This is a really good question, and in the question I hear that a lot of suffering, a lot of discouragement, and it’s painful, right? And you find yourself—a husband who finds himself criticized and nagged by his wife finds himself directly in Scripture. Let me open up Proverbs 21. It's a chapter on contention, on conflict, and there's two verses, verse 9 and verse 19, where Solomon opens up to us that situation, that possibility of being married to someone who is contentious or who's nagging. Let me read Proverbs 21, starting in verse 9. He says, “It is better to live in the corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. In 19, he takes it a little bit further and adds to nagging. He says, “It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful,” or the NIV says, “nagging wife.”

Imagine that, those two metaphors, either it's better to live on a rooftop exposed to all the elements, the cold, the wind, the rain. It's better to live there than inside the house with a wife who is quarrelsome and contentious and nagging. In verse 19, he says it's better actually to live in a desert. Imagine that, eking out in existence in a dry land where you're all alone and lonely and suffering from the elements as well. And Solomon says it is painful. It's hard to feel criticized. It is hard to feel like you really can't do anything that's good enough. That's always going to be a problem. There's always going to be something that wasn't quite up to par and that you're falling short. Now, husbands, we love to please our wives. There's nothing more that we want than for them to be proud of us and to love and be encouraged by how we work, how we interact with our children, how we interact with our neighbors and take care of our homes. But the painful reality is oftentimes our wives are disappointed by us, that we fail, and we can feel criticized. And psychologically, it's painful and sometimes it's more frequent than other times. 

And it's a good question, what do we do? What are we to do? Well, let me turn the question around a little bit and ask you, “Well, what do you do when you feel criticized? When you feel like you're falling short? How do you respond? How do you react? Do you get defensive and justify yourself to your wife? Do you typically recriminate her or counter-blame and point out her faults? Or maybe you avoid the question and change the subject and don't bring it up. Maybe you physically get smaller and get quieter and leave the room even, or leave the house altogether and you stay away for a bit. Maybe you get quiet and keep distance for hours or days and get really invested in other things outside the house or in hobbies, or overwork. Maybe you even at times punish your wife with silence and like a wall, you put a wall between her and put a hand up and just say, we're not going to have a relationship. And you avoid eye contact and you get more passively frustrated. Or maybe you simply just try to work your way out of the doghouse and you try to please her and appease her and try to get her back in favor with you. But really, do that through serving and being nice and kind and going out of your way to do an extra amount of work around the house, that kind of thing. What do you do when you feel like your wife is critical of you? What do you do when she's on you and you feel like what you're doing is not good enough, doesn't quite please her, doesn't quite meet her standards? 

Why have I turned it around a bit? Why have I said, well, we could talk about what you're supposed to do, but I'd really like to start with what you already are doing because so oftentimes when we feel criticized, when we feel like we're not measuring up, our response actually becomes the very context for our wives to struggle even more. That when we pull away, when we justify, when we defend, that that's actually part of a conflict. It's actually just as important and just as destructive in trying to communicate with our wives and trying to be constructive. The way we respond oftentimes in pulling away and withdrawing and avoiding and getting quiet and just trying to appease and please our wives instead of directly addressing what your wife's concern is, that that actually becomes part of the problem and it makes it even harder for her. And she might start to be more critical and more disappointed and more desperate as she sees you pull away and maybe even more despairing because she thinks, “Well, he's never going to really address my concern, and he just wants me to be happy with him. He doesn't really want to address what I put my finger on.”

If we were to go back at just a few pages in Proverbs to Proverbs 18, listen to how Solomon describes what happens when we withdraw, when we separate ourselves and create distance by being defensive or by a counter-blaming or by getting quiet and avoiding our wives. Listen to what he says, it's stunning. In chapter 18 verse 1, Proverbs says, “Whoever isolates himself,” you can say whoever withdraws, “seeks his own desire.” Oh, that's interesting. So when we're feeling criticized, when we're feeling like our wives are nagging us and unhappy or disappointed with us, when we withdraw, when we separate and pull away, it's really a desire, it comes out of a heart that desires to protect ourselves and a desire to get away from the heat of our wife's disappointment or frustration with us instead of facing it. And Solomon says that comes out of self-desire, selfish desire, not out of love for my wife. It even gets better. “So whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” The Hebrew is actually, there's a sense of he bears his teeth, is the actual literal, you get a picture of this dog who's backing up, but he's backed up into a corner and he starts to growl. He's not all out attacking, but there's this really unfriendly, “don't get any closer or I'll snap,” right? He's bearing his teeth and he's growling. And the NIV actually says he actually starts the quarrel. Now, isn't that interesting? So in response to our wife’s disappointment or nagging or frustration with us, when we pull away, when we get defensive, when we respond with some kind of distancing reaction, Solomon says, number one, it's for your own sake that you're doing that, not for love of your wife or for God's glory.

And number two, there's an aggression in there. There's an anger in there. There's something that is bearing of the teeth, a growl that says, “stay away. Don't do that.” And it's helpful to say, “How I respond when my wife is frustrated with me is part of a conflict. And I can either move towards her, trying to understand or speaking directly, and I can imagine that by just saying, “Honey, it is painful when you nag me,” or “It's painful when you criticize me. But can we talk in a way that maybe isn't so painful or so hard for me to hear? And my typical response is just to ignore or to avoid. I don't want to do that.” And we start to grow in speaking directly and facing things that are hard. None of us likes to hear things that are critical of us, not a single one of us. And yet we start to grow in ways of hearing and being all ears.

I recently heard a gentleman say, we really should go into conflict with a desire to win. And what is winning? How do we define winning? Winning is being the first person to understand the other's perspective, the first person to really get inside the other's concerns and frustrations and to grasp them. If that's what winning is, then that's a good goal. Now, with that said, there may be a time where you would say, you know, “Honey, please don't mag me. It's painful. And oftentimes I don't respond well, but I long for you to be pleased with me, and I know I'm a sinner. I know that you see more than anyone in this world, you see my flaws, my imperfections, my hangups. You live with them. And yet, would you be patient? Would you be gentle with how you express your frustrations? You have every right to be frustrated, but would you approach me in a way that makes it easier for me to hear? I don't want to live with this sense of always being a disappointment to you. And I long to hear when I'm doing things that are done well, that you're pleased with me as well.”

So there is a place to speak very directly, even as you're hearing your wife's concerns. And so first of all, it's hard, it's painful, and yet how we respond is crucial. It's part of whether this is going to be constructive and there's going to be growth for you guys as a couple, or whether it's just something that you endure and really doesn't become fruitful.