July 17, 2019

One of the Most Miserable Marriages Imaginable

Gary Thomas — 

To understand how difficult it is to be married to a certain kind of person, you need to know that the Bible was written in a desert. The Promised Land is described as a place of “milk and honey” but even the most generous of geographers would call it “arid.” Average temperatures run in the high 80s and 90s. Places like Tel Aviv aren’t just hot, they’re also very humid.

Having been a resident of Houston, Texas for nearly a decade, I don’t have to imagine how it feels to live in temperatures in the 90s with high humidity—I run through months of days like this every year. One of the best feelings in life is to come in from a long, hot and humid run and step into an air-conditioned house. If “How Great Thou Art” isn’t the first thing that comes out of your mouth, you have a calloused soul indeed.

It’s out of that context that I recently read Proverbs 25:24: “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”

In a hot and humid world, the one thing I would not want to do is live outside. The second thing I would hate to do is to be exposed to the sun without shade, which this image implies. The third thing that would make it even worse is having to stay on the corner so that there are at least two sides in which I could fall off and potentially break my neck.

The writer of Proverbs has created an image that, three thousand years ago (when it was written) would have caused everybody to think “ewwwwwww….” And that’s the image he uses to picture what it’s like to be married to a “contentious” person.

If you’re single, don’t marry a contentious person. If you’re married and contentious, you need to kill this tendency before it kills your marriage.

Contentious means quarrelsome and argumentative. Synonyms include belligerent, combative, and confrontational. It exists on a continuum. Just as you can be tipsy, drunk, or passed out, so you can be consistently confrontational, full on argumentative, or contentiously toxic. Most of us exist on this dangerous spectrum at some point or other.

Proverbs was originally written for young men, so it’s only natural the writer would warn against picking a contentious wife, but it’s just as true a warning for a woman not to marry a contentious man. And the wisest man who ever lived argues that it’s so unpleasant to be married to such a person that it’s actually more pleasant to live in a hot and humid place, exposed to the sun and having to constantly guard against an injurious fall than to share an air-conditioned mansion with an argumentative person.

Here are a couple examples: one wife puts up with a husband who has strong political opinions and who loves to watch politically oriented shows. Every day he has a dozen fantasy debates against opponents who can’t even hear him. She’s embarrassed at church, restaurants, and family gatherings. One innocent “trigger word” from an unaware person, like “immigration,” “taxes,” “Obama,” or “Trump” and she tries to get as far away as possible because she knows what’s going to follow. If a pastor mutters one of those words in a sermon, that’s the only part of the sermon this man will hear—and all the wife will hear about on the drive home. He is consistently one sermon, actually one sentence in a sermon, away from leaving his fifth church.

A husband has a wife who is easily disappointed and processes her disappointment verbally. He has his feet cut out from under him several times a day. He folds the towels wrong. He buys the wrong food at the grocery store. He orders the wrong dish at the restaurant; there’s always a “better” choice. When his wife sent him with his daughter to a used bookstore to use up some store credit before moving out of town, he got yelled at for buying six books for himself and six for his daughter.

“What did you expect me to get at a used bookstore?” he asked.

“Not six books!” she said. “Maybe one or two.”

“We had $80 credit!”

You get the point. Living with a contentious person leaves you continually on edge, having to justify a dozen decisions or opinions a day. There’s no peace, little quiet or rest. It’s like living with a prosecuting attorney, without a defense lawyer, and you’re the accused. It will feel exhausting. No matter how good the rest of your life is, the fact that you married a contentious person will feel like getting splashed with cold water several times a day. It gets really old really fast.

So, if you’re single, the writer would advise, don’t marry a contentious person. If you’re dating a woman or man who is extremely opinionated and contentious, you don’t need a second date. If you’ve fallen head over heels in love but notice that he or she is contentious on the 100th date, thank God that you didn’t rush into marriage right away and can still get out of there. You’ve escaped. Good for you.

If you recognize yourself as a contentious person, don’t pass it off as just the way you are. The “way you are” may be destroying your marriage. We urge guys who are looking at porn to get help because eventually that repeated action will wreck sexual intimacy. In the same way women (and men), you need to know that if you are contentious you will wreck relational intimacy. If you want help, here are a few suggestions.

Because Christian transformation begins with the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2), remember to do what I suggest in Cherish: preach the Gospel to yourself first thing every morning so that you can extend the same unmerited grace to your family members throughout the day. The Gospel is, in part, the unconditional acceptance, love, and affirmation of your heavenly Father based in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s something you didn’t earn and therefore something you can’t lose. Your acceptance by God is rooted outside who you are and what you’ve done in the finished work and person of Jesus Christ. Give your spouse and children what God has given you.

The “Gospel” isn’t just a belief; it’s a way of life. It’s living in the awareness of our debt to God so that having received grace, we can offer that grace to others.

Second, memorize Philippians 4:8. You’ve heard it a million times, but use it as a filter. Because it’s so familiar, I’m going to write it out as a list. The apostle Paul says the only things you should think about are:

  • Whatever is true
  • Whatever is noble
  • Whatever is right
  • Whatever is pure
  • Whatever is lovely
  • Whatever is admirable
  • Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy

If thinking about the acts of the current President or Congress always make you contentious, stop thinking about him/them. Don’t let a toxic government create a toxic marriage or home. If your spouse knows only how they disappoint you, inconvenience you and frustrate you, you’re thinking about the wrong things. You talk about what you think about so stop thinking about how often your spouse lets you down and find the few things that you can praise (unless it’s abuse and you need to get to a safe place). Your marriage may depend on it. The happiness of your marriage almost certainly does.

Go on a correction fast. It’s not wrong for a person to go into a bar, but it can, under certain circumstances, be foolish for a recovering alcoholic to do so. In the same way, a contentious person should think twice about expressing any negativity or correction until he or she can get it under control. Recognize that you have a problem and respect the severity of the problem.

Proverbs 18:21 is clear: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Men, if you have loaded guns in your home you probably keep them in a locked cabinet. Take as much care with your tongue. Colossians 3:19 is clear and extreme when it tells husbands, “Love your wives and never treat them harshly.” Did you catch the word “never?” That means it’s not okay to be harsh when you’re really tired. It’s not okay to be harsh when your life is disappointing. It’s not okay to be harsh when you’ve had a long day. Paul says we never get to be harsh with our wives.

But wives, Proverbs 25:24 essentially says that the same is true for you. Sloan Wilson, author of the best-seller The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, utilizes a novelist’s brilliant touch when he depicts a wife who cuts her husband down. Listen to this scathing indictment of a woman slowly poisoning not just her marriage, but the husband whom she once promised to cherish: “She had a high art of deflating him, of enfeebling him, with one quick, innocent sounding phrase….She was, in fact, a genius in planting in him an assurance of his inferiority.”

The famous Puritan John Owen once said, “Kill sin or it will kill you.” I’ll borrow heavily from Owen to say, “Kill a contentious spirit before it kills your marriage.”

I’m not suggesting being married to an argumentative person is grounds for divorce. If you find yourself in that unhappy place, make your home in Philippians 4:8, lest your spouse’s contentious heart turn you into a contentious person yourself. In other words, don’t treat your spouse like your spouse treats you. Fighting sin with sin doesn’t conquer sin; it multiplies it.

Instead, preach the Gospel to yourself. When we are reminded of how much God loves us, accepts us and forgives us; when we meditate on his wisdom, power and wonder, the negative opinion of a fallen human being—even a spouse—won’t define us. Live in the affirmation of God. Go back and read the blog entitled “Arise and Shine.”

And then, prayerfully consider sharing this blog with your spouse. They may not be able to hear it from you, but perhaps they can hear it from someone else. We don’t usually have a problem calling out other relationally destructive sins like addictive gambling, excessive spending, porn, affairs, or domestic violence. A contentious spirit is on par with many of these. It needs to be called out and addressed.

So, if you’re single, just don’t go down that road.

If you’re married, take a hard U-Turn. There aren’t enough riches or big enough houses in this world to make up for living with a contentious spouse.

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26 responses to One of the Most Miserable Marriages Imaginable

  1. I needed to hear this tonight…about myself! Thank you Jesus for using Gary to deliver this message through your Holy Spirit. I heard you loud and clear💛

  2. Antonio McLaren July 18, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for your testimony. And I assume you wanted to receive a response from Gary, so I hope I’m not speaking out of line. Your testimony really drove me to say something, as it was very touching. First of all, I hope that you will continue to fast and pray over your situation. I’m not sure if your husband is Christian, but if he is, I pray that he reconciles himself back to the image of the Father. As your testimony suggests, his contentiousness has been overwhelming and has sown hurt and pain into the fabric of your marriage. I’d discern that he is not doing his part to be a loving husband, and perhaps he needs help. This leads to my second and last point. I pray that you and your husband will pursue counseling – especially one who can counsel from both a biblical and behavioral perspective. Perhaps an objective third party can provide some helpful tools that can help both of you navigate these troubling times in your marriage. And if your husband is not willing to participate in the counseling process, then maybe you could pursue counseling on your own so that you can obtain new tools to navigate your situation.

    I’ll end this post with just a little bit about me…today is my 40th Bday, and I’m engaged to be married in December of this year. My wife-to-be and I pursued pre-engagement counseling in May 2018 because we wanted to cultivate a strong foundation before we got engaged (I proposed to her this year on Valentine’s Day). It will be our first marriage. Our relationship is not perfect, but the tools that we have gained have been amazing. And we are still doing counseling now since it has been an amazing experience. Our counselor provides biblical and practical perspectives. I want to be a loving husband, and I have seen examples of contentious husbands and the damage that they have done to their respective marriages. As men, it’s up to us to be leaders in our households and stop the cycle of bitterness and anger towards our wives. I pray that your husband will one day realize that he can change…I pray that he allows God to squeeze out whatever toxic energy is in his heart. I pray that your marriage is restored and that God blesses the both of you abundantly. I pray for you Lisa…that in the meantime, you can still be a loving wife even in the midst of the storm. Your patience is admirable. May God bless you and be with you always.

  3. This was my last marriage….nothing I did was right and it was draining….as a single person, it is now something I look for in people I meet now. Good disagreement is fine as it can help us learn each others differences, but to argue just for the sake of arguing is draining and not helpful at all…

  4. When I read this article I cringed due to the fact that I am married for 34 yrs to a narcissistic personality husband who would definitely use this Proverb against me.
    He is a Jeckyll/Hyde person. Scripture is taken out of context and then thrown at me.
    Yes, when I read this Proverb I do search myself – am I contentious? I do speak up to my husband more but still bite my tongue not wanting to start a war! This really makes me think about my behavior but actually its more like walking on eggshells.

    • I can relate to this. Gary thanks for the messages in your books and blog. So helpful and hopeful!
      Your books are the only Christian marriage books my husband and I both accept and agree on.

    • Deborah, I too have a husband that uses those tactics; taking God’s word out of context. Even more, when he is “under the spirit of contentiousness”, he will say that I am a Hypocrite. This used to upset deeply until I realized that Satan, when speaking with Jesus used the word of God out of context in order to get him to sin against God and diver his plan for man’s salvation. We are joint heirs with Christ. Christ prayed to the father knowing his prayers would be answered. We too must have that same confidence in God almighty. God hears you and he sees what you are going through. There’s a book titled “The Battle is the Lords”, by Dr. Tony Evans. In this book he explains spiritual warefare, and how Satan uses marriages as his battlefield. It will help you see what is going on in your marriage more clearly.
      Finally, take your focus back; Instead focus on Romans 12:1-2. Get a spiritual makeover from the Lord. Jesus loves you so much let him be your focus, give yourself to him and watch how quickly things will change.

  5. Wow and wow this I mean all ure post bless my soul and gives me a moment of reflection and humility I bless God for ure wisdom and for sharing I truly needed this my marriage been close to over several times couldn’t put a name on it just ask God for help with an aggressive and argumentive spirit and I also hate to be yelled at I also seen myself in there I can complain about what I don’t like and what needs to get done and don’t get done and i pause and say wait didn’t I just get on my husband about his delivery this is everything if u’re deliver of words even actions are wrong u guilty of being a contentious person I confess it I’m guilty but I know the word tell me confess my fault I have and I share we share be free and live a marriage that glorifies our God cause I have an awesome God fearing Husband caring and I shall keep us lifted bless u pastor Gary this feels truly good tears in my eyes to have the name of this nasty spirit 🙌🙌🙌🙌🙏

    • Meant to say I shall we shall be free ☺️ I’m gonna meditate and keep this scripture near and dear to my heart think on these things as Paul suggested if I’m thinking wrong my delivery gonna be wrong…… Phill 4:8 🙌 I’m leaping within wow.

  6. “If you recognize yourself as a contentious person, don’t pass it off as just the way you are.”
    I have found that I have a great capacity for deceiving myself about my own sins, including this one. My wife and children have suffered as a result.

  7. As soon as I started reading it this blog I thought of two or three people who could be in this category. After five sentences I realized it was me! It was quite unsettling. So I asked my wife of 47 years if she thought I was contentious. Her reply was immediate. Yes. Gary, thank you so much for this blog. The more I think of my life, the more I can see it. But now that I know the enemy I can defeat him! God bless you.

  8. I can be contentious or I can pray for my “enemies.”

  9. Very timely. While in the midst of such a situation, you email got opened on my phone. My wife & I could point each other to this. I will share it. And bookmark it for ready reminder.

  10. I have been married for many years to a contentious man. I have lived in a world of walking on eggshells, trying to get EVERYTHING just right, so that I didn’t have to hear his negative words. My love language is words, so needless to say my bank is empty. I have 2 beautiful daughters in their teens. I have begun to watch his negativity affect my girls’ spirits and break their hearts. My husband and I have highs and lows but most of the highs are overshadows by the lows or at least for me, I am always on edge waiting to see how I will be told about what could/should have been done differently. I am to the point of numbness. I think about leaving, would it be better for my daughters if we left? I am I failing them by keeping them in this environment? Desperately seeking guidance..

  11. The blog post was something I have probably needed to read for a while. Whereas I see this clearly in others, I don’t always see it in myself. Over the years, I have watched and analyzed a family friend whose behaviors have warned and exposed some of my own failings here. So I hope I’m making progress.

    And I loved Lisa’s comment and her witty way of seeing and handling the problem with her husband’s focus on flaws.

    A couple of minutes ago, a poem, inspired by the blog, wrote itself. Maybe I can share it here?

    The Contender

    I know of a contentious soul:
    “UNHAPPY” is his name:
    Whatever sorrows he has lived,
    “ANOTHER” is to blame.
    He shares his sorrows freely,
    But will not accept the same,
    So fit for futile fighting
    As if born into the game.

    “Gwennon” July 17, 2019

  12. This post is so timely and bursting with truth. Thank you

  13. I married one that had been sexually assaulted by at least one cousin (didn’t find out till she had been gone 24 years via divorce), married to get out of the house, wanted someone to take care of her, never wanted to be in full time church work (17 years, music and youth), never one word of encouragement. God promised early after she left that He would bring her (back) to me. That was over 26 years ago, and I know that God never breaks promises. She has had 2 failed “marriages” since leaving, one only 4 months, and another only 8 months. I have continued to love and help. We have family times together. Conversation is getting better. Dr. Jim Talley of Relationship Resources has walked with me the whole time this has been going on. We make promises, we keep them. I said “I do” and I still do

  14. Great post. And to encourage everyone, one of the most blessed marriages imaginable is marrying someone who is warm, loving, and kind!

    • Daniel Fite-Ibarra July 17, 2019 at 8:51 am

      I gained so much from “The kindness challenge” by shaunti feldhahn. The book taught me how to be kind and highlights all the ways we’re unintentionally unkind without realizing it

      it allows you to learn how to be among contentious people without feeling the need to respond in kind (no pun intended)

  15. Yvonne Whittington July 17, 2019 at 6:55 am

    Such an excellent blog post and very timely for both married and single. I am single and will save the information and apply it’s wisdom to my life. As I read through this post, this can also apply to parental relationships. We should build our children up and not tear them down. Our children observe our behavior more than they listen to our instruction. Share truth in love and always with the intent to build the relationship.

  16. My husband had the habit of noticing every flaw and couldn’t see the work I had done all day. It use to crush me. I’d try hard to correct what he was upset about the day before and he’d notice something else and be equally as irritated and out of sorts over
    that. I tried everything from trying harder to notice every possible mistake to avoiding him to confronting him. Nothing helped his critical and contentious spirit until one day he started in and I said “Honey, what you’re about to give me are suggestions. Unfortunately, I only take suggestions on Thursdays and in writing.” He started to laugh. Here we are 29 years into marriage. When he starts in – which he can do, we both make jokes about him missing his calling as a County Building Inspector. Creating boundaries and making a joke about while doing so changed everything. The humor reduced the shame he felt for being a turkey, and deflated his need to defend himself by further putting me down. As the years have passed we both realize some of how we treat each other wrongly is related to our strengths. He can notice every little problem, and does so for a living. He invents and builds the robots that build Boeing Airplanes. I’d want a detail person doing that. It’s with God’s Spirit that empathy toward each other has grown. Thank you for this challenge. I love your blogs. They inspire me.

    • I applauded you!!! I had had to deal with my husband almost in the same exact ways. He was diagnosed with an Anxiety disorder, which was destroying our marriage. Before we got his diagnosis, I was considering divorce, the fights were too much and I knew Jesus didn’t approve of the whole mess. But then I started praying for help from the Lord and that’s when he was diagnosed. Now that I know what’s going on with him, I am praying for his deliverance and asking the Lord to cover him. Also, I pray for strength to love him as Christ loves us. In addition, when he starts arguing I tell him what a great husband he is and how beautiful I think he is and on and on until he settles down. Now he tells me what a blessing I am to him and how much he loves me. God is my help, and my refuge, a very present help in the time of trouble.

    • Thank you Lisa for your suggestion about strengths in persons who seem over critical, however they really care and are focused on something be done right. Very important that your husband is very detailed oriented in his profession of course. He has great love and respect for you as well because he is able to laugh at himself. I would love to use your humor and boundary suggestion. Perhaps there is something for contentious perfectionists to learn as well.
      My over critical mother told me she was only trying to help with her suggestions and it has caused me to be anxious and upset with myself when I make a mistake. I do believe she really tried to help, but when comments become hurtful to someone’s self esteem, its past the point of a loving suggestion. For the last 50plus years I’ve been trying to overcome the criticism effect that extended into parenting my children phase. The boundaries do work, also I just let it go many times, for I was not forced to complete Mom’s suggestions. She did not know if I did or did not and I saved an argument and hurt feelings. A wish that would work dealing with a spouse.

    • Lisa, what a brilliant observation! Thank you for sharing this. In the right spirit, humor can go a long way toward redirecting a bothersome habit

    • Cheryl Davidson July 17, 2019 at 9:55 am

      I love what Lisa said and how she dealt with her husband’s contentiousness without shaming him. She is truly a wise woman who dealt with her husband with love and respect while recognizing his strengths.

    • That’s great Lisa; I feel like I need to deal with more life frustrations with humor. My parents could at times be critical of each other and they had this “code” that when things got a little contentious one of them would say “it’s probably Tigger’s fault”. That kitty passed away so they have to blame their new cat now but it did defuse some tension. They could not solve everything that way and had some substantial, we’re about to separate disagreements through the years but I appreciated learning the cat code.