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The Profile of Desperate Husbands & Wives

Patsy Rae Dawson

In the beginning of desperate marriages, wives cry easily when they cannot get their husbands' attention to legitimate problems. One preacher said, "If the husband ignores the problems long enough, I will see him in my office sobbing while wife sits dry-eyed and hard as stone. At this point, it is extremely hard for him to win his wife back."

While both husbands and wives can become desperate, counselors encounter despairing wives more frequently than depressed husbands. It may not be that more wives actually reach a state of being desperate than men do, only that men are more capable of burying their hopelessness behind a front of normalcy. Yet countless men also suffer from the desperate spouse syndrome.

When finally desperateness sets in, often the husbands or wives are on the verge of leaving their mates and may be ready to turn their back on God and their children as well. Some may have already committed adultery or are contemplating it. Often these husbands and wives appear very attractive with pleasing personalities. Many of them are valuable participants in the church. On the outside they often seem to enjoy a perfect marriage. When fellow Christians learn of their situation, they are shocked because they can't imagine that they deserve the tragedy that surrounds them.

The profile of desperation for these husbands and wives follows along similar lines with some notable exceptions due to indisputable differences in their mental makeup. Both men and women begin marriage with the same high expectations:

Marry Expecting Happiness

Many a woman, when she marries, thinks she's making a wise choice, and expects to live happily ever after. She wants to be a good wife who enjoys a wonderful relationship. Or if she realizes that her fiancé has basic character flaws, she's naively assumes that she can make a difference and bring out the best in him.

Men marry expecting the same happiness that women do. At least in the beginning, this chosen wife openly thinks that the man is wonderful which motivates him to work long and hard to provide for her and take care of her. He feels certain that he'll enjoy a blessed relationship with her.

Marriage Problems Arise

Every marriage has problems-it's part of being a human. Each stage of life has its own unique problems to solve whether it is making newlywed adjustments, taking care of a new baby, facing the challenges of teenagers, navigating job changes, grieving over a death, buying a new home, or even entering retirement. The normal problems of life either get solved and the marriage grows or they fester and get bigger and eventually lead to a desperate wife or husband.

Perhaps the most common cause for a wife to become desperate is misdirection of her desire to please others. Women often demonstrate this characteristic to the point of neglecting their own legitimate needs. When this is coupled with the wife being intimidated by her husband's angry reaction to problems, the wife quickly reaches a point where she does not feel free to approach her husband about any problem, no matter how small. While many sins in the home lead to desperate wives, ignorance on how to face a man's anger complicates all problems and often starts the spiral downward to a real crisis.

While some husbands are just as intimidated by a hot-headed wife and give in time and time again in an effort to control her outbursts, men often become desperate for a more common reason. One desperate husband explained that he told his wife-to-be, "I'll give you the babies you want. I'll work and provide for you and the children. You just give me sex-all I want is great sex." Other problems also lead to a desperate husband, but the number one reason is a wife's sexual neglect. Husbands aren't immune from sexual inhibitions, and sexual neglect from a husband can lead to desperate wives.

Assign Blame for Problems

When problems aren't solved, human nature seeks to assign blame. The first recorded sin shows this tendency when Adam blamed both his wife and God with the excuse for why he sinned: "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate" (Gen. 3:12). Eve, on the other hand, did not blame her husband, but said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

Modern husbands and wives differ greatly on whom they blame. When problems first occur, without a handy serpent around, women usually blame themselves before they blame their husbands. This feminine self-blame helps wives analyze their marriage problems and drives them to find solutions, which can be good. A woman exercises tremendous influence over her husband, children, and the emotional environment of the home. By looking at herself she often sees things she can change-better meals on time or more expressions of love.

This self-blame leads a wife to read marriage books and to take classes. She learns the ABCs of marriage and gains control of her will through subjection. As she makes corrections on herself, the normal husband responds and the marriage becomes better. That's the end of blaming herself because she feels good about her marriage-that she has solved the problem. This tendency to self-blame helps women control their influence over their husbands.

However, in desperate marriages, the woman trying to change herself does not get results because of the husband's sin. In effect, the wife tries to change herself to relieve a character flaw in her husband rather than expecting him to accept responsibility for his actions. It never works.

Different from women, men usually do not blame themselves for problems in the marriage. Like their father Adam, their masculine tendency is to blame their wives regardless of what the problem is. God recognized this self-love of men in Eph. 5:28 where Paul told husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. The apostle Paul did not criticize husbands' self-love, but admonished men to make sure that they loved their wives in the same way they loved themselves. In other words, Paul told husbands, "You know how to love yourself, so love your wife the same way." Generally, men know how to love themselves better than women know how to love themselves.

The man's self-love helps him be competitive and succeed in the world to provide for his family-to aggressively be the best he can in taking care of them. God just cautions the man to make certain that he loves his wife in the same way he loves himself. This blaming of the wife is often harbored secretly and the wife may have no idea that her husband is unhappy. Or if it is brought up, the wife does not realize the depth of the pain her husband feels. Or the husband may blow up at his wife and the wife just views the issue as a sensitive subject to avoid.

Unfortunately, husbands and wives often carry this natural tendency to assign blame to an extreme-women blame themselves in spite of the truth of the situation and men blame their wives instead of accepting responsibility for their own character faults. Assigning blame for problems sends husbands and wives ever closer to becoming desperate.

May Take Marriage Classes

Because of the differences in the male and female brains, husbands and wives deal with their problems differently. When the fetus is in the womb, the male fetus is bathed with male hormones and the female with female hormones. These hormones affect the way their brains develop and the way men and women think. Women possess more pathways between the two sides of their brains, which helps the two sides work together and creates single-mindedness. This makes it nearly impossible for women to ignore even simple problems.

On the other hand, men use the two sides of their brains separately, which enables them to think about two complex subjects at the same time. This enables men to go to work and ignore their problems. While many wives accuse their husbands of not caring, this ability enables men to earn a living in spite of what goes on at home. It also helps prevent on-the-job-accidents. Yet the wife's single-mindedness drives her to find a solution because she can't forget her problems. She can't wash dishes or play with her children and forget her problems. Her problems continually nag her because of her single-mindedness.

These differences are basically good for both men and women. The single-mindedness of women makes them determined to solve problems instead of ignoring them. Women possess a tremendous ability to be good problem solvers because they are unwilling to let things pass without a solution. This difference in men and women probably contributes a great deal to why wives seek marriage classes and husbands must often be coerced into taking one.

Women exert tremendous influence over men to bring out their better natures. For example, George Gilder calls a man without a wife a "barbarian" in his book Men and Marriage. A single man is more prone to crime and suicide, and he doesn't live as long as married men. He doesn't have the goals for his life that a married man has. The Russians and NASA send women into space with men because of the calming effect women have over men. Probably seventy-five percent of marriages begin a new era of happiness when women take marriage classes simply because the men need their wives. This increases the woman's self-confidence and self-esteem.

The desperate wife can't help but notice that the other women's husbands are responding to the marriage classes. Everyone else's marriage seems to be getting better. Even the problem marriages make dramatic improvements! She is deeply affected by this revelation. After a while, when classes are announced, she openly refuses to take more until there are classes for the men.

Christians often shake their heads in wonder that the very people who seem to need marriage classes the most refuse to take them. Just as the wife tends to blame herself for all problems, they join in the blame of the wife-if she would just take more classes everything would be ok.

However, God placed an equal responsibility on the husband to learn. Peter admonished husbands that if they didn't live with their wives according to knowledge, their prayers would be hindered (I Pet. 3:7). It doesn't matter how long or how beautifully a man prays, if he mistreats his wife, his prayers don't rise any higher than the ceiling-they are a mockery to God. Likewise, Proverbs begs men over and over to learn their role in sexual love. But it is extremely hard to get men to accept this responsibility to learn until it is often too late to save their marriages.

Emotions Sink to a New Low

When the husband fails to fully respond to the wife's efforts, she tends to blame herself more than ever. She often assumes the job of trying to make a moody or irritable husband happy. Her self-blame takes a new turn as she blames herself irrationally. She blames herself for things she cannot control: "If only I were more lovable." "If only I were prettier." "If only I hadn't gotten pregnant so many times." "If only I could get pregnant." "If only I could control my emotions." "If only I didn't care." "If only I knew how to please him." "If only. . ." "If only. . ."

Jesus said to love others as one loves himself (Mt. 22:39). However, Jesus did not criticize self-love but used it as an example. While women know they should love others, the desperate wife does not know how to love herself. So instead, she accepts the blame for her husband's sins and destroys her self-worth in the process.

Husbands, on the other hand, continue their blame of their wives, which turns into bitterness. God warned about male bitterness in Col. 3:19 where Paul admonished, "Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them." This verse speaks directly to a husband's tendency to blame his wife for all problems rather than loving her as he loves himself. This bitterness can grow so deeply that, as one desperate husband explained, it turns into actual hatred of the wife. Bitterness so affects a person's ability to think clearly that husbands often loose their ability to deal with problems in a rational manner. The wife may not have any idea that her husband harbors such ill-feelings toward her.

Find Others to Commiserate With

Somehow, desperate wives know all the other women in the congregation whose husbands are verbal or physical abusers or alcoholics, sexually cold, financially controlling, etc. These are their friends and the ones they seek advice from. Rarely do they go to someone who seems to have a good marriage.

The desperate husband may make generalized remarks to other men about the sexual coldness of women. If the other man doesn't respond, the desperate husband assumes that man doesn't understand his problem. However, if the other man also criticizes women's sexual nature, then the desperate husband has found a buddy to commiserate with.

Finding someone to sympathize with their problems only makes the situation worse for desperate husbands and wives. Continually hashing over the faults of their mates temporarily soothes their minds and distracts them from finding an actual solution to genuine problems and delays the inevitable.

Depression Sets In

When the wife first began learning her God-given role and started blaming herself, she found legitimate things she could change to make her marriage better. As a result, she found seasons of refreshing (Acts 3:19) that a person experiences when she examines herself honestly. This happened because she really needed to improve her life. But when irrational self-blame takes over for sin in the marriage, only depression results. At the same time, the wife's single-mindedness refuses to give her rest and drives her to find a solution. It is utter torment for the desperate wife as her self-image deteriorates ravishes her with depression.

Likewise, the desperate husband thinks his problems are hopeless and feels trapped in a loveless marriage. He may be susceptible to temptation even if he is committed to remaining true to his marriage vows. One husband explained, "Even a waitress or clerk in the store who speaks kindly to you can arouse all kinds of feelings if life is not right with your wife." Having to constantly fight temptation makes him resent his wife even more as his bitterness turns to deep soul-wrenching depression.

Fights for Emotional Survival

The desperate wife's low opinion of herself often affects both her physical and mental well being. This may go on for years before her self-image finally reaches such a low point that she can no longer continue the way she is and survive emotionally. As a result, she begins to literally fight for emotional survival. At the shelter, women frequently say, "I'm losing it" or, "I feel like I'm drowning." These women struggle daily to survive as an emotional, intelligent person of worth.

Such a wife often realizes that she must repair her self-image just to survive as a person. Yet her fight for survival often goes on silently within her and few people know about her inner-turmoil. She may take a job outside the home for distraction and to find self-worth. She may enroll in physical improvement courses or go back to school.

In desperation, she finally realizes that she cannot continue to blame herself for something she didn't do and survive. A woman can fool her conscienceness into thinking something is her fault when it isn't. But after she reaches mental exhaustion, her subconscious reminds her of all the things she's told herself which were unjust. Then past conflicts that she thought she had safely buried flood her mind. Now her tendency to blame herself shifts over to her husband. She reacts to all the past hurts-not just the present ones-which may cause her blame of him to come across as irrational, too. With emotional exhaustion, she probably also loses her ability to cry about her problems as she deliberately hardens herself. This struggle for emotional survival is profound.

Once the wife starts to blame her husband and turns her anger away from herself, she may confront him about the sin in his life. Her husband usually responds with anger or ridicule as Prov. 29:9 says, "When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest." "Foolish" is the same word for "jerk." When the wife finally exposes such a husband, he angrily defends himself or makes fun of her as a woman and ridicules her needs and desires. The wife then views his anger as making the problem worse and backs off. She may even apologize to stop his tirade. From now on she brings up the subject only when desperation overtakes her.

She feels hopelessly trapped in an impossible situation. She often seeks help from the preacher or elders. If she is the only one in counseling, she often tries to resign herself to accepting the problem. Women seldom possess this ability when sin is involved. As a result, bitterness invades her thinking. As the years go by, she continually seeks help. Often she goes to each new preacher who comes her way without results. Bitterness becomes overwhelming and her fight for survival continues as she goes into deeper depression.

While wives often assume their husbands don't display many emotions, at this point the desperate husband will also begin to fight for emotional survival. The husband may go through what the world calls a "mid-life crisis" which can result in career changes or even an affair in an effort to just survive.

The husband experiences overwhelming bitterness against his wife. One desperate husband described this time as an emotional breakdown where he could not stop crying for several weeks. While women's emotional nature changes as they lose their ability to cry over the problem, men's emotional nature also changes as they easily cry over the situation. One preacher, who counsels couples, said he often has men in his office sobbing while their wives are dry-eyed and hard as stone.

The husband's depression deepens as he feels more and more that the situation is hopeless. He desperately strives to survive as a whole person.

Blames God

In the beginning, both the desperate husband and wife gave in to their human instinct to assign blame. The husband blamed the wife and the wife blamed herself. When that only led to greater pain and turmoil, both now turn to blaming God in a last desperate effort to survive emotionally as a person. Since they worked hard to make a success of their marriages with little to show for it, it seems logical to blame God, whom they think withheld his blessings.

In addition, they blame God because they need to blame someone. The desperate wife tried to blame herself and destroyed her self-image in the process. Then when she began blaming her husband, he only got mad and she couldn't face his anger. Likewise, the desperate husband knows how to love himself and he has only become more bitter with blaming his wife. He needs someone better to blame. Both the desperate husband and wife begin blaming God because it is safe. After all, God is in heaven and he won't shout at them. God won't beat on them. God won't neglect their sexual desires. It's safe to blame God because he won't make their life any more miserable than it already is. Besides, blaming God takes away their personal responsibility in the matter. So they turn to condemning God.

Leaves Mate and the Church

This is a difficult time for counselors to help either desperate husbands or wives. Desperate spouses will want to leave their mates because they can't survive living in this home environment. They also think that to leave their mates, they must leave the church. Desperate husbands or wives don't want their brethren to tell them, "You can't divorce. You've got to endure it." Desperate husbands and wives are fighting for emotional survival and they become hardened toward any admonition that fails to understand the predicament they're in. At this stage, it is nearly impossible to get their attention and win them back to either God or to their mate.

Many desperate husbands or wives totter on this point for years-silently blaming God for their unhappiness and secretly desiring to turn their backs on both their religion and their mates. Often the depth of their feelings prevents them from taking the final step. They know that their bitterness and resentments are so strong that if they make the decision to leave their mates that they will also end up leaving the church. When that happens, they know that there is little chance that their brethren will be able to restore them. While no longer serving God whole-heartedly, such desperate husbands or wives still maintain a desire to trust God and don't want to reject him completely. This keeps them locked in unhappy marriages where bitterness and resentments continue to build. Many such desperate husbands or wives desire to simply disappear and start over.

The sinful husbands or wives are usually totally unaware of the degree of the desperate husbands' or wives' unhappiness. Only when the desperate husbands or wives actually leave, do many sinful spouses even realize there is a problem. By then, even if the sinful husbands or wives accept responsibility for their sins and stop them, the desperate husbands or wives have a difficult time recognizing these changes and accepting them.

Even men who seem so strong in the Lord and who are tireless workers in the congregation can reach a point of desperation where they leave their wives and families and their brethren in an attempt to find some earthly happiness. Once they reach this point, it is very hard to bring them back.

Christians Often Make It Worse

In many ways, these desperate husbands and wives sound like Job questioning why God reached down to punish him when he hadn't done anything. Remember how Satan chided God that Job served him only for what God did for him. Then he challenged God to take away Job's children and wealth. When that didn't work, Satan told God, "Skin for skin," and implied that Job would quit serving God if he suffered physically. To test Job, God inflicted him with boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Job was in physically and emotional turmoil.

Then Job's three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar heard about his bad fortune and came from a long distance to see him. When they saw how horrible Job suffered, his three friends sat down with him and didn't open their mouths for seven days. For seven days they sat there and looked at him and thought about his situation. Surely, they were getting ready to offer Job some comfort. But when they finally opened their mouths, they didn't do that. Instead, they said, "Job, God wouldn't have punished you if you hadn't been wicked. Job, what have you done to deserve this?"

Job came back, "I'm doing everything I should. I don't deserve this."

The major part of the book of Job is devoted to these three friends criticizing Job and Job answering them. Finally, Job was so worn down by them that Job really did sin. Job began to say, "God has just reached down and touched me with his finger. He's just looked down and punished me." Job began to blame God just like these desperate husbands and wives do.

Then God sent Elihu, a young man, to Job. He told Job's three friends, "I shouldn't have to say this to you, but you men are out of line. You're wrong for accusing Job of something he didn't do." Next, Elihu turned to Job and asked, "Do you even understand how lightening works? Do you understand the basic elements of how the universe you live in works? God has created the universe and understands things that we don't begin to comprehend. You need to place your confidence in God and trust him." So Job repented and turned to trusting God once again.

Unfortunately, Christians often sound like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and assert that desperate husbands and wives must have done something horrible for their mates to treat them this way. "If you'd only be more submissive, he'd be more loving. You must be doing something wrong for him to treat you like this." This only alienates desperate husbands and wives even more. They should treat her like Elihu and restore her faith in God's justice and love. God does care. He offers solutions. We just need to turn to His word and discover what they are.

We need to help them stop blaming God, but looking to him for the solutions to their marriages.

Thus, most restoration efforts fail because they center on her rejection of worshiping with her brethren--not her real problem--her lost confidence in God because of serious unresolved marriage conflicts that involve sin on the husband's part. The wife often hardens herself against her brethren because she doesn't want them to force her to go back to an emotionally destructive situation.

Chances are these women are working harder at their marriages than the women who have the good marriages. A woman who has a good marriage can say something wrong, she can say something flippant or something that if we analyzed it in the strictest sense is not submissive, but because she has a good marriage, her husband hardly seems to notice. Yet these women in the desperate marriages, they don't have to say anything flippant, they don't' have to say anything that's not truly in subjection. They can say the most innocent thing or nothing at all, and their husbands because of the sin in his life, will launch into a tirade or physically abuse them or have an affair. He'll do all sorts of things because of the sin in his life.

These women may be trying harder to make a success of their marriages than the women who take all the classes, but have good marriages. So for Christians to come along and say, "If you'd be submissive, you won't have these problems." Now desperate women need to understand what is involved in subjection because they may be putting up with dictates in the realm of leadership that are contrary to God's word that actually enable their husbands' sins. Many times the problem is not simply being more submissive, but learning where God expects them to draw the line and say, "No."

In our congregation and churches we have women of all ages who are very valuable assets to the church, women who are often attractive with pleasing personalities, they don't have obvious flaws and characteristics that would make you think they had problems at home. But because of desperate marriages, because of sin that is in the husband's life, many times we are losing are best workers in the church.

We're losing women in our congregations, maybe someone who is very active in our class program because she is emotionally worn out by the sin in her home.

One woman was on the verge of suicide because of her husband's sin--at the low end of dealing with a desperate marriage. She was a woman other women came to wanting advice about how to solve their own marriage problems. When a friend tried to talk her out of the suicide by asking her, "What about your children? They need you." the woman replied at a later conversation, "If I do, I'll take the children with me." Because of the sin in her husband's life, suicide seems like the logical way out.

This is a woman who is a Christian, a woman who is admired in her congregation, a woman who has put a lot of time in studying about the woman's role in the Bible, a woman who is fighting for emotional survival. We are losing some of our best members simply because we are not helping them deal with sin in their homes. This hurts our congregations because it is a real problem. Unfortunately, this problem is far too common. We need to learn how to help these women find inner peace instead of depression and hopelessness.
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