Let’s do a quick review shall we? In our first post, we established the fact that when I am hungry, I can act like a jerk and that when my wife is hormonal, she can act like a jerkette. In our second post we gave some theological considerations for dealing with hanger and hormones. We described two biblical responses to sin: cover or confront (with some other caveats for you people who like to see gray :-). In this post we’ll try to get really practical and give some ideas for dealing specifically with hanger and specifically with hormones. Should be exciting. As always, my comments will be bolded and Liz’s will be normal.
In our last post we briefly mentioned that in order to cover or confront effectively, a couple must have a relationship of trust. While there is likely an entire blog-post series to be found in this one admonition, we’re going to give a quick “cliff-notes” overview because trust is a necessary component to the advice in this post.
The simple truth is that trust is a choice. Everyday, you must choose to trust your spouse. And if you step back and observed yourself, you already trust your spouse in many areas. We trust them to remember our basic likes and dislikes. Or that they’ll remember to bring home milk, that they’ll remember your birthday, your child’s doctor’s appointment, etc. In my mind, areas of trust are like blocks. In your marriage, the bottom set of blocks are pretty mundane areas of trust that are assembled during your dating and early marriage. But slowly, as you continue to share a life together, the goal is to trust your spouse with weightier issues. Issues like specific sins that you struggle with, fears that you have, insecurities etc. And one fateful day you’ll have the choice of trusting your spouse when they (gingerly) broach the possibility, that perhaps, though not-at-all-certain, you may be just a tad hangry and/or hormonal at a specific moment. It bears saying that your ability to trust your spouse in that moment will depend of whether or not you’ve discussed the hangry/hormonal predicament at some other, less emotionally-charged time. During that conversation, you must decide that you will believe your spouse whenever they say that you are acting in a certain way. You have to make this decision and then stick to it, even when you think that they sound utterly ridiculous. Even when you are sure that they are wrong. Even when they are clearly casting ludicrous aspersions on your (nearly) flawless character. Even then.
So, let’s say you’ve agreed to this level of trust. Now you are ready for battle my friend : )
Dealing with hanger
First, as a hangry husband, I have made the decision to eat (usually a granola bar) whenever Liz asks me to, no matter how I feel about Liz or the granola bar at that moment. The truth is, I rarely realize my hanger. In fact, I feel fully justified in believing that the world and the people in it are without question, ridiculous. (As in, I see them and want to ridicule everything about them.) So when Liz suggests that I eat something, well, that’s a ridiculous suggestion. Food is stupid! I don’t need to eat! All people everywhere (but mostly just Liz) just need to stop being ridiculous! BUT, because I made a promise (a ridiculous promise!), and because I trust Liz, I eat the granola bar. And as my blood sugar slowly starts to right itself the world slowly starts to lose its patina of contemptibleness. You might think that I’d be happy at this moment. But the truth is that in that moment I really hate that Liz was right. Really. I hate that moment. I hate that I was just hungry and that my contempt for everything and everyone was unjustified. It is in this chagrinned state that Liz has often spoken grace to me. Instead of rubbing my failure in my face (which, no doubt would result in resentment) she speaks concern for me. She’ll even wait for about a half an hour before asking if I feel better (which is when I often have to ask for forgiveness). I know that when she does this she is covering my sin in love, and I love her for it.
Secondly, Liz helped me realize that my perspective on the world is skewed by hanger. Shockingly, it turns out that when I’m starving, most of my narratives about the world are untruthful (a.k.a. lies). Since my ultimate goal in life (which is much clearer to me right after a delicious meal) is to speak the truth, I realized I had to stem the tide of my hangry lies. I wish that I could say I’ve learned the secret to speaking nice, godly, encouraging things even when hangry, but really, the best I’ve managed so far is to stop speaking at all. I’ll be quiet, eat the granola bar and wait for the capsized world to right itself. Doing this means that Liz will have fewer hurtful words to cover and I’ll have fewer hurtful words to apologize for once the upturned world rights itself. These two practical decisions require a lot of trust on my part, but have really helped us through the issue.
I do not suffer from hangriness. My mood just doesn’t seem to change as a direct result of my caloric intake. So it really took me a few years to discover this correlation in Paul. Paul – food = an inordinate amount of snark. Once the equation was clear to me, the solution seemed to be a simple one! Just eat! On a schedule! Set an alarm! Something! But no, on the days when it was clear that Paul was descending into a hangry state of mind, he’d almost avoid eating. When I’d suggest a snack (or ten) he’d bark out some reason why he didn’t need to or didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t fathom why Paul resisted food when it would so obviously help him be less of a jerk. I’d get angry at him, accuse him of being (ironically) ridiculous and then mark off to a room where he wasn’t. But God eventually convicted me about this behavior. It was clear that Paul was suffering, that he was being afflicted by a physical condition that was really the result of living in a broken world. As the woman called to be his “strong help” (Gen 2:18) did I have the right to walk away from him when he was weak, even though I had to endure some hurt in the process? Is that was Jesus did? When this truth sank in, I made the effort to talk to Paul about his, ehem, condition. I tried to be loving in my confrontation. I didn’t belittle him or accuse him. I shared my view (with some examples) of the situation and asked him to let me help him. Not surprisingly, this approach worked infinitely better than hurling accusations (and food). That conversation led to a few more and eventually we came to the agreement that Paul would eat whenever I asked him to and I wouldn’t respond in anger when his snarkiest impulses got the better of him.
Dealing with hormones
Ah, hormones. I’m sure Eve had them in her body before the fall, but I highly doubt that they came out in full force once a month to wreck havoc on her emotional state. My word, what must have gone through her head the first time she experienced cramps? Or bloating? Or random bursts of rage? In some ways, I envy Paul’s battle with hanger – mostly because there is such a quick and simple solution. The only “simple” solution for dealing with PMS symptoms that I’ve come up with is an empty room with Bach filtering through the sound system and a giant bag of Cheetos sitting in my lap. And I’ve heard variations on this “room” theme from other women. Some rooms have chocolate, some warm blankets and chick flicks. And while there may be some variations on the theme, one distinction remains the same. There are no other people in this room. None. (Well, maybe your husband drops by to lovingly rub your back or bring fresh coffee, but he doesn’t stay and talk!) Truly, the very worst part of dealing with PMS, for me, is having to interact with people. Though it fluctuates from month to month, my “react-o-meter” is almost always cranked up to high and everything seems like a BIG DEAL during those few days. Brenn spilling his apple juice makes me SO ANGRY. Paul reminding me to put some towels in the washer makes me feel SO GUILTY. Seeing the baby start to crawl makes me SO SAD. It’s just ridiculous. I feel like I’m always on the verge of either screaming or sobbing.
Now, before I started thinking about hormones and my response to them, I would have said that it was Paul’s responsibility to recognize this monthly stint of physical/mental weakness and modify his life in order to reduce the stress in mine. Seemed right. Seemed like sacrificial love. The thing a good husband should do. The problem was, in expecting this from Paul, I was effectively letting myself off the hook. I’d forgotten that sin is sin, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Much like the Apostle Paul warns believers not to trade on God’s grace and use it as an opportunity to sin without expecting consequences (Rom 6:1), I had to remind myself that God’s command to husbands to love and serve didn’t mean that I had free reign to give in to all my hormonally driven emotions.
So, what do I try to do now? Well, going back to that trust thing, if Paul says “you seems overly upset by X. Its seems like you might be struggling with hormones” I will actually stop and consider whether or not he might be right (sometimes I totally forget where I am in my cycle.) I won’t defiantly declare that I’m not PMSing, nor will I castigate him for even insinuating such an insulting thing. Instead, if I realize that hormones might be playing a lead role in my one-person drama, I will try to stop reacting. “Try” being the operative word. Sometimes I fail and Paul just lets me rant, quieting nodding and “mh-hmming” while I slowly run out of steam. But there are times when, after Paul has pointed the hormonal connection out to me, I will struggle through the rest of the day. And I mean struggle. I bite my tongue and choose to say nothing. I will give hugs when I’d rather give time-outs. If Paul suggests something to distract me (a movie, a trip to the mall, etc) I’ll follow his advice. Mostly, I just don’t listen to myself. When the angry, guilty, cheerless thoughts start clambering to be heard, I plug my mental ears. For a day or two I feel as though I am in a spiritual war. And ladies, God is pleased when he sees you fighting. And your husband too, he’ll be proud when he realizes that you are battling sin. He even might try to hug you (which hasn’t ended up well for Paul in the past…see this post : ), or he might just give you your space. Either way, a loving husband is one that isn’t afraid of the crazy, hormonal you. He moves towards you in love, even during PMS.
What do you do when after a long day at work you come home, hoping to relax and enjoy your family, and are met at the door by an angry woman who bursts into tears after you utter your first sentence? No, no, don’t turn and race back to your car having suddenly remembered an urgent issue that needs your personal attention back at work. Take a deep breath and move forward. Here are some things that have helped me deal with this type of scenario.
First, get yourself in the right frame of mind. It may be that God is asking you to give up your dream of having a nice quiet/productive evening. Instead, he may want you to care for your wife who is suffering from a real (yes, let’s just collectively agree that it isn’t all in their heads) physical event which affects the way she thinks and feels. This is something that you can do that for Jesus and that you already promised to do that for your wife. Do you remember that one vow about loving her “in sickness and in health”? Ah. You thought that meant during the occasional cold, or maybe a horrible car accident. But every month?! Every crazy month?! Is that what God expects? It is indeed.
Second, once you’re in the right frame of mind, do not return evil with evil (Rom 12:21). This includes not needling her for being hormonal (“Oh, it’s your time of the month” snicker, snicker). That would be like making fun of your wife because she broke her leg and is on crutches. She’s experiencing a physical struggle. Mocking it won’t make it easier for her to bear it. But (you declare) perhaps she will say sinful, hurtful things about me to my face! She might, but that’s your cue to cover it and respond with words and acts of love that may or may not be met with gratitude. It’s what Jesus did for you.
Third, you need to have a conversation (not when they are hormonal!) about things you can do to help them. Here are some things that Liz and I find to have helped: 1) Liz likes to be left alone sometimes. She’s not really mad at me, she’s just “PMS” mad at me. So I leave her be and do other things to help out (because I love her, not because I’m afraid of being in same room :-) 2) I clean the house, because a messed up house jangles Liz. I don’t find cleaning to be a very meaningful activity, but I’ll do it for love. 3) I distract her with something. A movie works well for this. We don’t have to talk, but we can still do something together (admittedly Liz and I have the same taste in movies—so this helps). The principle here is to find a distraction—something you and she can do together, yet doesn’t require a lot of relational interaction. 4) When you get in those energetic conversations remember this phrase (repeat it over and over): “Be gentle, be truthful, be hopeful.” When it seems like she’s making sweeping statements and over generalizing everything (e.g., our marriage is on the rocks, you’re a horrible dad, everybody hates us, etc.), it’s your job to recast what she’s saying in truth. (The tricky task is to do this without insinuating that she is a liar. Takes practice.) So, instead of going into defense mode, I need to lower my pride and start listening for the kernels of truth in what she’s saying (though it’s way easier to pick out the untruths and throw them in her face!). If there truly are areas that need work, acknowledge them and agree to try and change them. If you dare, angle in for a hug while you say this (e.g., <hug> “you’re right about X thing in our marriage…I think if we let it get out of control it could really hurt us…please forgive me and I’ll work on that…we’ll be okay, God never fails in sanctifying us and he’ll get us through somehow…let’s go watch a movie”). Pause at the end of that and if she doesn’t start crying again, but agrees to the movie, you’ve succeeded!
In the end, though these tips may help you, but you’ll still need to come up with your own pedigree for success. The point is to selflessly take care of your wife while her hormones go crazy for a few days a month. No big deal. God’s done way more for us.
So, that’s our take on hanger and hormones. We hope you enjoyed our little series! Again, right now we use our Facebook page to let you know when new posts go up. If you’d like to get updates, please like our Facebook page.