“Tighten your legs!”
“Heels down! Look at the corner!”
“Turn around and do it again! Pick his hind feet up!”
Over and over I steered my horse along the fence rail and pushed him into a canter. Over and over I adjusted my seat, pressured him in the ribs and tried to force him to change his lead. His ears flicked between my murmur and my coach’s yell.
“That’s it, boy, come on, you can do it,” I said softly. I tapped his hindquarters, pushed him forward and twitched my ring finger. I felt the slight jolt of his shoulders and his stride changed.
The relationship between a horse and rider is more of a partnership than anything else: the rider asks something of the horse, and the horse responds in turn, with the reward of pats or pasture for his efforts. He may not always like the commands he receives; he may buck and pull and resist, but it is the rider’s job to train him into submission so the horse is fulfilling his full potential.
Husbands are not horses, but sometimes we treat them like they are.
Self-identified ‘strong women’ have a will to work and an ambition for life (and even women who don’t take this label have these same desires). In the midst of marriage, however, I’ve found that this will and ambition have blinded me, at times, to the manner with which I treat my husband. I forget he is not someone to be trained, molded, and shaped into his best self – he is my beloved, and my friend.
We love them of course. We see them at their best and at their worst, and in those ‘worst’ moments we don’t give up on them! Our encouragements and critiques often arise from hearts that just want our men to be the best they can be. So we pressure them in the ribs, encouraging them to change their stride. We tap and push and twitch our ring finger to make them into better men.
Then we are baffled when they resist our pressure; astonished that they don’t see our hearts in the situation!
Break Him, or Gentle Him
There are two primary methods of horse training: ‘breaking’, or ‘gentling’. Breaking a horse works the wildness right out of him, and this was the primary method for many years – especially in the West, where horses needed to be broken in fast for cowboys and stagecoaches. Gentling became more popular as animal rights took a place in our culture. Gentling focuses on building a relationship between the horse and the trainer, eliminating fear from the equation and building trust which results in a willing spirit. A willing horse is the trainer’s end goal.
So are you breaking your husband, or are you gentling him?
I’m no marriage expert and I’m not pretending to be one. That question is one I asked myself after only a few months of being married, when I realized ‘motivation’ wasn’t rubbing off on Mr. M how I had pictured. I saw a few things in him that could be improved (after all, we all need improving to some extent), but my frank explanations weren’t always well received. I could see that he felt ‘mothered’, and my ‘encouragements’… well, they had a tone of nagging.
In my good-hearted effort to help him be the best he could be, I was breaking his spirit and will to improve. If I want my husband to be encouraged, to improve in character, to excel in his work – I can’t whip him into shape. I need to ‘gentle’ him.
He Should Be Able to Handle It
It’s easy to think, “He’s a man, he’s tough. He is supposed to be this leader of the family, so if he can’t handle criticism he doesn’t deserve my respect.”
Men are strong, tough, and bold – but they are also tender, kind, and loving. Remember that those latter traits are the ones God commands men to use toward us, their wives (Eph. 5:25). So when I demand love and withhold respect, justify my harshness by citing my feelings, I’m expecting him to change while giving him no motive to do so.
The truth is: he can’t ‘handle’ my criticism.
He can’t handle my nagging.
He can’t handle my negativity.
He will run from it, and when he runs from my words, he’s ultimately running from me. Don’t think my husband can’t take constructive criticism – he can. But my delivery can draw him to me or push him away.
Yep, our husbands need to be willing to change, willing to improve, and willing to submit to God’s commands on their lives. But I’m not talking about their responsibility right now – I’m talking about mine, as a wife. I’ll be honest: my Type A, straight-forward self has really blown it many times. I don’t treat my husband kindly and gently, building trust and relationship. I try to force him to be ‘better’ – and if I keep doing that, I’m in danger of breaking him, or worse… breaking us.
Handle With Care
So far in the Type A Diaries we’ve talked about how love should be the top of our list. We’ve talked about gentleness and how sweetness and strength are not mutually exclusive. Now we’re talking about love and gentleness in action.
This doesn’t just apply to husbands: it applies to siblings, children, coworkers, and friends. When we criticize, nag, whine, and contend, are we truly diffusing the ‘fragrance of Christ’? The answer is no – no matter how good our intentions may be. Since all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), those we speak to daily are God’s people. My husband is God’s man. Am I handling God’s image-bearers with care and kindness, or am I trying to whip them into better versions of themselves?
Remember the impetus to my Type A study? It was a passage from a book that encouraged me to speak ‘sweetly, kindly, and lovingly’ to my husband. So let’s talk about words.
What’s a ‘corrupt’ word? Here are some synonyms:
- Dishonest, unscrupulous, dishonorable, unprincipled, unethical, amoral, untrustworthy, venal, underhanded, double-dealing, fraudulent.
Am I manipulating people with my words? That’s corrupt! And even if my words don’t fall into the ‘corrupt’ category – are they edifying? Do they impart grace, or am I issuing commands and challenges with all the ardor of a drill sergeant?
A lot of times I speak ‘idly’: I’m working on something in the house, get interrupted, and I snap at Mr. M. Idle words can be reactionary words. And I’m going to give account for those! Jesus was serious about treating fellow children of God with grace and kindness, and as I read more about compassion, mercy, and grace, I see how far I am from His example. We are to ‘handle with care’ when it comes to our husbands, children, and acquaintances. It is not for us to determine if they are ‘tough enough’ to withstand harsh dress-downs and nagging ‘encouragement’.
Whoa! The word sweetness – in the Bible! Contrary to corrupt and idle words, pleasant words are sweet and acceptable to a hearer. When we ‘gentle’ our husbands with encouragement made of pleasant words, they are much more likely to hear us out. By changing my approach to the advice I give – my tone, my stance, my facial expression – I have found Mr. M much more receptive to what I have to say. He won’t feel threatened, like I’m out to ‘break’ him just to prove a point; he recognizes I am trying to build a trust relationship. And when he trusts me, he’ll implement my advice.
Making Myself Trustworthy
Why do we trust God? Because His Word is good.
How do get our husbands (or friends or family) to listen to our advice and trust our opinions? We make our words good, too.
We Type A girls need to stop thinking people can ‘handle’ our rough delivery. We need to start softening our approach. This doesn’t mean we water down our message: it means speaking the truth with the fragrance of love. By doing everything in an attitude and manner of grace, we build trust relationships with the people closest to us. And when they trust us, they’ll begin taking our advice and opinions seriously and even implementing our ideas.
Our goal isn’t to break them into agreement with us; it’s to gentle them into understanding our point of view. ‘Breaking’ a horse is the fast way to gain results, the results aren’t always good – and these horses can resort back to previous bad behaviors, or even lose their spirit completely. But a horse who was gentled, who trusts his partner (the trainer), will be willing to work with that partner and becomes a most loyal companion.
Trustworthy women bring out the full potential of those around them, including husbands. The Proverbs 31 woman is an example of this (Prov. 31:11). This woman had the ‘teaching of kindness’ upon her tongue – her words were the gentle kind! So while we may be the kind of women who can ‘handle’ someone barking at us – let’s not become the kind of people who speak that way to others.
Rather than joining in the cacophony of voices already demeaning and discouraging our husbands, we should stand beside them as a gentle advisers, empowering them to be the strong, confident, bold men we know them to be. Women empowered by the strength of Christ empower those around them to that same confidence!
I don’t want my husband, siblings, friends or coworkers to acquire the skill of ‘handling’ my harshness. I want to be an encouragement and a delight to them! These attitudes don’t come easily to me and perhaps they don’t to you, but good news for us! Christ grants us grace sufficient for that weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). He’s the ultimate Trainer, and He’s a gentle one.
In this Series:
This post was added to the link up at The Messy Middle!