Most of us learned it in one form or another in Kindergarten: The Golden Rule. It comes straight from Scripture: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7: 12)
This is powerful stuff, and it is a meaty lesson for our lives.
We are to respect others. Always. We are to treat others honorably. We are to be kind, compassionate and tenderhearted.
The Apostle Paul adds to this counsel when he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2: 3)
A thorough reading of Scripture admonishes again and again to be peace-loving people, always seeking to treat others with respect. This position of humility and mutual respect is never truer than in marriage. Yet, marriage is often the place where our darker sides come out.
I’ve written about abuse and violence many times in the past, and still receive emails daily with horrific accounts of disrespectful and abusive treatment. Disrespect in marriage is a common theme of those who write or come to work with me at The Marriage Recovery Center.
One writer recently took me to task for focusing on abuse in men, while seeming to ignore abuse in women. He felt that I ignored the impact angry women can have on their husband. As a response, I decided to print this recent email.
Dr. David. My wife has always been moody, but lately she seems even more irrational. Anything I say seems to set her off. One day she seems to be okay, and the next it’s like someone else has taken over. I don’t know what to make of it. I know I don’t react the best, because her moods make me upset, and I end up snapping back at her.
I’ve been reading your articles and you seem to focus on men being angry. What should happen if it’s your wife? What should a man do if he feels that his wife gets angry for no reason? What if the man doesn’t feel like he is respected? To be honest, I’m ready to give up because I can’t be enough for her. Everything I do is wrong and I’ve asked her why she wants to stay with a man who she sees as having so many problems. She constantly criticizes me, and then wonders why I don’t want to be close to her.
Dr. David. I think you should make it clear that women also have anger problems. You need to also let women know that men must feel respected by their wife. If they feel they have lost their wife’s respect, it won’t be long before they feel like leaving, which is the case for me.
--A Discouraged Man
First, this email confirms abuse and disrespect occurs with both men and women. While the statistics still point to men reverting to physical abuse more frequently than women, many women have also learned how to be emotionally abusive and disrespectful of men. Abuse is no respecter of gender. Women may not be overtly violent as frequently as men, but many women have learned ways to express anger passive-aggressively through criticism, moodiness and irritability.
Second, any form of disrespect is intolerable. As noted in the above Scriptures, our marriage should be a safe haven, a place of refuge from the struggles in our world. Marriage should be a place where we are accepted and appreciated, not denigrated and disrespected.
Because disrespect is intolerable, it is critical that you set boundaries on it. When your wife criticizes you, don’t snap back. Rather, let her know firmly that you will respond to her only when she talks respectfully to you.
Third, explore underlying reasons for her anger and moodiness. These symptoms sound consistent with unhappiness and possible depression. Could it be that she feels rejected by you? Are there plausible hormonal explanations that should be considered and explored? Though she has inadvertently created a world where you push her away, still this cannot feel good to her. Might it also be possible that she is overwhelmed with responsibility, tired or discouraged herself? Can you take the “higher road” and help her explore why she is so unhappy?
Finally, seek professional help. Yes, I promote professional help frequently, mostly because we don’t do well at solving our own problems. In your case, these problems are bigger than both of you. Your wife must learn that she is sabotaging her marriage. Before letting the walls of distrust and frustration get any higher, and you consider throwing your marriage away, take more decisive action. Set limits on your wife’s behavior and invite her into a counseling process.
Are you in a marriage where you feel disrespected? We’d love to hear from you. Share your opinion or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website, www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.