How to Stop Being a Doormat in Your Marriage

by | Dec 2, 2020 | Uncategorized | 20 comments

How to Stop Being a Doormat in Your Marriage
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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:

From 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage

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?

Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

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:


 

How to Stop Being a Doormat in Your Marriage

What do you think? Have you ever felt like a doormat? What helped you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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20 Comments

  1. AspenP

    Well said Sheila. I wish I would have read this over Love & Respect the first year of our marriage. It would have saved us years of heartache and toxic patterns. I would have listened to the Holy Spirit instead of twisting scripture to fit Eggerich’s teachings. It seemed so holy to honor my husband by covering for him and trying to pray him out of it. I was turning the other cheek and turning the other cheek and he wasn’t changing and I was wondering where was God? It took me years to realize I was standing in the way of God’s correction and keeping him comfortable in both his sin and his immaturity.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re on the other side now, Aspen! That’s great. God just wants us to grow and be transformed, not enabled. That’s what marriage is supposed to do for us! We need BOTH grace and truth in marriage, not merely niceness.

      Reply
    • Ruth

      Oh my goodness, this is so me too! How to proceed? Tough, life is messy even though God is good.

      Reply
  2. AJ

    It sounds like the guy in the email might be depressed. It would be interesting to know how all the other areas of his life are going and hear what he has to say. Does he talk and connect with anyone else? Friends, co-workers, extended family?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very good point! I think that’s often a case in many of these relationships. That’s an excellent thing to look at.
      The only thing that makes me think there may be more going on here is that in her longer email she does say that he really changes when he wants sex. Then he can be all nice and helpful for a bit. But as soon as he gets sex, he ignores her again. That’s really problematic.

      Reply
  3. Maria

    I know we should not act out of selfishness or meanness, but I think these scenarios do call for anger. Do you think showing anger when your spouse is this selfish is wrong? Can we be angry and even express it without sinning?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely! I just think it can be counterproductive if you come on just out of anger. I think expressing hurt and anger is justified, but it’s likely a good idea to think about it first and say it well.

      Reply
  4. Nathan

    There are times when some level of anger is appropriate. Jesus showed anger a few times in the Bible, such as when he cleared the Temple of merchants.
    It needs to be focused, and righteous, and we need to explain to our spouse that the anger is directed primarily at the issues involved, not a personal attack.

    Reply
    • Amber

      Sheila what would you say is the difference between the outside of your marriage reflecting the inside of your marriage and punishing a spouse?
      For instance, many times when my husband and I are fighting I do not feel like having sex because well, we are fighting and it’s typically over something he has done that is hurtful and isn’t just a one time occurrence but a pattern. I always still have sex with him because he has mentioned it feels like I am punishing him/controlling him if I withhold.
      He is fighting a porn addiction and while HE has never ever asked me to have sex with him to make it easier on him, obviously the christian purity culture HAS told me that’s my responsibility. And it almost seems like the Bible backs it up with the statement to not withhold sex from your spouse because of temptation. How do you interpret that scripture since I know you don’t agree with mainstream christian purity culture. Thank you!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, it’s definitely NOT a good thing to do to have sex with your husband so he won’t watch porn! It will end up wrecking your sex drive, and it will make sex seem ugly, and as if it’s something purely physical rather than intimate. And think about what message you’re giving to yourself (and your body) about sex! “My husband REALLY wants to masturbate to other women getting horrible and degrading things to them, but he’ll settle for having sex with me.” That’s so awful and ugly.
        The problem with using the “do not deprive” verses here is that sex as the Bible defines it is supposed to be a mutual, pleasurable, intimate experience. If it’s simply something you do so he won’t sin then it’s not intimate by its very nature. And it’s not mutual, either. So that’s not really biblical sex. The only way to get back to what it’s supposed to be is to help both of you redefine sex to its real purpose and relearn what sex is supposed to be. In our survey of 20,000 women, that belief that you should have sex to stop him from watching porn is highly correlated with lower marital satisfaction and lower sexual satisfaction in women.
        Honestly, I wish The Great Sex Rescue were out right now because it speaks to this so well (but you can pre-order it, and when you do, it really helps us!), but I also have this longer post on the 4 stages of porn recovery which I think will help in your case.

        Reply
      • Maria Bernadette

        Amber, I would like to say something. What your husband thinks about your reasons for not having sex is what he thinks. What your actual motivation is is a separate issue.
        If you are not punishing him, then you are not, regardless of what he thinks, feels or says.
        “I am not doing this to hurt you, regardless of what you may assume about me.”
        Punishment is when you express displeasure with another person’s behavior by intentionally inflicting pain. (It counts even when the reason to inflict pain is to try to get good behavior out of the other person. I added that part because some people reading my reply to you might think it’s ok to hurt others “for their own good.” I am not thinking that you fall into that category, by the way.)
        Drawing boundaries might have the unintended side affect of him not being happy. That does not mean that your motivation was to make him unhappy.

        Reply
  5. Emmy

    I was a doormat for more than a decade. I so much wanted to please my husband but it never was enough. He was not like the husband in the first example of this post. No! He was authoritarian and had an ideal picture of how a wife should be in order to be a good Christian wife. Obedient and submissive, of course, but also a hard working house keeper with iron discipline. She’d want to have a lot of kids, but the kids were not supposed to keep her from being an excellent house keeper who would happily and industriously entertain a bunch of guests even a week after child birth, for hospitality was a true virtue and a good testimony. She was also supposed to be very frugal. If possible, she should make everything herself from scratches…
    I was young and naive and I bought this all. I so much tried to live up to the standard of the Proverbs 31 woman that was put before me, but I never managed to do it. And when I did not, I was lectured at and nagged at. if i tried to protest I was told I should not defend myself for I was not attacked either. I was only given good advice which I should accept with a cheerful heart, and he loved me anyway, and I should know that.
    Of course I was also expected to love having sex with him.
    I married him out of love, I really did, but gradually, I developed fear and deep resentment instead.
    Things turned for the better after I stopped to try to please him. A breaking point was when his mother visited us for a longer period, and I realized how she talked and behaved just like him! I then realized that my husband was a child of his parents, a child of two people with some quite impossible features and behavioral patters I did not like nor did I have to like.
    I told God: Dear Lord, I’m going to stop with this submission business, at least until I understand what it means, for this can’t be right.
    I started to make some independent decisions. After a big fight, I also started to manage my own money. And I DID NOT CARE any longer whether he was satisfied with my house keeping or not. And I started talking back and put my food down.
    Not nice? Certainly not, but I’m not sorry because it helped. He treats me much better now.
    I’m not sure how he feels about the change or if he ever misses the nice Emmy who so much wanted to please him and make him happy, but honestly, I DON’T CARE any more, because I’m happier now. If he ever asks, I will tell him the nice Emmy did not make it, she could not survive here, so she is gone and I’m now here instead and that’s it.
    The only thing I grieve for is the love I once felt for him. I’d love to have it back but don’t know how. I have also lost “the need for being romanced” which is advertised as the basic need of every woman by Mr LaHaye. I’m not sure I want that back ever, for I believe it is a trap and seduces you to become a doormat.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Emmy, I’m so sorry that the first years of your marriage were like that! How difficult. And I’m glad you found your voice. I hope that you and your husband can find a new ‘normal’ that is actually good and healthy and intimate. Next week I’m doing a post on how to reconnect with your spouse, and i hope it will help. Even if we’re not into “romance” (which isn’t a need everyone has) we can at least try to open up to each other, which is so important if you’re going to feel close. I hope that’s possible.

      Reply
  6. Becky

    I would ask the reader why she thinks divorce is not an option. If her husband refuses to change, divorce is pretty much her only option. Staying in a miserable and possibly psychologically abusive relationship will be destructive to her and her kids. If she starts planning now for her finances, she can make a way out for herself eventually in case he never chooses to change.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I definitely think going to a licensed counselor who can help her sort this out would be in order. Staying with someone who is not honouring their marriage vows, who is basically abandoning and deserting you in every way but is still living under the same roof and wanting sex, is not a marriage. I can’t say what she should do because I don’t know the whole story, but talking to a licensed counselor who does is definitely a good idea.
      I will also say that I know so many marriages that got better once they put divorce back on the table. Once women were able to say, “I am not staying in a marriage where I am emotionally abused, or where he is completely disengaged with our life” gave them the power to say, “something has to change right now.” And when he realized that he was at risk of losing her and the kids, he did change. But when we say, “I am never leaving no matter what,” then he often has no incentive to stop abusive behaviour.

      Reply
      • Angela Laverdi

        Exactly!! And you dont have to divorce to LEAVE. She can make a new life without him. Being in a marriage with no love and no respect, possibly even hate?– isnt THAT a sin in itself?

        Reply
      • Jenna

        Agreed!! 100%!
        Our parents (heavily influenced by church culture) always told us “divorce is not an option” That philosophy just enables people to continue with some pretty poor behavior thinking there will be no consequences.
        My husband’s and my philosophy now is “divorce is INEVITABLE unless BOTH of you put care and effort into your marriage”
        Thank you Sheila for arguing against these deep rooted “Christian” ideas that have hurt so many.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          You’re so welcome! It really comes down to what we’re aiming for. Are we aiming for marriage to stay intact no matter what, or are we aiming for transformed lives where we reflect Christ, and where our relationships reflect Him?

          Reply
    • Maria Bernadette

      You can get a civil divorce and still be married spiritually. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Well, if the divorce was to protect yourself from abuse (not because you just got sick of honoring your vows). Less severe options weren’t available. And you still consider yourself married to the spouse you had to divorce. That means no dating anyone else. Doing what you can to mend the relationship. Maybe all you can do is forgive and pray, and be willing to take him back when/if it is ever safe to do so.

      Reply
      • Maria Bernadette

        Not saying that she should get a divorce. What would I know? It was the saying “divorce is not an option” that I was responding to.
        The way he’s treating her sounds wrong. She’s not responsible for that. There might be something she can do to improve the relationship from her end, though. It won’t fix his end of the relationship, just to be clear – that’s on him.
        If she views love as transactional, she’s probably causing harm to their relationship.
        He’s distant, so she’s going to be nicer to draw him in closer. The more distant he is, the nicer she is. Being distant is rewarded.
        Plus, if she does something nice with the expectation that it means he is obligated to reciprocate, it turns a friendship into a business transaction.
        Maybe the following would help. Doing one nice thing for him a day without expecting anything in return, not even acknowledgement. It wouldn’t be tied to his behavior. And she wouldn’t have any expectations, so it won’t be transactional.

        Reply

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