Sarah and Tim had been married for more than 25 years. The kids were gone, and they were finally forced to face each other—no children to distract or share their love. This empty nest stage was supposed to be a time of celebration, but they didn't even know each other anymore. They felt like strangers. They had lived life together, but those fleeting moments of communication were swallowed by the needs of the kids and temporary disasters like bills, debts, and leaks—all the little distractions in life.
Tim captured the moment his son's high school basketball team won the championship, but he missed the moment Sarah won the award for neighborhood flower garden of the year. Sarah rejoiced the day her daughter became a bride, but missed the day Tim became a manager in his company.
Oh, sure, Tim and Sarah knew about these accomplishments, but there were no cameras, no tears, no laughter, and no shared moments when eyes twinkle and hearts flutter. They missed the connection.
Now Sarah and Tim have nothing in common anymore. Sarah moved a TV into her sewing room, and Tim keeps one in his office. They spend most of their evenings in separation, waiting for the grandchildren to come and fill their lives again.
They've stopped cherishing each other.
To love, honor, and cherish
I've often heard Christian communicators express to husbands the importance of cherishing their wives. It's easy to think of a wife as something to cherish. Women are often soft, fragile, easily hurt—like china. So men can understand how a woman would need to be cherished.
But the traditional wedding vows also include a promise from the wife to cherish her husband, as well. This is a little more difficult to imagine. We don't often visualize treating men like china, but rather sturdy, reliable wood. But if you think of cherishing your husband like cherishing your relationship with your son, suddenly it doesn't seem so feminine. It reminds me of Mary, the mother of Jesus who "kept all these things [about her son], and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19 KJV).
To cherish your husband is not to treat him like china, but to treat his successes, his secrets, his self-image, his thoughts, his opinions, his heart like china—treasuring and caring for the intricacies that make up his persona.
Most of us married our husbands because there was something about them that we cherished and admired, but it's easy for those feelings to fade. Yet, admiring your husband is no less important now than it was the day you got married. In her book Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot explains how wives can revive those feelings of esteem:
Marriage is no house party; it's not a college campus or a stimulating political row or an athletic contest, and the man's having been a spellbinding orator or a great halfback somehow does not seem terribly significant anymore. But you ought now and then to remember what he was, to ask yourself what it was, really, that caught your eye. Come now, you will say to yourself, you didn't marry him because he was a great halfback, did you? No, you married this person. Whatever the inner qualities were that enabled him to do the things he did then are still a part of this person that you go to bed with and eat breakfast with and wrestle over the monthly budget with. He is a person with the same potentials he had when you married him. Your responsibility now is not merely to bat your eyelashes and tell him how wonderful he is (but breathes there a man with soul so dead as not to be cheered by a little of that?) but to appreciate, genuinely and deeply, what he is, to support and encourage and draw out of him those qualities that you originally saw and admired.
You and I married someone who is more than just a man. He is a person with feelings and a heart that can be broken, with the ability to learn and develop and transform. He is a person who experiences life much deeper than what we can see on the outside. And our husbands are longing for us, as wives, to delve into their inner persons and find the layers of their souls hiding underneath.
That's what Tim was missing from Sarah. Recently, the couple visited their daughter, Stephanie, who said, "Dad seemed alive. He talked to me for hours about his club and his favorite collections because I was interested in what he had to say. All Mom ever does is tune him out. He was starving for someone to listen." What a shame that Sarah is missing out on this part of her husband.
As a wife, there is no greater gift I can give than to appreciate my husband, not just for what he does for me, but for who he is.
Learning to cherish him
Embracing the man God made your husband to be is not a matter of just tolerating his behavior, but truly valuing the makeup of his personality and the traits he has to offer. Although this skill takes practice and time, these three tips will help you communicate and display admiration for the man who desires to impress you most.
First, stop nagging. In the book of Proverbs, the wisest man on earth, King Solomon, warns men about a nagging wife. Here are several Scriptures that show how draining a "contentious" woman can be:
- "The contentions of a wife are a constant dripping" (19:13b).
- "It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman" (21:19).
- "It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman" (21:9, 25:24).
- "A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike" (27:15).
Get the picture? A nagging wife is hard to live with. While washing china, you wouldn't spray it with a pressure washer or even throw it in the dishwasher, would you? No, you would wash each piece by hand with a soft cloth and warm soapy water. Constant nagging is like putting a pressure washer to your husband's self-worth. When a wife nags, it doesn't matter what words are coming out of her mouth, most of the time a husband hears, "You're not good enough. You don't meet my needs. I would be better off with someone else." That's enough to make most men wonder, Why try?
Instead, if you have suggestions for your husband, have patience. Talk to him, but don't get frustrated and fight. Make your requests and then respect his decisions. First Peter 3:1-2 calls us wives to have chaste and respectful behavior toward our husbands, so that "even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives."
Second, verbalize your appreciation. James 3:3-5 reminds us of the power of the tongue:
If we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
The words you say do make a difference to your husband. Our spouses are easy targets for taking out frustration or being the butt of our jokes. You may think it's all in good fun, but sometimes "good fun" hurts. Many husbands will shake off biting comments with a macho shrug, and others might take a verbal punch back at you. Either way, you've possibly hurt him and didn't even realize it.
Instead, use words that lift up and encourage. You will see a difference in your husband's demeanor if you do. Talk about him to others in a positive way. Ask him questions about his life, work, hobbies, and friends. Tell him that you're proud of him. When he's honored at work, tell him how valuable he is as an employee, and take pictures. Learn about the work that he does. Let him teach you about the equipment he uses and the people he works with.
It reminds me of the song, "She Believes in Me" by Kenny Rogers, which tells the story of a man who had great dreams and never accomplished any of them. But the focus of the song is not on his failure, but on the faith and support of his loving wife:
And she believes in me; I'll never know just what she sees in me.
I told her someday if she was my girl, I could change the world with my little songs; I was wrong.
But she has faith in me, and so I go on trying faithfully.
And who knows maybe on some special night, if my song is right
I will find a way, while she waits ... while she waits for me!
There is no promise that this man will ever accomplish his dreams, but the power of this woman's support and encouragement is enough to give him hope.
Third, connect with him emotionally. Women have a tendency to connect emotionally through verbal communication, but men can tire from talking. However, there are other ways to connect even when words are never spoken:
- Talk with your eyes. With just a look you can tell your husband how much you love him and that you're proud of him.
- Support him with your presence. Be there when he's honored at banquets and when he makes a homerun on the neighborhood softball team.
- Make him feel important. Take pictures of that big fish he caught, frame letters and e-mails with kudos from the boss, clear off a shelf for his trophies.
- Laugh at his jokes (even when they're not that funny). At least when he makes a flub, he knows he can count on you to appreciate the effort.
His most precious possession
As a wife, you have been given the opportunity to see the deepest, most vulnerable parts of your husband's most precious possession—his heart. It's not easy for a man to expose who he is underneath that tough exterior, but he's willing to if he can trust you to take care of his heart and not take advantage of it.
An exposed heart is easy to pierce, so we wives must be careful to treat it gently and tenderly, so as not to cause damage. If he feels that he's an easy target, he'll shut you out, leaving you distant and alone in your relationship. But if he knows that his soul is safe with you, he'll be more likely to share his most intimate longings and desires.
Perhaps your husband has already shut down and closed himself off from you. Maybe you've unknowingly trod his tender heart. The good news is that it's not too late to open him back up. A wounded heart can heal. If you will start using these tools and have a little patience, eventually you could again have the pleasure of delving into those soulful places that only a wife is privileged to go.
Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.