“Stop telling people who they are and start telling people who they are becoming.” – Bob Goff
I wish what I’m about to tell you wasn’t true. I wish it only represented the minority of marriages I counsel on a weekly basis, but sadly I’m about to describe a gut-wrenching truth, an epidemic really. When I’m sitting in my office looking across the coffee table at a couple with a struggling marriage, almost every time the problem is the man. I hesitate to call him a man; he doesn’t exhibit man-like qualities. He’s usually overweight and hasn’t shaved in several weeks because he is attempting to pull off the look of a man who hunts, but in reality, doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. It would be more accurate to call him a boy who can buy beer. He’s rarely engaged in the conversation, one word answers, an occasional head nod, desperately just wanting our time to end so he can piece back together any sense of pride he had when he walked in the door.
In most instances, he’s not working because he hasn’t been able to find his “dream job” yet, and any other jobs bore him. If he is working, it’s the minimum amount of hours required to pay the monthly expenses and still qualify for government subsidies, plus it allows him enough time to practice his true passion, Xbox or PS4.
The wife is venting, mad, sad, broken, and hurting. She can’t understand what happened to the man who courted her, pursued her, and promised her dreams would come true. Her life is far from a dream. They have no money, are behind on the husband’s truck payment, live in 800 sq. ft., and most nights he’s drinking. She keeps having to cover for her husband to her mother because she’s too embarrassed, to tell the truth. She loves him, but if she had to do it all over again, she probably wouldn’t marry him.
It’s heartbreaking, every time. Well, I should say it’s heartbreaking for her and me, rarely to the husband, he’s oblivious to her pain, and holding on to an illusion that one day his dream job will fall in his lap and they will make enough money to have whatever they want without requiring discipline or maturity. “Just wait. You’ll see.”
It’s not always the burping drinking man who breaks his wife’s heart; sometimes it’s the workaholic who gives every ounce of his passion to his job and makes his wife feel needy for wanting conversation when he gets home. Sometimes it’s the dreamer or scholastic who lives in his head and his books, always forming new opinions about culture and politics, always with answers of certainty, always projecting an air of superiority because of his intelligence and viewing his wife as perfectly “fine,” just not equal. What all these men have in common, what’s confusing and heart breaking is their disinterest. They’re not engaged in the relationship, it’s like they don’t care. They used to care, when they wanted to get her pants off, but now they prefer the basement over the bedroom.
If you feel I’m too hard on the man, don’t. It’s probably actually worse than I’m describing. It’s an epidemic of masculinity and maturity, and it’s destroying the American family, but this is not a man-bashing piece, to the contrary, I want to encourage men and women both, because I was that husband, but I’m not anymore. Trust me, If I was able to change, anyone can change. There’s hope for your immature husband, and if you can fix the man you can fix the family, I’ve seen it 100 times.
I’ve been married almost 13 years to the most amazing woman, probably the only woman in the world who had the heart and patience to love me when no one else could stand me.
I married my wife, Andrea when we were 20 years old. I was a momma’s boy through and through. If you’ve ever seen the movie Failure to Launch, starring Matthew McConaughey, that’s what my life looked like. My mom washed my clothes, cooked my meals, and slid me cash behind my dad’s back, so to say I entered marriage with the wrong expectations of the wife’s roles would be an understatement. The first few years of marriage weren’t awful. As a matter of fact, they were fantastic as far as I was concerned, but I had no idea the emotions my wife was feeling towards me. She thought she was marrying a husband, partner, spiritual leader, and she ended up with a boy who shaved.
I had a full-time job, which was a bonus, but that was probably the only thing I had going for me. I stayed up until 2 am playing video games. I never did laundry, never did the dishes, wasted money on online poker, and thought I was the $#!^&.
I don’t want to make it sound like every moment was miserable for her, it wasn’t. We had fun together… whenever we did exactly what I wanted to do. Sure, we could go to the movies, but we never saw the chick flick always the action blockbuster. We would go out to eat always at my favorite restaurants. She was so desperate for romance, and meaningful time together she would let me have my way if it meant I would get off the couch, shower and wear a button down shirt for the evening. Our marriage was exactly how I wanted it to be, which is why I had no idea she was miserable.
If you can relate to what I’m describing, I want you to know it’s not hopeless. I know it feels hopeless, but it’s not. Fast forward 13 years and now I’m usually the first one up in the mornings making breakfast for the kids, and cooking dinner in the evenings. I’ve lost 40 pounds, ran a half marathon, written 2 books, and we’re better than we’ve ever been. I don’t want to give you the idea our marriage is perfect, or I have perfected my flaws. Most of the mistakes I made then I make now I just make them less often. The biggest difference now is the effort. I’m trying to be a great husband and leader, and that’s all she has ever wanted, effort.
There’s an old joke about marriage, a man marries a woman hoping she will never change, and a woman marries a man hoping to change him, but the man never changes, and the woman is always changing. So true.
Let me give you some bad news; you can’t change him. The more you try to change him the more he will refuse to change.
But let me give you some good news: He can change.
My friend Daniel weighed 300 pounds and bounced around different jobs. Now he has four kids, he’s the top earner at his company and lost 100 pounds.
My friend Devon was in jail the night his first son was born, he sold drugs, but now he is married to the mother of his kids, works full time to provide for his family and is an incredible father to 4 children.
I could give you more examples because for every deadbeat dad there are ten more men trying to be the best husband, father, and Christian they can be.
He can change, it just has to be his idea.
My wife, Andrea has written about the change in me and our marriage from her perspective here. I encourage you to read her thoughts because there’s no one better at support and love than her, but let me tell you the single biggest factor in my maturity as a man and husband. Andrea encouraged me. I mean like All. The. Time.
For the last 13 years my wife rarely tells me who I am, she tells me who I’m becoming. Somehow she was able to see a great father in me when I didn’t change diapers because I was in the middle of a game or stayed out past midnight. When our power was cut off because I forgot to pay the bill, or our bank account went negative because of overdraft fees she would find a way to tell me she appreciated how hard I worked for our family. I’m not implying she wasn’t angry or frustrated and encouraged me in that exact moment; I just mean she found something to brag on and she magnified it again and again. Once we had kids, she started training them to greet me at the door when I get home to run and hug me and some days say “Daddy thank you for working hard for our family.” I know she tells them to do it, but who cares. It still feels good.
She tells me I’m a great dad when the truth is I’m gone too much. She tells me she’s lucky to have me when the truth is everyone, including my own grandmother, wonders why she chose me. She tells me I’m sexy when the truth is I’ve got back hair growing like a Chia pet. She tells me she’s proud of me. She tells me she appreciates me. She tells me I’m funny.
She’s my biggest fan.
After a few years of her prophetic encouragement, the weirdest thing began to happen; I began to change; I wanted to be the man she deserved, the man she saw in me before I saw it in myself. I’m explaining it in retrospect, so it sounds like I was able to clearly articulate my thoughts and feelings at the moment, but I wasn’t. All I knew was I was getting fat, and I wanted to look good for my girl. I wanted to be home with her instead out with the guys; I wanted to be with my kids, I wanted to provide for my family. I wanted to help around the house to lighten her load.
What is celebrated gets duplicated, and somehow my wife was able to celebrate who I was becoming instead of focusing on who I was at the time. It was as if my emotional shortcomings were a physical injury and her encouraging words were medicine; she nursed me to health by encouraging who I would become.
If you’re currently married to a disappointment, I hope you’ve learned by now your anger and criticism don’t help they only drive him deeper into his emotional cave. I’m not saying you can’t be upset, please don’t get the impression Andrea never yelled at me, or we never fought, we are two passionate public speakers so our fights can be fierce. But you do have a choice to make; a choice to be a prophetic voice or a nagging one. At the end of the day your husband will live up to your words, so if you talk him up he will strive to reach them, if you tear him down he will settle for the man you tell him he already is.
There are no guarantees he will change, you’re playing the long game, but prayer and encouragement are a lethal combination that can bring even the most stubborn man to his knees, and who knows maybe he will remind you of the man you remember the last time he was down on his knee.
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