Recently I was looking at the Ephesians text about husbands and wives, and the mystery of Christ and his church. The verse that says “he who loves his wife loves himself” (5:28) made me stop and think: I wonder if the converse is true?
If a husband is a jerk to his wife, is that an indication he mostly hates himself? The axiom is true, hurt people hurt people.
It pains me to say but in my first year of marriage to Sandy, though a kind and caring husband generally, I had fits of meanness that made Sandy wonder if she’d made the right choice. It was when she read me the riot act – love me better than this, or I’m out of here – that I took inventory of myself and realized my lashing out at her with unsubstantiated rage was tied to issues of self-hate and personal woundedness.
It was only as I faced my demons and jettisoned my past pains did I find restorative mercy. Just today I read something one husband had to say on this very topic:
I had no clue about the depths of my brokenness, the degree of my selfishness, or the devices of my sinfulness. I had no clue about what it would take to love one person well the rest of my life – a person who needs the gospel just as much as I do.1
That’s the real rub here: a husband who fails in the agape department has lost any sense of the gospel.
An oafish, unloving husband is saying to his bride, in essence, I don’t need you. I’m fine without you.
Imagine Jesus telling his bride that!
Psychologists tell us if you abuse and maltreat your body (through drink, drugs, sexual license, cutting, mutilation, what have you) it’s often a sign of self-hate or shame.
Is it possible that a husband who doesn’t love his bride – who is his body – as himself, is acting out of a need to self-flagellate? To put a fine point on it, is he hurting her because deep-down he resents himself?
I’m reading D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Ephesians where he revealed an alarming number of women in his-era England had been driven to chain-smoking. “Why?” he asked. “Simply because they have been neglected by their husbands.” So said medical professionals.
This anecdote has me wondering about today’s neglectful, unloving husbands and what coping mechanisms their wives are being forced to imbibe?
What escapes are they accessing? Obvs anything that will offer them a sense of romance, adventure, happiness, fulfillment, peace, hope, or feeling wanted…everything a wife should rightly expect from her husband.
She goes after these things because she’s woefully unhappy. Not excusing, just throwing a spotlight on it. Indeed, her responsibility is to find her joy and security in Christ. I do posit that an unhappy-with-himself husband is one of the major culprits in many – not all – marital breakdowns.
Perhaps it’s because I was one of those jerkish husbands that I am predisposed to put the onus on husbands when I do marriage counseling. Or more likely, because Paul seems to do it in this marriage text. Especially in his admonition that a husband who doesn’t love his wife really doesn’t love himself.
Well, enough of me and my musings.
Let me conclude with the inspiration for this entire essay. I quote from John Angell James, a 19th century Congregationalist pastor and author, who offered his thoughts on a happy marriage – which starts with a heart-healthy husband:
“… no weak affection is due or should be offered to the wife of our bosom… She that for our sake has forsaken a comfortable home, the watchful care, and the warm embrace of her parents, has a right to expect in our regard that which shall make her forget her father’s house and cause her to feel that with respect to happiness, she is no loser by the exchange. Happy the woman – such should every husband strive to make his wife – who can look back without a sigh upon the moment when she left forever the guardians, the companions, and the scenes of her childhood!”
Husbands, this is what loving yourself means.
1 Scotty Smith, Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith, Nov. 29