How Playing the Victim will Silently Destroy Your Marriage
There’s something I wanted to talk to you all about that I feel is kind of a big issue in a whole lot of marriages.
Let me start by saying that I get a lot of emails and a lot of comments that make me really sad. There are a lot of hurting families and a lot of hurting women out there. But this isn’t really a surprise, that’s why I started Living the Sweet Wife in the first place!
There are a lot of women out there who find themselves in difficult marriages. Their spouse can be selfish, oppressive, mean, dishonest, and a number of other sad things that I would never wish on anyone! But I actually think that “find themselves” is the wrong phrase to use.
Many of these women don’t simply wake up one day to find themselves in a horrible relationship. And I’m also thinking that these women didn’t walk down the aisle towards a man they knew would turn out to be any of the adjectives listed above.
So what happened along the way??
This is my theory:
Somewhere early on-ish in a marriage, there comes many small chances for us to make extremely important choices- choices we may not even be aware we’re making. These choices come up when our husband has instances of selfishness, cruelty, dishonesty, and whatnot. Now what I’m NOT trying to say is that we are all in control of our husband’s actions. If you’ve had to put down one too many toilet seats in your married life, you already know that. What I AM trying to say is we DO have a choice to make when our husband wrongs us.
In my experience, a woman will usually do 1 of these 3 things when her husband hurts her in some way:
- Make a fool of her husband and call out his actions, but in a way that belittles him, rejects him, and ostracizes him.
- Respectfully confront the behavior (this may look different in different marriages) and call her husband to a higher standard while seeking to ultimately reconcile.
- Internalize the hurt and become a victim to her husband’s actions.
I want to talk about that last one.
Because although the first option is awful, it’s not the silent killer of marriages that so often sneaks itself into a relationship and destroys it from the inside. I think the last option is something that a lot of us do, but are extremely unaware of it. I know I was completely oblivious to just how often I painted myself as a victim and missed out really big opportunities!
So what does playing the victim look like in a marriage?
I want everyone to know exactly what I’m talking about here. I am NOT talking about cases of actual abuse, in which case the woman is, in fact, a victim who needs real help. What I AM talking about is real life, real people, who mess up and hurt each other, but are not abusive or oppressive people.
I am also not encouraging women to have a “grin and bear it” attitude towards the problems in their marriage. I’ll be talking about confrontation a bunch in this post and if you’d like to read some posts I’ve written on how to confront well, you can check those out here:
- 10 Ways to handle conflict and confrontation for the best possible outcome
- How to speak up and be confident in relationships!
- Bad body language habits that escalate fights (and what to do instead)
I’ll start with a confession
There were several months in my marriage where I played the victim- big time. Seemingly out of nowhere I became a whole lot less forgiving, a whole lot less understanding, and a whole lot more resentful and bitter. But on the outside, not much had changed. Except for the fact that we actually weren’t fighting as much. So on the outside, things seemed good. Or at least my husband thought so.
On a normal day, I would come home from work, and notice all the things he hadn’t done to help me that day (our work schedules are complimentary) but I would make a list in my head of all the things I had done around the house that week, keeping my own little scorecard in my head instead of bringing it up to him.
When he would do or say something that was “typical” for him (something that I didn’t like), I would stay silent, shake my head and sigh, and accept that he was just that kind of person, and there was no hope for change. I would compare my marriage to my friend’s marriages which I’d assumed were a lot pleasanter and easier than mine. Slowly and steadily I would shovel more disapproval, unhappiness, and resentment on the pile of bitterness I was storing in my heart.
Because I am a Christian, I knew that I was never going to leave my husband, because even though I was wasn’t happy, I knew my commitment to him was more permanent than my happiness. But in knowing that I was never going to leave, and spending a whole lot of my time sulking in my own resentment, I began to feel very stuck and I didn’t know what to do.
I cried out to God and asked him to fix this.
I didn’t really know what I was asking for. To be honest, I kind of just wanted a way out. God said, “Nice try. Why don’t we do this instead:…”
And then God showed me what I really didn’t want to see at all. He showed me that while my husband was definitely imperfect and needed His grace just like I did, I was the one who was destroying my marriage. Mostly just because I become a lazy, self-centered pity party. I had altogether stopped trying for my relationship and was letting it derail itself. Worst of all, my husband had no idea how resentful I had become towards him because I hadn’t even cared enough to bring it up.
The moment things changed is when God showed me that the reason for my bitterness was my own selfishness and pride getting in the way. Constantly thinking of myself as “the better person” made me unwilling to break down issues with my husband, unwilling to forgive him when he would hurt me, and unwilling to apologize and actually see my own flaws and wrongdoings.
Where did I go wrong in the first place?
Before all this, Josh and I were great at confrontation, fixing problems, hashing it out, and finding solutions. It’s when I started to lose my own humility and started thinking of myself as “the better person.” I began to think very inwardly- all the time. I only thought about my husband’s actions as they affected me, never giving him the benefit of the doubt. There were times when he wronged me- for sure. But it’s when I stopped confronting those wrongs, holding my husband to higher standards, and seeking restoration that the distance between us began to grow.
God taught me that my marriage isn’t really about me in the first place.
God taught me that I am not entitled to anything. Yup, anything. Sorry (not sorry) if that ruffles the feathers of some of you reading this. I know that it will. But that’s what’s so countercultural about a real Christian faith (it’s becoming more and more countercultural every day!). Everything that has been given to me is a gift from God and can be used to show other people how great he is. For a while, I wasn’t doing that with my marriage at all. I had made my marriage completely about myself.
It would be such a sad thing if we went through life making our marriage all about us when it could be so much more!
So how can we watch out and avoid the trap of playing the victim in our marriages?
- Remember that you have been shown grace.
- You are not perfect and neither is your husband. Work together in your own imperfectness to be a team that shows grace.
- Forgive quickly
- And remember everything you’ve been forgiven of. Also, remember that forgiveness is never deserved.
- Confront hurtful actions
- Don’t internalize them! While I am a big advocate for picking and choosing your battles and learning when to let things slide, there are certain things we should never “let slide.” Learn the careful balance of confrontation and letting things slide and face head on the things in your marriage that shouldn’t be there.
- Always have the goal of restoration (aka reconciliation).
- Usually the difference between the right way to confront and the wrong way to confront all comes down to what you’re actually trying to do. Are you trying to make your husband feel bad and look like a fool for what he did? Or do you actually want to fix things and make them better? That doesn’t mean shying away from the hard things that need to be said, it means saying the hard things with kindness and love and desiring for your husband and your relationship to be better!
So tell me… has “playing the victim” played a role in your own marriage? What are real ways you confront your husband in order to avoid bitterness, while still showing love and respect?
I’d love to hear from you guys!!