are good that the "experiment" won't ultimately explain the ordinary frictions and tensions of married life, and the wife whose plan is to "fix" her husband's problems may only be adding to her own. Ultimately she's failing to treat him with love and understanding, and is thinking more along the lines that she'd love to understand him--because then he could apologize and be a better person.

I'm sure there are many more wifely temptations out there, but these are a few I've seen here and there; I've struggled with some of them myself. Any of them can be minor, temporary bad habits; but any of them can also lead to some marital conflict, or at least get in the way of a positive relationship with the most important person (earthly, of course) in our lives.


Irenaeus said...

"My male readers may want to skip over this post. Or they may want to keep reading; perhaps to gain a little insight into certain struggles females can, on occasion, deal with."

Or forward it to your wife's email account. Heh heh.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Great post. I'm not married, but I'm saving it as good advice if/when I do marry. I can see how easy it is to fall into these things, and forewarned fore-armed, right?

Maggie said...

This is great! I'm not married, but I'm bookmarking this for when I am... well done!

LeeAnn said...

Is it OK if I laughed while recognizing myself in some of these scenarios? The eating of non-potoato vegetables and looking for lunch on Saturdays particularly seems fresh in my memory. I gave up on the dirty laundry on the floor years ago.

JimmyV said...

Thanks for the peek into the wifely psyche.

jeannette said...

Hmm, my solution for temptation #1 is: let the kids instruct him, the younger the better. Laugh first, but then ask, "shall I have the 5 year old teach you?". But here's the Part 2 I struggle with: if he does it, don't criticize. If he melts a Cool whip container on the bottom rack of the dishwasher, if he folds the towels the "wrong way", if he simply throws things onto a bed or couch so that he can vacuum (instead of putting the things away), thank him. And walk away.