Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

Proverbs 21:9

These words sting like a slap on a sunburn to our hypersensitive modern ears.  You don’t pick on women after all.  There are a number of these kinds of verses in Proverbs and if you aren’t careful you might think Solomon was a bit unfair.  A word search of “husband” in Proverbs doesn’t say much about how the husband is to treat his wife.  The word only occurs a few times.  The only thing negative said about a husband is if you commit adultery with his wife he’s not apt to want to visit with you over coffee.  It’s actually worded stronger…something about a “husband’s fury” and the word “revenge” is used, too.

Sin is no respecter of persons and people of both genders can be mean with their tongues.  These sayings startle us so that we will stop and think about them.  They invite us to compare the opposite and to ponder the word picture: this guy’s wife is on his case so he’s on the roof.  From what I understand, most of the houses in ancient Israel were flat.  Some had stairs going up the outside.  What’s going on up there?  He’s by himself.  He’s thinking it’s better to be alone then to be with her when she’s like that.  He’s also exposed to the elements: The heat, the cold, the rain and wind.  Not a very cozy place.

Curiously, the same concept is shared a few verses later, only this time the husband’s off in the wilderness:

19 Better to live in a desert
than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

Roofs and deserts conjure up images of being totally alone and a complete waste of time.  Unproductive.  It reminds me of Cain, who after killing his brother, is banished by God from working the land and sent away and Cain says “My punishment is more than I can bear.”  You got that right.  A quarrelsome wife is punishment; being alone and wasting your time is punishment.  They are both bad.  But given a choice it’d be better to not have your wife remind you on a regular basis what a failure you are.  No human contact is better than terribly rotten human contact.

I’m guessing the principle crosses gender lines.  I’m guessing there are husbands that are too good at pointing out faults.  I’m guessing there are mothers and fathers who do the same to their children.     Flinging mud is a universal human trait.  Withdrawal to the roof or desert or locked bedroom or the garage or machine shed or shop or basement office or not coming home at all is a typical response.   What is she bellyaching about?  Probably that he’s not talking to her and that he’s all alone and not participating in the family and he won’t do anything to help!  Great!  The more she complains the more he hides and the more he moves away the more she berates.  Not a pretty sight.

Today’s research is confirming this pattern.  Women are more apt then men to pursue an issue; men are more likely to withdraw.  She wants to connect and just wants him to talk to her and hear her concerns.  He just wants to be accepted and hears her concerns as scolding and criticism.  Why would I want to sit and listen to that?  The more he feels put down, the more he withdraws.  The further he moves away the more panicky she gets.  Sadly, it’s not a very helpful pattern and is highly predictive of divorce.  I guess they both figure it’s better to live in the desert then live like that.

What’s really sad is that the lion’s share of people pursuing divorce today are women.  They can afford it, after all.  They think.  Why would I want to stay married to someone who won’t talk to me?  And then when he does talk he’s madder than all get out.  As one wife told me (probably a former wife now), “My husband won’t talk to me so I’ll find somebody who will.”  If he’s as feisty as her, I wouldn’t be surprised to find her on the roof.

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