The words felt foreign as they slipped from my lips.
“Sweetie, I just want you to know that I love you, and I have no problem with your being emotional right now,” I said. “I understand why you’re upset.”
I wasn’t upset. And the event that had precipitated my wife’s distress was over, with no negative effects.
Which is why my normal reaction under the circumstances would have been some variation of unhelpful. You shouldn’t feel that way. Aren’t you overreacting? (judgment). Seems to me you need to apologize to that person (diagnosis). Why are you mad at me? You’re being unfair (my own special habit of taking things personally).
Maybe it’s a man thing. In the face of negative emotions, I instinctively reach for explanations and answers. Honestly, on some level it is an effort to turn sadness into joy. As instantaneously as possible.
Needless to say, it never works.
Amazingly, though, what I did in this instance did work. The distress on my wife’s face instantly melted into relief. A smile, even. She held her arms out for a comforting hug. It seemed the pain all but vanished in a moment.
“Part of our difficulty is that we think we have to have answers for every problem our spouses raise,” says Dr. Edith Munger. “Actually, a personal relationship is not predicated on solutions to problems or answers to questions. Our top goal should be to understand each other, to get close to each other …” (Alan Loy McGinnis, The Friendship Factor, emphasis added).
In sharing her hurt with me, my wife wasn’t looking for my “solutions.” She certainly wasn’t inviting my judgment. She was only trying to make a connection.
Of course, occasionally when a wife is discouraged or upset she may need her husband to help her set her thinking straight. Sometimes she does need his problem-solving ability.
But most the time—perhaps not in every instance, but almost, even when she needs those other things too—I’m convinced that what she needs firstis encouragement.
There is a beautiful spiritual dimension to this dynamic within a marriage. The marital bond pictures the relationship between Jesus Christ and His people (you can see this deep spiritual truth described in Ephesians 5:22-33). And a husband encouraging his wife points to Jesus Christ doing that for us.
Read 1 John 2:1, which says that when we sin, Jesus Christ becomes our Advocate. That word also means Encourager. Commenting on that verse in his book The Last Hour, Gerald Flurry writes, “How often do you husbands see your wife down and depressed, and you know she needs your encouragement? A righteous husband will be there for his wife.”
That is what Jesus Christ does for His wife. When His people are discouraged, Christ does not make us feel judged and condemned. This verse shows that Christ is doubling His efforts to encourage us and set us back on our feet!
“Christ doesn’t ask us to do things in our marriage that He will not do in His marriage to the Church. We have the supreme Husband of all husbands!” Mr. Flurry writes. “Christ gives us every opportunity because so much is at stake. How we are loved!”
God’s love is so multidimensional. God hates sin passionately. He recognizes our wrong emotions and knows we need to grow up and expunge them. At the same time, even in our worst state, His love for us never diminishes.
When we are down—especially when it is obviously because of our own sin—wouldn’t we be far less inclined to seek God out if all we got from Him was cold belittlement or condemnation?
There is tremendous comfort in knowing that, when our emotions are out of kilter, we can kneel before God and seek that spiritual connection. We can unburden ourselves, talk through our conflicted thoughts, lay bare our weaknesses, and trust that our Advocate and Encourager will somehow make sense of it all.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). There really is no better tool for getting our emotions back into balance.
Such prayers enable us to anchor ourselves to God, and the loving, calming, stabilizing influence of His presence. We can always avail ourselves of His generally silent, always steady encouragement. Then, once we are closer to being aright, if necessary God will give us the answers or the correction we need.
“Our physical marriages are a type of our marriage to Christ,” Mr. Flurry writes. Contemplate these profound words. “We must strive to pattern our physical marriages after Christ’s marriage to the Church. Only then are we fulfilling the God-ordained purpose of marriage!” (ibid).
Only then. Only as we husbands consider His example as a Husband and really endeavor to emulate it.
Christ’s role as our Encourager illustrates His love, concern, patience, commitment, and determination to understand and embrace every individual whom His Father has selected for His Bride—probably better than anything else you could name.
Emulate Him. Be your wife’s encourager.