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Loving a Broken Man (or Woman)

Loving a Broken Man (or Woman)

This post continues an ongoing series, begun last week, featuring the message of Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your HusbandSince the book is written for wives, the advice will focus on wives, but for the purpose of this blog, I’m adding a new section to the book excerpt that addresses husbands.

In my boyhood days, our family had a dog that loved to chase cars. One fateful afternoon, she finally caught one and was seriously injured. My dad ran out to the road to retrieve her, and our family pet became a monster. Frenzied with fear and pain, that dog kept biting my dad as he gathered her into his arms. He had rushed to help her and bring her healing, but the pain so overwhelmed her that she could only bite the very hands trying to nurture her.

Your husband can be like that. Even if he had extraordinary parents, he most likely still brings some woundedness into your marriage. Maybe his siblings teased him. Maybe a former girlfriend broke his heart. Maybe he had a cold and calculating mother or father. The possibilities are endless, except that he comes to you as a hurting man. Maybe you even married a deeply wounded man.

Unfortunately, hurting men bite; sometimes, like our dog, they bite the very hands that try to bring healing.

As I have stated many times over in this blog and my books, I am not talking here about accepting or condoning abusive behavior or a pattern of him threatening you. This post is not meant for those who need to escape their marriages because their marriage has become unsafe; it is meant for those who want to help their wounded but safe husbands learn how to be more gentle and understanding and learn how to process their frustration, anger and shame in more mature ways.

One of the ways to do this is to view your husband’s actions through this lens: “What if he is a deeply wounded man acting out of shame and pain?” Before a dating relationship morphs into a permanent commitment, many women see a hurting man and think, I want to help him. But something about marriage often turns that around and makes the same woman ask, Why does he have to be that way? The man’s needs once elicited feelings of nurture and compassion; now these same hurts tempt his wife toward bitterness and regret.

Can you go back to that dating mindset now that you’re married?

The time to make a character-based judgment (“Do I really want to live with this man’s wounds?”) is before you exchange vows. Once the ceremony is over, God challenges you to maintain an attitude of concern and nurture instead of one of resentment and frustration.

I realize marriage reveals more clearly a man’s heart. And men sometimes change after they get married. Having children, getting fired from a job or losing a parent can all be triggers that release the negative, buried propensities in a man, so I am not chastising you for a choice you made in the past. But you did make a choice. In light of that choice, can you maintain a soft heart over his past hurts, patiently praying for long-term change? Or will you freeze him in his incapacities with judgment, resentment, condemnation and criticism?

Which attitude do you honestly think is more likely to bring about healing and change?

I believe marital healing comes when one or both partners learn to maintain a nurturing attitude instead of a judgmental one. It really does help if you look at your husband’s faults through the prism of his hurt— not to excuse him, but to plot a strategy for healing and then positive change. It’s a legitimate question to question your husband over something he has done. But before you do that, reset your attitude by asking yourself, “Why do I think he might be inclined to act this way?” You’re not looking to excuse him, you’re looking to understand him. Hurt can lead us to make unwise choices and respond in unhealthy ways. Knowing that’s what we’re responding to can be part of the process to learn how to respond in better ways.

Look at it this way: How would you want your daughter-in-law to treat your wounded son? That’s likely how your husband’s heavenly Father wants you to treat his wounded son.