Help! I’m married to a jerk

by Christa A. Banister

What do you do when the love of your life acts, well, like a jerk?

For Marianne Winters* of Marietta, Ga., it wasn't easy. She struggled with the need to confront her husband, David, about his tendency to talk too much and too loudly about inappropriate things.

One evening while they shared a meal with several couples, David ranted on and on about a diet he thought everyone should follow. Sensing the irritation of their dinner companions and feeling totally embarrassed, Marianne walked out of the restaurant.

While she realizes walking away wasn't an appropriate response, she says she "couldn't help it when David's voice grew louder and more intense." Later, she talked to David about the situation, and he confessed it never dawned on him that he was acting like a jerk.

Apparently, blind disregard is common to jerks. Kim Hill* was so accustomed to the sound of horns blowing when she zipped in and out of traffic that she all but ignored them. When she needed to get from point A to point B, it was best to get out of her way.

Her husband, Derick, was mortified that his typically kind-hearted wife became a terror when she got behind the wheel. Derick refused to allow Kim to drive when they traveled together because he didn't want to grip the dash with one hand while waving "sorry" to passing cars with the other. The way Derick saw it, Kim had no respect for his feelings - and certainly no respect for other drivers.

Let's see: blind disregard, lack of respect. Yep. Those traits could dig some sharp teeth into a marriage.

It's these seemingly small, but potentially damaging, issues in a marriage that Family Dynamics president and founder Joe Beam hears about on a daily basis as he takes calls from concerned listeners on his weekly radio show.

"In his book Love Busters, Willard F. Harley wrote that if you do these kinds of behaviors over and over and over, you destroy the person's feelings for you," Beam says. "Ultimately, what it really boils down to is feeling a lack of respect. If you're married to a jerk, it's basically a matter of ‘You don't respect me because, if you respected me, you'd understand how I feel about this.'"

While something as simple as putting dirty clothes in the right place may seem trivial to some spouses, Beam says, "It's never [about] where someone leaves his or her clothes; it's the issue of feeling disrespected. Ultimately, being an insensitive jerk is much bigger than most people realize."

Jerk Medicine

If you're married to someone who, at times, morphs into a jerk, how can you help your spouse mend his or her ways?

Talk It Out.

Address insensitive behavior without coming across as defensive or a finger-pointer. Yelling is not acceptable.

"The worst thing you can do is fight back or attack the other person; that's never effective," Beam warns. "Instead, tell your spouse, ‘Honey, when you do this, it hurts my feelings.'"

Beam adds that letting your spouse know what hurts you is crucial because, in many cases, like in the story of Marianne and David, there can be a lack of awareness of what bothers the other party.

Recognize a Code Red.

Even after you've had a softly spoken, lay-it-on-the-line conversation with your spouse, it's helpful to remember the adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Basically, old behaviors aren't going to change overnight, and gentle reminders are helpful. Pam and Bill Farrel, authors of Every Marriage Is a Fixer-Upper, encourage couples to agree upon an exclusive code that signals when behavior digresses to jerk mode. The Farrel's advise couples to "tie the catch-phrase to a good memory." For instance, a couple they knew chose the word Maui because that's where they went on their honeymoon. It immediately conjured warm memories and defused jerky behavior.

See Through the Eyes of Others.

If open communication and a secret code don't do the trick, Beam says it may be time for interactive classes.

"Sometimes it's helpful for couples to talk out issues with other couples," Beam advises. "A lot of times it serves as an ‘Aha!' moment when you're [tagged] about annoying behavior from someone other than your spouse."

Be Willing to Ask Yourself the Tough Question

Am I a jerk? While it may seem elementary, the Golden Rule is a pretty good place to start when considering if you're the jerk in a marriage situation. Ask yourself if you're treating your spouse the way you want to be treated. That should help clear up any confusion in a hurry.

The bottom line? We're all capable of acting like a jerk at any given moment. It's our sin nature rearing its powerful, ugly head. Paul nailed us all in Romans 7:14-24 "Yes, I'm full of myself - after all. ... parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, take charge ... Is there no one who can do anything for me?" (The Message).

The answer, thank God, is yes! When we open our eyes to the jerk in all of us and open our hearts to nailing disagreeable, self-serving behavior to the cross, an amazing thing happens: We take giant steps toward becoming the kind, thoughtful, servant-hearted individuals God wants us to be.

You've just gotta love behavior like that!

*Names have been changed.

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