On Facebook, I came across a question from a wife (I’ll call her Melissa) whose husband (Blake) makes demeaning jokes. You know, hilarious “clean” humor like this:
Melissa explained that she’s asked Blake not to make these remarks. His reply is, “It’s just a joke. It’s not a big deal.” It embarrasses and frustrates her, and she wanted to know what she could do about it.
Lots of women had lots to say. Many pointed out that if it “wasn’t a big deal,” then he could stop since it obviously bothers his wife. But he won’t stop, meaning that there’s more behind it than lame attempts at humor.
One woman said that she and her husband set aside regular times to discuss their biases and figure out problems in their communication. They work on a puzzle together while doing this, keeping their hands busy and making it easier to talk.
Another woman said she asks the jokester to explain why, for example, #13 on that list is funny. (“It’s funny because the woman is lazy because it’s her job to wipe the dust off the T.V.” Ha ha.)
But one woman weighed in with some advice straight from the “godly marriage” teachings I got as a teenager and young wife. The details can change, but one basic principle remains: the worst thing a woman can do is make a man feel bad about himself.
I mean, sure, he’s the head of the family, has the final say in major decisions, and is — no exaggeration — responsible before God for his wife’s spiritual health. But at the same time, he’s as fragile as a glass ornament. A wife can destroy her husband by contradicting him, disagreeing with him, or communicating anything less than devotion to him.
Therefore, in this conflict, Melissa must approach it carefully. As follows:
- When your husband continues to do something that you’ve told him you don’t like, the first step is to figure out where you are wrong. Your attitude probably isn’t 100% pure, which means you’re partly to blame. It’s always very important to establish the wife’s blame in the situation.
- Approach your husband and ask him to discuss your reflections when he is ready. This is about you and your issues now.
- Don’t expect a massive change immediately. Obviously you’re aiming for a complete overhaul of his attitudes and behavior… even though your stated goal is merely for him to understand why jokes that cut down women aren’t funny and it embarrasses you when he tells them.
- Continue to ponder and understand your own beliefs, even though your husband isn’t required to think through why he won’t stop telling demeaning jokes.
- You must gently and respectfully state your disapproval if he makes these jokes around you. If you’re snappish or sarcastic, go back to #4, do not pass Go, and do not collect $200.
- You can respect your own convictions, even though he doesn’t have to. Also, note that it’s “doing what what you believe is right.” Avoid implying that your husband’s behavior has larger social consequences and this isn’t about your hurt feelings.
- You don’t have to speak up every time. Don’t overdo it.
- Keep praying! God will keep growing you! Because the problem here is… you?
It’s not that this whole thing is bad advice, taken in parts. It’s good to think through your own reaction before approaching your spouse. It’s also impossible to change someone who doesn’t want to change, so all you really can do is draw your own boundaries and know your own mind. But that’s not really what this is saying. Instead, it shoves all of the emotional work onto Melissa and requires nothing of Blake. There’s not even the expectation that he should change his behavior out of regard for her.
In patriarchal thinking, a man is the strongest protection a woman can have; but she has to handle him with the utmost care or she’ll damage him. A woman who stands too firmly on her own personhood is a woman who can destroy her marriage, her man — and by extension, herself.
Better for her to focus on her own fault, turn the conflict into her own “issues,” and keep praying that he listens to God better than he listens to her.
Sure, it short-circuits communication and lets unresolved conflicts fester. But if it gets too bad, just make a few jokes. That always lightens the mood.