Just before my hubby and I got married, we met up for dinner with a vicar friend of ours, what’s known in the trade as a ‘wise old chief’. He’s just finished saying grace when, mid-fork, he grabbed Glen and I by the wrist and eyeballed us in a steely glare.
‘Emma’, he barked. ‘Respect your husband. Praise him’
He turned to Glen and continued,
‘Glen – love your wife. Never, never, never put her down’.
And with that, his eyebrows relaxed and he dropped our now limp wrists. ‘Pass the salt’.
At the time, I thought that this was one of the weirdest pieces of marital advice I’d ever received. But with the passing of time, it’s started to make more and more sense. What did he mean?
A brief (but related) diversion.
What is it that you love about your other half? This one’s going out for all the marrieds in particular. Is it..
- his smell?
- his sense of humour?
- a hirsute upper body (now ladies, you can deny it all you like, but I know I’m not alone )
- his bank balance?
- his kiss?
- that funny thing he does with his teeth when he’s nervous..?
Perhaps you find yourself rhapsodising to friends on the complicated splendour that is your other half? ‘Ahh’, ‘We reflect, misty-eyed into our shared cappuccino … ‘What is it I love so much about Billybob?
Well, where do I Begin…?
‘He’s like the sea I think. A little bit mysterious, but so alive…full of life’.
‘He just…completes me’.
‘He’s ying to my yang?’
Ok, this isn’t very convincing. You’ve got me, ladies. I confess – I hardly ever praise my husband. Not because I don’t love him and think he’s great. (He is. Properly – an amazing bloke. Known within the family (and parish) as ‘Saint Glen’ and for good reason ).But for some reason, the words get stuck in my throat.
Part of the blame for this stems from growing up in a culture with little sympathy for ‘tall poppies’. In Northern Ireland, and within my family, evil personified is someone who thinks they’re a big shot. A player. A little bit special. A little bit Better than Everyone Else. That person may as well have an enormous bullseye on their forehead, cause here come the changes. They and their boundless self-esteem are gonna feel some Pain, they’re gonna see that they’re NOT mister big boots, nosirree, theys GONNA GET SHOT DOWN!!!!
In a loving way, of course.
But it’s not just a cultural thing. I see it in myself and, to a lesser extent, with friends. In pairs or groups of other women, how easy it is to roll our eyes, rub our hands together and launch into an impassioned tirade on everything from his chronic inability to replace the lid on the toothpaste, to that noise he makes when he’s breathing. (It’s a kind-of clicking thing – ask me about it later).
And in public, it can be even worse. I’ve spoken to others whose discomfort on watching their partners speak or perform, also leaves them contorted into an agony of hypervigilance and twitching limbs, terrified in case he SAYS SOMETHING REALLY STUPID.
What is wrong with me?! I LOVE my husband. I respect him more than any other living person. I’m proud of him. He is a gorgeous, godly, talented, funny bloke. His CV is impeccable. He serves me, every day, in a million different ways. So why can’t I tell him so? And why is my default setting to cut him down, rather than build him up?
I guess this is where I return to my friend’s advice and its basis in the Bible. What is it Ephesians says;
‘Husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands’.
Interesting, isn’t it? The requirements aren’t interchangeable. They’re different – which means that our sins must be different too. There is something in a woman that wants to dominate and control her man. And there’s something in a man that stops him serving and loving his wife. But in a funny way, that gives me hope. The Bible doesn’t think I’m someone I’m not. And God isn’t fooled by my Sunday face either. It’s a relief to go to a book that recognises who I am and doesn’t condemn me, but tells me instead, that change is possible. I’m not simply the product of my culture and neither is my marriage. At times it might be painful and its certainly an ongoing struggle, (‘Ahem… Honey I just love the way you sliced that cheese. So masterful!’)
With Christ at the centre of my marriage, maybe I’ve got the freedom and the strength to break my natural inclinations and to work on changing myself, instead of my hubby.