[Note: This blog entry is intended for men. It was a difficult blog post to write, and I’m still working through it. But it was far enough along to push the “publish” button and provide you with a launch point for your own search into the subject. It may seem as though I am just focusing on narcissistic women, with men as victims, but I hope to write a similar post on the reverse relationship – a wife living with a narcissistic husband – in the near future.
Underneath this entire blog post is the view that marriage is a human illustration of a divine relationship]
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
How is it possible to be peacefully married to a a contentious woman and still be a real man? A tough question. Her modus operandi is to dominate you, which leaves you the seemingly impossible choices of either fighting back and creating a war at home, or submitting, neither of which is appealing (or correct). This post summarizes a range of things to consider for dealing with the situation. Your contentious woman could range from one who is merely annoying to one who is “impossible to live with”.
There are some extremes for handling a contentious wife. One would be to try to dominate her by very aggressively putting her in her place. Another is to wash your hands of responsibility by saying “she’s the contentious one, so I’m off the hook and don’t need to try to live at peace”. And yet another extreme is to become a doormat for the sake of “peace at all costs”, and as a result, less than manly husband.
None of these extremes are consistent with the verses above. So, how can we live at peace with a domineering, controlling woman while at the same time continuing to “act like men”. It is possible. God does not give us instructions without also providing the means to carry them out.
The phrase in Romans 12:18, “as far as it depends on you” implies that it is not a matter of “peace at all costs”. But it also implies that there are many actions which you can take to live in peace, with the result that lack of peace in the relationship will be her responsibility, not yours. [Please see the note at the bottom of the blog.]
To re-paint the picture of this woman
15 A constant dripping on a day of steady rain
And a contentious woman are alike;
16 He who would restrain her restrains the wind,
And grasps oil with his right hand.
The contentious woman is that way in her nature. You cannot stop her from being contentious, and it is not something you can “talk through” with her (one technique for trying to stop her – you might as well hold back the wind). You never know what will set off the next conflict (rain drips are unpredictable). She does not accept that she is contentious, and trying to get her to understand what she is doing (with the intent that she will change her behavior based on a clear understanding) is like trying to grab a handful of oil, as it says in Proverbs 27:16.
On the other hand, you have God-given responsibilities as a man, husband, and father – and to generally “act like men” (be a manly man). How can you do this in the face of a woman you are linked to who is (unconsciously) driven to dominate you?
The essence of the range of possible solutions is to create a barrier to your wife’s contentiousness (let her have her conflicts in her own space) —— while you focus on your God-given responsibilities, all the while looking to God for your emotional needs and trusting Him to work on your behalf in many “little” (and a possibly a few “big”) ways.
The process begins with a clear understanding of God’s love and goodness, especially toward you, and a realization that there can be hope in the situation, as “all things are possible with God”.
This process also includes a clear understanding and distinction between what is under your responsibility and control, and what is only up to God. Understanding this distinction is a starting point for internal peace, when accompanied by real trust in Him
131 O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
“Great matters” in Psalms 131 refers to things “above our pay grade” – or said anot
The following is a list of possible ideas that can practically address self-preservation and protection, protecting others around you (especially children) who may be impacted, and moving beyond to even thrive in the situation. I have grouped them roughly by relationship – you with your wife, you with yourself, and you with God. However, you will see that the three relationships are all ultimately quite linked.
I will say again that this is a list of possible ideas – it is not a magic formula. Please ask God generally for daily wisdom and grace, and specifically for help with finding solutions for individual issues – and if you humbly seek He will provide.
A Brief Look At The Situation
- Many things that happen in her life will be portrayed by her as your fault
- She will blame you for the poor marital relationship that is the result of her contentiousness
- She will believe that she has a right to be contentious toward you because of a combined view that a. you are not good enough for her and b. she is superior to you. (This is one reason that trying to stop her from being contentious will not work – she cannot tolerate any perceived criticism, especially from someone inferior.)
- What you do will never be enough
- She will not change based on your urgings – only God can do it. (So do not try to persuade her to understand what she is doing to you and to the relationship – but you CAN ask God to open her eyes to what she is doing)
- Since a contentious woman is close to a scoffer/mocker, she will not respect you but lean towards (publicly) shaming you. This will feel like rottenness in your bones.
- Her controlling nature seeks to prevent you from being yourself, but rather seeks to make you conform to her will.
- Because her contentiousness is inside her and not about you (you’re just the most relevant and convenient target), she will be randomly upset with things in her life and be grouchy about them
- If she asks your opinion, she is looking for you to give the answer that she wants to hear – and she may take the opposite side of any answer you give her
- There is an underlying sense that she really only cares about herself, not you – which from a human perspective makes “loving her” feel as though it’s not worth the effort (although God has a different perspective on this).
- The root cause of all her contentiousness is a strong drive to conform the world to her (changing, arbitrary) desires – based on a inner drive to get what she wants, and with an underlying sense of entitlement to get she wants
Pretty bleak, isn’t it? However, we can overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. There are three primary relationships involved – you and your contentious wife, you and yourself, and you and God.
I. You and Yourself – Being a Man In The Face Of Her Contentiousness – Moving From Surviving To Thriving
Don’t whine about your lot in life. You married her. She may have used charm to deceive you, but at the end of the day no one forced you into this relationship. There is nothing that you are going through that Jesus did not experience in far worse ways at the hands of men. Be your own man – just because she has an opinion or says something about you does not make it true – it is God’s opinion of you that truly counts
- Focus on fulfilling God’s purpose for your life
God is not limited by any restrictions your contentious wife uses in her attempts to control you. – God will provide you with opportunities to fulfill your God-given purpose even within the “jail” you are in. “The word of God is not imprisoned”. Look for little ways to fulfill your calling and do not despise small opportunities. The widows mite and a cup of cold water are just as valuable in God’s eyes as grand things. God will lead you in this, if you ask Him. And, a big part of your purpose is your testimony of God’s faithfulness in helping you deal with your difficult situation.
- Lead where it counts, and focus on the protection and training of your kids.
Your wife can hen-peck you on little things with no consequence other than her being extremely annoying. However, on the big things that impact the spiritual health of your family, you need to make sure you are properly leading.
This kind of woman will have a negative impact on your kids – if she’s berating you, she will be doing the same to them (except for perhaps her chosen favorite). Teach your kids about who God really is -Love, All knowing, All wise – in contrast to the possible warped view which your wife demonstrates. Make sure that they understand their value in God’s sight. Get one-on-one time with them, finding ways around your wife’s (possible) objections. Help them understand (in general terms, without specifically criticizing your wife) the nature of the pride of man’s heart. Your example in being manly in the face of your wife’s attacks will speak volumes to them.
- Look to God for your protection and personal fulfillment.
Develop a love relationship with the Lord and gain the strength that comes through His strength. Look to Him for your emotional comfort under His wings. Trust God to show Himself strong on your behalf, in, and THROUGH the situations. Seek to become wisdom and internal strength. Seek true strength (your personal house built upon the rock). In HIS presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) – the pressures of life drive us to the only place where we can be truly happy – Him. We often will not get to that place on our own, without those pressures
Get sunshine and exercise, listen to music, and enjoy the sky, flowers, trees, stars and millions of other little things that God has provided for you. Get enough rest as tiredness easily leads to discouragement. Look forMake a mental list of, and thank Him consistently for all the ways He is constantly providing for and giving to you. This is good in itself, but will also take your focus off of what you do not have (that you think you should have).
- Don’t defend yourself.
Follow Jesus’ example of silence in the face of the onslaught. Trust God to defend your reputation – as He chooses – and remember that God’s reputation (in how you reflect Him in the situation is far more important than your earthly reputation (everyone dies anyway, so who really cares what they think, right?). Others will see the contrast between your kindness and your wife’s contentiousness. And God can create situations to reveal the contrast
- Get your self-worth and respect from God
A contentious woman by definition does not respect you. On the contrary, she will denigrate (shame) you at just the wrong moments – which will be like rottenness in your bones. Ultimately our value comes from the value God places on us, and not on what others think of us, even the opinions of those closest to us. Therefore, continue to fill your mind and heart with God’s opinion of you (start with Psalm 139), leaving no room for your wife’s self-exalting, you-abasing opinion of you
II. You and Her – Living At Peace In the Face Of Her Contentiousness
- Set an initial goal of being at peace with her to the extent that you can. not a perfect or great or even good marriage, but rather the minimum standard of being at peace instead of warring.
Recognize that just because she blames you for “X” does not make what she says true. She often creates the problem of the day (evil #1), and then blames you for it (evil #2) – adding evil upon evil. As a narcissist, she will set herself up as your judge and assume that she is correct to do so as she is superior to you. Embrace God’s view of yourself instead of hers.
The “breastplate of truth” is one element of the full armor of God, which is designed help you defeat evil instead of being defeated by it. Speaking and acting upon the truth of Jesus’ words, is part of building Build your life upon the solid personal foundational rock of obedience to the truth – Jesus’ words
However, truth also takes responsibility for your own actions
- Create space for yourself (this is an implementation of avoiding while not neglecting your responsibilities).
Find a “corner of the roof” and make use of it (Proverbs 21:9, Proverbs 21:19, Proverbs 25:24). In the days of Proverbs, the roofs were flat and exposed with stairs leading to them. One interpretation of Proverbs 21:9 was that it was better to be outside and exposed to the elements than inside and exposed to the abuse of a contentious and quarrelsome wife. You may need to be creative on how to create or find your corner of the roof, and how and when you take advantage of it. It is not a hiding place, but rather a place to get centered and creatively fulfill a God-given purpose. The “corner of the roof” in 1,000 BC would have also been a possible work area. The guy would not have just gone up there to sit, but would have also kept his hands busy doing something productive.
While one option for creating a your own version of a “corner of the roof” is a “man cave” (it sounds appealing and may have it’s place), holing yourself up in a dark room is not helpful for your mental state – sunshine and fresh air are important for a positive outlook (a “corner of the roof” in 1,000 BC would have had plenty of sunshine). Also, consider that “creating space” could also include “scheduling space” – managing your schedule vis a vis your wife’s schedule in order to get a little breathing room.
A special note: Your kids are suffering as much as you (even though they may not be aware of what’s really happening). Do not just worry about your own space and leave them hanging. Be sensitive to their needs by discretely assisting them in creating space as well
- Leave it to God to deal with her
HE will show her her contentiousness. Either open her eyes in this life, OR Reveal it very clearly on Judgement Daty HE can rebuke her fake charm – being nice to everyone else, while nasty to her own family. Do not try to save her from the consequences of her contentious nature. She will be contentious towards others as well, and they can give her the consequences. Let God discipline her through this. Do not try to tell her that she is a contentious woman
- Do not react to her attacks (ie – fight back, blow your top, walk out, snide comments, etc)
Your fighting her is just a means of trying to get her to stop, which is futile. She will fight to the death in order to win a battle. Abandon the quarrel before it breaks out. It is very tempting to try to “fix her”, by pointing out her contentiousness and its negative impact on your relationship (and you). It will not work, and will just result in a bigger argument as she aggressively defends herself and rejects any criticism. Instead of reacting, use every attack as a reminder to pray for her. Ignore her “flitting” – she can have her own fit – walk away from it. Do not justify yourself in response to your wife’s attacks (Jesus’ example – Who uttered no threats). Trust God to defend you and your reputation.
- Have the courage to weather her contentiousness in helping your children
Other than possibly her chosen favorite, most of your children will be negatively affected by her – through either her beating down their self-worth, or by failing to help them in key ways at key times. As Jesus did with victims of the narcissists of His day, make sure you are protecting and helping your children, even if it results in a contention-fueled backlash from your wife.
- Make sure that her curses are “without cause” as a “curse without cause does not alight” (Proverbs 26:2).
There are two reasons for this. First, a “curse without cause” has as much impact on you as a bird flying around over your head – you may hear it and be aware of it, but it is also easily ignore. In addition, dn’t give her reasons to curse you, as she will come up with enough “infractions” (real or not) on her own.
- Show love and kindness to her when you have the opportunity.
Colossians 3:19 – Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Luke 6:27-28. Love your enemies (she may not be your enemy, but you may be her enemy – ie – you may not be against her, but she may be fundamentally against you). Do good to those who hate you (do her good when the opportunity presents itself). Bless those who curse you (praise her for things she does well). Pray for those who persecute you (see “how to pray” for a narcissist). Find common ground to spend time on where she is naturally less contentious – could range from missions trips to areas where your language or other skills are required, to walks on the beach or in the park
- Don’t cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)
Since she tends to take the opposite side of anything you say…. Do not provide an additional target by sharing insights which the Lord is revealing to you. There is a precedent for the swine analogy
- Anticipate the scenarios that will cause her to launch, while they will happen “randomly”
(basically whatever displeases her at the moment), but understand that the timing of those launches will be random and arbitrary. The “drip” is known, but the timing is random.She may take the opposite side of whatever you say, even if she has just asked your opinion and you give the answer you thought she wanted to hear
Answer a fool as her folly deserves, lest she be wise in her own eyes – how does this match up with “don’t rebuke a scoffer or he will hate you”
- Manage situations
Understand that it is ok to avoid joint social situations where she will shame you. Create necessary “boundaries” and consequences that protect finances, etc. – she may rail against you for this, but this is a place to man up.
- Trust God to provide opportunities
(create situations) where your wife will have no choice but to allow you lead Do what is right, even in the face of her opposition to you – silent, right actions
- Pray for her Her salvation (as appropriate)God enlightening/0pening her eyes. Rebuke? (Psalms)
While this may often be very tempting, she will use this full justification for “open season” to attack you
III. You and God – Finding Delight In Him In The Midst Of A Contentious Relationship
Understand that you and your wife are independently responsible before the Lord for your individual thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions (John 21:22, Galatians 6:5). “Fixing” your wife in His hands. His protection of you in the midst of her attacks is in His hands. Believe it or not, God is actively seeking to use this difficult situation in your life for your good. Therefore, working this out is more between you and Him than you and her. Look to God to provide daily practical solutions, while you are seeking Him for both your healing and hers.
- Approach your situation from the perspective of God’s goodness.
Open your eyes to how God is being good to you in the midst of, and even through, this situation with your wife. He will provide everything you need – ie – grace – in abundance, if you let him. Find your delight and joy, and comfort in Him. Get your protection and justice from Him. See God as your cleft of the rock – the storm forces you into the cleft, which is place where He will provide you with great comfort. Patience, long-suffering – while He can do things quickly and miraculously, the change in human heart can sometimes take a long time (Nebuchadnezzar’s process to humbling took a long time) Inner strength – comes from making Him the Rock Trust God to deal with her May be indirectly, through other sources/causes
- Look to God to provide solutions
Ask God for a miracle. Accept the limitations (your loss of friends), which are the result – God will provide other solutions. Do not despise the small solutions (Zechariah 4:10) – God is in the raindrops. Look to God – learn the four pillars of trust. Ask God daily for grace – and thank Him for every specific provision He provides. Sunlight, clothes, food, shelter, bits of encouragement when needed, and on and on and on. The more detailed provision you recognize and thank Him for, the more you will realize that He in fact is walking with you and caring for. Instead of focusing on what you do not have (the ideal perfect marriage you had hoped for), focus on what He is actively providing you already. Avoid the personal pride that comes from resisting. Do not resist, walk in grace (resistance will result in pride) (I Peter? Jesus? Do not resist him who is evil)(trust in the Lord, He will protect you). Do not look over your shoulder at what God is doing with other guys – focus on walking with Him through your particular situation (John 21:20-23)
Remind yourself daily that “we know the end of the story (Heaven), and it is good”. Pray and trust God to change her – to open her eyes – to see her contentiousness. Hope is ultimately in God Himself, not in “someday she will change”. World says impossible, God says all things are possible. But, the probability is low. Heavenly vs earthly perspective. Ask God for His deliverance (not self-deliverance – David example with Saul). Battle discouragement. “Hope in God” (Psalm 42). Exercise. Delight in God’s common grace – daily thanksgiving for specific things He has provided you that day – “Give us this day our daily bread” – but also thank Him for it
- Fight for joy
It is possible to hold multiple emotions simultaneously – God does – eg – joy and sorrow. Develop a love relationship with God – step outside – specifically thank Him for many specific things He has blessed you with that day – specific things you see in nature, the clothes you’re wearing, Seek and ask for grace, love, peace, joy, Put Heaven clearly in view. Redeemed people in a redeemed place
Pray for enlightenment for her, so that she will see herself, her heart, and her actions from God’s perspective. Pray daily for yourself – for wisdom, grace, protection, love, joy, and peace – so God will give you an abundance of what is needed to deal with the situation. Expect as a result the Peace of God, God working according to his will. Things take time – channels of water in the hands of the Lord. God is working on us while He is working on her. You want big answers – look for God to work in the small things. If she is contentious with you, she is contentious toward others as well – those others will provide plenty of “feedback” for her on the consequences of her contentiousness. What to do while praying – Be patient – James
- Understand God’s purposes for suffering (and that He will provide sufficient grace in the middle of it)
There is more at stake in your relationship with your wife than your perceived happiness, defined on your terms. Of course, we all prefer an easy, trouble-free life. The big question – stay or leave. Depends on who your God is, how big He is, your relationship to Him, and whether He is involved. Your answers to these questions have eternal implications. Marriage is a human object lesson of a divine relationship (Christ and the Church). Does Christ leave His Church simply because the church gives Him a hard time? Maintain a “high view” of marriage – ie – something that God wants preserved, not destroyed
Some final thoughts
- Does this mean it’s a “cold war”? Passive aggressive? (no) Passive resistance? (maybe) Focus on “moving forward” while ignoring the sniping, and distractions coming from the wife (yes)
- Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.
- Will God ever deliver you? Ultimately yes (heaven), in this life – maybe. Continue in prayer and longsuffering
Think of the above as a summary of possible tools in a toolkit, or arrows in a quiver. The more tools the better. Not necessarily every tool 100 percent of the time, but you get the picture.
Please see Putting “Biblical Perspectives On Narcissism” Into Perspective for an overview of what this blog is about