We’ve received several questions through our family blog lately that deal with subjects better suited to this forum, so I’ve decided to publish my responses here, in case other readers are dealing with similar situations. Here’s the first:
Question: Hi, Jennifer. I would like to know how you would deal with a husband that is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
One minute everything is wonderful, the next thing he acts mad at me for everything under the sun…. I am not perfect and have made some mistakes, but I think I am a great wife. He has even made the comment that I have put up with a lot over the many years we’ve been married.
He can be wonderful at times, but very difficult to live with at other times.
Answer: It’s been decades since I’ve read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I remember enough to know that Hyde would be a very difficult person to live with.
I believe in the book, the doctor’s transformation was caused by some concoction he was drinking. If your husband’s mood swings are caused (or made worse) by alcoholism or substance abuse of any kind, or if he is suffering from a psychological disorder like manic/depression or dissociative (split personality) disorder, or if his behavior is putting you or your children in physical danger, then please get some professional help ASAP.
But if, as your letter indicates, he is acting one moment as if everything is simply rosy and the next as if he is intensely irritated by every little thing you say or do, then the following suggestions may help.
You will notice, I’m sure, that all these recommendations require you to adapt your attitudes and actions to him and his mood. And you may be thinking, “He’s the one with the problem, why should I be the one to change?”
I know that seems unfair. And it is.
I know you were probably hoping for a solution that would change your husband and the way he acts, and I wish I could give you one, but only God can change his heart.
You have no control over your husband’s actions. You can only control your response.
From the (omitted) details of your letter, it sounds like you are already working very hard to make your marriage work. Clearly, you feel you are doing your fair share and just wish your husband would be more appreciative and less volatile in recognizing that fact. In an ideal world, he would. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and I know it really stinks when reality falls short of what could or should be.
But think of it this way: Staying married is a little like driving a car.
To get safely from one place to another when you’re driving, you not only need to obey traffic laws and signals yourself, but you must also watch for other drivers who may be ignoring those same laws and signals.
This is a concept my own dear father had a hard time accepting. Whenever the law gave him the right-of-way, he was determined to take it, no matter what the other drivers around him were doing.
That attitude nearly got our family killed a few times. When we’d mention that fact to him, he’d argue, “Well, if we died, it would’ve been their fault.”
Yeah, maybe. But we’d still be dead.
And preventably so, if you saw a way to avoid the accident, but stubbornly refused to take it.
Likewise, if your marriage crumbles — even if it’s demise can be pinned 100% on your spouse — you and your children are still going to suffer the consequences. Knowing that someone else was to blame does not alter that fact. It won’t breathe life back into the casualties.
So what can be done (beyond all you are already doing) to prevent that from happening?
Start by trying to understand your husband’s stressors and alleviate as many as possible. Do what you can to minimize the things that frustrate him. Here is a list of possibilities to get you started:
- physical hunger
- financial strain
- illness/ poor health
- unfulfilled desire for sex
- feeling disrespected (at home or work)
- overextended schedule (at work or home)
- concerns about the children
- responsibilities and commitments
- caffeine withdrawals
- unmet personal goals/ dissatisfaction
- bad modeling from his own father
- cluttered/messy house
- midlife crisis
- fluctuating hormones
- general irritability associated with aging
- jealousy/ competitiveness
- general sin nature
- guilt over specific sin(s)
- pride (in him or me)
- crisis of faith
Obviously, you have a measure of control over some of these things, such as cooking good meals to alleviate his physical hunger or saying yes when he’s in the mood to address his sexual hunger.
Over others, such as how his boss treats him at work or what kind of modeling his own father provided for him as a child, you have absolutely no control. But sometimes just recognizing these contributing factors and empathizing and encouraging your husband in the midst of them is enough to help alleviate their harmful effects.
So put yourself in his shoes and treat him as you’d want to be treated, were you dealing with the same stresses and pressures.
It may be helpful and instructive for you to keep a calendar of your husband’s mood swings for several months to see if you can pinpoint what might be triggering them.
Along with his moods, plot his work load, your menstrual cycle, extracurricular activities, your own attitudes, financial ups and downs, his call/vacation schedule, etc. Play the part of a detective and look for connections.
Again, you may not be able to do anything about the triggers, but just being aware of them can help you modulate your own actions and interactions to keep the peace at home and be sensitive to extra pressures your husband may be facing during certain times of the month or year.
Yes, it would be nice if he’d be sensitive to the pressures you’re facing, as well. Maybe someday God will mature your husband to the point that he can reciprocate in the sympathy and compassion department so things won’t seem so one-sided. But until then, you can still improve your situation by giving consideration to these matters, even if none of them are “your fault.”
PRAY ABOUT IT:
I’m sure you are already doing this, but beyond praying that God would change your husband or stabilize his moods, I’d encourage you to pray that He’ll give you wisdom and patience in responding to your man, and also ask Him to open your eyes to anything you may be doing to contribute to the discord.
Pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NASB)
Pray that God would open your eyes to your husband’s good points, as well. Pray that He’d help you keep your focus there, and would give you a deep and abiding love and appreciation for the man you married, and would make you a crown and a blessing to your husband in every way.
TALK TO YOUR HUSBAND:
Wait until your husband is in one of his good moods and gently broach the topic of how his bad moods affect you and the children.
Sometimes men vent their anger and frustration and don’t intend for anybody within earshot to take it personally — like a guy who lets loose a string of curses when he hits his thumb with a hammer, then can’t understand why his wife who overheard the tirade would think he was mad at her. I’m not trying to justify such behavior, by the way, I’m only attempting to explain that sometimes husbands just don’t realize how much their dark or angry moods hurt their wives.
So prayerfully try to explain all that in a nice way, without getting angry and accusatory. I know that’s a tall order, but if you come across as critical, self-righteous, or disrespectful, you’ll likely just make the situation worse.
If your husband is already aware of the problem, ask him if there is anything you can do to help stabilize his moods, and follow through as best you can. I know what keeps my husband happy is a tidy house and lots of sex with me, so — guess what? — that’s exactly what he gets. (Okay, so sometimes the house gets a little cluttered, but I’m extremely faithful in the other area, and that helps blind him to those piles of books on our dining room table.)
I hurt for any wife in your situation. Sin stinks. And it breaks God’s heart. These Jekyll & Hyde mood swings were never part of God’s perfect plan for marriage, nor do they accurately reflect Christ’s love for us.
Even so, you can still glorify God in the way you respond to the circumstances in which you find yourself. You can still grow and mature in Christ in the midst of it. And you can still have a happy, solid marriage, despite your husband’s volatile moods — but that happiness will hinge on your attitudes and reactions.
If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to commit pertinent Bible verses to memory and draw strength from them when the going gets tough. Here are a few I’d recommend, for starters:
- “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
- “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3, NASB)
- “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV)
- “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6, NASB)
- “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)
- “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NASB)
You may also want to read this post. It’s about getting along with difficult mother-in-laws, but the strategies outlined work equally well when dealing with difficult spouses, bosses, neighbors, or anybody else who has a demanding personality or seems impossible to please.