Husbands routinely have told me that their wives expectations are unrealistic. Husbands express feeling a tremendous sense of pressure to improve their family’s finances, interactions with their wives and engagement with their children. Commonly, these same husbands report making huge efforts toward this end. But it is simply not enough for their wives. Hence, the birth of man caves! Man caves are places men go like basements, bonus rooms, bedrooms and bars to escape pressure from their wives.
Wives tell a different story. They say they only seem to matter to their husbands want sex. Their husbands come home, eat, pick up the remote and zone out. When their husbands do help, they behave as if they have done their wives a huge favor. Wives report their husbands seem self-absorbed and leaving them and children feeling disconnected.
Who’s right? Proverbs 21:2 says,
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.”
So, I say both! Imagine a triangle. There are two sides and a base. One side represents the husband’s perception and the other the wife’s. Perceptions are real to those that hold them. Understanding how each responds to his and her perception might be more helpful than fighting over the rightness or wrongness of it. The truth is husbands and wives may never agree on the other’s perception of things. Perceptions not only involve what someone is presently experiencing, but also may be skewed by past hurts, pain and defeats. There is really no way for one person to know completely what makes up another’s perception. Jeremiah 17:9 reads,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
What husband and wife can know, understand and decide on is how each responds to his or her own perceptions. So although the two sides of the triangle, or their perceptions differ, they can find solace in the immutable base of the triangle. This immutable base is God, Christ and His Word. They are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is also impossible for God to lie. This is a good place for husband and wife to bring their perceptions. In God and His Word, we are assured of not only objectivity, but that He always has our best interest at heart.
As long as husbands and wives behave based on their unexamined perceptions of the other, they relieve themselves of the effort of having to undergo personal changes. But if each will bring his and her perceptions to God and His Word by prayer and study, they might just be surprised by what they learn!
Let’s say John completely identifies with the husbands above. His perception is that his wife’s expectations are out of reach. He tries hard to treat his wife and children well. However, regardless of what he does, John feels under-appreciated. He gives up and retreats nightly to his man cave of choice-the basement! He sinks down in his oversized chair and thinks to himself, ‘Why bother? What’s the use?’
Instead, John might seek an unbiased opinion concerning his perception of not measuring up, or being good enough for his wife. If John were to consider the idea of ‘not measuring up’ and ‘not being good enough’ apart from his wife, perhaps he might discover this feeling has accompanied him throughout his life. The names and faces have changed, however, the dull continuous pain of not doing enough has not. When John becomes overwhelmed by the idea of not doing enough, he answers by doing nothing. When John was unmarried and now when he is alone he cleverly conceals his pain. But love leaves no stone under turned. It wants to know all for the chance to love all. This is only possible with disclosure.
If John really wants to improve his ability to relate wit his wife then he would do well to respond and manage his own inadequacies, rather than deflecting them upon his wife. John might use some of the following questions to explore his perception further.
- Why do your wife’s expectations result in you feeling pressure?
- How have you responded to pressure to perform in sports, at work or in other significant relationships?
- In every training area whether academics, sports, work and any endeavor in which change is desired or required we expect pressure. Why should marriage be any different?
- Which of your wife’s expectations may God be using to train you to look more like Him?
- In marriage when is it okay for you to feel pressure to bring about your conformity to Christ?
So, does John retreat to the man cave to escape Gina, or hide from participating in God’s training program? Perhaps, it is not only Gina applying pressure; rather John retreating is what is inviting the pressure. Undischarged duties loom as clouds over our heads. The weight of them can be unbearable. Woodrow Wilson once said,
“The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.” Jacob, also wrestled with God, but that time He was in the form of an angel!
Now, let’s discuss his wife’s perceptions. Gina, like many women, feel emotionally and physically responsible for everything in their marriage and family. She and John have executive level jobs. When she comes home she cooks, supervises homework, takes the kids to soccer, initiates bath routines and makes lunches for the next day. Gina pays the bills, schedules the landscaper, housekeeper and miscellaneous household repairs. She also plans vacations, their involvement at church and manages their social calendar. Gina is exhausted and sees no relief in sight. Her simmering hurt routinely boils to anger and erupts into harsh, unkind words hurled at John. Gina’s perception is that John doesn’t care. She perceives him to be lazy and uninterested in family life and responsibilities.
Even if John were all those things, his changing would not resolve the agonizing sense of responsibility Gina often feels. I wonder if Gina would even notice John’s efforts to help manage family life. She is so busy doing, Gina hardly sees John. To her it seems John has become someone else to take car of, ‘a thing’ that must be done verses a man with whom to relate.
Instead of focusing on John, Gina might also find greater relief in turning to God. Like John, Gina would benefit from in seeking an unbiased opinion. Remember, there is John’s side of the triangle, as well as Gina’s adjacent side of the triangle. Then there is Christ who is the base. In considering the base of the triangle, some of the questions Gina might run into are:
- Why do you like staying busy?
- What happens when you are not busy and what feelings does this produce in you?
- Why is it important to have everything in order and under control?
- What happens when things are not taken care of?
- When have you ever felt taken care of in your life?
By exploring these kinds of questions Gina may discover that fear, rather than John’s perceived apathy has more to do with her own unresolved pain. Could it be that the thought of either being taken advantage of or not being taken care of drive Gina’s constant activity? While it is plausible that her husband doing more around the house would give her the time and freedom to relax, it is not realistic. Why? Because Gina does not relax. She doesn’t know how to relax with God, herself and consequently, with others. Unless Gina evaluates her perception of John and her response to him in relationship to God, all the wonderful changes John could make will be lost on Gina.
Just as Gina’s perception is as real to her as John’s is to him, likewise it is true for every husband and wife. Arguing over our perceptions inevitably results in a stalemate. This will happen time and time again. That’s because marriage is our last chance to grow up mentally and emotionally. This growth process is grotesquely personal, yet when engaged properly, personal and marital fulfillment are the sweet rewards.