I was asked a question some time ago by a man who genuinely wished for his wife to feel safer in their marriage. (He had dealt with her in an abusive way and had shown the fruit of genuine repentance – that is, he had learned from his wrong and had turned back to God to learn and apply new ways of behaving.)
As happens in many marriages, not that we hear it very much, there are abuses done, and the statistics tell us that 85% of abuse is perpetrated by husbands. Many wives have become victims of abuse, and a lot of this abuse is invisible, for example, verbal, psychological, emotional, financial, and neglect.
This article focuses on abuses done to wives, the 85%, not abuse done to husbands (15%), which I will cover at another time.
At the center of abuse is a husband driven by insecurity and the need for control. Any man worth his salt will attest to those drives, but not every man succumbs to those drives.
At the core of every person is the need to feel safe and secure, yet safety and security needs are elevated in women. For a wife, that need for security is most deeply met in how her husband provides for her holistic care, loving her by respecting unequivocally her right to her mental and emotional well-being, ensuring he’s no barrier to it, accepting it is her domain, to which he adds his proactive support.
In the simplest terms, he meets her security needs by making her feel safe.
What does this mean?
- He doesn’t control her in any way, and his wife is the arbiter about that. If she feels controlled, she knows it and she feels unsafe. She is empowered to call it what it is. And he listens in humility and corrects his behavior.
- He watches how he interacts with his wife and is careful not to behave in ways that cause her to feel anxious. (This assumes he’s interested and curious enough to know what makes her feel anxious.) Where his behavior does cause her anxiety, he is quick to acknowledge his wrong and repent of it.
- He manages his anger, knowing that annoyance, frustration and irritation are the things he feels. His wife feels far more threatening emotions, like fear, intimidation and diminishment of her personhood. He recognizes there are stark differences in how the gender roles play out; that her fear trumps his frustration. While he hates being frustrated and annoyed, he hates more contributing to her feeling fearful.
- He understands that privilege and power that is availed to him in simply being male in this world. This is a journey for a man to come to this understanding, because he’s never been a woman. But understanding gender privilege and the power that comes with it, he has a choice: to depower himself and empower those around him, especially the girls and women in his life.
- He takes his responsibility seriously, isn’t quick to blame his wife for anything, and willingly gets the log out of his own eye in conflict (Matthew 7:1-5). And where he does falter, he’s quick to apologize with sincerity.
- He is committed to resolving conflict in a peacemaking way. He learns when he can overlook an offence, is committed to reconciliation and negotiation, and executes accountability over himself.
- He gives her permission to do that which she feels called or obligated to do, understanding that she ought not to be required to gain his permission. He is her cheerleader. She has control over her life.
- He shares his feelings with her but is careful never to blame or attack her. In other words, he owns his feelings and can hold her safe in his communication. This way, she is free to support him without having to wrestle with the angst caused by having to support him whilst feeling attacked or blamed. She cannot support him when she feels attacked or blamed.
Above all, a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church believes everything she says is important and valid and worthy.
To do these things, the husband needs to be safe in himself, and how can he be safe in himself unless he is safe in God? In loving God, he has learned the glory of serving his wife. A husband like this, for any wife, is a pleasure to submit to, for there is mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21).
These are some of the mandates I espouse in counselling husbands and wives.
And just to complete the article adequately, men must ask how they can keep their wives safe in the company of unsafe others – in their workplaces particularly. At the earliest sign of a toxic relationship in a workplace, husbands can support their wives by empowering them to do all they can to use formal processes of grievance; once they’ve been exhausted, to be prepared to withdraw from unsafe situations.