Start with respecting him in public.

On my old blog I would have taken some time to write up a well-worded essay on this topic, but in the present day, I will never have the time to write those kinds of posts, so I’m going to put this very simply.

I was picking something up at the local pharmacy several days ago, and as I was walking back out to my car, a heavy set woman of about fifty-something was walking past me into the pharmacy, saying something over her shoulder to the man in the car.  He appeared to be her husband.  She was saying something to the effect of, “Because that’s how you treat people with honor!  That’s called being honorable!”  She then walked back to the car, which was parked next to mine, and gave him a little piece of her mind even though I was standing right there.

Ephesians 5:33 says:

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

For Christians, this isn’t just a good idea; it is a requirement.  You either obey God on this matter or you disobey Him.  And notice that the verse says “let the wife see that” – clearly He anticipated the fact that women would try to hedge out of it by saying, “Oh, I will respect him…when he behaves in a way that is respectable.”  The verse doesn’t give a commandment to the man there, it gives a commandment to the woman; it is her responsibility to make sure she is respecting her husband with her words and actions.

Fine.  That should be pretty straightforward. However, this verse is also wise advice for the non-Christian woman.  No husband likes to be spoken to or treated with disrespect.  No one likes to have snide comments made about them or be the butt of jokes (“But I was only kidding!”), especially in public.

I don’t know what the husband at the pharmacy may have done or said prior to what I overheard his wife saying.  For all I know, he may have been acting like a total jerk or have done something that caused a real problem for his family.  But I do know there is never – not ever – any reason to berate, humiliate, disrespect, mock, or bitch at your husband in public.

Occasionally I’ll hear people say that telling someone to treat his or her spouse well in public is encouraging them to put on a mask, put up a false front, or act like they are better than everyone else.  I guess those folks think everyone should just let it all hang out all the time and involve the whole world in their personal business or something, but I disagree.  Social mores exist in part to restrain poor behavior by individuals at the community level.  There’s nothing “real” or “authentic” about acting badly in public, and there is nothing “fake” about telling women to put a cork in it in front of other people.

Whatever disagreement or dispute the couple at the pharmacy may have been having in the car on the way there should have ceased the minute her feet hit the pavement.  Should she have been treating him with respect even when they were alone?  Of course she should.  But disrespecting him publicly added an extra layer of humiliation for him; it’s bad to disrespect your husband when you are alone but it is even worse to do it when you are in front of other people.

If you are a woman who has recently come to realize that something is amiss in your marriage, and you suspect you have been treating your husband disrespectfully, and you want to make a change but don’t know where to start, I encourage you to start with this.  Whenever you are in front of any other person, whether they be family, friends, church members, or strangers on the street, treat your husband with respect, regardless of what he may be doing or how he behaves. Here is how to do that:

  1. Speak to him politely.
  2. Keep your voice calm and quiet when you speak to him.
  3. Never make a joke at his expense.  Never, ever, ever.
  4. Do not refer to any of his faults in front of others.
  5. Do not put him down, judge him, or blame him in front of others.
  6. Do not argue with him.  No point that you need to get across to him is that important.  Let it go.

What about when your husband is not present?  How do you still treat him with respect in public when he is not there?

Last year I was having lunch with a group of women – and I am going to be very vague here because these were real life women and I write under my real name, so I don’t want to embarrass anyone – and one of the women told another woman present (who was engaged to be married) that after she and her fiance got married, she would probably feel like she made a mistake and sort of hate him for a while but not to worry about this because it was normal.  Another woman agreed and then added that after the birth of her child, she particularly hated her husband.

The two women then proceeded to spend a good five minutes talking about how stupid they had thought their husbands were after they got married and how much they had hated them directly after the birth of a child.  I suppose they were joking around and trying to be funny, but I wanted to ask, “Was there a time in between when you liked and didn’t hate him?” but I could not bring myself to participate in the conversation.  A pregnant woman sitting next to me said to me, “I didn’t think I made a mistake after I got married to my husband,” so I said to her, “Don’t worry.  I didn’t hate my husband after having a baby.”  I have an imperfect, human husband, so it’s not that I didn’t hate him because he’s so much more awesome than anyone else, and I assume the pregnant woman I was talking to has a real-life, human, imperfect man as her un-hated husband as well.

But you know what?  Even if you loathe your husband, do you need to share this with the ladies at lunch?  Why would you do that?  There was no moral to their story; it was just a complain-and-mock-husbands session.  I can’t imagine what any men overhearing that conversation in the restaurant must have thought.

So I would add this behavior to my list above:

7. Do not gossip about him when he is not there.  If you can’t say something good about him, don’t say anything at all.

That’s not “trying to project” an image that you and your husband are better than everyone else.  Rather, it’s simply human decency.  No one truly wants to hear your dirt except for other women who want to get down in the dirt too.  Don’t do it.

You have to start somewhere, so start here:

Always treat your husband with respect in public, whether he is present or not.

On the importance of listening.

Listening to your husband is a very good idea.  I know this.  It’s just that when I’m reading something, I very much dislike being interrupted.

I was engrossed in some post or essay, I don’t even remember, earlier this afternoon when my husband came in.

Him: “I’m working on fixing that chair, but I need to go to the hardware store for a dowel.”

Me, not looking up from what I am reading: “Oh, okay.”

Him: “I (something something) and took a bucket to wash out the pond dye from the pedal boat.”

Me: “Good.” (Back to reading)

Him: (words, words, that I’m not listening to because of the important thing I am reading, so important I cannot even remember what it was): “…and put the bucket over the hole.  I’ll get some yellow jacket spray while I’m at the hardware store later.”

Me, annoyed that he won’t stop talking while I’m reading: “Uh-huh.”

You do know where this is going, don’t you?

An hour later…

Me to him: “I’m going out to pick some zucchini and weed the garden!”

Me to myself once I get outside: “Now what is this bucket doing here?  Is this the bucket he used to wash out the boat? *sigh* Why can’t he ever pick up after himself?  I’ll just pick the bucket up for him and put it away.”

And that is what I did, with a martyred sigh…I picked up that bucket and started to walk..and then run toward the garden as rather suddenly liquid fire began to rain down upon the back of my right leg.

I ran into the house screaming, “Help, help! Aghhhh…”

Luckily my husband is a better listener than I am and came to my rescue.

So now I am sitting on the couch with a baking soda poultice and an ice pack on my red, swollen leg…


…sharing this helpful bit of painfully-gleaned wisdom with you while my husband is at the hardware store buying a wooden dowel for the broken chair and yellow jacket spray to take care of the nest in the hole in the ground over which he had placed that bucket.

Always listen when he speaks.

Life-long marriage is a gift you give your children.

Years ago my husband and I went and saw Adrian Belew from King Crimson play a solo acoustic concert at the Majestic Theater in Detroit.  One of my favorite songs he played was Old Fat Cadillac:

Philip and I were reminiscing about that concert late this evening out on the porch under a full moon.  Both of us are audiophiles – it was one of the first things that drew us to one another beyond just physical attraction all those years ago, just before my twenty-second birthday, and we’ve seen many, many concerts and shows together over the years, giving us fun memories to share...”Remember when we saw Elvis Costello at the Fox and the security guards let us move from the balcony to the front row because we were the only ones dancing?…Remember that time we saw the Dave Brubeck Quartet downtown at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival?…Remember how much fun we had dancing all night at Frog Island when Buckwheat Zydeco played and then Terrance Simien showed him up?  Remember when…remember when?

Our children love, love, love to hear about the time before they were born, when these two people they call mom and dad were actually young and crazy and romantic and fun.  They can hardly believe it but they love to hear about it.  They will say to me, “Daddy says one time you guys saw the Grateful Dead in Chicago and someone stole your shoes and you had to go to the show the next night with bare feet.  Mom, is that true?”  They are filled with amazement that this person who is always barking commands and warnings about tedious things at them – Brush your teeth! Make your bed! Take your vitamins! Don’t do that foolish thing you were about to do! – used to dance barefoot, eyes closed, transported away by the pure joy of the music.  But I suspect they are also glad we aren’t still those people now.  Children need their parents to be grown ups.

Yet I think it is comforting to children to hear that their parents loved each other, loved just being together, loved having adventures and making a life together, before they ever had children and Serious Jobs and mortgage payments and greying hair.  I’m glad we can give that gift to our kids and that we can give them the gift of our having stayed together even through those times that were hard, when it wasn’t fun and romantic, when we didn’t feel like dancing barefoot together.

We don’t dance so much now; we sit on the porch together at night, my husband smoking, and we look at the stars and remember when.  It’s not crazy and adventurous but it is peaceful and warm.  I have spent well over half my life with him, through incredible highs and some pretty serious lows, and he’s still there and I’m still here and neither of us is going anywhere until one of us finally goes to meet our Lord.

No matter how badly we may have messed up in other areas as parents, at least we can give this to our children, the gift of our marriage, imperfect but permanent for as long as we both shall live.

Why so many people are confused about marital roles.

During my lunch break today I read the following Dear Abby letter:

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were going along in life, doing it our way, until we decided we wanted to return to the church, so we stopped drinking and smoking pot. We hit a rough patch in that journey and divorced, but we didn’t stop going to church. It’s crazy, I know. After we divorced, I knew I messed up and deep down I knew I loved him.

So, now that we have remarried, it seems like he’s taking the role of Christian husband back to biblical times. This means he is the head of the house (which I get), but to the point where I am almost like a fixture. I would say I’m here for my looks, but I am overweight. I would say it’s for the sex, but it isn’t happening morning, noon and night, if you know what I mean. I would say it is the money, but now, after his last raise, he makes more than I do.

He cooks most of the time because he gets home before me. The house is always clean, and we share the household bills and expenses. So, I’m kinda lost and confused. Do I have a purpose here? Or am I only here to help pay the bills? — STARTING TO WONDER

Here was “Abby’s” advice:

DEAR STARTING TO WONDER: Only your husband can answer that question. However, part of a husband’s duties to his wife is to make her feel “honored and cherished,” and if that isn’t happening, your remarriage is in trouble.

Marriage counseling (possibly within the church) might help you to reconnect with each other, and I strongly recommend it. Unless you find out why you’re unhappy and fix it, this marriage will not last.

One’s initial reaction might be to mock the wife, but when you actually stop and think about it for a moment, her feelings of being lost and confused are also rather poignant and touching. She instinctively senses that something is wrong here – that a husband being “head of household” shouldn’t really be synonymous with “doing everything himself”.

This couple is confused because they are trying to “do” marriage under several sets of different, competing rules all while getting no helpful teaching but plenty of bad advice.  Previously they obviously had an egalitarian marriage in which they split the earning and household management evenly. Since becoming Christians, her husband is trying to figure out what the biblical role of “husband” is supposed to entail, and he’s obviously figured out that he is supposed to be the head of the marriage. But he has no practical understanding of what that looks like, so he is simply taking it to mean, “I am the head, therefore it must be my responsibility to do everything myself and require nothing of those of whom I am the head.”

The wife sees that things have changed, but she has no concept that her husband being the head requires her to be “under” his headship. She also doesn’t seem to understand that she has duties that, as a Christian wife, she is supposed to be fulfilling. But don’t mock her; how would she know what those roles are? She may have read a few verses in the Bible about women submitting to their husbands (or not), but it’s unlikely that she has had any helpful teaching about this from other Christians.

Now, common sense also seems to be lacking here. Obviously a wife with a clue would say to herself, “Gee, my husband is working hard. What could I do to please him?” She seems to have a sneaking suspicion about some of the things she could do: take care of her health and appearance by losing some weight, making sure that physical intimacy is happening somewhat regularly, and perhaps taking on some additional responsibilities around the home since her husband now out-earns her. But my suspicion is that she doesn’t really want to do these things very much as they may be difficult, and she’d rather coast along and is looking for moral cover to do so.  This is probably why she went to someone like “Dear Abby” with her question instead of taking it to God or another mature Christian.

Still, we can forgive this couple for their confusion. It would be really helpful if pastors could step up and deliver some practical sermons on biblical marriage roles.

But the one we can truly be disgusted with here is “Dear Abby”. Now, clearly Abby is not a Christian, so we can assume she gives lip service to egalitarian marriage. But here is where the rubber meets the road; here we have a man who is doing nearly everything and a woman who is not pulling her fair share, but instead of telling the wife to step up her game, Abby blames the husband! Not only is he supposed to do everything, he’s also supposed to make his wife feel honored and cherished while he does it! Not only is that not biblical, it’s not even egalitarian.

Since they are Christians, we can pray for this couple to find wisdom from God about what the biblical marriage roles of headship and submission look like in a practical context.  However, it is no wonder men and women are lost and confused. Pastors are often too cowardly to teach accurately on biblical marriage for fear of offending their congregants, and the secular advice-givers actively promote a fake egalitarian model.


Should college girls wait to get married until they graduate?

My girls were sitting on the couch with me yesterday evening looking at pretty wedding dresses on Pinterest… Continue reading

A comment on men protecting women by discouraging temptation.

A while back a commenter at The Courtship Pledge wrote a thought-provoking comment to men about their role in protecting women from temptations.  He writes: Continue reading

Do “helper incomes” increase fertility?

I live in a rural area and I work in a (different) rural school district, and one of the things that has pleasantly surprised me is how many children everyone seems to have. Despite being working mothers, the women I work with all have 3-4 (several have even more) children and my kids’ friends’ parents all seem to have 3-5 children, too. Is this a factor of being in a rural area? Maybe, but I’m also wondering if it isn’t something else, too.

Many of the women I know earn what I think of as “helper incomes”. This is how I loosely define “helper income”:

  • flexible about full/part-time
  • even when full-time, does not regularly require in excess of 40 hours per week
  • in a safe environment
  • weekends/holidays off if needed
  • allowed to take days off to care for sick children or family members, either paid or unpaid
  • remuneration not enough to easily raise a family on by itself but a perfect complement to a husband’s income

Men do have a fairly large say in the number of children a married couple has and in my experience, many women say they wanted more children but their husbands did not, with the reason given often being concerns about finances. In short, the husbands were quite reasonably worried about their ability to support a larger family and wives respected their husbands’ preferences.

But is it possible that a helper income can take enough of the pressure off a man that he is willing to entertain the thought of a third or fourth child? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t feel like I know any of my colleagues well enough yet to say to any of them, “So, tell me about your reproductive choices!” 🙂 But I do wonder.

So here is my working hypothesis: I posit that for white, married, lower middle, middle, and upper middle class women (and the only reason I’m limiting it to these demographics is because those are the demographics of the women I know), having a wife who earns a helper income may take enough financial pressure off the husband so that he is willing to have more children. It may also make women feel like they can afford that third or fourth child and give them the confidence to suggest it to their husbands.

If there were any data on this, I would hypothesize that fertility would look like this, from highest to lowest:

Helper-income wives – highest fertility (most that I know seem to have 3-5 children)

Housewives (stay-at-home wives who do not earn an income) – second highest fertility (most that I know have 2-4 children)

Career wives – I don’t know a lot of heavy-duty career women, but those that I know have 1-2 children and several have none at all.

This is not to be understood as me encouraging women to work outside the home! That is absolutely not my intention, as only the individual couple can determine what is needed and what would be best for their family. This is also not me suggesting the superiority of one group over another.  What I am trying to do is generate a reasonable hypothesis to explain my observations of the consistently higher fertility of the working, rural, married, white women that I know.

I’d love to hear what others have observed. Also, I’d be interested in hearing about other demographic groups as a comparison. For instance, do working Hispanic women have higher or lower fertility than their non-employed counterparts? What about African-American women?  The one trait I’d like to keep the same in any comparisons, though, is “married”.

I cannot prove or disprove my musings because I could find nothing about this in the published research. I could not even find a single statistic comparing the average number of children between housewives and working women – nothing! But if you are able to find data on this, I would love the link. I’m also curious to know if you can suggest an alternative hypothesis that explains what I am witnessing with the increased fertility of these women.

If my hypothesis were somehow proven to be correct, then to any young woman reading this who is interested in having a larger family, I might suggest that she prepare herself for the possibility of working to earn a helper income if her husband would feel aided by that (not all husbands would want or even allow this, of course, and the husband’s vision for his family should be given the respect that it deserves by virtue of his position as head of the household).

By the same token, my advice for young men who want a larger family but fear not being able to support them: perhaps consider looking for a young woman who would be willing to earn a helper income if needed.

In any case, my observations have provided me with food for thought.