“You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way.” 1 Peter 3:7

At the other end of the phone a quivering voice said, “You’ve got to help me. She has a court order against me.” George was coming to me for help after his relationship with his wife was already in shreds. “We’ve been married over twenty years, and she won’t even let me back in the house. I can’t believe she would treat me this way after all I’ve done for her. Can you help us get back together?”

Before I answered his question, I wanted to talk to his wife. “There’s no way you can talk to Barbara,” he said. “She wouldn’t talk to you. The moment you say you’re representing me in any way, she’ll hang up on you.”

“I’ve never been turned down by a wife yet,” I assured him, “so we might as well see if this will be the first time. Would you give me her phone number?”

To be honest, as grim as things sounded, I did wonder if she would be the first wife not willing to talk to me about her marital strife. But my doubts were unfounded — she was more than anxious to discuss their problems.

“What would it take for you to be willing to let your husband back into your life? What would have to happen before you would try to rebuild a marriage relationship with him?” Those were the same questions I had asked many wives who claimed they didn’t want their husbands back. Her response was typical. “I can’t possibly answer that question. He’s the worst husband in the world, so I wouldn’t think of taking him back. I can’t stand his personality or his offensive habits any more.” The court order would take care of him, she told me. “Just keep him away!”

I gently asked her if she could tell me the things he had done to offend her. When I heard her response, I said, “It sounds like he hasn’t been a very sensitive and gentle husband, has he?”

Once again I asked her to stretch her imagination and think about what changes would be necessary before she would take him back.

There was plenty of room for improvement, she told me. First, he was too domineering and critical of her. Second, he tried to control her every move with a possessive grip. Third, he trampled her sense of self-worth with constant ridicule. And fourth, although he always had time for business and other interests, he seldom took time to listen to her. On top of all that, he spied on her and didn’t give her any freedom.

“Don’t get any ideas, though,” she told me at the end of our conversation. “Because no matter what, I won’t stop the divorce.”

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When I relayed these complaints to George, I knew I had touched some sensitive spots. He defended himself and accused her. I let him rant for a while before asking, “Do you want your wife back?”

“Yes, I’d do anything to get her back,” he said.

“Good. I’m always willing to work with someone ready to readjust his life. But if you’re not totally serious, let me know now. I don’t like to play games.” Again he committed himself to change, but his commitment didn’t last beyond my next statement. “We’re going to have to work on your domineering and possessive nature. It shows you don’t genuinely love your wife.”

He fumed and spouted, defended and fought so much I began to wonder if he really would commit himself to the necessary changes.

“I’ve never met a more belligerent, stubborn man in my entire life!” I exclaimed.

Suddenly subdued, he responded, “That’s not my nature. I’m usually rather submissive inside. Maybe I’m putting up a front because I’m really not a pushy person. I feel like people run all over me.”

“I don’t think you and I are talking about the same person,” I responded. “If I were your wife, I’m not sure I could bear up emotionally under your domineering personality.”

That stopped him long enough for him to give our conversation some serious thought. After talking to his friends and even praying that God would help him understand, he returned to my office, able to confess his faults and ready to change.

From If Only He Knew, Copyright © 1982 by Dr. Gary Smalley and published by Zondervan. Used with permission.

Gary Smalley one of he country’s best-known authors and speakers on family relationships. He is the award-winning, best-selling author or coauthor of sixteen books, as well as several popular films and videos. The Blessing and The Two Sides of Love have won Gold Medallions, The Language of Love won the Angel Award as the best contribution to family life, and his other titles have received Silver Medallions. His national infomercial Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships has been viewed by television audiences all over the world. Gary and his wife, Norma, have been married for over thirty years and live in Branson, Missouri.