October 18, 2018

Don’t Be a Peg

Gary Thomas — 

Frederick Buechner is a brilliant writer who can jump between fiction and nonfiction like a champion American Ninja Warrior skips over a water obstacle. In his novel Godric (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Buechner brilliantly makes us feel sorry for Richard the baker, who is married to a noxious woman:

“There was Richard the baker and Peg his wife. Peg was a sparrow with a peck so sharp there was no proof against it. All was amiss, to hear her chirp, and she was ever chirping. If the sun was warm, she said it stewed her brains. If a cool breeze blew, she squawked of chilblains. The Holy Ghost himself she would have found too holy had he come and perched by her, I think, and Richard was her favorite prey. Whatever roughness of the road or turn of weather vexed her, Richard was the one she blamed…

“It’s true Richard laughed too much, but Peg had pecked and pecked till he was silly in the head. He laughed the way geese gaggle, less from mirth than brainless barnyard rote. Wedded to Peg myself, I would have wept. I think his laughter was but Richard’s way of tears.”

We’ve all seen spouses like Peg. They want people to feel sorry for them so they make sure everyone knows how awful their spouse is. What they don’t realize is that people usually recognize what’s going on. They don’t feel sorry for Peg; they feel sorry for Richard.

This isn’t a gender thing, by any means. Men can also be “Pegs.” We’ll call these men “Regs.” One wife told me that the biggest deterrent from her having enthusiastic sex with her husband was his constant criticism. In her husband’s opinion, she didn’t cook correctly; she didn’t clean correctly; she didn’t drive the right way, raise the kids with enough discernment or even chew her food in the correct manner.

Living in an avalanche of criticism, she knew she also must be (at least in her husband’s perception) missing the mark when it came to sex. While she eagerly desired fantastic sex, and even thought she had an above average sex drive for a woman, she couldn’t bear to do one more thing with a man who was constantly criticizing her. Her exhaustion with being criticized trumped her desire for great sex. Which meant her husband constantly criticized her for not wanting more frequent sex.

In my book Cherish I stress how it’s never our job to judge our spouse. Our job is to cherish our spouse and to encourage our spouse. Constant disappointment, whether it’s expressed through verbal jabs or a nonverbal rolling of the eyes, or worse, expressed contempt in front of others (“Let me tell you what I have to live with…”), rarely achieves the desired aim. Far more likely than getting people to feel sorry for you, it’s probably going to make them feel sorry for your spouse. It’s a losing strategy, but some spouses keep trying it for years.

Everyone knows a spouse’s “job description” is to honor, love, respect and cherish. It’s what we promised to do and what God calls us to do. Even more, our job as Christians is to encourage: “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Learning how to be encouraging in the face of a spouse’s weakness not only inspires others, but it slowly builds up our spouse so there’s eventually less to complain about. I especially admire those spouses who find a way to honor their loved one when the flaws are so obvious to everyone around them. When a man finds a way to cherish a wife few could cherish, or a woman finds a way to cherish a husband most would call “average,” at best, I see supernatural saints at work. And usually (not always, but many times), a cherished spouse becomes a more excellent spouse. Never perfect, but better than they would have been otherwise. Cherishing each other isn’t just a promise; it’s an effective strategy based on what God did with Jerusalem (see chapter 6 of Cherish).

Don’t be a Peg or a Reg. If your spouse hears more negative criticism from you than positive encouragement, you’re at least in the ballpark of making it into Frederick Buechner’s next novel. In all of Scripture you’ll never find a single passage that suggests constant criticism is God’s preferred method for us to get others to measure up. God’s way is the encouraging way:  “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

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8 responses to Don’t Be a Peg

  1. My daughter told my wife that she caught her husband looking at bikini pictures on the internet. He said he needs this as an outlet since he is a recovering porn addict and because he my daughter’s legs weren’t as pretty as the women in the pictures. For the record, my daughter is gorgeous even accounting for my admittedly biased opinion as her daughter.

    My wife told me that and I immediately asked her, “Honey, in the 30+ years we have been married, have I ever criticized the way you look?”

    She said, “No, thank goodness.”

    Sadly, it still doesn’t make my wife any more interested in having a great sex life, but at least I’m doing my best to remove the obstacles to it that I might be causing.

  2. Thanks for this Gary.I’m married for 10 months now, and thank God we don’t have this issue….although I do roll my eyes at my husband at times but not in a disrespectful way. Thanks for the reminder that my job is to honor, respect, love and cherish my spouse.

  3. Gary, you got this right. I eagerly desire fantastic sex and have a healthy sex drive, but my husband’s daily jabs of sarcasm hurt my heart so deeply that, as much as I would wish it otherwise, I find that my heart can not just “forget” that hurt when it comes time for marital intimacy later in the day. As a Christian, I feel guilty for seemingly being unable to just “forget”. I also feel “less than” when bombarded by the constant images of beautiful sexy women in the media, knowing not only that I can never measure up to that standard but also that my husband is probably more tempted to ungodliness when he sees these images because of my inability to push past my hurt heart and enjoy enthusiastic marital sex. In my head I know his sarcastic jabs and nature are a result of the abuse he suffered in childhood, but that doesn’t keep my heart from hurting. And on the occasions when I have tried to discuss this with him, he then begins to offer contrived flattery that further shuts down my heart. The words we speak to our spouses do matter. I’m praying for healing for us both.

    • Sorry to hear you’re going through this. How long have ya’ll been married?

    • EDL,

      In one of my marriage conferences, in a session on sex, I talk about how the lack of sex in marriage can be likened to the canary in old-time mines–an indicator of poisonous toxins in the air (or relationship). The answer isn’t to simply have more sex; it’s to address the issues making sex undesirable. I pray you and your husband can be honest with each other and find a helpful, qualified friend, counselor or pastor who can walk you toward a more healing place in your relationship

      • Thank you, Gary. I’m sure what you say is true. I also received insight from Sarah’s comment. Thank you.

  4. This is so true! My first marriage was marked by criticism. I was cataloged, head to toe, with everything that was “wrong” with me. It slowly but surely stripped me of my self confidence and eventually I basically lost my identity, because who I *was* wasn’t good enough, and who he wanted me to be wasn’t comfortable (or godly).

    Fast forward and I am now married to a wonderful, kind man who thinks I am the cat’s meow. 🙂 PRAISE JESUS! But it has been a long road of recovery, to fully convince my mind and heart that the problem wasn’t my inadequacy, but my first husband’s inability to love and cherish.

    Years later I am able to condense all that criticism into this simple explanation: My first husband did the work of the Accuser in my life. “You aren’t good enough. You aren’t really worthy of love. You should be ashamed of yourself, you worthless piece of garbage.” When I finally realized that his voice echoed satan’s voice, I knew how to rebut it: with the TRUTH!

    I am loved of God.
    So much so that He died for me.
    His Spirit lives within me.
    His fingerprints are all over me.
    He thinks I am the cat’s meow!

    And how blessed I am to have a second husband who echoes the voice of God to affirm me!