Last September my husband started a new job, and almost immediately we knew it wasn’t a good fit. However, his contract specified that he would stay with them for an entire year. To say that last twelve months have been horrendous would be an understatement. Never knowing when he was coming or going replaced the predictability we had known for many years. He physically suffered from the long hours in a grueling environment. He struggled with discouragement, frustration, and an almost debilitating state of stress. Limping along, instead of thriving, is how I would describe our relationship over the last year as I’m pretty sure we fought more during that time than we had for the past several years combined. Jason tried to leave his stress at work, but after a while, it became too much and spilled over into every area of our lives. Thankfully his contract has expired, and he has already begun yet another new job. I’m not sure what this year holds; if we will gain a better sense of normalcy or if Jason will be less stressed. But I have learned a few things that a wife should and should not do during stressful seasons. So, without further ado…
The dos and don’ts when your husband is stressed
Don’t Make It About You
There are two main ways wives are tempted to handle their husband’s stress. The first is that they take on the role of fixer. As I lamented Jason’s new emotional state, I would ask what I could be doing or how I could help him. His response usually entailed the phrase “it isn’t about you.” When your husband is stressed, especially when the stressor is outside of your house, there isn’t much you can do. Feeling as if it is up to you to fix the problem adds more pressure to an already intense situation as your husband might begin to feel he is your project or mission. We love our husbands, and so naturally we want to make things better for them and lighten their load, but sometimes our husbands receive that as an insult and feel they have become our problem. They want love and a place to be themselves without the condition that their stress level must change.
The second way we can make it about us is by identifying with the burden we experience because of their attitude. As a coping mechanism, husbands might mentally check out or disengage at home, which not only hurts a wife emotionally but adds to her already lengthy to-do list. I felt as is I was doing double duty with the chores and children, but instead of using that time to serve my husband, I focused on how exhausting life was for me. I grew angry at Jason assuming he was too selfish to see what his stress was doing to our family when I should have adopted a helpmate attitude and used my extra duties to look at things from his perspective.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. ~ Philippians 2:3-4
Don’t nag or criticize
Over the past year, I often pointed out where my husband was failing. I let him know when he wasn’t patient with the children, loving towards me, or investing in himself spiritually. I thought I was helping, but I came across as nagging and critical. I added to his stress by highlighting areas in his life where he wasn’t measuring up. When our husbands are already carrying around heavy burdens, showing them areas they aren’t meeting your expectations only adds weight. Our words have the power to tear down or build up, to refresh or wound. We need to be mindful that our husbands filter our words through their stress, and if there is any doubt that our words won’t lift their spirits, we need to clap our hands over our mouths.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. ~ Proverbs 18:21
Don’t match his attitude
Oh goodness, I am the queen of this. If my husband were grumpy, I would become irritable too. If he seemed frustrated at life, I did too. Instead of being encouraging (or even silent) I matched his stress step-by-step and contributed to the negative atmosphere in our home. We need to have the maturity not to let our husband’s outlook or situation affect ours. Praying for grace and choosing joy are so important for a wife during stressful seasons.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Don’t Turn to Sin
I turned to food for comfort this year. If I felt lonely or angry, I would eat a pint of ice cream. Food became what I would look forward to, and it was wrong. I need to bring all my emotions before the King of Kings rather than Dairy Queen. Food became my primary support system, but it isn’t the only thing people abuse during stressful times: alcohol, shopping, exercise, or vegging out in front of the TV, etc. During seasons of stress, it is vital not to turn to sin!
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. ~ Jeremiah 2:11
Don’t Stop Praying
A few years ago, our pastor challenged all married couples to pray together at least once a day, and he was careful to point out that saying grace before a meal does not count in his charge to pray together. We took his words to heart and began praying together every day. Until the job change when we allowed his schedule and our stress to be our excuses not to come together. Not uniting in prayer made it easy for my individual prayer life for Jason to slip too, and in my frustration, I found myself praying about Jason rather than for him (see this article for more details on that distinction). Prayer is vital for a thriving marriage, so of course when a couple (or a wife) neglects to pray together, the relationship will suffer. Never stop praying!
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
Communicate (But Listen More Than You Talk)
Talking comes naturally to me while my husband often struggles to share his heart. So, as the stress began to arise, I would ask him tons of questions wanting to flesh out an answer or discuss all of our options. Finally, about halfway through the year, the Lord told me to be quiet, and he gave me the word, “Listen.” And do you know what? The less I asked or prompted conversation, the more my husband had space to talk. Instead of meeting his feelings with action steps or more questions, I quietly listened until he was done talking. Trust me when I say listening does not come naturally to me, and often I failed, but when I was faithful to follow through, my husband benefited from having a confidant. The Lord is also showing me that while my perspectives and feelings are important, there is a time and place to communicate them, but that they don’t always need addressing. Sometimes I must work them out with the Lord rather than bringing them to my husband.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger ~ James 1:19
Celebrate the Mundane and the Milestones
Make a big hoopla over the little rays of hope that come along. I began texting my husband halfway through his workdays with encouraging messages (complete with lots of emojis) or brining swinging by his work with dinner or a treat. When there were only four months left on his contract, I began a massive countdown on the fridge so that each day when he came home he saw a smaller number. It was common for Jason to walk through a doorway of streamers, have a mural of hand written cards greeting him on our garage door, and even entering to find himself in the midst of a nerf gun fight! Help your husband by celebrating the end of another hard day at work or the end of the stressful season. Be his cheerleader and help him to look forward to coming home.
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. ~ Proverbs 17:22
Find Time for Him To Get Away
Choose not to let the pressure of life keep you from dating each other. Sometimes a night out is enough to get through the next stressful waive. We also took our first two-night trip since having children, and it was an incredible booster shot to get us through the rest of the year. Time for the two of you, away from it all, breathes life back into your spirit and helps lighten the atmosphere of the home. In addition to doing things as a couple, give your husband some time to work on his favorite hobby or go camping with friends. I could always see such a difference if Jason had time away with men who refreshed his soul or doing an activity that he found fulfilling. When your husband is stressed, he might not be able to think much about dates or a hobby. I gave Jason a weekend away with one of his friends by arranging the dates and the details with his friend before I even told my husband. I’ll never forget the text he sent me only a few hours after leaving, “Very refreshing. Thank you for sending me on this trip.” Be willing to arrange everything and have a great attitude about him leaving.
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:31
This one goes hand-in-hand with the forth don’t above. Just as we shouldn’t turn to sin in the midst of stress, we need to be alert that our Enemy is out to destroy our marriage and our witness. Satan pounces whenever he senses a time of vulnerability. He will use stressful moments to tempt you and your husband. Stress can trigger the areas of our lives where we are prone to sin or awaken us to new sins we never struggled with before. Authentic communication, grace, accountability, God’s Word, and a sense a teamwork are needed to overcome stressful seasons victoriously.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.~1 Peter 5:8
Rise Above It
The most important thing you can do is to rise above the stress. Determine in your mind and declare with your words that this season, no matter how long it will last, will not come between you two. Even though the end of the madness might not be in sight, communicate to your husband that you are in it for the long haul. Let there be no doubt that you will continue to love and that you’re are confident that when you get through this hump, you will be at the beginning of a sweet season with your mate. Rise above your circumstances and your marriage will prevail.
Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. ~ Mark 10:9
Those are some of the lessons I am learning! How do you encourage your husband during stressful seasons?
Sharing with Wedded Wednesday.