Chapter 5

Never Try to Walk in Her Shoes
Understanding the World of Your Wife

Few men take the initiative to really walk in their wives' shoes even for a full day.

Men and women have entirely different views of reality when it comes to those moments when he comes home from work in the evening.

The best medicine I ever take to help me appreciate Donna's lot in life is to switch roles with her for a few days.

Your understanding and compassion for her will grow proportionate to your seeing life from her point of view.

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Jenny was newly married to a man nine years her senior. Their house had been his "bachelor pad." She made it into a nice home. She worked at a dentist's office and he as an accountant. When they conceived their first child, she worked part time until their son arrived. At that point life changed dramatically for Jenny! As many first-time moms do, she quit her job to be home full time with her son.

   Now home full time, Jenny was lonely, tied down to the house, and busy trying to manage household demands along with a new baby. Tom continued his routine just as he always had, committed to all of his same outside activities. He continued to golf and take a couple nights a week for his bowling and weekends away fishing with the guys. Even after their second son arrived, he never even paused to consider what Jenny's life was like.

   In spite of our more "liberated" age, many men live as Tom has. He assumes that as the provider, he is doing his part for his family. He wonders "what does Jenny do all day?" Tom never considers trying to

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walk in her shoes or even laying aside some of his "bachelor" habits. He has it great! At least according to him he does.

   But what about Jenny? For a long time she carried on, did it all, and put up with all of his absence. Many women in her situation would have fallen into an affair or struggled along growing bitter at being misunderstood and forced to basically raise the children alone. Jenny, however, had come to faith in Christ through a local Bible study. She found friendship and encouragement from other young mothers. As she grew in the Lord, she not only tried to share Christ with Tom, but she also sought to grow closer to him in their marriage.

   One of the best things Jenny did was to begin to give Tom more responsibility for their kids. She would set up occasional evenings to leave the kids with Tom and take the night off to enjoy an evening with friends. She would arrange baby-sitting so she and Tom could go out together. Jenny has found ways to adjust and grow, but still, overall, I'm sure she feels Tom doesn't truly appreciate her.

TOP TEN TIP  

Reverse Roles Once a Year

From a Southern California Dad: "At least once a year I ask my wife to take off and go see her parents or spend the weekend with some of her girlfriends. And while she's gone, I try to take care of the home front as she likes so that she's not too discouraged at the mess she finds upon her return. This accomplishes two purposes in our marriage:

1. She gets her batteries recharged with some needed rest and a refreshing change of pace.

2. I get to be reminded what her life is like, which helps greatly when we live our normal roles and conflicts arise."

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PULLING UP THE DRAWBRIDGE

To contrast how men and women view those moments when they come home from work in the evening, listen to this humorous description by Jim Smith in his book, Learning to Live with the One You Love:

The average man comes home believing that, having put in a hard day at work, it is now his God-given right to retire to his castle. He now wishes to enter his castle, pull up the drawbridge, and let the alligators swim in the moat. He is not particularly thrilled when he learns that there are some alligators loose in the castle.

Now a woman's idea of an evening well spent is called "sharing" — in detail. The career woman wants to share her day with her husband — in detail — and the homemaker wants to share war stories from the home front. And what about the woman who has little children at home and has not been out of the house? She has been locked up with the "Viet Cong" all day and can't wait to turn them over to him the minute he walks in the door. She would like to have an adult conversation — in detail — with her husband (pp. 34-35).

   Have you ever noticed that most men think they have spent a meaningful evening at home with their wives if they have simply been under the same roof? No conversation, no dialogue, no give and take, but they're there, in the same place at the same time — he thinks that means "closeness."

   A man wants his wife to behave more or less like a good golden retriever, that is, she should come around occasionally and pass through the room, letting him acknowledge and pat her. Then she should go on doing whatever she was doing, come back in about an hour to let him pat and acknowledge her again. If she does that, he feels that he has spent a wonderful, warm evening with her. When she complains, "You never spend any time with me," he's shocked.

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   "What?" he yells. "I've been home all week." What he needs to understand is that, at least metaphorically, a woman is not a golden retriever, but more like a lap dog. She would like to have more closeness and intimacy.

   A couple in Nebraska wrote us about their typical exchange in the evening after work (they both work outside the home): "I'll come home, and she'll ask me how my day went. I'm tired and ready for a change of pace — not wanting to talk about what I just left behind — so I'll answer with that great four-letter explanation that is good for almost any occasion, "fine." For a man this is a signal that he does not want to talk. But she is not satisfied. My friend goes on, "She wants more details. She wants to know what happened, what discussions I had today, what big decisions I made, what plans I made for our future. Although I know she is not asking for every detail of my day, I do find it exhausting to basically have to rehearse the whole day again. Perhaps I could record my day, and she could listen to the tape!"

   This husband identified very succinctly the need a woman feels with her life mate — that need for intimate communication at the end of every day. Furthermore, my friend wrote this in our questionnaire about his wife's number one need: "I believe my wife's number one need is for me to communicate or talk more with her." Again the knowing is there, it is the energy that often fails.

TOP TEN TIP  

Ladies Night Out

From a wife living overseas:

"Every so often Harold will take the kids for an evening and tell me to go out for dinner and a movie with my friends. And, he does not expect to be repaid in kind with his friends. That really means a lot to me."

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OF NOBLE CHARACTER

   Let's take a closer look at the life of a woman. And for a moment let's glimpse into Proverbs 31, where Scripture gives us the picture of "The Wife of Noble Character." This passage written centuries ago may seem at first pass totally detached from modern life in the '90s. But as with all of Scripture, there is a gold mine of wisdom and practical application if you look carefully:

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:10-31)

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   For many women this picture is actually depressing. The qualities and gifts of this woman are praised and lifted up to be our goal to seek as wives and mothers. But how? But when? Is this what we women really even want today? I, Donna, remember how encouraging it was for me to learn that this woman was most likely at least in her fifties! It took time for her to develop the many areas of work and productiveness she is praised for. I do want her traits, but I don't know if I will reach them any time soon.

   You may be a young woman with your first young child, or you may be the mother of many children of varying ages. Whether you are home full time, juggling part-time work, or have a full-time career, it is likely the bulk of home responsibility falls on your shoulders! Managing it all is overwhelming!

   Men often don't truly understand all that is involved in homemaking. They may take their wives for granted, knowingly or unknowingly. These husbands assume that their wives are just fine with the way things are. "Appreciation" and "gratefulness" are not two words that would come to mind for most men when they think of what their wives do to carry the load at home. But, men, that is what your wives need! Men usually assume that since they carry their workload without complaint, so should their wives. Right? Wrong!

   When we go back to Ephesians 5:25, 28, and 33, we remember that the command to the husband is to love his wife. One of the most powerful ways to love her is to show her you appreciate her and are deeply grateful for all she does each day. In fact, Peter exhorts, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives" (1 Peter 3:7). Why? Because God commands it? Yes! But also because of the reward you will receive by seeking to enter into her world.

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RESPECT, RESPECT, RESPECT

   A lot of us men get hung up on trying to be control freaks. If we are in a position of leadership where we work or at least have control over our jobs, we tend to carry that tendency of control into our wife's domain. We must learn to respect her world and the decisions she makes about those things she is responsible for. In our home we try to practice the motto: "He who is in charge of the task gets to decide how it will be done."

   One of our "wife" friends wrote this interesting story about a battle she faced in this arena having to do with washing the windows right before her parents came. I have never been able to appreciate the level of emotional intensity that rises in Donna whenever family are coming to town. As far as I'm concerned, life should just carry on as usual until we go pick them up at the airport to bring them home. Why can't they see us the way we live every day? This is no small source of irritation between us as Donna goes into "visitors are coming to town mode."

   Our friend Sara told us this story:

This past spring I decided that I wanted the windows washed badly enough to pay someone else to do it. My parents' imminent visit was part of the motivation. I knew just who to call, had already figured out a way to pay for it, and had placed the call. Unfortunately, the gentleman called back during dinner, and my husband answered the phone. Thinking it was a telemarketer sale, he said, "No, we don't need the windows cleaned. Thank you very much."

   "Honey," I exclaimed, "I called them. I want it done before Mom gets here."

   "We don't need to spend money on that. I'll do it, or the kids will." And so it went. You guessed it. Next week my parents came and went despite the dirty windows. The week after Paul went on a business trip, I cleaned the windows myself for "free."

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   And then Sara shared with us the punch line: When we asked the question, "If you could change anything about your husband, what would it be?" she answered, "Have him really trust my judgment in my areas of responsibility instead of second-guessing me." Respect is a two-way street, and we husbands must cut our wives the needed slack. It reminded us of one of our favorite sayings of late:

Blessed are the control freaks for they shall inhibit the earth.

WORKAHOLISM IS ANYTHING BUT HEALTHY  

Recent studies show that one reason women seem to outlive men is because of the stress men face in their careers. It seems that even women who hold high-pressured career jobs themselves don't internalize the work to the extent that we men do.

   For males, it seems that the ego is all wrapped up in our work. Thus, the tendency is to become lost in the job and neglect the home front. The ironic thing here is that men would be far more healthy, balanced, and happy if they were more engaged in the domestic home side of their lives.

THE DEMANDING SCHEDULES OF WORK

   Hans has always tried to listen when I tell him about the responsibilities I carry. Ever since we have had children (for fifteen years), travel has been a part of our lives. For the first few years, Hans traveled into Eastern Europe as part of our ministry of training pastors and Christian leaders. Then for the past several years, he's traveled as the director of our mission organization to our churches and mission fields around the world. Much of the time I have been home with our children, only occasionally traveling with Hans. By keeping our other priorities straight and making adjustments each year to the schedule to be sure we have adequate time for our marriage and family, we've done well overall. But when friction and stress start to show up, we are forced to take the time out to figure out what's gone wrong.

   Through the years we have come to those times where I'm feeling discouraged by all of the various aspects of bearing the weight on the home front. We realize that the best means of coping, even better, doing my job well, is to have Hans' true understanding and support. As we talk it through, he comes to realize more how much I carry and do as a homemaker. The expectations and needs of the children, their schools, activities, carpool, our church, friends, and so on all weigh very heavily on the homemaker.

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   The intricacy of all of those demands and the "24-hour-a-day element" of it all sometimes add up to major overload for any woman. Add to those responsibilities the element of a husband away on travel or a job outside the home herself and "Whew!" Most women say, "I've had it!" Sometimes when Hans has been on a heavy travel schedule, one more kid's asking me something or calling "Mom!" and I blurt out, "Hey, kids, that's it! I can't hear 'Mom' again. Just call 'Dad' (just so I can hear it), and I'll answer anyway."

   So what is the key? How does the husband meet this need for understanding and relief in his wife? First, he must truly listen. Ask questions to dig deeper into her world. Then take action to bring her relief whenever he can. Men, sacrificial love is needed here in the down-to-earth nitty-gritty of life.

   Try a few of these tips on for size:

Tell me how you are doing today.

Have you had some "downtime" today?

Come on, kids, let's go for a drive / walk / bike ride / so on.

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I'll do the dishes with the kids tonight. Thanks for the great dinner!

I understand, your day would have certainly done me in! It means so much to me that you take such good care of our kids and our home. Thank you.

Pick a night this week and go out for dinner with your friends. I'll cook dinner and take care of the kids.

Let's go out for dinner alone — just you and me.

   Whatever you do, men, find a way to give your wife true relief. Why? Partly because you are commanded to. Remember "Love" from Ephesians 5 and "Be Considerate" from 1 Peter 3. But beyond that you do it for the great reward of a happy wife! She is not going to "quit" her work. To the contrary, your true understanding will give her the joy of knowing you are truly carrying the weight with her. She'll have more joy and strength to continue each day.

   Last year Hans decided to send me down to Phoenix each year for a getaway to be with my parents and have a break from my responsibilities. I had expressed to him a reality that had just dawned on me. The weight of home responsibility never truly shifts off of my shoulders!

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Even when I'm able to go on a ministry trip with Hans or a getaway just for the two of us, the burden of childcare, meals, and so on still falls on me to arrange and carry in our absence.

   On those occasions when Hans has "walked in my shoes," truly carrying the responsibilities I normally carry for more than one day, he is always shocked at what he finds, and most men are. Most women feel that their husbands don't have a clue. And I must say, most husbands in America in the 1990s truly don't. I'm so grateful that Hans is willing to "walk in my shoes" from time to time.

   Give it a try, men. Walk in her shoes for a day or two, but watch out, for you may be in for a real surprise!

   Just this last weekend Hans got a firsthand reminder of all that I do. I went to bed all day — just one day with a sinus infection. (Most of the time I just go on, but since I had been dizzy the night before, I decided to go to bed for just one day.) That night, Hans said, "I don't believe you do it!" After just one day of dealing with four kids, their friends, questions, spats, and trying to do some household jobs at the same time, he was overwhelmed. He told me to remind him of that day the next time he looked at me funny for the way I sometimes am at the end of a day of single responsibility for our family and household.

   Men, loving your wife as Christ does the church sounds like an impossible standard to attain to. But the sacrifice Christ gave of laying aside His rights and privileges as the Son of God was much greater. He is not only your example, but He also has promised to give you His power to be what you should be as a husband!

HERO HUSBANDS WE KNOW

   Not long ago we had the chance to have Christian singer Steve Green in our home for an evening. He was in town shooting a video for our ministry, and Donna and I wanted our kids to get a chance to get to know him personally. Because Steve grew up as one of our missionary kids in Argentina, we have known his family since before he was married. His parents Charles and Jo Green served with CBInternational for almost forty years in South America.

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   As our kids pumped Steve with questions that evening, he told us about the new travel bus he had built. Since he spends most of his life on the road, he has a big bus for his band and back-up crew. They also sleep in the bus while on the road. For several years Steve's wife, Mary Jean, and their two children traveled with him to all his concerts. They all lived together in their big bus. Sounds like one big happy family experience doesn't it? It was, but it didn't last. Life on the road gets old after a while, especially as the children get older and start school. Thus the need for a new bus and new strategy.

   Now Steve Green travels without Mary Jean and the children to most of his concerts. But they are not neglected or forgotten. He has several special things he does to make them feel important, which will remain his private family secrets. The one expression of love and understanding he practices consistently for Mary Jean is something that everyone who goes to his concerts knows of. In the middle of his evening program, invariably he will pick up a stage phone and talk with his wife and children live on-stage. Her voice is piped through to the audience so everyone can hear her voice and receive greetings from Mary Jean. While they are talking, either a video or still photos of her and the children are displayed on the large stage screen.

   What is Steve communicating by all this fuss? A mountain of good will. He is letting his wife know that he is thinking about her while he is away. And he is telling her that she is important enough to him that he wants all his concert goers to know her too — he is not the only important member of the Green family. Finally, he is making a strong statement to the world that he is a deeply committed family man and hopelessly in love with his wife. That is good protection for a life on the road!

Powerpoints

   The biggest surprise, husbands, is how relatively little it will take for you to do this for your wife. Your volunteering in things like — "kicking

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her out of the kitchen" will go far to show her you care. Make these acts as spontaneous as possible, or choose a day or two each week when you actually sign up for regular domestic duties. Simple action along with your hugs and caring about her world will usually be all she needs to jump back into the "fray." Although she may still be tired, her spirits will be lifted and more ready to "charge" into her life's demands.

   Here are a few suggestions, expanding our previous list with more suggestions:

When you come home, try asking her, "Tell me how you are doing today?"

Ask her, "Have you had some 'downtime' today?"

Try this with the children, "Come on, kids, let's go for a drive / walk / bike ride / shopping / errands and so on."

"I'll do the dishes with the kids tonight. Thanks for the great dinner!"

Shower her with words of appreciation, like "I understand, your day would have certainly done me in! It means so much to me that you take such good care of our kids and our home. Thank you."

Give her that night out: "Pick a night this week and go out for dinner with your friends. I'll cook and take care of the kids."

If she seems exhausted, irritable, and hostile, take action. Tell her you'll be in charge for forty-five minutes or longer so she can retreat to a private room to read or have a few moments of quiet.

   For the many men who travel, there is special advice for you, before you take off and after you land from your latest business trip. Travel

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away from home adds unique pressure to a marriage, to the husband-wife relationship, and to the role of a father with his children. Some important tips to remember along the way are these:

1. Before you leave

Make sure the family is taken care of. Leave your wife a detailed schedule of where you will be, what you will be doing, and how you can be reached.

Spend extra quality time with your wife and children before departure.

Don't expect a hit-and-run relationship prior to your departure to satisfy your sexual needs.

2. While you are on the road

Be sure to call your family regularly.

If your wife or family feels they need it, carry a beeper along.

Leave love notes behind for your wife and family to find.

Send mail to your family if you are gone for a longer period of time.

Send gifts or flowers if it is an extended trip.

3. Take care of yourself while you are traveling

Try to maintain consistency in your quiet time.

Avoid temptation at any cost.

Try not to spend too much time alone.

4. Upon reentry

Don't go straight back to work if you can help it. Your family needs you first.

Plan some travel-recovery time.

Work aggressively to debrief your wife on your travels.

Do the same with your children.

Don't try to cover travel guilt by showering your family with presents — what they need is some quality time with you.

Chapter Six  ||  Table of Contents