Do you ever feel like a doormat in your marriage?
You want so badly to connect with your spouse, but whatever you do, your spouse just doesn’t connect back with you.
Yesterday I shared an email from a woman who felt like she never talked with her husband and basically had no relationship with him. She began by talking about how they never talk. I’d like to share the rest of that email today. She writes:
Communication is basically nonexistent because he doesn’t talk to me. How can I have sex when there is zero emotional connection? How do I want to have sex with someone who doesn’t take my feelings into consideration?
Which leads me to the next- I have to treat him like a child. I have to yell at him to get out of bed in the morning or else I would listen to the alarm going off for 2 hours straight because of the snooze function. Zero consideration for the fact I have to get up in a couple hours and get the big kids ready for school and some days babysit babies.
On Sundays I have to tell him a hundred times to get out of bed for Sunday school while I am trying to get myself and all our kids ready and he always makes us late, sometimes I just leave without him. If I wasn’t there he wouldn’t even take the kids to Sunday school.
Then we never have sex, how can you want to have sex with someone who only cares about himself? I’m just so tired of doing everything by myself, taking care of everyone and everything. Our Sunday school class just did a course on the 5 love languages, mine is quality time- which never happens. He doesn’t talk to me if we are together anyways so why bother. I’ve had the post of conversation starters pulled up on my phone for weeks now. But I just feel like we are in just a constant fight. I’ve tried every love language on him, I text him that I’m proud of him and all sorts of affirmations – no text back, I’ve packed his lunches- no thank you and sometimes he even forgets them in the fridge, I’ve made his favorite meals and picked him little things up at the grocery store, physical touch and then he’s back to being rude the next day. I just can’t win.
Divorce isn’t an option at all, I just feel like I’m so done. Help me.
This woman is trying to raise a bunch of kids while her husband is not engaging–with her or with the parenting.
He talks to her when he wants sex, but other than that, he’s not into the marriage, and he does little to help her.
She has tried being nice and learning love languages, but as she’s found, the problem is not that he doesn’t know what her love language is. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to care. Like Keith talked about on Monday’s post, we often assume that the problem is a knowledge gap when it comes to emotional connection–if my spouse just understood what I need, then my spouse would provide it!
But often it’s not a knowledge gap. Often it’s a willingness gap, or a skills gap.
When one spouse is unwilling to do the work that goes into building connection, then the other will feel taken for granted and put upon. When only one spouse is doing the work, you create a very unbalanced and unhealthy relationship. And you essentially do create a dynamic where she feels like a doormat.
What makes someone a doormat in marriage?
When you consistently live out your vows, but your spouse does not live out theirs, then you create an unequal marriage where one spouse is overfunctioning and one spouse is underfunctioning.
This could happen in any number of ways. It could be that your spouse leaves all the care for the household and kids to you, and goes out with friends all the time, feeling that his (or her) schedule is open. It could be that one spouse never does any work around the house or cares for the kids, but relaxes and expects that the other will do everything. (See my series on mental load and emotional labor if this is you!). It could be that one spouse routinely betrays marriage vows through watching porn or having affairs, but then expects the other spouse to put up with it.
And it could be, as it is in this woman’s case, that one spouse stays emotionally disconnected and physically disconnected from the family until, and only until, they want sex.
In all cases, one spouse is underfunctioning, and one spouse is overfunctioning.
When you feel like a doormat, the answer is not to punish your spouse, but instead to let your relationship show truth.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you are living in such a way that your marriage is telling a different story than your relationship dynamics, then you’re not living in truth.
And sex is supposed to be the culmination of your relationship! It flows out of everything that you are together. That’s why it’s not just physical, but instead an intimate “knowing” as the Bible describes.
If someone cannot and will not connect with you outside the bedroom, it is okay to say,
“Our marriage is not healthy right now. We have some real issues we need to work on. I feel completely disconnected from you. I want to grow our relationship and feel close to you again, and I desperately want a great sex life with you. But that needs to flow out of a relationship that is healthy, so we have some work to do.”
You promised to love and cherish your spouse; those things are non-negotiable.
But loving your spouse does not mean that you ignore real issues between you. Loving your spouse means that you want good for your spouse, not bad. And good is not the same thing as being nice. Good means that you want growth; that you want wholeness; that you want maturity and responsibility. Good means that you want your spouse walking in the purposes that God has for your spouse, not living a life where they don’t have to do hard things because you’ll do them for your spouse, and you’ll cover up for them.
That’s what a doormat is–someone who covers up the hard parts, and allows your spouse to use you–to walk all over you. This doesn’t mean that you’re to blame if your spouse does this. But in most cases, you do have a choice about whether or not you put up with it.
(If you do not feel safe making any changes to the dynamic in your relationship, please call a domestic abuse hotline. If you are in an abusive relationship, but feel like you can’t leave because of financial considerations, please call a hotline where people may be able to put you in contact with resources in your community).
In my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I said this:
A great marriage is not about being nice; a great marriage is about being good. And too many women focus on the nice–“I’ve got my happy face on today!”–and miss the good.
A nice woman wants to put others at ease, but she does this largely by dealing with surface issues and ignoring the important underlying heart issues. She isn’t intentional; she reacts to what is going on around her. A good woman, on the other hand, acts. She wants to be part of what God is doing. And sometimes that ends up seeming not very nice.
It wasn’t nice of Lily to stop paying the bills and to start putting consequences in place if her husband didn’t fulfill his responsibilities, but it was good. It wasn’t nice of Paul to call out Peter in public, but it was good. It isn’t nice of a wife to say, “I find when we’re making love that you’re a little rough and it’s difficult for me to enjoy it. Can we look at how to make my body feel aroused, too?”, but it is good.
Marriage should be a relationship that helps both of us grow in maturity and health, not a relationship that provides a cover for immaturity and selfishness.
That means that it’s okay if the outside of your relationship starts telling the truth about what the inside of your relationship is like. If you are not connecting; if one of you feels taken advantage of and feels like a doormat; then it’s okay if you don’t act like everything is okay.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what that means. How do you draw boundaries? What’s a good way of talking about this? What are good steps to take?
That, my friends, is what 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage is for. You can learn to be good, not just nice. You can be set free to aim for what God wants for your marriage, and not just to do the things that you think you’re supposed to do. It will surprise you, empower you, and feel like a breath of fresh air! As Maria, a blog reader, said to me:
I have a few of your books but want to say that one of my all time favorite marriage books is your 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. Thank you for letting God use you to help others!
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
You are valuable. God created marriage to be a relationship where you each would have support as you do the things that God put you on this earth to do (Eph 2:10). If your marriage is sapping your energy rather than giving you support, then part of emotional maturity is confronting that fact and doing what you can about it–or at least not enabling selfishness.
This doesn’t need to be mean, and it certainly shouldn’t be done out of anger or selfishness. But part of loving your spouse is wanting the best for them, and the best includes growing as a person. It does not include taking advantage of others.
And the sooner you speak up when you notice a bad dynamic is starting, the easier it is to stop that dynamic before it solidifies into a strong behaviour pattern.
So speak up. You matter. And God wants more for you in your marriage than being taken advantage of.
You may also enjoy:
- Iron Should Sharpen Iron: How marriage should make us better people
- Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?
- I Figured out Why Christian Marriage Advice is So Trite
What do you think? Have you ever felt like a doormat? What helped you? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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