Remember how it took the children of Israel over forty years to make a ten-day journey?
It took me another trip around the mountain of spousal unemployment (and another eighteen months) to really understand what my husband needed. Yes, he needed good food and nourishment. Yes, he needed an attractive wife and not a worn-out slob. Yes, he needed a quiet wife who wasn’t complaining all the time to anyone within earshot…but he needed much more.
It had been almost a year since he had started working in a new sales job. He was successful, even in a down market. Things were looking up…until he came home with a box in his arms to tell me that he had been let go from this job.
I’d love to tell you that I was the pillar of strength and wisdom, but it would be a ferocious lie. When he told me he had been let go (for acting righteously to help a customer when corrupt management had wanted him to lie to the customer), I just stood there and stared at my broken husband holding a box.
Inside, I fumed. I fumed at my husband, thinking, “How in the h*ll could you let this happen AGAIN? Why can’t you just get along with people?” I fumed at God for allowing this again. I fumed at myself for being angry. I raged inside, and my prevailing thought was this: “I cannot, I WILL not…go through the h*ll that was the last bout of unemployment. I cannot do this again. No way. I’m out.”
This time, Mister began drinking almost immediately after he was let go, and with a fury. He was raging, because he didn’t understand how a just God could allow him to be fired for doing the RIGHT thing. He wanted vengeance, and how. He wanted me to help him find a lawyer to take his case and sue his former employer for wrongful termination.
Because I was so angry, I told him “no”. In my mind, this was an exercise in futility. In my mind, he ought to be spending his energy finding a new job ASAP, not spinning his wheels trying to find a lawyer for a lost cause in an at-will employment State. I told him as much, by golly, because he should listen to me! I had made a crucial mistake here; I had developed a sense of superiority over my husband through the months. As he often acted like an irresponsible child, I had assumed a “responsible adult” role and started to boss him around. I told him exactly what he needed to do (find a job ASAP) and I told him under no circumstances would I help him. I called it “tough love”, but really it was stubbornness, self-righteousness and rebellion against God as sovereign in our lives.
This went over much like Chernobyl; there was quite a bit of fallout over my demand that he just “go get a new job” and “let it go”. In the morning, he announced that he would stay in the house until our lease expired, and then he would be moving out. He said we were “finished” and that he would coexist with me until I could find a new place to live when we would finalize everything.
I was so stunned that I could not speak.
Eventually, I spoke, and all of my rage just came pouring out upon him, because I was terribly afraid. My husband had just told me that we were divorcing. Just like that. I was petrified. I was angry.
Would you believe, STILL, it never occurred to me to simply ASK him: “What can I do to help you, darling, in this horribly broken time for you? I can see that you are hurting, my love. How can I HELP you? I still believe in you.”
With great sadness, I will tell you that I moved out for three months. One month with our youngest child, and two months without any children living with me (we decided they were best served by remaining in their home with their father).
It was hell. Up until this point, my husband and I were like children in a sandbox, hurling powerful clods of sand at each other, each trying to defend our territory. Until, in His great mercy, God showed me some vital pieces of the puzzle I had been desperately trying to put together regarding love and respect:
- My job as a wife is not to judge my husband’s spiritual condition or motives; it is to obey God by submitting to my husband because of the POSITION that God has placed him in as my Head.
- I am capable of being just as sinful as my husband can be. I might “appear” less sinful on the outside by looking pretty and “having it together” in front of others, but on the inside, with a contentious, resentful, selfish heart – and a prideful, arrogant, self-righteous attitude…I am as sinful as a drunkard. Or a slothful, lazy person. You name it, I’m capable of it. There is no room for self-righteousness, ladies. Kill it before it kills your marriage.
- If I choose to elevate myself morally and spiritually above my husband, I am inviting disaster and judgment. Pride comes before a fall.
- Submission is a heart issue: it is not about outward appearance, though that is an aspect of submission. Submission is unto God first – then unto my husband. I submit to my husband out of love for God and love for my husband. I honor God and my husband by submission in all things. When I discovered that the word for submission in the bible speaking to wives is a military term, it made things crystal clear: it is not about what a wonderful and perfect man my husband is being – instead, it is about his position of authority over me that GOD has given him. If I want the blessing of God; if I want to please God; if I really love God at all…then I want to place myself in voluntary submission to my husband. A peaceful marriage will follow. There is, however, no guarantee that a life of ease will follow.
- The world says respect is “earned”. This is not God’s way. Respect is your responsibility toward your husband regardless of his behavior. If he is what you perceive as an irresponsible, childish oaf who doesn’t “deserve” respect: I urge you to get on your knees and beg God to show you your own heart before you judge your husband. I beg you.
- Kill any relationship with any person, girlfriend or otherwise, who encourages you to speak poorly about your husband, complain about your husband or seek pity from others about your situation with your husband. Do it before it is too late; it is poison unto your marriage to engage in this kind of gossip about your husband. If you are sharing your heart with an older, female mentor, this is good: make sure you are praying for your husband together and she is helping YOU TO CHANGE YOURSELF, not listening to your list of what you want to change in your husband. Cut destructive relationships off ASAP. They need to be burned up so they don’t burn up your marriage. I don’t care if you think your husband is wrong, either.
Further, I learned quite a bit about what men need during times of brokenness and unemployment:
- He needs gentleness, quiet, peace and stability. Even if he creates chaos, he needs these things from his wife. It is a difficult thing and frightening, but necessary. Be peace in the middle of chaos.
- He needs you to accept him for who he is, even if how he is behaving is very ugly. He needs the freedom to be who he is. His value is NOT his current set of behaviors. In fact, if he has had a serious personality change, he is likely experiencing major depression. This was the case with my husband. I wish we had spoken about it while it was ongoing, instead of speaking about it after the fact. Perhaps we could have gotten professional medical help.
- He needs you to NOT fight him on silly things, or anything, really, but rather to follow him dutifully. He is fighting mentally already just to stay afloat. Do not be a hindrance.
- He needs you to be physically pretty and pleasing to his eye; he sees gray and bleak and dark…he needs you to be the one to bring color and life to his world with loveliness.
- He needs good, nourishing, healthy food without having to think about it or ask. Remember how I said I cooked when I didn’t feel like it, and became angry when he wouldn’t even eat it for hours? At least it was there. If he is abusing his body or experiencing a depression, he will likely eat in a very erratic fashion. Have the food available and freshly prepared, not processed. He can reheat it if you are already asleep. Does it really matter when he eats? You are not…
- …his mother. He needs a wife, not a mother. It is easy to place yourself in a position of superiority in your head because you are “holding it all together” or you are the “responsible” one, or you are the “healthy” one, or you are the one “working”. WRONG. You are not his superior; you have no God-given authority over your husband. If you try to “mother” him, you are inviting disaster. God will NOT cover you and protect you when you are placing yourself out of His order like this. This is His loving mercy, because if you continued this way, you would destroy your own marriage.
- He needs your help. This can look very strange and unlike what you perceive helping him should look like. You should ask your husband regularly (though not constantly) how you can be of help to him. He will tell you. Then, JUST DO IT. Whatever he wants your help with, just do it, for heaven’s sakes. Don’t decide in your own mind that it’s not “helpful” to him, or that it is a waste of your time.
- He needs you to be a gift unto him – his wife. His wife. He needs you to be his, and not be on the phone or at work or at church belly aching about your circumstances. This just crushes his masculine pride. He needs you to be on his team; on his side; believing in him always. If you don’t feel like you believe in him, beg God to help you be his biggest fan.
- He needs you to cover him in prayer – COVER HIM. He’s out there in the world, getting beaten up by wickedness, getting abused by sinful people…woman, cover your husband in intercessory prayer. If you are even thinking of b*tching about him, or murmuring and complaining, PRAY FOR HIM INSTEAD.
- He needs you to offer grace and mercy to him. He will likely run through five stages of grief during job loss (career loss) and extended unemployment. Be graceful and merciful. Do not have grandiose expectations. He is a human being, just like you. He just doesn’t talk as much as you! If he is a tyrant and a colossally rude jerk: be graceful and merciful. If he is living in sin (drinking too much, refusing to look for a job): pray for him and be graceful and merciful. If he yells at you: be graceful and merciful. If he says rude things when he is angry: be graceful and merciful. You do not want a bitter root of resentment, unforgiveness, anger or contempt growing in your heart towards your husband just because he has emotions just like you and just because he isn’t “perfect”. You are not perfect, either, and he certainly has extended grace and mercy to you in the past.
- Let us not forget: he has sexual needs. My husband was depressed and therefore had greatly diminished libido. But sex often helps a husband feel loved and desired, when the rest of the world is telling him that he is rejected and a failure. Love him by being his lover. This is the best reason to remain in a repentant attitude so that there is no room for bitterness, resentment or the like in you as a wife – it will kill your desire to love him sexually.
In those three months of misery, I learned more about the heart of the man I married than in many years prior. Our marriage is now more solid than ever, though we walk through trials, we do so as one flesh. I hope you never experience seeing your love broken by career loss, but if you do, it is my heartfelt prayer that our testimony is of help and blessing to you.