Counseling the ‘Overly Sensitive Wife’

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Are you counseling an “overly sensitive wife’? This article shares a helpful definition as well as insights to helping her and her husband biblically.

This article by biblical counselor Andrea Lee appeared first here at The Biblical Counseling Coalition website and used with permission.

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Touchy. Moody. Easily offended. Has your husband ever said this about you? Does he walk on eggshells around you or fear you will misinterpret his comments? Are you overly sensitive to his assessment of your performance or character?

To define my terms, an “overly sensitive wife” is excessively hurt by the delivery and content of her husband’s comments. 

(However, an overly sensitive wife is not the same as an abused wife. When there is abuse, it is often best to involve the police and medical personnel.–Ed.)

Her emotional frailty makes playfulness in the marriage rare. Furthermore, she overreacts to any reproof, making it hard for her husband to help her grow. Instead of overlooking a poorly timed comment or opinion with love, she is devastated. The overly sensitive wife is allergic to criticism and assumes her husband is trying to hurt her.

Let me be clear.

There are times when you as a wife must address issues of biblical obedience or conscience with your husband.

The overly sensitive wife should confront her husband if he maliciously uses humor, constantly criticizes, or is regularly harsh and irritable. Such provocation is ungodly. And if this is a pattern, discuss this with him, and if needed, seek help from your pastor or a biblical counselor.

But often believing husbands are not being malicious. Nonetheless, you might find yourself provoked, offended, and hurt. Even though your husband could grow in his ability to gently reprove you, you know you’re part of the problem.

Such emotionally disproportionate responses never lead to peace. As you examine the ways you contribute to low-grade conflict in your marriage, pay attention to the following four areas.

1. Realize the connection between desires and interpretations

Our values and desires shape how we interpret our experiences. In other words, the things we desire, cherish, and love more than God influence the way we make sense of conversations and circumstances.

For example, because a wife wants to be perfect in an area (mothering, housekeeping, decorating, fashion, cooking, poise, entertaining, etc.), she might overreact when her husband mentions a weakness. The problem isn’t that her husband is wrong or spiteful, but rather she has assigned too much value to this area.

2. Recognize the link between idolatry and pride

When our desires are frustrated, we can respond with unreasonable hurt and irritation. This is idolatry. Idolatry is looking to, clinging to, and trusting in something other than God in order to achieve a desired experience or outcome (Is. 44:17Hab. 2:18Col. 3:5).

We either want what God says is wrong, or we want a good thing too much. Foundationally, idolatry serves self. We use things or people to exalt us or to give us pleasure, comfort, control, and approval.

An overly senstive wife seeks fulfillment in their achievement or performance. We are willing to pout, cry, or withdraw when our husbands minimize our efforts. This happens because we’ve merged performance with identity: “If I don’t perform perfectly, then I’m not worth anything.” This may sound like humility, but it’s really pride.

What are some signs that pride may be at work in your life? Stuart Scott pinpoints several markers of pride that fuel oversensitivity. These markers include being  …

  • devastated or angered by criticism
  • focused on self and wanting self to be elevated
  • consumed with what others think
  • defensive
  • convinced that you have little sin and others are more sinful
  • disheartened because you are not perfect and have weaknesses.

3. Repent of specific manifestations of idolatrous pride

So what are some desires that create conflict in this area?

Perfectionism

An overly sensitive wife focuses on areas where she wants to be the best. She wants her performance to merit approval from others. And when it doesn’t, she is devastated and reacts with quiet hurt or loud defensiveness.

Fear of Man

Perfectionism and fear of man go hand-in-hand.

The overly sensitive wife wants to be perfect so that others will praise her and have no ground for judging her. When she focuses on her husband’s evaluations and stops worshiping God, her performance takes center stage.

It devastates her when she fails to meet her own standards. Instead of repenting of pride and the way she exalts herself, she lashes out at the one who draws attention to her “failure.”

Control

We all use control as a strategy to get what we want.

And the overly sensitive wife believes she knows best and if everyone would do things her way, life would work at optimal speed and enjoyment. She is quick to defend her motives and ignore her sin. She wants to be seen as blameless in all ways and is unaware that her motives are mixed. And she underestimates how sinful she is and is easily hurt when her husband questions her motives.

Use these descriptions to evaluate the way pride impacts your interactions with your husband. This will help you repent more thoroughly and change more deeply.

4. Respond with worship and love 

Our God of all grace (1 Pet. 5:10) can help the overly sensitive wife to lay aside destructive sensitivity and to put on humble love for Christ and others. Turn to him. Here are ideas to share with your counselee.

  • Ask God for grace and wisdom to repent of wanting your husband to regard you as perfect and worthy of constant praise.
  • Pray God will help you to cherish Christ’s perfection and put away attempts to establish your own righteousness.
  • Thank God He empowers your love and service (1 Pet. 4:11) and causes you to grow (1 Pet. 5:101 Thess. 5:23-24).
  • Choose to believe the best about your husband. Assume he has good motives unless he confesses otherwise (1 Cor. 13:4-8; cf. 1 Cor. 4:5)
  • Focus on loving your husband and praying for him rather than on being loved perfectly by him (Phil. 2:3). Only Christ will love you perfectly.
What fuels over-sensitivity in your counselee?

1 Stuart Scott, From Pride to Humility (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2002), 6-10. 2 For more on the ways sin is natural, see Ed Welch, Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide away from AddictionFacilitator’s Guide (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008), 31.

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