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He Shoves Me

Q. My husband and I argue frequently. But lately he's begun to shove me. He claims it's just in the heat of the moment. While I'm certain I'm being overly sensitive to my husband's anger, I'm not sure his physical actions are okay. Am I overreacting?

A. While you may be oversensitive to aspects of your husband's anger, you aren't overreacting to his shoving you. There's never, ever, under any circumstance, due to any real or perceived provocation or slight, any reason for a man or woman to push or shove each other. That's a line that cannot be crossed.

In your situation, we'd encourage you not to wait until more shoving, pushing, grabbing, hitting, or any other behavior that exerts abusive control occurs, but to let your husband know his behavior's unhealthy, unacceptable, and will no longer be tolerated. You need to set unequivocally clear boundaries. Let him know that if he pushes you again, you'll ask him to leave the room and/or leave the house for a short time-out. If he refuses to do that, then you should leave. Leaving provides time for the angry spouse to calm down and focus on healthier ways to communicate his concerns. If this doesn't help, then you may need to take stronger steps by involving your pastor, a licensed Christian counselor, and, if it continues, the police. Being proactive in setting clear boundaries now can help prevent escalation.

But dealing only with the shoving is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. You and your husband are at a relational crossroads. You can either continue to do more of what obviously doesn't work or you can choose to see this as a valuable opportunity, reach out for help, and cultivate healthier ways with which to express your anger.

The process of becoming one in Christ involves learning how to understand our differences and deal with conflict in ways that heal rather than hurt. This is an opportunity for you to learn how to apply the principles of 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 ("Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth") and Colossians 3:13-15 ("Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace") to the day-in and day-out issues in your marriage. We encourage you and your husband to read those two passages at least once a day. As you read them, ask yourself, What is one way I can apply this to my life today? We'd also encourage you to contact a licensed Christian marriage and family counselor who can help you find practical ways to chart a new course for your marriage.

"I Don't Do Windows"

Q. I work full-time and I'm a mother. While my husband does help around the house, I wish he'd realize there's more to cleaning than just picking up things. He doesn't understand that after you pick up, you have to dust, disinfect, vacuum, wash the floor, wipe the cabinets, clean the windows, vacuum the baseboards, remove and clean the vents-and an endless list of other tasks. I feel bad complaining, but he acts as if he does everything because he "picks up." I want to tell him, "Try getting down and scrubbing!" But he gets mad easily when I try to communicate with him. What can I do?

A. It sounds as if you have some understandable frustration with how you and your husband deal with the household responsibilities. You're really facing two issues: Who's going to do what around the house and how you can communicate about issues over how your perspectives differ.

We've worked with some men in a similar situation who expressed the fear that enough will never be enough; they're hurt and frustrated by their perceived inability to get things right. One helpful approach is to catch your mate getting it right. Compliment your husband when he goes beyond what he's done in the past. Don't just compliment him-let him know how it's helpful for you.

Try to look at this situation with new and fresh lenses. Begin by realizing that your cleaning desires may be just that, your cleaning desires. Your husband may not have the needs you do to have everything cleaned and scrubbed, and so he may not be as invested in helping you meet that need.

In our experience couples spend little time communicating effectively about their issues. Let your husband know this is a significant frustration for you and that you'd like to take some time to listen to and understand each other, and come up with one thing that each of you are willing to do differently. Ask him when would be a good time to talk, then sit down and figure out how this whole cleaning issue could be done. Define what hasn't worked, then both of you discuss what might work.

It might be possible that your husband is willing to partner with you but not at the level of your expectations. Try to come up with a compromise in which some of your needs are met and some of his needs are met. Agree to come back in two weeks and evaluate whether the plan's working. If it is, great; if it isn't, instead of getting angry or frustrated, take the time to tweak the plan. We have to function this way at our jobs everyday. Why not take the time at home to be honorable with each other? You might just get a whole lot more done.

His Illness Is Killing Us

Q. My husband was told recently he may have MS. The symptoms have really taken a toll on him because he gets tired now when he plays with our four chil-dren. He's only 27, and we've been married for 6 years. Plus lately, it seems as if all we do is argue. It's as though nothing I say or do is right. I love him and hate what's happening to him. How can I help?

A. Whenever there's a crisis or trauma that enters into a marriage, the potential for distance and conflict is high. When men experience an illness or a disease that threatens their ability to be a man, it takes a powerful mental, emotional, and spiritual toll. Much of a man's identity is based on his ability to do "manly" things: to provide, procreate, and protect. When a man is less able to function in this way, it can lead to a flood of emotions he doesn't fully understand and doesn't know how to express. It's normal for your husband to experience a wide range of painful emotions including fear, hurt, and frustration, and these are the core emotions that lead to anger.

Remember that both of you are still in the initial stages of dealing with this loss. Try to identify your own emotions. What are you feeling? This will help you as you interact with your husband. When he gets frustrated or angry, look underneath that anger for hurt or fear. Instead of reacting to his emotions, try responding to him with a sense of acceptance and love. A little gentleness is probably what you both need as you adapt to his illness. Sit with him when he's tired-depending on his personality he may be comforted just by your presence-without much talking. You might ask him in one of his more tender times how you can best love him, and what are ways that express that love to him. Try to take time for yourself to rest, relax, and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. Make sure you nurture your own support system. Talk with your female friends, go walking, listen to music, take time to read Scripture that speaks of God's love and grace for you. Your heart will be calmed and your strength will be restored.

We'd also encourage you to contact the local MS support group in your area. There you'll find men and women who are going or have already gone through what you and your husband are experiencing. They probably have support groups available that will prove invaluable to you as you walk through the difficult times. They can help you understand what "normal" looks like, what to expect, what kinds of community support and resources are available to you, and perhaps even where to find the best care.

Finally, it's essential that you get a group of couples around you who agree to pray for you on a daily basis and with you on a regular basis. The apostle James tells us that "the earnest prayer of a righteous [person] has great power and wonderful results" (James 5:16, nlb). We're not being glib or "spiritualizing" when we emphasize the power of prayer. It's transformed our own marriage and for more than 30 years we've seen what prayer can do in the lives of many other marriages and families.

Gary J. Oliver is executive director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies. Carrie Oliver is a clinical therapist at the PeopleCARE Counseling Centers, specializing in marriage and family and women's issues. The Olivers have co-authored the book Raising Sons … and Loving It! (Zondervan).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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