Category Archives: Nina Roesner

Are You “Walking on Eggshells” in Your Marriage?

I remember the first time a friend took advantage of me. We were sitting in the theater, around age nine, and I had a box of Junior Mints. Because of the noise involved in opening and dumping the candy out, I had most of the box contents poured out onto my palm. As I sat there, I realized my friend might want one. She didn’t bring any money to the show, so I whispered, “Hey, do you want some?” I held my hand out, piled high with the little brown orbs of peppermint yumminess.

I thought she’d take a few and be thankful. She proceeded to scoop them off of my hand and into both of hers.

I was surprised. Shocked. Confused. Angry. I couldn’t believe she had done that. I wanted to say, “HEY. I meant a few of them! What’s wrong with you?” But I said nothing, because I was afraid I would upset her. And I didn’t have any experience with exercising my voice – I thought the only option I had was voicing my anger, which seemed mean, so I kept my mouth shut.

I didn’t realize at the time that I neither had a boundary of what she could take from me, nor had I communicated it to her. I was also missing a healthy way of dealing with her behavior.

I spent the rest of the movie feeling sad about my three leftover pieces in the box, and lied to myself that it was all fine. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what.

I know now what my negative feelings were that day – they were caused by a combination of being taken advantage of by another, and failing to speak the truth.

Feeling taken advantage of hurts because of two reasons:

  1. The person who is treating us poorly is failing to love well in that moment, and
  2. We betray ourselves by failing to communicate our injury

The residue of inaction damages our self-esteem. It’s important that we deal with these little situations as they occur – but do so in a way that doesn’t trample on the esteem of another person.

Many wives often feel as though they are taken advantage of by their husbands. They feel as though they are carrying the weight of the housework, the relationships, the kids’ activities, etc. They also may be working part-time or full-time and are physically exhausted. What’s interesting is that many men also feel the same way – burdened by providing for their families, responsible for the more strenuous and physical home care items, and then expected to participate in relationships at a level that often frustrates and confuses them. All too often, conflict ensues between husband and wife, voices raise, and unhealthy and even damaging behaviors start spilling out onto the family landscape as a result of stress and lack of self-control.

What we don’t easily acknowledge is that far too often, the behaviors of either spouse can fall into the categories of verbal or emotional abuse – even if neither spouse intends to do the other harm. Repeats of these behaviors often cause the damage that occurs in abusive relationships – regardless of the intent of either spouse.

There’s a trend in our culture to label everything – and to espouse answers from positions of the extremes.  If you are in a marriage where you have some of the signs but know your spouse doesn’t intend to hurt or dominate you, some healthy changes and awareness can help a lot.  I’m going to suggest today that we fear GOD, instead of fearing our spouse. It is the beginning of wisdom, and it is Biblical. We know He hates divorce, so we should keep that in mind as we deal with these issues. Check the following “signs” below – if you have those in addition to fear, if there is a sense of “walking on eggshells” in your relationship, keep reading to learn how you can help your marriage heal.

Sign #1 –

If you have emotional control, you go to her and say something like, “I know you love me, and I know you didn’t mean to, but when you did ‘A’ it made me feel ‘B’ and I’m really struggling with what to do about that,” and she responds by discounting your feelings, arguing with you, defending what she did, minimizing or mocking you.  If she turns the discussion into how you’ve hurt her and suddenly you’re the one apologizing, and this is how it goes most of the time when you bring up an issue, then guess what? You have some REALLY unhealthy stuff going on – things that can damage a person’s soul, things that are labeled in the culture as “abusive.”

Sign #2 –

If you are excited about something good that happens to you, or you have an interest that feeds your soul and you are met with degrading, mocking, put downs, name-calling, or other remarks that make the clear point that there’s something wrong with you, what you like, or the success that you achieved – this is also unhealthy and harming to a person. Ideally, BOTH spouses should be enthusiastic and supportive of the other – regardless of how different or similar to the other they are.

Sign #3 –

When you are sad, sick, discouraged, etc., and you are demeaned or dismissed instead of being helped or treated kindly.  When your spouse behaves in an unkind way toward you regardless of how you are feeling – the absence of kindness (If anyone knows the good he should do and does not do it, sins.  James 4:17) or the presence of general unkindness is also damaging.

Much information exists in the realm of psychology about how these behaviors (and many more) damage the esteem of another. Tons of research and writing has been done on outcomes of abuse and what happens to victims. So we know what damage occurs, and we know how to help both the abuser and the victim – BUT – there’s a problem with the “labeling” of either.

 The culture we live in recognizes “abusers” as people of heinous motives. The signs above assume he or she is trying to control, trying to coerce, trying to manipulate.

I don’t believe the majority of Christian “abusers” are doing these things with the intention to harm their spouses.

This would never fly in a marriage, but how often have you seen men work out their issues with each other by physically going after each other in basketball, etc.? I don’t get it, but it’s a thing. They don’t naturally do conflict the way we do. I’m not excusing their behavior in marriage, nor am I intending to discount abuse victims (I’ve been one, just so you know. This post barely skims the surface of the bullying of my school years, nor does it cover the rape…) but I’m asking us to be wise enough, afraid of God enough, to see the whole picture, not just see what things look like from only our own perspectives. To not label, which is a form of judgment. I think this is also mature, healthy behavior.

Esteem IS destroyed – as is the case in the traditionally labeled “abuse” case – and the behavior may be classified as “abusive” BUT – the motives of the abuser aren’t evil, and too often, the “victim” (and I’m using quotes out of respect for those women (and men) who truly are victims, ones who are being beaten on a daily basis and those women who are raped in their homes, etc.) the “victim” in these other situations is actually contributing to the high levels of conflict and abusive behavior by responding in kind, AND by lacking healthy boundaries.

In other words, if we will learn how to stop responding abusively back and consider that “silence” and “lack of affection” – natural responses to being screamed at – are also listed as abusive behaviors, and set healthy boundaries for ourselves, not as a parental and punitive response to our spouses, if we’ll do those things, we can change our marriages. I know this to be true.

Want more proof?

I personally know women who have been in these situations, some which classify as legitimate abuse, including some with husbands whose motives were even questionable – and they’ve overcome these situations and God has healed them and their marriages!

The other thing we need to remember is that Shaunti Feldhahn’s research in The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages shows that “thinking the best” and “giving the benefit of the doubt” are MAJORLY important.

So know this: if you label your spouse as an “abuser” and yourself as the “victim” you are adding an element of toxicity to your marriage that will infect it like a plague. Seriously. There are a number of ministries and authors who work to help women (and men) who recognize that their spouse is treating them in abusive ways – here’s the problem – I’ve talked to many of these authors and some of the ministry folks… and their success rate for restoring the marriages is very low. Less than 5% of the marriages are healed. Most end in divorce.

What we are suggesting instead, is an approach that combines Biblical truth of not accepting abusive behavior, protecting yourself and your kids, but also heals your marriage. It is not easy, but neither is the path walked by ascribing intent to your spouse and labeling him an abuser, which often results in divorce.

The choices become fairly clear when we look at things this way.  We can:

  1. Judge our spouse’s intentions and label him/her an “abuser” and ourselves as a “victim” – which most of the time leads toward divorce
  2. Choose to label both of us as “sinners” then do the hard work of establishing healthy boundaries, while still loving and respecting our spouse
  3. Actively pursue healing for ourselves if we have been on the receiving end of unhealthy and damaging behaviors

I’m suggesting #’s 2 and 3.

Most of the men I talk to who have hurt their wives have done so unintentionally, however, if your spouse DOES intend to hurt you, control you, destroy you, then you are dealing with something completely different and you require the help of a licensed psychologist, preferably a Christian. Even with that, some of the second and especially the third options above will still help a lot.

What I’m saying is there’s actually something we can DO about unhealthy behaviors – including the ones from others that result in a destruction of our esteem.

Interactions with our spouse may leave you feeling worthless, suicidal, damaged – BUT he or she may or may not be intentionally “abusing you.” If your spouse claims to be a Christian, Matthew 18 is there to help – although most people will not do the hard work of walking through it, or do so with someone who is ill-equipped to help.

What solves these problems in marriage is both spouses establishing healthy boundaries, while treating themselves and their husband or wife with love and respect. When both of you get on the same side of the fence to protect the marriage, you can work in the same direction. Labeling your spouse an “abuser,” even if his or her behaviors fit in that category, do not help the marriage. Dealing with your own mental health to heal from these behaviors by joining Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery, or our Strength & Dignity eCourse (for women) will help you find healing.

I started our free Strength & Dignity eCourse to deal with these issues in a meaningful and life-changing way.  I see too many families being destroyed by good people who mean well who are missing some healthy alternatives to interaction AND are being coached in all the defensive ways to deal with being “abused” or “get control” of their families.  These tactics “work” by getting the women to safety, BUT – the marriage is destroyed. I want better options than that for us all.

May we all love and respect better today.

Nina Roesner is the author of The Respect Dare: 40 Days to a deeper connection with God & your husband (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and leads the free Strength & Dignity eCourse for wives who are suffering in verbally and emotionally difficult marriages. You can read more of her work at www.NinaRoesner.com .

How Love & Respect Impact our Marriage

Love & RespectThe tears slid silently down her cheeks, dampening the pillow.  Anger covering deep hurt dispersed sleep. The twenty-one years of her life dedicated to marriage and family seemed empty and wasted.  After all, what did she have to show for any of it?  Sure, her children loved her, but they were nearly on their own, and the dream of modeling a marriage that worked, was almost over.  Criticism met many of her comments and opinions. Gone were the days of open discussion, as arguments found their voice instigated by his harsh disagreement. She kept her thoughts more and more to herself. She had read all the books, gone to all the workshops, seen a therapist, done couples counseling, and her husband still remained distant.

Meanwhile, her husband sat at the computer in his home office. He noticed tonight when she went up to bed without saying a word to him again.  He noticed when she ignored his return from work.  He wondered about their upcoming anniversary date.  What was there to celebrate?  Sure, the marriage had survived, but their friendship was gone.  It had been months since they’d had sex.  He had tried, but she put him off. She seemed disinterested in the events he still loved and she used to enjoy.  His companions to art galleries and plays had become his children – who would go with him when they left the nest?  Weary of asking her to accompany him and face an eye roll and rejection again, he wondered about the anniversary date.  Feeling helpless, he sent her an email, suggesting she pick a restaurant.

Many relationships trudging down the path to divorce court and the others that somehow cling together still suffer a myriad of problems.  The marriages that do not terminate seem destined to trudge along with both people existing as roommates with separate lives, the hope of a deeply intimate relationship with their life partner all but gone.  Unfortunately, the downward spiral is inevitable to most couples.  Most relationships suffer conflict and stress, but with both spouses lacking in conflict-resolution skills, unresolved hurts are often left to fester, eventually erupting into damaging arguments, leaving scars upon both people.  Our culture handles conflict poorly, either by avoiding it, or engaging in it in unhealthy ways.  In our mission of helping wives facilitate relationship changes, we help couples reconnect and create healthier habits of interacting and working through conflict.  We also see women as uniquely gifted at relationships due to their biological composition. Brain research has long indicated that women are more wired for relationship creation and maintenance than men are (at least in general, due to the bonding hormone, oxytocin), so we help wives learn how to positively impact their marriages by tapping into these strengths.

We see marriages start to turn around when wives learn to speak love to their husband via the language of respect.  We see focusing on his very specific wants and needs through the vehicle of healthy communication begins positive change within marriage because one woman’s husband may be different from another’s.  After a wife worked to lay the ground work, we have found that most husbands are then in a place where they can more easily hear their own particular wife’s wants and needs for love and respect the way that she best experiences them and at the frequency she needs to hear them.  One of the major differences between the genders seems to be the frequency of reinforcement of the relationship – most women respond more positively to daily or near daily small demonstration of love from their husband, but many men seem to need reinforcement very infrequently. It appears that the old joke where the husband tells the wife, “I told you I loved you on our wedding day and if anything changes, I’ll let you know!” is based on truth – at least for a majority of men.  Unfortunately, that level of frequency often does not bode well from the wife’s perspective. But when a wife communicates love and respect in a way her husband can more readily experience it, he is also typically more motivated to be a better husband.  Many times, both spouses actually feel love and respect toward the other, but lack in their ability to communicate it the way their particular spouse hears it.  In a 2012 study, the University of Texas at Austin researched whether men and women show love differently in marriage.  What was interesting about their findings, is that in an effort to change the marriage, women reacted in a way consistent with how they typically like to receive affection.   The wives expressed love by communicating with fewer negative or antagonistic behaviors, and the husbands showed love by initiating sex, sharing leisure activities, and doing household work together with their wives.[1]

The simplest and most effective advice with regard to changing one’s own marriage is to once again, start doing the things you did early in your marriage with your husband.  The activities you did together at the beginning of the relationship do much in bringing couples back together.  Maybe you took a dance or dog-training class, or built a closet or a room addition, or put in a garden. The same principle applies to men, who need to refrain from negative and antagonistic behaviors, but if he does not naturally, which he probably won’t, a wife should ask for what she wants by specifically telling her husband what makes her feel loved.  Give him some time to figure things out while you keep speaking to him in the language he hears.  There’s also research by analyst Shaunti Feldhahn that points out that most men would rather feel unloved than disrespected. Know too, that when he is feeling disrespected, he is not going to naturally want to move towards you relationally.  In other words, get the respect piece right, then ask for what you want. It is a simple method that surprisingly enough, works for many marriages in turning things around to a more loving and respectful relationship.

older coupleWe encourage a few simple behaviors for wives who want to take their marriage up a notch or two, or want to turn their marriage around. These small behavior changes, when done in order, can dramatically impact the relationship:

  1. Remind yourself why you married him in the first place, creating a positive place in your own heart from which to start.
  2. Ask him what his favorite things are (that you did together) from the early days of your marriage – then set up a time to do those (or similar) things again, if he is interested in doing them.  If his interests have changed, do something new at his suggestion.
  3. Initiate sex every couple of days – and if he responds to you by saying or doing something loving, put your hand on his shoulder and tell him how much you appreciate what he said/did and then initiate sex or flirt for later if the kids are around.
  4. Ditch the negative behaviors that communicate disrespect like the eye roll, exasperated sigh, etc. An entire list is available here on The Respect Dare blog.
  5. Ask him specifically what makes him feel loved – then do that.
  6. Ask him for what you want (affection, dates, physical touch outside of sex, cleaning up after dinner, etc.), if he hasn’t started these things already.  When he does what speaks to you, initiate sex again. Most men will respond positively to the above six steps.  Just keep repeating through them.
  7. If your husband is extremely analytical, he may struggle more than most men in showing affection.  You may perceive this as his refusal to do things that you want, but understand that he might not know how and gently let him know it hurts you.  If your tears have an effect on him, cry.  If he cannot hear that, send him a brief text message. Do not initiate sex, and when he pursues you, say something like, “I’m really struggling with sharing this part of me with you when you hurt me like you did.  I just can’t get my head or heart into this until you treat me better.” Know that if you start here, however, without learning to lovingly communicate when you are confronting, and when he doesn’t feel respected by you in the first place, you’ll just add difficulty and potentially more damage to your relationship.
  8. If he still refuses to change, stop scheduling time with him to do leisure activities for a while, and make an appointment with an older couple he deeply respects who has a good marriage.  Share your frustrations with this man and his wife, and ask them to be part of a confrontation with your husband about his behavior.  If you attend church or his parents or your parents do, they or a counselor may be good choices for this discussion.  This should also be done with your heart in a place of love towards him, otherwise, he will view it as a personal attack and become defensive.  Often, if #7 has done in a truly loving way, this step will be unnecessary.  Prior to doing this, you should also let him know that this is what you are considering.  There is a difference between manipulation and a loving confrontation about someone else’s damaging behavior.  You can’t treat him like a child, either, or this will not have positive results.
  9. Be on the lookout for loving behavior by him – and initiate sex or physical contact when you see it.  Men often experience connection through physical intimacy, so positively reinforcing what you want more of in this way is not manipulative, but rather encouraging, unless your heart is in a place of trying to control him, instead of trying to improve both of your experiences of your marriage.

This is a long and difficult process and many books have been written on the subject.  Know that your husband is not your enemy, and that both of you can benefit from learning how to work through these difficulties.  Concerted effort is not enough to turn a marriage around, however, effort on the most impactful activities makes all the difference in the world.

 

 

Nina R

Nina Roesner is the author of The Respect Dare, recently released by Thomas Nelson. It is a book that is best described as an experience that connects women deeply to God and their husband through the application of respect.  She is the executive director of Greater Impact, a training organization which equips men and women of faith in relationship skills and public speaking abilities.

 

 



[1] Elizabeth Schoenfeld’s work, “Do Men and Women Show Love Differently in Marriage?” appeared in the November 2012 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.