When Bo was in prison and I (Gari) was dealing with serious illness, we needed to encourage and support each other because we were both in a tough place. As a man, Bo sometimes needed support in different ways than I needed as a woman. In our book, Grace Behind Bars, we both write about our journey. Following are some keys we would like to share for getting through difficult times.
1. When your husband is in a difficult place, understand that life is piling in on him, and he doesn’t need you to pile on more. You may be frustrated or angry with what he has done, but understand that however upset you are feeling, he is feeling ten times worse about himself. So hold the criticism and the harsh words, and be the calm, safe harbor in his storm.
2. Gari is a very smart woman. I (Bo) have learned that sometimes she needs my problem-solving ability and sometimes what she needs is a hug. When faced with problems, a man’s first inclination is to solve them. That’s just what we do!
So ask your wife—does she only need a hug, or does she need more? And if it’s a hug, make it a 35-second hug. Our granddaughter told us that a scientific study shows that longer hugs lower stress and bring a sense of relief.
3. The Bible says that men need respect and women need love. Men need to know that they are deeply loved by their wives in times of struggle. But what they need even more is respect. So look for reasons you respect him. Tell him often how much you respect him as a man, a father, a husband, a man of God, for his integrity, or whatever you can think of. He will cherish your words, and they will give him strength for what he is facing.
4. Pray for your wife, that she will see herself as a student in God’s school of life, and not a victim of her circumstances. Help her see that every difficulty in the life of a believer is an opportunity to learn valuable eternal lessons.
In my time in prison, I (Bo) turned the situation over to God and asked Him to keep me in prison until I had learned every lesson He had for me. As believers, Gari and I always kept in mind there are different roads you can choose to travel when you go through difficulties. There is a low road, a high road, and a God road. Look for the God road, because it will be the one that leads you to freedom.
5. Help your spouse process failure. As Bobb Biehl explains, failure has three key parts. The first part in failure is what other people did that he or she had no control over. The second part in failure is what the uncontrollable circumstances were. The third part of failure is the part your spouse played. This is the part he or she does have control over, so encourage your loved one to take responsibility for whatever can be done to fix things.
6. Encourage your spouse in his or her language of love, as described by Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages. Gari’s love language is encouraging words. I work hard to encourage her with biblical words of hope and other encouraging concepts. One way I communicate is to write notes for the sake of clarity and repetition. She can then read them over and over in her darkest times. I want her to always remember that through Christ, her best days are ahead of her!
Read more from Bo & Gari in their book Grace Behind Bars: An Unexpected Path to True Freedom.