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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

Marriage: How Nice Messes Up Matrimony

  • Paul Coughlin

    Paul Coughlin is a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including the No More Christian Nice Guy, and Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying—Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, (www.theprotectors.org), which provides a values-based and faith-based program that combats the cruelty of adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, Sunday School, and other places where bullying is prevalent.

    He is a popular speaker who has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, 700 Club, Focus on the Family, C-SPAN, The LA Times, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord with Jim Burns, The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets. He is a regular keynote speaker with Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences.

    His freedom-from-bullying program is used by hundreds throughout North America as well as in England, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa. The Protector’s has partnered with Saddleback Church’s Justice & Trafficking Initiative in creating the first-ever Justice Begins on the Playground seminar that helps both faith-based and values-based organizations diminish bullying.

    He is a Boys Varsity Soccer Coach in Southern Oregon, where he was voted Coach of the Year twice, and where he is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He and his wife Sandy have three teenagers and live in Medford, Oregon. Contact him at: paul@theprotectors.org

  • 2011 Jan 22
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So you've found your Mr. Right.  You have my best wishes and this warning: false niceness can mess up a marriage.  But before we show you the mess and how to clean it up, it's time for a quiz!  It's written for wives, but you could apply current or past dating relationships to the questions as well.

 

Are You a Desperate Nice Wife?

 

True or False: 1.  My husband tells me that I do too much for other people.

True or False: 2.  I almost never spend any money on myself.

True or False: 3.  I rarely feel better after my husband and I try to talk things out.

True or False: 4.  If my husband does something that bothers me, it's just easier not to mention it.

True or False: 5.  I suspect my husband doesn't respect me very much.

True or False: 6.  I put a lot of energy into figuring out how to fix my husband.

True or False: 7.  I'm so busy taking care of everyone else that there's never any time for me.

True or False: 8.  If I'm irritated with my husband, I let him know by sighing loudly, withdrawing, giving him the silent treatment, or making snippy comments.

True or False: 9.  I'm putting off going to see a medical or mental health professional about a personal concern.

True or False: 10.  I get frustrated when my husband doesn't pick up on my subtle cues that indicate how I am feeling or what I want him to do for me.

True or False: 11.  I think my husband is selfish for taking some time to go work out, engage in a hobby, etc.

True or False: 12.  It really bugs me when I do something nice for my husband, and then he doesn't do what I want him to do in return.

True or False: 13.  We argue frequently over petty stuff.

True or False: 14.  Sometimes I wonder if my husband thinks I'm boring.

True or False: 15.  Even though I didn't like doing it, I've looked at porn with my husband to make him happy.

 

If you marked "true" to five or more questions, you've let dangerous behaviors slip into your marriage that will gradually smother the life out of it, much like kudzu does to trees.  Drive through parts of the southern U.S., and from a distance, the hillsides will look lush and green.  Up close, you'll notice that an invasive leafy vine called kudzu has covered every tree, shrub, telephone pole, and hitchhiker for miles.  During the Great Depression, the government supported widespread planting of kudzu to prevent soil erosion, not realizing that this non-native plant would spread like wildfire and block trees from getting sunlight.  What the government thought would be helpful initially turned out to be harmful over the long run.  The same process happens with the passive, people-pleasing behaviors of Christian Nice Wives.  They think denying their own needs, stuffing their anger, and avoiding necessary conflict will help prevent erosion of their marriage, when these behaviors actually prevent marriages from growing and becoming healthier.

 

Let's look at the first Christian Nice Wife behavior that may have kudzu-invaded your marriage: Ignoring your own valid needs.  Often, a CNWife will disregard her own need for help, rest, exercise, fun, etc. because she focuses exclusively on meeting her husband's perceived needs.  Her fear of conflict and rejection drives a CNWife to numb herself to her own legitimate needs so that she can overextend herself to do what she thinks will make her husband happy.  Her spiritual training conspires against her as well, having subtly told her that having human wants and needs is somehow worldly, selfish, and even unchristian.  Sadly, her choices often harm herself and sometimes even backfire and hurt her husband and family.

 

For example, a wife might refuse to get some exercise or go to a movie with friends because leaving the kids in her husband's or a babysitter's care makes he feel guilty, or because her husband complains about watching the kids for even a couple of hours.  Like all humans, she legitimately needs exercise and fun, but she ignores these needs so that she doesn't have to work through her feelings of false guilt or confront her husband about his unreasonable complaints.  It just seems easier to stay home.  The end result?  She neglects her physical and emotional health, she becomes increasingly dour and burned out, and she stockpiles resentful feelings.  Her husband misses out on opportunities to grow as a parent, deepen his relationship with his children, and bless his wife.  Both husband and wife lose…and she was just trying to be nice.

 

Outwardly, a Christian Nice Wife's choice to deny her own needs can make her resemble a self-sacrificing, loving wife, but inwardly, what's really going on?  Self-sacrificial acts that are motivated by true love always have the other person's best interest at heart (even if those loving acts might cause either person to experience some necessary pain).  Self-sacrificial acts that are motivated by fear of conflict/rejection and desire for approval may look beautiful from a distance, but look closely, and you'll see that they are actually kudzu-covered "covert contracts."  That's when a wife does something nice for her husband with the unspoken expectation that he will be just as nice in return.  And then when he isn't, she gets angry that he didn't jump through her invisible hoop, and punishes him by sulking, making snippy comments, or giving him the cold shoulder.  Covert contracts are manipulative, and they confuse and anger spouses.  Most importantly, they are not what Jesus expects from his followers.

 

Christian Nice Wives change the Golden Rule—"Do unto others as you would have done unto you"—into the Pyrite Rule—"Do unto others so that they will do the same unto you."  It's a subtle difference that Jesus explains in Luke 6:31-33:

 

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even "sinners" love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even "sinners" do that.

 

The 360-degree Jesus sets the bar high for believers.  Treat other people the way you would like to be treated—with authentic, loving goodness—because that's what pleases God, not because doing so will guarantee niceness from others in return.  Jesus doesn't guarantee reciprocated kindness from your husband or anyone else, including children.  He also doesn't want you to be a silent, anxious doormat for your husband or children to wipe disrespect and unkindness on.  Both husbands and wives sometimes need to make sacrifices for the good of their marriage, but your love for God, not your fear of disappointing or angering your husband, should motivate any acts of self-sacrifice.

 

It's also important to be clear that God is the one who is prompting your self-sacrifices.  If you're ignoring your own basic needs for any other reason, you are going to eventually resent your husband, particularly when he meets his own legitimate needs.  Case in point: Both you and your husband need a nap.  He chooses to take a nap while you choose to clean the house, as task that could wait.  He wakes up an hour later, refreshed and willing to vacuum, but by then you're so mad you could spit.  You chose to disregard your own valid need for rest, and now you deeply resent that he chose to meet his need for rest instead of ignoring his own needs like you did.

 

Speaking of resentment, let's move on to the other 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 a 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.

 

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo 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. 

Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org, and http://www.paulcoughlin.net

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com