Question: My husband has been in a bad mood a lot lately. I do not know how to respond to him; I try to ignore it and be cheerful but I find myself walking on egg shells at home. When I ask what’s wrong he either says, “Everything” or “Nothing”. This bugs me because I am tired too but I do not take my exhaustion out on everyone around me. I am worried this will rub off on the children’s attitude. What should I do?
It is always tricky trying to cope at home when our spouse is cranky. That crankiness could be from any number of sources: it could be work related, family related, physically related, overall stress related, feeling like a failure related, aging related, dashed dreams related. Finding out the origin doesn’t always mean solving the problem. But the question is, as a helpmate to our husbands, what is the best course of action for us, if any.
One thing that is important to understand is that it is NOT our job to make everything right for our husbands. That is God’s job, and He actually doesn’t need our help! What He does call us to do is to be the best support and encouragement for our husbands that we can. This usually starts with us dealing with our frustration and anger over how tired WE might be and how WE are “sucking it up” when it comes to our own exhaustion.
Did you know that, all things being equal, women survived concentration camps longer than men? Strange thing for me to bring up here, but I think it is a very important physical difference that God has established in the differences in the sexes. Women endure hardship and depravation much better and with greater stamina than men.
Now, in the factories of past generations, when hours were lengthened to 12 per day, women had a much higher rate of accidents and injury (we do not handle hard labor well for longer periods of time), but when it comes to simply dealing with lack of food, lack of sleep and general deprivation, women survive better in those kinds of harsh environments. What does this tell you about the exhaustion that goes into parenting and life stress? It says that, yes, while we may be just as tired as our husbands are from the non-stop juggling act of mothering, our husbands actually deal with their exhaustion less effectively than we can. Maybe we should consider this thought when we begin to get bugged because they are cranky when they get tired.
Please know I am NOT excusing bad attitudes or lack of self-control over our words or responses to others. But sometimes we want to have the same liberty to be “bad” that our husbands do, but know that we are not supposed to. So we get MAD at them that they “get to” have rotten attitudes while we have to be cheerful and bear the brunt of their irritations. Well, we can trust God to discipline them for their rotten attitudes in His timing. BUT we do not have the luxury to fall into rotten attitudes on our own part. Generally OUR rotten attitudes take the form of martyrdom!
Does anyone remember the old Rice Krispies Treat commercial where the mom was in the kitchen reading a book and listening to the radio while the Rice Krispies treats were hardening? She would toss some flour into her face, slump and come out of the kitchen with a plate of treats and a big sigh saying, “It is OK, I do not mind the bother!” Her family rallied around her with thanks and praise for her tremendous sacrifice of love for her family. She guilted them into giving her affirmation when, in fact, she did very little, and had a great time in the kitchen while she was at it. We do this SOOO often! Guilt, manipulation and the martyr syndrome are some of our key weapons used in our marriages to keep the playing field even. We want to make sure that our husbands do not get off Scott free with their struggles while we have struggles of our own.
The problem is that we are NOT on a battle field. In fact, we are on the same side and should be supporting one another, not trying to One Up each other. So, our first step is to get our own resentful hearts under control. We need to accept that this is not going to be a time when our husbands are going to be able to support and strengthen us (but, we might not even be in a position where we need strengthening or support). This is going to be a time where we need to “consider one another’s needs as more important than our own.” So, in reality, how do we learn to encourage a husband who is struggling with a bad mood?
A lot depends on how good our communication is. Of course, this is probably not going to be the best time to try and build new communication skills into our marriage, but we can look to the things we have learned and try to use them here.
First of all, when our husbands come in the door and are crabby, THAT is not the time to try and get into a deep discussion about what is going on. It might make US feel better, but it will do nothing for our husbands or our marriages. Often, these are the times where we need to try and make them feel loved, cared for and special. Now, our reaching out with love and care may not make them feel that way, but we are not responsible for how they feel. We are responsible for our own actions, hearts and words.
If he needs time to chill when he gets home, do not badger him with information from your day or asking questions about his. Have a quiet place prepared for him (maybe having the children involved quietly elsewhere) and perhaps give him his favorite soothing drink. Just let him rest, relax and take in the quiet harmony of the home to work out his jangling emotions. If he doesn’t need or want to relax, he might prefer to jump in and do something or play with the children. Whatever it is that helps to relax or refresh him, have that available for the first thirty minutes when he gets in the door.
During a non-confrontational time, get someone to watch the children and take him out to lunch or for coffee or something. (Obviously, if finances are the major stress do NOT do something that requires spending) You just want to get him away from the home to a place of seclusion for you both so that you can talk. Then tell him you have noticed that he seems to be particularly stressed lately and you were wondering if he wanted to talk about it. Ask if there have been any changes at work, in the home, with your finances, in your relationship (do NOT get defensive if he thinks the problem is in your marriage – there could be things going on between you that you do not see due to a focus on the children), whatever, that have been adding more stress and burdens to his life, and ask if he is willing to try and talk about them.
Some men do not want to talk, some men do. But it is OK to say that you have noticed that he really seems to be having a hard time dealing with this burden alone and that part of your job as his wife is to be a support and encouragement for him and that you want to be a help in any way you can, even if it means just listening and being a sounding board. (Incidentally, this is one of the biggest parts of my support with Kevin, being a sounding board!)
If he does talk, you need to work as hard as possible to not get offended or bugged by anything that he says. This time is about him and his needs, not about yours. This must be a time that you bathe in prayer. God knows his heart and what issues are plaguing him, often even when our husbands do not know themselves. Sometimes just talking helps to bring things to the surface that our husbands have been trying to submerge. Let this time flow and let your heart be centered on giving to him and serving him.
Also know, it is quite possible that he doesn’t WANT you to try to solve this! We so very quickly jump in with “Why don’t you…” or “You really should…” This is a time for you to be quiet and to listen. Ask questions to try and clarify by do not try to give your opinion or ideas on how he should be doing things different or *better*. Just listen, let your heart hear his heart. Let him know that your desire is to help him bear his burdens, not to fix his life. As women, we are so quick to believe that we always know what is best and if our husbands would just listen to US then all their problems would be solved! Well, of course, if life worked that way, WE would have no problems ourselves!! So obviously, we were not created to be the solver of our husbands’ problems!
So, we listen, we seek to understand, we empathize and we pray.
Now, sometimes just sharing their hearts and burdens is enough to help them bear things better and easier. Most times that is not all there is. Sometimes they refuse to even allow us to share their loads. Sometimes they get defensive and hostile. This is where we go to our knees and be the strongest source of strength to our husbands by bringing them before the Throne of Grace and seeking His power in this spiritual battle before us.
We are so quick to dismiss prayer. Now I am not talking about, “Father, my husband is really cranky and it is driving me crazy. Please help him stop. Amen.” I am talking about really seeking God’s wisdom and insight in this situation; doing spiritual battle on behalf of our husbands. This could be the beginnings of a major depression rumbling in his heart and we need to give our husbands over to the Lord, or this could be a time where God is stretching him to learn to handle bigger things than he is ever handled before.
Regardless of what God is doing, we need to be on our knees in support. We need to be like Aaron and Hur who physically lifted up the hands of Moses while Israel battled in the field below. When Moses’ hands lowered, the Israelites began to lose, when his hands were upraised, the battle turned in their favor. But after hours of raising his arms (he was an old man, remember) he could not hold them up alone any longer. So Aaron, his brother, and Hur came on either side of him and held his arms up for him. God calls US to that same support role for our husbands, and the place of the battle field is in prayer!
As far as sharing with him about his crankiness and surliness around the house, it can be done in a gentle manner, even asking how he thinks YOU could respond to help him work out of that in a way that will not *push his buttons* or rebuke him but to remind him that everyone is walking on eggshells. Sometimes our husbands are the best ones to come up with ways we can deal with their bad attitudes so that we do not bug them even further.