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by Dave Bruskas
Confessions of a nagging wife
I was—and even now can be—a nagging wife.
“A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one’s right hand” (Proverbs 27:15–16).
Solomon laments about the nagging wife and counsels each of us that our behavior can be torturous to our husbands. Like the infrequent and unexpected rain that used to leak through the concrete roof of my house in the Arabian Gulf, the way I would approach my husband overwhelmed him and tested his patience.
See, I was that “quarrelsome” (ESV), “contentious” (NKJV), and “nagging” (MSG) wife. When my husband failed to lead our family in the early years of our marriage, I nagged him to death, thinking that would change his heart. I forgot that only Jesus could. My constant reproach further damaged our relationship. Of course, I never took the Bible’s admonition to correct my own behavior; my husband was the one sinning, and I needed to tell him about it.
This verse makes us bristle because of its truth. And we are tempted to sin in defense by pointing our quarrelsome finger at our husbands and our God. “My husband is not X. He is not doing Y. If I don’t remind him, correct him, challenge him, how will he ever grow?”
What our nagging means
My contentious ways revealed my heart. I doubted a sovereign God and my place in his redemption story. I doubted that my husband even on his best days could lead me or our family better than I could. And although I would never admit it, my nagging revealed my deep-seated and sinful belief that somehow I could change my husband. I had given up on the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. I falsely believed my words had that kind of power.
I nagged my husband to death, thinking that would change his heart. I forgot that only Jesus could.
My quarreling also covered up my weaknesses. Could I be that vulnerable with another human being? Could I trust my husband that completely? I was young and quite full of myself, and my quarreling served as a way to be heard. Not that my husband never asked my opinion, but I was terrified of the possibility that he wouldn’t. So, I was quick to dish out my thoughts and drown him in my opinions.
I was that unrestrained woman. When pushed, we unrestrained women can respond in sin with fight or flight. In those early years, every challenge, obstacle, or question of me was a push, and I fought back with everything I had. Although Jesus had saved me from eternal hell, I was stiff-necked and hard-hearted to relinquish all to him. The fierce independence I so valued damaged my relationships with the two most important men in my life—my husband and my Jesus.
Are you a quarrelsome wife? Do you fight and contend more than you seek peace and consensus? Do you bristle at this verse in Proverbs?
The fierce independence I so valued damaged my relationships with the two most important men in my life—my husband and my Jesus.
Many dislike Solomon’s comparison of women to dripping water. Some think it too demeaning, too sexist. In fact, one translation even changes the wording for wife to spouse to soften the blow. The wording once offended me, and here’s why: when you’re unrepentant, the truth stings.
God redeems our independence
But God saves through Jesus. He changes hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those days of my quarrelsome ways are, for the most part, behind me. God is changing me. God is changing my husband. And my God, who never changes, redeemed and is redeeming my fierce independence and my quick tongue.
Oddly, there is great freedom in what the world calls limiting. In my redeemed, submitted-to-Christ marriage, I am free—free of the fear of failing at roles God never intended for me to play, free from burdens God never intended me to bear. And when I stopped demanding my voice be heard and my opinions considered, my husband turned to hear my counsel even more. Because my words were now void of self and filled with the Spirit.
God, who never changes, redeemed and is redeeming my fierce independence and my quick tongue.
I still have moments of relapse. For some of us who are mothers, our nagging is an unconscious failure to turn off our mom switch. Most of my days, I’m reminding someone to do something. “Brush your teeth.” “Clean your room.” “Get ready.” “Finish the science project.” “Put your dirty dishes up.” And on and on and on. When my husband reenters our environment at day’s end, my “mommyness” can overpower.
So here are five effective habits I’ve learned along the way. Keep in mind that this list may be equally challenging for men, as these are not just women’s issues, but human issues:
1. Watch what you say and how you say it
In sin, I say words I shouldn’t. I choose harsh words, destructive words. I speak before I think, and my mouth reveals my heart. Other times, my words lack provocation, but my tone gives me away. At our house, we joke that while we all may not speak in tongues we can, unfortunately, speak in tones. If you struggle with word choice, tone, or both, when speaking to your husband, ask Jesus to sanctify your mouth and take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5). If your mindset leans toward critique, think on the good things about your husband and your life in Christ (Phil. 4:8).
2. Remember “two stars and a wish”
We are our spouse’s helpmate (Gen. 2:18). Immediately following his description of the contentious wife, Solomon says, “Iron sharpens iron and so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:16). We know our husbands in ways no other person ever will, and we have great influence over them. My husband and I each want to make the other better. One of my daughter’s teachers coached her kids during a writers’ workshop to give “two stars and a wish” in response to another’s work—two things they liked and one suggestion for improvement. When my husband asks me to evaluate his decisions or even edit his writing, I give two stars for every wish.
3. Ask a question
When I need to remind him of an appointment or commitment, I ask my husband a question. “Will you be able to pick up from soccer tonight?” comes across better than “Don’t forget to . . .”
4. Say it with a smile
My dear friend often offers opinions contrary to her husband’s with a smile and a chipper tone. Of course, I rarely see her in public without a smile and a chipper tone, but I’ve realized that even if I have to force a smile and upbeat attitude, it helps. And my husband sees right through it because he knows that’s not my way. “You’re sounding like her,” he’ll laughingly say. And he appreciates my awkward effort.
5. Bide your time
There’s a time for every purpose under heaven (Eccles. 3:1). There’s a time to offer advice and a time to wait. In the early years of our marriage, I didn’t know this, and I would say the right things at the wrong time with either no effect or disastrous ones. How do you know when is the right time? What is work like for him right now? What pressures does he face? Look in his eyes and read his mental and emotional state. You will know if it’s not the right time.
This much I know is true: the right time to offer advice or critique is never during the heat of the battle. Your role at that moment is to stand by him in unity. Your husband needs to know that in the thick of the fight you are fighting with him, not against him. The time for analysis and constructive comments will come days, weeks, or months later when the crisis is behind him.
“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1, NIV).