Withering Wives

This epidemic I am witnessing is the opposite of the beautiful vision of Psalm 128. At first, I saw it with one friend, then two, then four, and now it seems daily my attention is drawn to yet another wife in this condition. Instead of being a fruitful, flourishing vine, I watch my friend withering under the hot sun. No water comes her way, and instead there is cracking dry ground at her roots. Her leaves start to curl into themselves, and her vibrant color fades. She goes through the motions. She starts to shut down. She disengages from her husband emotionally. Why stay engaged in her marriage when she receives no encouragement or emotional support?

 

There is a deeply concerning epidemic among Christian marriages. I wrote about this once before, but it’s come to my attention again, a devastating trend among friends and acquaintances in Christian marriages far and near. It’s what I call the Withering Wife.

Psalm 128

1 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.

This epidemic I am witnessing is the opposite of the beautiful vision of Psalm 128. At first, I saw it with one friend, then two, then four, and now it seems daily my attention is drawn to yet another wife in this condition. Instead of being a fruitful, flourishing vine, I watch my friend withering under the hot sun. No water comes her way, and instead there is cracking dry ground at her roots. Her leaves start to curl into themselves, and her vibrant color fades. She goes through the motions. She starts to shut down. She disengages from her husband emotionally. Why stay engaged in her marriage when she receives no encouragement or emotional support?

I note two things that contribute to this withering – active scorn and passive neglect by a husband.

Some husbands freely communicate to their wives their active scorn. They despise their wife, and she knows it. One friend shared with me how in the middle of a conversation in which her husband talked to her with scorn, he picked up the phone and completely changed his tone of voice to one of kindness and respect with the other party on the phone, and even in conflict at work on the phone, she heard a patient tone that he never used with her. She longed to hear him engage with her that way, but he felt free instead to despise and dismiss her with his tone of voice as well as his words. He talked to her in a way he would never use with anyone else.

Equally harmful (but easier to excuse) is passive neglect. This is when a husband simply ignores his wife’s needs. She may share tearfully that she is struggling, and the husband shuts her down with his lack of response. Or he says they will talk about it later, but he never brings it up again. In so doing, he communicates through his passivity that her emotional struggles are not worth him engaging. He sees her struggling with the children, but he doesn’t actively step in. He watches her frustrated work to keep the house in some order, but he treats her like a nag or control freak that she feels the kitchen should be cleaned or the laundry put away. I ache watching loved ones demoralized by being in partnership with someone who sees them struggling day after day, but the only way to get their spouse to engage is to have a near melt down.

Passive neglect and active scorn may start as two different responses. But I have seen them slowly coalesce into one unified, degrading beast in many marriages. This is the degradation of looking your wife in the eye, hearing her request, maybe even agreeing to it, and then never acting on what you said you would do. That isn’t a small problem, and husbands who do it (I believe) know the power such a thing has to demoralize and wound a wife. Husbands who do it do not fear the Lord. They do not honor God’s command to not lie. They sin grievously against their wife and their God with this lie.

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