Friday, November 06, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas--Disparaging Our Husbands and Why We Procrastinate

 I hope to continue to post on Saturdays--a normal post one Saturday and an Ask Aunt Dorcas column the next.

Aunt Dorcas relies on a daily pot of tea.
Or two.

Dear Aunt Dorcas--

What should I do when I'm in a group of women and the conversation turns to husbands and the things they do wrong?  I'm always uncomfortable with that so I sit there quietly and say nothing. What could I say to change the negativity? Or should I simply get up and walk away?

--Mrs. Pepper

 Dear Mrs. Pepper--

Women’s conversations about husbands make for an intriguing study. Surprisingly often, the women with the most horrible husbands say only positive things in public about them, and the women with reasonably decent men say the most disparaging things.

Edit: I'm assuming here that you're talking about those conversations that are are so negative, hopeless, and contemptuous that your stomach tightens with anxiety and you just want to run. As you said, you're "always uncomfortable." However, there's another aspect to women discussing their marriages that I hadn't considered. At the end of this post, I'll add a few comments from others that give an important perspective. 

I hope to look at your questions eventually, but let’s think about a few topics that spiderweb out from this one. Telling, for instance. Is it ever right to discuss your husband's faults or the difficulties of your marriage with anyone? If so, with whom, and how? If not, how are you to find help?

Also: what might motivate a woman to go off to a whole group about her husband’s shortcomings?

Let’s talk about Telling. I have known women who endured the most vile treatment silently, for years. Their husbands hit them when they “misbehaved,” lied to and about them, and slept around.

These wives kept all the secrets for years, then finally Told. Usually they confided in one friend, and gradually a few more found out. Sometimes they found a better way to live, and sadly sometimes not.

On the other end of this very broad spectrum, I’ve known women who were married to men who were not anyone I’d want to be married to, for sure, but they still fit the term the Eggerichses came up with—“goodhearted.” These men were essentially honest, faithful, and well-meaning. They were not abusive, manipulative, evil, gaslighting people.

But their wives talked a hundred times more often and more negatively about them than the horribly abused wives talked about their husbands.

Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to:

1. My theory is that the safer you feel in the relationship, the more you open you are to talk about problems. Abuse victims often keep all the secrets. The kids with absent dads will defend them to their last breath—“Hey, he’s a good man. He’s just really busy with work and stuff.” And the teens with good solid dads will fuss and roll their eyes because he drives a dirty old car or doesn't trim his eyebrows and it’s SO EMBARRASSING. Women in solid marriages know they can fuss and fume, and the marriage will remain. This doesn’t justify whining to a group of women, but it might mean you're simply more frank and honest if you're in a secure relationship. 

2. A group of women busily husband-bashing pretty much always makes a toxic conversation. The only good thing that comes out of it is that hopefully you listen in appalled silence, then go home and hug your husband and say, “Thank you for being so amazing.” Then he says, “Ok, who were you talking to today?” Sometimes women get into other subjects that are equally uncomfortable, such as child-bashing or church-bashing. It isn’t helpful or healthy.

3. To your specific questions: I’ve found that one woman can set or shift the tone. You don’t have to be earnest, imploring, or preachy. Your suggestions of being quiet or walking away are both good. Or you can ask questions like, “Have you tried discussing it with him?” Or gently steer the conversation elsewhere, to menopause, maybe, or babies.

Some women are like me, easily carried away in the current of a lively conversation. But your comment or silence can give us enough of a poke to shut us up, clear our heads, and steer us out of the rapids.

4. When women vent about husbands, I think of a phrase my sister-in-law Bonnie says. “Figure it out!” You've probably sat there and thought, “You’re kidding me. Why is this even an issue? You’re both adults. Sit down and figure it out!”

Here’s the thing, though. Some people don’t have the skills to actually figure it out. The venting might be a cry for help, because they simply don’t know that two adults can sit down together and discuss this problem and figure out a solution. Or they might not realize that what’s going on is illegal and abusive.

I am not good at admitting I have a problem and stating what it is. There were times I vented in a group, and hearing those words come out of my mouth made me realize for the first time that something was wrong and we needed help.

5. Some women want solutions, and some don’t. Assume, first, that these women aren’t happy with how things are, don’t know how to express it appropriately, and actually want help.

I appreciated the women who spoke to me privately, asked good questions, and moved me toward solutions. You might want to try that.

On the other hand, I’ve known women whose many wounds seeped blood and pus over every friend and quilting and family gathering. Yet when anyone said, “Maybe you could. . .” or “Have you tried. . .?” they always brushed off the suggestions.

This is where you as the friend and listener have to draw some lines, especially if she’s venting to you one-on-one. After about 5 hours of compassionate listening, I’d say you’ve earned the right to speak into her life. Is she open to that? Have you seen her seek actual solutions or ask for professional help?

If the answers are No, then it’s time to back off, change the subject, or even say, “I find it really upsetting to hear this and not be able to do anything.” “This brings up too many bad memories for me. I have to avoid this subject for my own mental health.” “I don’t have the skills to help you. So we need to talk about something else. But I’m happy to help you find a good marriage counselor.”

Obviously, you can say that better in person than in a group. Often, the conversations overlap.

I am not talking here of women working through grief and trauma who need support rather than solutions. I’m speaking of the woman who has told all of you 25 times of her endless fury at Willard because he insists on buying more pigs or he won’t take his shoes off when he comes indoors or he won’t let her home school the kids.

Come on, lady. You’re grownups. Figure it out.

6. While venting to a random group is unhealthy, we do need safe and appropriate ways to talk about our lives and find clarity, comfort, and solutions. Keeping your husband’s abuse a secret isn’t a good strategy. Neither is telling it to everyone in the dentist’s office. Find a friend first, then a few people who can offer help and accountability. Also go read Shari Zook’s excellent post on this subject.

Use the same strategy to talk about the frustrations in a normal relationship. Look for wisdom, discretion, and care.

I’ve found it helpful to talk to sisters and sisters-in-law about the bumps in our marriage. My sisters and I all married men who take charge, work too hard, and aren’t naturally empathetic. We sisters are all deeply committed to our marriages, but we’ve navigated some really deep and rough waters. So we discuss our guys and ooze the fragrant, soothing balm of empathy all over one another. We laugh until we’re in tears. We pray for each other. It is healing, it gives perspective, and it stays strictly confidential.

At our Smucker ladies’ coffee times, we sometimes discuss husbands. The sisters-in-law know exactly whereof I speak. The sisters understand but offer a different perspective. They tell us what Smuckers think, and why and how. They help us make sense of things and remind us that these guys are good people. True, maybe they’ve never taken a hint in their lives, but then they’ve never spoken one phrase with a hidden knife behind it either.

Talking with family members in this way is very different from joining a random group of women in talking negatively about men. If you turn to contempt or bitterness, the sisters and in-laws will call you out.

So, Mrs. Pepper, the fact that you are uncomfortable in these conversations tells us a lot about your and your emotional/spiritual/marital health.  Whether you speak, stay quiet, or walk away, your life will convey a powerful message.

Edit: Here are two other perspectives to consider:

From Esta Doutrich via Facebook: A few years ago I heard someone talking about this on a podcast (? Can’t remember) and said from her experience she thought it was important to talk about marriage with close girl friend groups in honest, joking, and confessing ways (not just positive) because is that is one non dramatic way for wives to realize what is “normal” marriage conflict or issues and what is not and needs intervention or help.

I don’t know if I 100% agree but I have thought of that OFTEN since then. Many times I have shared something about Justin and I's conflicts etc and had girlfriends look relieved and say “oh we have that conflict too. Ours looks like this..... here’s what we do” Or I have been the one who looked relieved with what they shared or laughed about our common shared experience.

Obviously it can easily turn toxic in some instances, but here is what I KNOW... I would WAY rather sit with a group of women talking honestly and frankly about their husbands than a group of women talking honestly and frankly (I.e gossiping) about other friends/church members/etc. that’s when I walk away 

Miriam Iwashige shared this in the comments below: Decades ago I read somewhere that women often do "marriage work" by talking to other women. This makes sense to me now, as it did then. I think keeping the term in mind helps guide me in knowing what to share and helps me evaluate what others share. Whining and ridiculing are toxic, but "work" is not. I agree that sisters and sisters-in-law are a wonderful group with which to do "marriage work," but talking with an unrelated person has been good sometimes as well.

 --Aunt Dorcas


Dear Aunt Dorcas,

Is it ever good to procrastinate? I mean, I think part of the reason I procrastinate so much is I think I will get sort of a "right feel" for how to go about it if I think about it long enough. Legit? Or total lame excuse? 


Dear Lucinda—

Ok, this is a painful subject that has caused me much frustration, shame, guilt, and grief.

I wonder if it’s time to rethink it.

My daughter Amy, one of the most disciplined and methodical people I know, says we tend to think of procrastinators as “bad” when “different” might be better. Maybe it’s that Puritan work ethic, she says, where the good people are the ones with a plan in their heads that they follow dutifully every day.

My husband’s nephew's wife operates much like I do, committing to big projects and waiting until the last minute to whip them out in a complete frenzy.

She was berating herself one time when her husband said, “Babe. Look. What matters is that you always get it done. Maybe it’s not like everyone else does it, but you don’t need to beat yourself up. Maybe this is just how your brain operates, and it’s ok.

[This is a paraphrase, but we assume he said Babe because all the under-40 couples call each other that.]

I feel like my brain is like an Instant Pot, or a volcano. It can’t produce a creative product, especially an essay, unless it reaches a high temperature and pressure. The only way to reach that state is to put the project off to the last minute. As the deadline approaches, the anxiety increases, the ideas boil and swirl, and sudden new insights pop and ricochet in my head. The night before the due date, my dreams are full of wild plot lines—disaster looms, important people are disappointed, danger threatens at each window, I'm tugging at the hem of my way-too-short skirt in church.  I wake up. The deadline is before me. I sit down at the computer, tea in hand, hair uncombed. The pressure reaches its peak, and the volcano blows. I am utterly in the zone; all else is forgotten as the words pour forth. Hours later, I type the ending and come back to Earth, spent and exhausted. The steam has vented; the lava has cooled. And if I’m lucky, the heat and pressure produced a lovely pot of black bean chili or a vein of gold.

In my almost 19 years of writing for the newspaper, I vowed a zillion times I was going to plan ahead, start early, and skip the miserable stress.

The few times I actually did that, the end product was no better than the frantically produced pieces. In fact, those slowly-done pieces were often worse—colder, less emotional, producing less connection with readers.

But I still felt that if I could only get my act together like the good people, bluebirds would sing and we would all be happy.

Maybe, at age 58, I need to work with what I have, which is an irregular brain made more so by the asthma medications I take so I can keep breathing. God has not chosen to heal either the ADHD or the asthma. Maybe it's time to embrace them.

Lucinda, I’d say you also need to work with what you have, and not against it. Can you leverage the pressure to produce the best creative result?

However, you have to be aware that your procrastination sometimes affects others. I regret the times I caused my family hardship by my last-minute craziness. Both Amy and her sister Jenny, another super-disciplined person, agree that this is where the ethical line is drawn. It’s ok to procrastinate if only you are affected and you do what you promised to do. However, if others are inconvenienced and frustrated, that’s not ok. Maybe you make everyone late to church, or you bring down the grades of everyone in the group project.

Then, something needs to change.

I am trying to work with my brain as it is. I never thought I would miss having regular deadlines, but now that I’m not writing for the newspaper, I miss the creative results that they produced. So I'm trying to replicate the results with just enough pressure, but not too much, through having about a thousand words due twice a month for my writing group. One of these years I hope to have a publisher as well, with editors that tell me to have the first draft done by June. I will hate those deadlines, and then I will love them.

Surely our creative minds can come up with solutions for the problems we create.

That’s what I think.

--Aunt Dorcas


  1. Good answers! May I add that in personal and family financial matters procrastination can be a good thing as you wait for the perfect item or deal instead of impulsively buying something to fill a need. I've found that the "temporary" solutions end of being forever, and if I'd just waited and been patient I could have gotten the exactly right thing for lots less money and frustration. Or sometimes the "need" simply goes away. Procrastination (coupled with prayer) can bring miracles and blessings.

  2. Decades ago I read somewhere that women often do "marriage work" by talking to other women. This makes sense to me now, as it did then. I think keeping the term in mind helps guide me in knowing what to share and helps me evaluate what others share. Whining and ridiculing are toxic, but "work" is not. I agree that sisters and sisters-in-law are a wonderful group with which to do "marriage work," but talking with an unrelated person has been good sometimes as well.

    1. Well said. I quoted you in my post, because I hadn't thought of this perspective.

  3. So glad to know that these Saturday posts will continue!

  4. I laughed so much at your answer to procrastination. Aside from the funny visuals though, it seems simply explained that there is one of two methods a person might be naturally inclined to work from. Suddenly I realize why advice from either group has never helped my productivity. As unique as I am, I know I am not alone, but this is the first time I can clearly see where I differ. I'm the opposite of a procrastinator, and definitely not an equal-work-every-day planner. When I find myself at the intersection of a need, a new way of thinking, and a creative solution, I get wrapped up into this magical cloud that I imagine surgeons are in during the most critical time of an operation. Idea bits come at me like tools and I either grab them or poof them away. I am in the zone; I stand in the middle of the room where the great invention/transformation/decoration is going to take place. Then I must act, immediately! Anything I can't physically procure at that time, I must make arrangements for. I carry my phone and tape measure--it's too late by now for pen and paper--I'm texting people assignments (on your way home, please pick up a 10 lb bag of cement and that bike tire from the ditch down the road), calling with odd questions (would you be able to wire three fish tank pumps together so they could all run off of one plug?), climbing on chairs for different perspectives, taking pictures... and just like that, in 1-4 hours, I created. Then it's over. I rest, well-pleased. Had I not taken immediate action, I would have simply forgotten the problem until the next time one of the kids said, "Isn't there ANYTHING we can do about this?"
    For example, if I hadn't started writing this immediately after reading your post, I never would've come back to it.
    Thank you.

    1. I love this! And I'm so glad you commented immediately!

  5. On the husband bashing subject, I just cannot abide being in the presence of anyone talking down about their husbands, in person or online. Then I realized that even though I did not do it verbally myself I did do it to myself and in my own mind. This was really tearing apart my marriage. It took me about two years to stop that internal conversation and it has been life changing. The Bible never tells wives to love their husbands but it does tall us to respect them and this is a huge part of respect. Now I have other women ask me what I did to make my husband adore me because they want that and respect is my reply. When you really start to look at what you are doing every day in little ways to disrespect your husband it will just break your heart.

    1. Repentance and change are HARD. Bless you.

  6. As a former teacher and now a parent with teenage students, I hate that the school system is largely structured for the plan-ahead types (I am actually one of them!). In our family we have the last-minute, stress-worker types and the plan-ahead can't-stand-the-pressure types. We try hard to respect both types, but the school system does NOT. Your advice to work with the type of brain you've got is spot-on. Thank you. I think self-knowledge is a wonderful way to approach life and its problems!

    1. Good for you for recognizing this and working with the last-minute types.

  7. Dorcas, I never commented on this...Thank you. Lucinda