My dad lost his job in his early 50’s. His employer, a railroad company, went against union contract by closing down the terminal and dad found himself unemployed. At that juncture my mom provided the primary income. That arrangement strained the marriage not because mom earned more but because dad felt disrespected when mom would unthinkingly comment about having to earn the money, or she’d spend money independently of dad’s knowledge. And mom felt unloved when dad did not express appreciation for all her work or would explode in anger when she appeared too independent.
Interestingly, mom and dad erroneously thought the reversal of the traditional role of man-as-primary-provider caused the marital conflict. No, a failure to apply Love and Respect (Ephesians 5:33) in the face of that reversed traditional role triggered the arguments. A bedridden husband can love his working wife and a working wife can respect her bedridden husband, and the two of them can experience deep marital satisfaction. What ignites marital tension is when a husband feels disrespected for earning less and a wife feels unloved for earning more.
Listen to this wife who missed her husband’s need to feel respected while she generated the primary income.
"I realize that... the real issue with where it started to collapse was in my lack of respect for him. I never imagined that's what I was doing, because if you asked me, I had great regard for my husband. However, we had a paradigm shift that occurred that left me the bread winner and him the stay at home dad... From the worldly perspective it made perfect sense. I was bringing home $300-$400K/yr and he was bringing home $20-$25… He quit to take care of our daughter and the rental properties and only did it out of love, not because he was thrilled about maintaining properties.
"Of all the material I read and put into practice… has had nill effect and now I understand why. All this time my husband has been crying out for respect and didn't know how to articulate it and even if he did, I'm not sure I could have heard it or interpreted it before now. You've laid it out all so plainly, that I now realize it is the one ingredient I have been missing all along. The funny part is, no one would have ever guessed this about me including myself. You see, I have known the women you quote in your book and their tone and words offend even me. I have never been that woman and never will be. However, my husband and I have a little twist to our male/female dynamic that your book has just made me realize. He is a little bit more emotional and used to wear his heart on his sleeve to me and I am far less emotional and needy than most women, so some of our key characteristics have been hidden even more deeply because of those personality quirks. I didn't understand his need to provide and feel worth from his job as men obviously do (obvious now). I could never relate or even hear what he was saying because my job is what I do, not who I am and I honestly have no real pride because of it. It's a gift and talent and a way to provide for my family and that's where we got so much wrong.
"I've seen so many people in the same predicament that now I feel I can waive the safety flag and get them off the dead end road of marriage failure. I am not a feminist, I am a realist. I am a Christian, but I didn't understand love vs. respect. I somehow felt they were the same. I couldn't win my husband's attention/affection back because I was trying to show more 'love' to him, never understanding much less grasping the fact that it was 'respect' he needed all along.
"... Through all of it, I have asked God to let me see my husband the way He sees him and to keep me from all feelings of hate and bitterness. This has been the hardest time of my life and on top of that this has caused near financial and physical ruin, however, I have thanked God for bringing me to this humble place and beginning to do surgery on me to carve out all of the issues that I have and never had the wisdom to see - and I'm a pretty darn smart cookie if I do say so myself! :) However, I have been so out of balance in the weights of God's world, it isn't even funny how blinding it's been. I have prayed, cried, begged and pleaded with God to restore my family and stop this pain… I have had nothing but hate from my husband and evilness since the discovery/admission of (his) affair... until I applied the Respect Test… but honestly… it took me a whole day to really find something genuine that I could actually use the word respect for and him not see right through me if it wasn't genuine. I sent it via text yesterday and he actually engaged me with paragraphs via text. Now I know that sounds so trivial to anyone reading this, but I have been in a living hell... and that was HUGE in my book. Then this morning I sent another one, not saying the actual word respect but just showing concern for him. He was busy, so he actually said 'I'm sorry, it's got nothing to do with you, I'm just annoyed and irritated.' My husband in 14 years has only said I'm sorry a handful of times and... he exclaimed he 'wasn't sorry' for what he had done. Now I know this is a far cry from reconciliation, but it really gave peace to my soul. It's made me realize where I went so wrong and I feel so 'un-burdened' in trying to figure out what really happened to us as everyone saw how in love we were for 12 of 14 years. It's been an extremely hard fall from grace, but now I feel like I am empowered through Christ to never make the same mistakes again. It gives me such hope...
"I am still in love with my husband and know that hurt people, hurt people. He may never be able to reconcile with himself, God or me, but I now see and know that by doing my part that God has called me to do regardless of him, I am already experiencing an eternal kind of feeling of peace and am hopeful for what God is gonna do either in my marriage or on me..."
Though I condemn this man’s adultery, I understand his vulnerability. When a husband feels that his wife does not respect him for his desire to provide, as part of his self-identity, he longs for someone to recognize, accept and affirm that dimension within him. He becomes vulnerable to the advances of a woman who offers the respect he craves. By way of analogy, when a wife feels that her husband does not want to be close to her, open with her, and empathize with her, I understand her vulnerability to the advances of a man who offers these things in a loving manner.
Why did this wife miss her husband’s heart? With this wife, as with most wives, her self-image did not rest on her employment. She defined herself in terms of her own person, marriage and children, even with an impressive career. Not all women are like her but most that I have met are like her. Consequently, when she sounded off or whispered to her husband about this role reversal concerning income, however innocent and infrequent her comments, her words dropped like an atomic bomb on her husband. This is comparable to a husband making innocent complaints about his wife’s neglect of the children because of her career thereby flattening her emotional landscape, especially when she observes her sad children run to daddy for comfort, or when they come into the home giggling and report to daddy why they are laughing. It doesn’t take much to verbally kick a person in the core of their being.
Remember, God created Adam in Paradise to cultivate and maintain the Garden, and this before God created Eve. In other words, God designed Adam to work. Most husbands define themselves in terms of their employment. When two men meet for the first time they ask, "What do you do?" Though a husband’s identity should not solely rest on his work anymore than a mother should define herself in terms of the children, a husband leans in that direction as does a mother. Let’s extend grace and mercy.
As a wife, whether you like it or not, your husband feels a compulsion to be the primary provider just as most mothers feel a compulsion to be the primary nurturer of the children. Neither are wrong, just different. When a man feels like he is failing as the principal breadwinner, he will appear thin-skinned when feeling denigrated and disrespected as a male provider. Telling him to grow up or dismissing his sentiments equals a husband telling his wife to stop feeling inadequate as a mother and to stop her crying. How easy to judge people in areas where we have less struggle!
As a husband, do not interpret your wife's complaints about the role reversal as a disrespectful message against you. If you withdraw from your wife or angrily attack her during her ventilation about the role reversal, she will feel unloved. You will get on the Crazy Cycle! Though you are struggling because you feel inadequate and disrespected as a provider, stand tall during this time of testing. Don’t become unloving. Also, do not allow your vulnerability during this season to turn your heart toward a woman who wants to build you up and convey to you that she respects you.
Here’s the good news: if you both practice respect and love during this traditional role reversal, you can have a satisfying marriage. That’s the deepest issue – love and respect - and my mom and dad missed that for too many years.