Let's talk about Christian Nice Wife behaviors that can do a kudzu-creep into your marriage: stuffing anger and avoiding necessary conflict. CNWives are uncomfortable with their own anger. From the Nice Girl culture, and perhaps from their church and their upbringing, they have learned that expressing anger in relationships is a no-no. And yet, they do get angry and want the situations that prompted their anger to be addressed. So what do they do?
Well, many times, a Christian Nice Wife expects her husband to be a mind reader who can magically figure out what she's angry about without her having to directly explain it. Yes, she may express frustration by slamming the kitchen cabinet doors, but if he asks her, "Honey, what's wrong?" he's likely to hear "Nothing!" God didn't give men highly intuitive brains—he gave that type of brain to women, so you are asking your husband to do something extremely difficult if you expect him to notice and intuitively figure out what you or anyone else is feeling. For example, have you ever gone to a party and been disturbed by the underlying tension between another married couple? Then, when you get back in the car, you say to your husband, "Whew, things are tense between those two!" And he replies, "What? I didn't notice anything." He's mystified, and you can't believe he would miss something so obvious.
That's just how the typical male brain works, which means you will be continually disappointed if you expect your husband to intuitively read your mind so that you don't have to own your own feelings. A Christian Nice Wife often wants to avoid the discomfort of owning up to her anger and her needs and wants. After all, the Nice Girl culture, outside and inside the church, pressures her to bury her anger and needs so that she will be deemed a perfectly Nice Wife. When assertively expressing your needs or your anger in a constructive manner is equated with being demanding, owning up to those needs or angry feelings can seem too costly; however, that's what God's Good Women do. They take a risk and speak the truth in love about what they want and need, and what makes them angry. Then, they listen (to the other person and to God), negotiate, speak some more truth, listen again, and so on.
Taking the initial risk to assertively express themselves is particularly challenging for Christian Nice Wives who come from dysfunctional families or are abuse survivors. These painful experiences train women to believe that no one will meet their needs or respond to their anger, so why even say anything? Likewise, being married to foolish or abusive man can make owning and expressing your emotions feel like wasted effort. If these are your experiences, please go talk to a trusted mentor or counselor who will encourage your efforts to own and express your needs and feelings.
Now, don't think that Christian Nice Wives never express angry feelings because many of them do. The problem is how they choose to express their anger: either they bury valid concerns and get angry over little things instead, or they express their anger in indirect ways. Do you find that you and your husband argue intensely over the most minor things? Whether it's how to load the dishwasher properly or whose mother makes the best mashed potatoes, CNWives will snip and snipe over inconsequential matters in an effort to avoid discussing bigger, riskier issues like trust, power, respect, love, etc. A CNWife might be angry because her husband won't say no to any outside requests for his time, but when he finally gets home, she's more likely to pick a fight about how he trimmed the hedges than to acknowledge her loneliness and feelings of unimportance. That would be too real and too risky for a CNWife who has yet to learn that conflict is the price she must pay for intimacy.
Christian Nice Wives might also bury valid marriage concerns in a misguided attempt to fulfill I Peter 3:1-4. They may believe the "gentle and quiet spirit" praised in this passage means that they should muffle their authentic self, as if wives who hide their hearts under a heavy wool blanket please God the most. But the passage actually reads:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
This passage instructs Christian wives on how to handle being married to an unbelieving husband: don't preach at him repeatedly when he has already heard the Gospel and is unresponsive. He's not listening to your spiritual words anymore; instead, be a living example of the gospel for him. An unbelieving husband is much more likely to be won over by your inner transformation into the image of Christ than he is your outer adornments or theological debates. And your inner transformation has to include all 360 degrees of Christ—his sweet, gentle side that knew when to remain silent and his assertive, frank side that knew when to speak up. What does that look like in a marriage? You keep quiet about the hedges (they'll grow back), and you speak the truth in love about how lonely, unimportant, and angry you feel when he puts time with you at the bottom of his priority list.
Let's move on to the other problematic way that Christian Nice Wives express their anger: indirectly. Do you ever bang pots around and slam cabinet doors when you need help in the kitchen, and your husband isn't volunteering? Or make purchases that exceed your family budget and then hide them from your husband?
These are indirect ways of expressing resentment and anger that stem from "Doormat syndrome." When women don't assert themselves properly and instead let others walk all over them, they resent it, either consciously or unconsciously, and stockpile unexpressed, angry feelings. Those resentful feelings that weren't expressed in the original situation will tumble out and be expressed indirectly in other situations, leading to unpredictable explosions over minor annoyances or to subtle, passive-aggressive expressions of "you're not the box of me" messages.
No wife wants to identify herself as passive-aggressive, but any woman who believes that Christians should be "sugar and spice and everything nice" 24/7 is going to build up an imposing stockpile of simmering anger. And that festering resentment is rocket fuel for passive-aggressive responses in marriage and other relationships.
If you have difficulty identifying passive-aggressive responses in yourself or others, here's what to look for: Aggressive behavior obviously harms the other person (e.g., yelling, hitting). Passive-aggressive behavior is less obvious but stills harms others because necessary or agreed-upon actions aren't performed (that's the passive part) in order to get back at someone (that's the aggressive part). Examples of passive-aggressive behavior in relationships include repeated instances of :
~Refusal to comprehend
~Resistance to suggestions
~Intentional withholding of needed information
~Talking behind someone's back
These annoying behaviors allow Christian women to fight against unwanted expectations without paying the price of open conflict. In marriage, these passive-aggressive actions allow a Christian Nice Wife to maintain her outward façade of niceness while also getting back at her husband. Pretty cool trick, huh?
Here are other ways a Christian Nice Wife expresses resentment and anger indirectly:
~Rolling her eyes in contempt or sighing loudly when she doesn't agree with her husband instead of respectfully discussing their differing opinions.
~"Forgetting" or procrastinating on an agreed-upon task her husband wants done instead of risking conflict by openly admitting she doesn't want to do it, and then negotiating.
~Complaining to her girlfriends about her husband instead of addressing her concerns directly with him.
~Ignoring the clock and making her husband late for an event that she didn't want to attend instead of directly stating her preferences and discussing the event.
~Refusing to stick with an agreed-upon budget and hiding purchases or extra cash from her husband instead of renegotiating the budget with him.
If you want to break free of doormat syndrome, you need to pinpoint the specific situations where you are avoiding necessary conflict, either in your marriage or other relationships. Wherever you feel the most insecure and fearful is probably where you're being the most passive. Then, practice speaking the truth in love and being appropriately assertive and firm. Here's some language you could use in the above situations:
~"My opinion on this matter is different from yours. We are either going to have to agree to disagree, or schedule some more time to talk and find our common ground."
~"I understand that you think it's important for me to accomplish that task, but I have no interest in doing that at this time. Let's brainstorm and see if we can find a solution."
~"I felt angry/hurt/embarrassed/lonely/sad/afraid when you did _________. Let's talk about the situation."
~"I enjoy spending time with you, but I don't want to go to this event because __________. Let's talk about it."
~"Our budget doesn't give me enough money to buy the things I need and occasionally buy something I want. Let's look at the numbers again together."
Being comfortable with asserting yourself is a crucial part of reflecting all 360 degrees of Jesus because healthy assertiveness and godly submission go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. Christ displayed both, and he expects the same from his followers.
Sooner or later, almost every Christian wife that I counsel asks the Big Question: "What do you think it means to be biblically submissive?" These wives have heard the I Peter 3 passage quoted earlier or the following Scriptures and want to know what obeying them specifically looks like:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself…Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
You may have heard different interpretations of these passages, ranging from "neither he nor she is the final authority" to "her opinion counts, but he gets the final vote on really big decisions" to "she should keep her opinions quiet and support all of her husband's decisions, whether she likes them or not." Christian Nice Wives are often looking for precise Scripture interpretations because they are afraid of making a mistake and angering God or of not living up to the CNWife expectations their church, husband, extended family, etc., may have for them. CNWives want a guaranteed no-fail Biblically Submissive Wife recipe to follow.
Guess what? I'm not going to give you a step-by-step recipe, for a couple of reasons. First, each marriage has its own "flavor," so a rigid, "no substitutions" recipe wouldn't work for your unique relationship. The Bible provides godly principles that husbands and wives have to apply and work out in their individual marriage based on their personal strengths, weaknesses, background, talents, stage of life, etc. For example, let's say the wife is a stockbroker and the husband has no interest in financial planning. Should he automatically be required to make all the final decisions about where to allocate their 401(k) funds simply because he's the husband? No, that would be an unwanted burden on him, and a waste of her God-given abilities.
Second, you won't get a Biblically Submissive Wife recipe because you (and your husband) need to do the challenging spiritual work of figuring out who God wants you to be in your marriage. In order to shape you into the image of Christ, God may want you to either speak up or listen more, take more risks or show more caution, or express your anger more openly, yet without sinning, or keep a tighter rein on your temper. The list could go on and on, just like the transformation process goes on and on for believers. And few things have the tremendous potential for powerful transformations that marriage does. You can fake being Christ-like for a few hours at church, but the daily blessings and pressures of living with your spouse will reveal where you are spiritually strong and where you have a lot of spiritual work to do. Figuring out who God wants you to be in your marriage requires that you submit to God first because he is the highest authority. Christian Nice Wives who believe that pleasing their husband is the same thing as pleasing God make the mistake of making their husband the highest authority. Husbands, like all humans, are capable of making some mighty bad decisions. If you ignore what God, your intelligence, and your intuition are telling you because you think it would please God for you to blindly follow your husband, you are sadly mistaken and headed for disaster.
One final note on biblical submissiveness: very few Christian husbands complain about their wives having a submission problem. Many husbands in troubled marriages report that they would like for their wives to be less bossy or controlling, but they rarely label bossiness as a spiritual problem with submission. A wife may, in fact, have a problem with constantly telling her husband what to do, but the average Christian husband doesn't use I Peter 3 and Ephesians 5 to berate his wife about her controlling behavior (nor should he).
In contrast, I have observed that the minority of Christian husbands who do harp on their wives about their supposed lack of submission are often men who are emotionally, verbally, spiritually, and/or physically abusive. These men pull out Scripture and use it as a whip to humiliate and control their wives. With verbal "sleight of hand," this kind of husband uses god's Word to distract his wife from noticing that the real problem is not her alleged lack of submission—the real problem is his abusive words, attitudes, and actions.
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying.