I'm thrilled and honored to be a new contributing writer to Thriving Marriages.
Here's the first article published there. It's a very diffcult subject because it hits so close to home:
The #MeToo movement has shone an uncomfortable light on the fact that many women have been, and continue to be, vulnerable prey to men who behave like predators. I know that some people dismiss the idea of men being predators as trite, but I’m curious and wonder what spiritual lesson we might learn from these physical circumstances? Of course, we know that outright sexual assault is not to be tolerated, but do we husbands sometimes act like predators? Do we even know what it means to act like a predator? And what would we do about it if we did know?
Some years ago my wife, Gwen, bought Sterling, a silver dun Quarter Horse. She started to study “natural” horsemanship. As Gwen began to share what she was learning, I was struck by the similarities between human/horse relationships and husband/wife relationships. Through Gwen, I learned that horses are stereotypical prey animals and identify humans as predators.
Gwen and I have been married for over 40 years. We were fortunate to have made it past 10 years. Due to my ungodliness, by the time 24 years rolled around, our marriage was in real trouble. By God’s grace and with the guidance of a unique parachurch ministry, our marriage has healed to the point where Gwen and I now minister to other married couples in crisis. But, before I began to get well our marriage could be characterized as a predator/prey relationship. I was not physically abusive, but engaged in more subtle, though no less damaging, spiritual/emotional predator behavior.
Gwen has helped me to see that certain things I do, physically, make her feel like prey. If Gwen says something that I don't understand, or disagree with, I might frown (which knits my eyebrows and squints my eyes). I might raise my voice. I might even make a guttural noise that sounds like a growl.
More spiritually damaging is my predator attitude, which is negative, confrontational, and critical. At its heart, being a predator is selfish. As difficult as it is to admit that I have this attitude, it comes down to this: "I come first at your expense. My survival comes first. My priorities, values, desires, attitudes, ideas and comfort come first. I cannot control my emotions or aggressiveness. They are my unchangeable nature. I act on instinct before I think. I look for weakness and exploit it when I find it. I can be sneaky or I can be blatant; whatever it takes to win. I'm intense. I'm a straight-line thinker; very predictable and not very creative. Fear me. I can and will hurt you.”
When a prey animal feels threatened, it may try to go undetected by remaining still and quiet or camouflaging itself to blend with its surroundings. As a wife and mother, Gwen protected herself and our sons when she felt they were in danger of being spiritually harmed. She’d try to "go silent and unnoticed" and encouraged our sons to do the same. By not engaging in arguments with me, Gwen kept her conscience clear, and herself and our sons out of harm's way.
Some prey animals, like horses, will flee to escape their predator. Gwen has turned on her heel and walked away, just to escape from an argument with me. Finally, when cornered, some prey animals will fight. Gwen has told me that when we would argue, she would feel trapped and threatened. She felt like she was going to get eaten up, so she would fight for her life.
In line with how prey responds to its predators, Gwen lost trust in me. I drove her to resentment, bitterness, and coldness towards me.
When my marriage finally hit rock-bottom, I began to seek godly counsel. At one point my counselor told me, “All God wants is for you to change the way you think, act and talk.” (That’s all!?!) Because the predator attitude came so naturally to me, I didn't even know I was doing it when I was doing it. It was easier to see it in others, but almost impossible to identify it in myself. I needed help. Ken Nair, author of “Discovering the Mind of a Woman,” advised where I might get help to change: "Could God be so uncomplicated as to call the help He has provided for us husbands 'help'?” Taking that advice, I’ve asked Gwen to help me by suggesting some steps I could take to change the predator in me. Here are just three of her ideas.
The first idea is to slow down. Predators are naturally quick, aggressive, and direct in the pursuit and capture of their prey. To counterbalance the “act without thinking” patterning, I have to slow down. I have to slow down with my harsh words and with my anger. To my shame, I’ve pounced on my wife's mistakes. I’ve corrected Gwen in public, causing her great embarrassment. I’ve become impatient if she were not ready to leave when I was. When I slow down, I have time to think, to gain wisdom and understanding. This is an exercise in patience, a fruit of the Spirit.
"But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (Jas. 1:19-20 NAS)
The second step is to let others go first. Since my natural predator nature is selfish, I do the opposite of what comes naturally and let others go first. It could look like this:
I'm in a hurry. I arrive at a queue at the grocery store, bank, or fast-food place at about the same time as someone else. I let them go in front of me.
I'm late for an appointment. I sense that the person driving next to me wants to squeeze himself in the impossibly short distance between me and the car in front of me, with never a turn signal. I back off and let him in.
Gwen has an idea that’s contrary to my own. I have very good, logical reasons why my idea is better. I freely sacrifice my idea and get behind hers. It is beneficial for me to willingly give up my opinions and count hers as more important than mine.
“Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3 CEV)
Gwen’s third suggestion is to have a change of heart. I think it’s significant that Scripture characterizes the golden age the Messiah will usher in as a time when "the wolf will dwell with the lamb." (Isaiah 11:6 NAS). As part of our pursuit of Christ-likeness, we husbands must change our hearts and stop acting like predators towards those who are close to us. If what is in our hearts is dark and aggressive, our body language, facial expressions, and words will mirror what’s in our hearts. Better to dwell on what is true, pure, and peaceful. What our wives want is the consistency of character that exhibits patience, kindness, and gentleness; a relationship where they can feel safe and even protected by us.
"The good man out of the treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luk. 6:45-46 RSV)
Finally, predators are prey for other animals at least some time in their lives. We are, all of us, spiritual prey, all of the time. Sin is our primary predator. It is "lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it's out to get you..." (Gen. 4:7 MSG). So, whether we see ourselves as predator or prey, ultimately, we need a Savior.