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He said – She said

She said: This morning I was really blessed by this Scripture... which got me thinking about... and then I was praying through the whole issue of... which reminded me about the verse where it says...

He said: Yeah, it's that whole theme of... isn't it interesting how Paul says...

She saidHm. (tight lipped, looking out window)

What's just happened?


Well, if you ask me it's a textbook example of how fallen men and women use words.  

Yet, before we look at that, let's think about how men and women should use words.  To do so, I'm going to get a little lewd.  The next paragraph is about verbal intercourse.  But, informing it is... well, the other kind.  You know - front botties, special cuddles, that kind of thing.  Ok.  Ready?

Husbands are designed to move towards their wives with strength, to enter their world for their wives' benefit and not their own.  Husbands have fruitful, life-giving words to bestow (note how often 'seed' and 'word' goes together in Scripture: Mark 4:14 ; 1 Cor 3:6; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:21).  The wife is to warmly receive the husband's approach and to be blessed by his words.  The husband's most common failure here is either an impotent retreat from her world or a selfish entering in where the words are given quickly and for his own benefit.  The wife's most common failure is either a tight refusal to let the husband in at all or an inability to truly enjoy or engage with the encounter.

Ok - lewdness over. Everybody alright? 

I risk mild offence because I think the parallel between sex and words is instructive.  It's certainly not perfect.  In the analogy there's not room to consider the woman's words to the man - which is a major defect!  The words that have most blessed me in life have been my wife's.  Nonetheless, there is asymmetry in male-female relationships and it's worth pursuing.  So with that caveat I will try to tease out the parallels between sexual and verbal abuse.  I think it's instructive. 

A woman has commonly (I'm tempted to say, universally) been on the receiving end of soul-piercing death-words.  And they have experienced them as violations in a way different to how men would experience those same words.  Stronger men (often fathers) have used their strength to either shout down, belittle, intimidate, out-last or otherwise out-argue them.  There are painful feelings of being bullied and disempowered associated with the words of men.

Don't men have similar experiences of being silenced by the words of others?  Yes.  Are they painful?  Yes.  But my contention here is that women experience those pains deeper and more sharply.  I could be wrong  but that's my contention.

Something that's confirmed my suspicions has been hearing three different women speak about conversations with men.  All three conversations happened in the last month.  And all three women said that the words of the man strongly reminded them of encounters with their fathers.  "And it didn't seem to matter what I said, he just kept on making his point... It reminded me so much of my dad - he was clearly in the wrong but he just kept going, bullying me with words.  I was powerless, it made me so angry...

And men for their part use words for their own benefit - not to give life but to self-please.  This weekend I was away with a group of teenagers and youth leaders.  My ears pricked up every time an older male 'teased' a younger female.  There was a war of words (all in jest of course) and a truce was called only when the girl was exasperated, silenced and everyone had a good laugh.  That was the dominant form of male-female communication over the weekend.  And as much as I'd like to say I'm above such things, I'm not.  My whole fallen personality is wired towards just such verbal bullying - all for a good laugh of course. 

Question: What does a woman learn about a man's words over time?

It is entirely understandable that a woman does not trust the words coming from fallen men.  Experience has taught her that these words are not going to benefit her, only silence, shame and weaken her.

Now... back to our opening dialogue.  Why did I (the man in this scenario) add my two cents to the words of my wife (the woman)?  Well - mixed motives.  There was a sinful impulse to demonstrate bible knowledge.  But there was also a desire to bless.  

What did this awaken in my wife?  A deep fear that this was a power play.  Painful memories of verbal bullying.  A sense of resignation that once more she was being corrected by someone stronger.  Powerlessness in the face of 'the expert' who had to be right.

How should the conversation have gone?

For one thing, I should have listened a lot longer.  Maybe I should have just listened, full stop.  I certainly should work on my problem of premature communication.  Pride is at the heart of this.

As we spoke further, my wife confessed her over-riding fear of receiving my words.  Fear that my words would not bless but silence her.  Fear that I speak not to serve but to crush her.

Repentance is needed!  Why should I seek to assert my 'bible knowledge' as a badge of honour?  Who am I trying to impress?  How small do I have to be to act like a 6 year old in assembly who knows the right answer: "Ooh, Ooh, ask me!  I know this one!"

And why should Emma close up to a few sentences from her husband.  Even if they were designed to hurt (and, to my shame, at times they have been) - she has an indestructible core and an undamageable beauty.  With Christ encamping around her (Ps 34:7) she can receive my approaches - they won't destroy her.  And occasionally, by the power of the Spirit, they may just bring life.

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.  (Prov 15:4)



0 thoughts on “He said – She said

  1. Gav

    Thanks for the heads up.

    I also find it hard to just listen. Esp. when she tells me about a problem or issue. I just jump right in and tell her the 'solution'. If she tells me about it again at a later stage and if she hasnt put the 'recommended solution' in place......" I told you blah blah.." And thats the mild tame story that makes me not as bad as I really am!

    So your saying I should listen eh? I should bless with my words? hmmm, I might try that and get back to you on how it goes.

  2. Pingback: He was a boy, she was a girl… « Thoughts of a cynical idealist.

  3. Glen

    Missy - 'approaching' is definitely as good as I can hope for. :)
    btw - did I tell you that not only did you make my thousandth comment, you've also now made my two thousandth?! Good timing!

  4. Glen

    Hey Gav, yeah that's the kind of thing. But what do I know!!? Well - I only know anything from having failed in the past. Can't recall 'I told you...' ever improving a conversation with the missus... ;-)

  5. Missy

    Hey, wasn't I due a song or poem or something for that 1st thousandth comment?

    I've been really pleased with my centurion status (100th commentor on a single post) before on other blogs - almost fanatical about it at times. So I am very pleased with myself. :)

  6. Dave K

    Phew... that was intense.

    Encouraging and admirable, while also condemning and shameful.

    I'm a bit lost for words.

  7. Pingback: Is the fruit of the Spirit too sissy for ‘real men’ « Christ the Truth

  8. Glen

    Hey Missy,
    There's a post out there somewhere right now on 99 comments. It was generated by my 'evolution of a creationist' post (I think there's a link on the post somewhere). It's remained on 99 for about 4 months now. So - there's another chance to be a centurion.

    I'll think about the poem... hmm...

  9. Glen

    hi Dave,
    'Guys and gals are different' aint just the stuff of comedy huh? The cycles of hurt we can inflict on each other are horrific. They go to the very heart of our fallenness.

  10. eclexia

    Hmmm.... I've been thinking for the last couple of days about your last paragraph and the words about a woman's indestructible core and undamageable beauty, and how that implies (I think you're saying) that she doesn't need to be afraid and close herself off to her husband's approaches, because they can't destroy her.

    I agree a little bit. I have, indeed, reflected back on my experience with an abusive husband and realized that it is true, in one way, that he could not destroy me at the deepest level, in a similar way I believe cancer can kill me, but it can't really destroy me, in an eternal perspective sort of way.

    However, part of the problem I struggle with is that such thinking about indestructible cores ends up a bit flat and not translating well into the implications--the "what does it mean?". While it is true that on some level my husband could not destroy me, on another level I believe it was important that I actually be afraid of the damage and destruction he could do and was doing.

    To respond to his "advances" ( whether the verbal, non-sexual, dialogue ones or the more literal physical advances) without fear was to disregard the wisdom of the internal radar I believe God put in us.

    Sometimes when a counselor (Christian one) told me I shouldn't be afraid of my husband and what he could do to me (and my abuse was emotional and mental, not physical--but I lived in terror), I marveled that the same counselor was afraid of the "next" hurricane that was coming and did things to protect herself from its advances.

    I realize I'm talking about the extreme here. But closing up one's heart (even in small degrees) and protecting oneself from the advances of another who has shown the inclination to repeatedly be set on destruction towards me is not, I believe, universally a sin or rejection of trusting the Lord.

    I do not say this as a flat, unilevel rejection of Scriptural things like turning the other cheek, loving our enemies and the positive benefits of suffering quietly while trusting the Lord. I also do not disregard the realities of damage done to a relationship when one person shuts themselves down pre-emptively out of fear or a refusal to forgive and trust an imperfect spouse.

    However, idealizing the concept of my indestructible self out so far that I do not respond to my husband's advances with love AND wisdom, seems to ignore the reality that a deceitful tongue really DOES have power to crush the spirit.

  11. Glen

    Hi Eclexia,
    Thank you very much for commenting. Your concerns are so important, and I perhaps should have said something about that in the post.
    A couple of things:

    1) A husband is not 'the law' in a marriage. All headship (even Christ's!) is exercised under authority. A husband is under Christ, under the law of the land and under the authority of church elders if he belongs to church.

    2) Sometimes the best way a wife can serve her husband is to call the police. Or to bring in church elders or a wise older couple from church. No-one is served - not you nor your husband - if he ongoingly abuses you.

    Now that's a brave thing to do. But it's not an unwomanly / unsubmissive thing to do given 1).

    Ultimately I want to hang onto the stuff about 'undamageable beauty' because Christ's love does go deeper than a husband's sin. And a man's sin doesn't ultimately define you - Christ does. I know it won't feel like it for much of the time. But ultimately we cling onto those truths because it's only a gospel hope that will get us through.

    Thanks so much for commenting!

  12. eclexia

    Thanks, Glen, for your clarification. While I still don't think I agree with all of your assumptions tied in to the idea of undamageable beauty, I do agree solidly with you that Christ's love goes deeper than a husband's (or anyone's) sin against me. And I also agree that a man's sin doesn't ultimately define me, but Christ does. At the same time, I would say that in a very real sense, another person's sin CAN shape and damage me, inside and outside, in ways that the Lord can heal, but may not, this side of heaven.

    I think we are talking a bit around each other, while not totally disagreeing. I reacted primarily to your question, "And why should Emma close up to a few sentences from her husband", even though I do hear that the heart of the post is really you taking ownership for how a man's words can be damaging to his wife.

    My reaction (admittedly shaped by my own trauma), I think, is not actually in disagreement with the spirit in which you wrote this post. I think you are saying clearly that there is very real damage that can be done, not just to a woman's body but to her as a whole person, by a spouse.

    I think I differ a bit, though, in that I believe that "closing up" in response to a spouse's hurtful words or actions may sometimes, though not always (sigh, wouldn't it be nice if we had a formula!) be exactly the right, even godly thing to do.

    I agree with your statements about no one being served if a husband ongoingly abuses his wife. It's just that there is not a solid line, where before that line a wife cannot ever withdraw in protective response to a husband's words, but after he crosses that line, she is free to serve her husband well by withdrawing from him behind the protection of the police or church leaders.

    I do realize that withdrawal can be an ugly tit-for-tat--"you hurt me, so I'll pay you back by closing you out"--so I'm honestly not advocating "closing out" as a universally right response. Even if I do get my bristles up at the thought that it might be considered a universally wrong response unless there is explicit, ongoing abuse.

    I think in every relationship there are degrees of openness and closedness, depending on a variety of factors. It is extremely sad when a wife closes out her husband. Sometimes it may be an act of unforgiving, selfish sin on her part; however, sometimes it may be a wise response to his sinfulness and untrustworthiness.

  13. Little Mo

    This post rocks. I know I am disagreeing with you at the Coffee Bible place, but I felt like this blog was a breath of sanity about Mark Driscoll, about whom I thought I might be losing my sanity. Everyone else seems to love him!

    Also - it was great to realise that I know your wife from years ago!

  14. Glen

    Hi Eclexia,

    I think we're in a lot of agreement here. Don't forget that my example was a husband speaking bible verses (not speaking blackest death!).

    And if calling the police / church elders is an option I definitely think at times retreating can be an option. I wonder whether words like the following could be said:

    "Honey, the way you're speaking to me / glaring at me / gesturing towards me is doing me great harm. I want to give you an opportunity to cool down and me an opportunity to pray, so I'm going in the next room / going for a walk etc."

    This would be an open way to retreat for a time (rather than just 'shut down').

    But of course these situations are always messy.

  15. Glen

    Hey Mo - Emma's on the phone to Rosi Wilson (also from CISSM) and they both say hi!

    It's funny how we The "I'm-not-entirely-sure-about-the-whole-Driscoll-thing" crowd come gingerly out into the light every now and again. :)

  16. eclexia

    Thanks, Glen, for dialoguing so patiently with me about this. This end of it, I also agree that we are pretty much on the same page as far as the heart of it goes. It's been a helpful discussion.

    I suppose the biggest key is that when a husband's or wife's heart is FOR their spouse, even though they will sometimes hurt the other, they do not need to be afraid and overly concerned with self-protection as a starting point.

    It's good for me to rethink these kind of "messy" situations in the context of two people who are imperfect and sinful, but not turned against their spouse for their destruction.

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