“Are you a Contentious Woman?”

by Dr. Linda Karges-Bone

“It is better to live in a desert land, then with a contentious and vexing woman.” Proverbs 21:19

“It is better to live in a corner of the roof then in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Proverbs 25:24

“So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” Proverbs 11:22

“A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike. He who would restrain her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand.” Proverbs 27:15

“The woman of folly is boisterous. She is naïve, and knows nothing.” Proverbs 9:13

The wisdom of Proverbs is undisputed. Short, pithy phrases. Memorable lines suitable for plaques and sweatshirts and coffee mugs. We like to quote Proverbs, even unbelievers can be heard tossing them about quite freely, but do we recognize the power and authority and enormous value of these teachings? I doubt it. Too often, we dismiss the brief admonitions of Proverbs as old-fashioned or even as too simplistic, searching instead for some flashy, complex kind of psycho-scripture that will get at the crux of our immediate concerns.

But what if I were to tell you that Proverbs 21-9 is the crux, the very center of many marital problems, career crashes, relationship disasters, and family tensions? What if our attitudes and behaviors are causing more problems for us than solving them? Now before you dismiss me as a fundamentalist teacher who is going to place blame or a redundant storyteller who is going to warn you to be submissive to your husband……wait just a minute.

My message is a fresh one. My vision is one of clear, Biblical insight into the freedom that God offers to women who choose to be responsible for their own behavior and to escape the burdens and tensions and pure misery that come from being a contentious woman.

Are you interested?

Good. Let’s start with a quiz, kind of a Christian version of a Cosmo-Magazine test. Let’s find out…….are we Contentious Women?

Just keep track with your fingers. There will be ten questions, so that makes most of us capable of playing along. Ready?

Are You a Contentious Woman?
  • Do you feel that it is your duty to remind your husband that it is time to: (a) mow the lawn, (b) take out the trash, (c) wash the car?
  • Are you convinced that if you tell your husband often enough that it is important for him to spend more time with the children, he will do just that?
  • Does the thought of asking your husband to complete a task just one time and then waiting until he gets ready to do it make you feel anxious and frustrated?
  • Do you frequently correct your husband in front of others or challenge his parenting in front of the children….even and especially when you don’t agree with him?
  • Can you list 3 bad points about your husband’s personality right now?
  • In the last 24 hours, have you begun a conversation with your husband by saying one of the following: (a) You don’t ever, (b) If you would just, or (c) I already told you……?
  • If your husband is not a believer or a practicing Christian, do you think that tricking, begging, or developing insidious plans that will get his heathen-self into church will actually do any good?
  • When your husband doesn’t respond to a request just the way that you want or when you want….do you withhold intimacy (read that sex) as a form of manipulation?
  • When your husband sees you coming, does his expression change to one of fear and or withdrawl?
  • As you left your husband today, could your last encounter with him best be described as: (a) warm and loving, (b) casual, (c) cold?

Okay, do you have a tally? Let’s move on to a damage-control report now. Ready? Here is our rubric….a fancy educational piece of jargon that means….criteria.

If you answered YES to fewer than 3 of the items: Congratulations. You are either: (a) a saint, (b) married 15 years of longer and have figured this thing out, or (c) constantly studying scripture and praying for God’s blessing on your marriage.

If you answered YES to 4-7 of the items: Caution is needed. You are treading on dangerous ground in your marriage. Your nagging and lack of respect for your spouse could result in one of the following: (a) an uneasy truce and co-habitation instead of a loving marriage, (b) outright hostility, or (c) an affair on one or both parts.

If you answered YES to more than 7 items: Your middle name is Contentious Woman. Your husband refers to you, and he isn’t joking….as SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED. You probably spend most of your time: (a) complaining about your spouse, (b) dreaming of ways to get rid of your spouse, or (c) so busy with other projects that you forget that you have a spouse. Your husband, on the other hand….has retreated to the corner of the roof, which in the 1990’s translates to: (a) his workplace, (b) the golf course or fishing boat, or (c) fantasizing about (less crabby) another woman.

How did you do? What are you thinking? I’ll bet many of you, especially those of you who scored 4 or more are thinking one of the following:

  1. What about the man……isn’t HE responsible?
  2. You don’t know what you’re talking about lady….I don’t care how many letters you have after your name.
  3. It’s not my fault….it is my personality that makes me that way or my dysfunctional family upbringing or the fact that I got married: (a) too young, (b) to the wrong man, or (c) before I was saved.

Actually, you are all right at some level. Each of the above items has a touch of truth in them. Scripture says in 1 Cor. 11:11: “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.” In truth, marriage is a covenant in which both partners are to place the other’s well being above his or her own. But here’s a flash, there is no caveat in that scripture that says: “But you don’t have to follow this if your partner isn’t cooperating.” As believers, and I could just as easily give this talk to a group of men, as believers….not just as women, we are not independent of our spouses.

Recently, I heard a Christian teacher utter these shocking words, when a man called him to say that he wasn’t happy in his marriage, and that his wife wasn’t happy either…..obviously the gentleman wanted some sort of permission to leave the marriage. This Christian teacher responded: “God isn’t interested in your happiness. He is interested in your obedience.” I can’t get that out of my head. Obedience is more important than happiness. Yet when I examine the problems that we encounter as contentious women, I find that if we were obedient to scripture, most of the problems could be dealt with effectively. Note that I did not say…..solved. I don’t think that solving the problem, much like finding happiness is available to us here and now. Instead, I offer what 1 Cor 10:13 provides: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”

Let me stop here and get one thing straight. I’m excluding all of you who are in a physically abusive or substance-abusive situation. If you or your children are in danger…..do something about it. Probably, I’m not talking to those of you who scored 4 or more on the quiz. It has been my experience that women who are in such dangerous situations avoid any kind of confrontation. You either suffer in silence or totally displace your anger and pretend that everything is peachy-keen. Ladies, if you are in this kind of situation, don’t play with fire. This talk is for those of us whose tongues and tempers could qualify under the new federal guidelines for automatic assault weapons……Contentious women are seldom abused. We are just quarrelsome, belligerent, bossy, and miserable in our marriages.

Now for the second round of reactions. It is quite possible that I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I doubt it. Here’s why. I have done what researchers call a “double blind” test. I have tried it both ways. I lived the first decade of my marriage as a contentious woman. I pouted. I nagged. I saw myself as the unappreciated, overburdened, wife of a grumpy, difficult, selfish beast of a man. I have, at one point, been on the brink of losing my marriage. But two things saved me: God’s mercy and grace and my own decision to look for the good in my marriage instead of the bad.

I asked God to save my marriage. I asked Him for protection for my home. I literally, one dark, cold night…..went from room to room and anointed the doorways with olive oil and asked the Lord God to protect my home and to change my heart. And, praise HIS HOLY NAME, HE did. He did this because He loves me with a jealous, protective, fatherly love. And He honored my request. Ephesians 6:11 tells us: “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

It is Satan’s desire to destroy homes, especially Christian homes. In that way, believers stumble into sin……audultery, intimate relationships outside of marriage, violence, anger, and abuse. Children are displaced and not brought up according to scripture. They too fall into sin. Research tells us that over 80% of decisions for Christ are made before the age of 14 years. Think about it, if you are tied up in a divorce, dating, remarriage, custody and support battles…..is it likely that either parent is concerned with a child’s salvation? Probably not. For years, we just struggle to survive. In much the same way, when you are struggling against your husband…living as a contentious woman, you are so busy nursing your wounds, planning your revenge, evening the score…..you are not focusing on your children nor on your own relationship with God.

In the second decade of my marriage, and I’m nearing the twenty year mark now…….things are different. I see my husband in a totally different light. Yes, he has changed but it wasn’t my doing. He responded to a gradual, God-granted shift in my behavior. I’ll share a story from another culture here, because it fits so beautifully.

In the true story , Confessions of a Mail Order Bride, Wanwadee Larsen, a 21 year old Thai left her homeland to marry an American professor whom she had never met. It is a fascinating story about love, patience, and acceptance. But in the beginning, the author shares insights into how her mother taught her to make marriages strong and content, without sacrificing one’s own plans and dreams. This is the proverb…in Thai:

Nam ron plah pen nam yen plah tai

Fish will survive if the water changes slowly

I love that Thai proverb. Men, our men, for better or for worse, can change and respond and grow more sensitive and loving…if the water changes slowly. The “water” of the relationship must be calm, balmy, and Biblically sound. We must first decide that God knows what He is talking about here. Check out Proverbs 20:3:

He who provokes anger forfeits his own life.
Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man.
But any fool will quarrel.

Let’s read that again, with a few judicious word substitutions:

She who provokes anger forfeits her own marriage.
Keeping away from strife is an honor and a challenge for a wife.
But any foolish woman will seek a quarrel with her husband.

I’m here, at the other side of my accidental experiment in marriage to tell you that it is foolish to fight against God’s word. It is so powerful, His authority is so awesome that it crosses language and cultural barriers and can be found in a belief system that isn’t even Christian.

Moreover, I’ll share something else fascinating about this woman’s marriage. She recognized that the problems plaguing their marriage, and their were some real troubles… required prayers. She prayed daily, to Buddha, mind you, but she prayed for her husband’s spiritual redemption, by the Christian father whom he had rejected.

Instead of demanding, nagging, threatening, or manipulating, this wise woman chose to pray for her husband. I won’t spoil the story for you, but let’s just say that God was honored by this woman’s request, and her attitude made all the difference in the outcome of the story. How about you?

Finally, many of you are still smarting from unhappy childhoods, broken homes, or even annoyed by my theories, entrenched in your belief that it is your personality, your way to be contentious. That may be valid. In his book, Positive Personality Profiles, Dr. Robert Rohm, a Christian psychologist, yes….there are a few of them around……outlines four distinct personality profiles and attaches at Biblical character to each one. Here they are….briefly.

Type S…. the sweet, shy submissive person. The unassuming, Apostle John is the prototype

Type I…. the impulsive, inquisitive, involved person. The chameleon-like Apostle Peter is the prototype.

Type C….. the careful, calculating cautious person. The doubter, Thomas is the prototype

Type D….. the decisive, demanding doer. Like Paul……the prototype, you want things done your way….right away.

Dr. Rohm does a marvelous job of helping us identify our personality types, recognizing the positive and negative aspects of each type, but he goes a step further. He insists that any of the types can be in for troubles if the Holy Spirit is not in control of that life. The apostle Paul was a demanding, aggressive man prior to his salvation on the Damascus Road…..and he was the same man afterward. Only then, God was controlling his behavior and actions. Just because you have a particular personality type, or you suffered in a difficult childhood does not mean that you must become or remain a Contentious Woman. God almighty gives you freedom from all of that and more., Romans 6: 14 makes it abundantly clear…

” For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.”

Perhaps, at this point in the story, you may need or want to stop for prayer. You may want to pray for release from anger, bitterness, or a desire for revenge.

Now, let us consider some practical scriptural advice for overcoming a contentious nature, whether it is our personality to be that way, or if circumstances such as stress, multiple expectations, or competing responsibilites seem to push us toward contentiousness:

Change a Contentious Nature

By your words: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Through your actions: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

With your decisions: “Pride goes before destruction. And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Proverbs 16:18 and “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve….but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

By keeping in The Word of God: “Thy word have I treasured in my heart that I may not sin against Thee.” Psalms 119:11

With your loyalty and respect: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband?” 1Cor. 7:13

With your attitude: “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11

By picking your battles: “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3

In your obedience: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as in common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor.10:13

By choosing to live in God’s grace: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

In searching your own heart: “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind.” Jeremiah 17:9

A contentious woman is not a happy woman. There is no peace in it. There is no victory. There is no resolution of conflicts nor control over circumstances. Sin always begets sin. And, as the Word of God tells us, the wages of sin is death.

A contentious woman can witness the death of:

Her marriage…..her friendships with other women….the respect of colleagues…. the trust and companionship of her children……..the destruction of her Christian witness. I will quote my good friend Stephen, our CPA, who is fond of saying, “I try to avoid trusting Jesus on the basis of what I see in his followers. Otherwise it would be too easy to become an athiest, and that is too depressing and empty a lifestyle.”

How true ! If a non-believer were to witness your latest: conversation with a spouse, argument with a teenager, response to a request, actions at a meeting… would he or she see the bitterness of a contentious woman or the sweetness and peace of a woman living under grace????

Now let’s recap. We have taken a quiz to find out if we are Contentious Women. Then, we examined the outcomes of a life lived as a contentious woman:

  1. Living out of God’s will (disobedience)
  2. Miserable homes
  3. Children who are displaced by divorce and anger
  4. Frustration because men will not change to meet our needs
  5. The opportunity for Satan to work in your home and family
  6. Stalled personal and spiritual growth as you devote energy to being contentious (it is a full time job)!

Now, let’s take a brief and concluding look at how to escape the oppressive patterns of behavior that a Contentious Woman thrives on ..

Here are another 10 points………..and you will see a relationship to the quiz. That is deliberate. Remember, these ideas are based on:
 (a) Scripture,
 (b) Research into the physical-cognitive difference between men and women, and
 (c) The success stories of other women.

I’ll give the scriptural references as we progress, but let me say now that this topic is right in line with new research emerging as to the actual “brain differences”, brain-wiring if you will…between men and women. I’ll be drawing on the research of linguist Deborah Tannen, the author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation and The Wonder of Boys by Dr. Michael Gurian, a therapist who has done extensive research on the differences between males and females. Finally, it is only fair to tell you that I have been pondering some of these issues for a while, as I prepare the manuscript of my latest book, More Than Pink and Blue: How Gender Can Shape Your Curriculum.

Leaving the Contentious Woman Behind
  1. It is your duty to love your husband and to respect him. Treating a man like a child by nagging and pushing will challenge his brain-wired need for independence. He will react all right…..by ignoring you.
  2. Learn to praise your husband, in clear, natural, authentic words, when he engages in a behavior or practice that you desire. He will feel validated and respond, in time, by repeating that behavior. That includes……spending time with the children, dealing with your family, or even in the bedroom.
  3. This is a tough one. Once is enough. Ask your husband once. Remind your husband once. Mention it, whatever it is, one time. Then allow him the freedom to do it when and how he chooses. to. Resist the urge to do it yourself, unless life or limb are in danger. Then wait. Close your eyes if you have to, and wait.
  4. Show respect for your husband by listening to him, even if he is not making sense. Do not blurt into conversations to correct him, nor interject when he is dealing with your children. It is rude. It is wrong. It is also the quickest way to destroy communication, period. Research shows that men’s brains simply do not process language as quickly as women do. His silence may not be a punishment; it may be a process. Let the process work.
  5. Practice looking for the good in your husband. Focus on three good qualities that he has. Tell him about those good qualities. Tell others about those qualities. Thank God for those qualities. Soon, the negative qualities will seem far less visible and you will wonder why they ever mattered so much. So many women ….married 15-25 years have told me…..”I can’t believe we used to argue about X…..it really wasn’t important.” These women had learned to look for the good in their husbands.
  6. Guard your sharp tongue. Accusations back men into a corner. The male animal will choose flight, rather than fight. He knows that he cannot win in a verbal engagement with you. You talk faster, better, and you have an amazing ability to recall every low down, sorry, nasty thing he ever did……Also, guard your sharp tongue with other people. Stop and think before you speak. Adopt the wisdom of my friend Crickett, the wife of an elder in the church who, instead of saying something hard and mean will simply state: “I cannot respond in a way that would edify or build up that person right now.”
  7. Praise God for the fact that an unbelieving or backslidden husband is sanctified by your belief. 1Cor. 7:13 reminds us: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? ” and ” Only as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.” Writing in Caught in the middle, Living a fulfilled life with an unbelieving husband, Beverly Bush Smith and Patricia DeVorss say: “At the very least, it (sic) means that our husbands have been set apart for special treatment by God, that He will see that they get whatever help they need to eventually trust their lives to Him.” Praise God. He will provide the way. He doesn’t need our trickery or whining to accomplish this. He demands only our obedience. On this same line, I caution you against diluting the sanctity of your marriage in any way by virtue of the fact that your husband is not a believer or church-goer. Your marriage is sanctified by God, not by you nor by your image in the community. Your marriage is just as Holy and Sanctified as any other. Treat it that way.
  8. Intimacy, in the form of touching, sexual expression, and gentle words is a form of healing. It is a message…..”I accept you as you are.” Scripture is clear that we are not to withhold ourselves in marriage. It is because God, who created intimacy and everything else ….knew that we needed this form of love in order to stay close….literally and figuratively. Dr. Gary Chapman, writing in The Five Languages of Love, details the deep, cognitive and physical need that men have for physical intimacy. You already recognize the power that you have in physical intimacy. Do not be tempted to abuse that power.
  9. Every day, imagine yourself as the Proverbs 31 Woman. “Strength and dignity will be her clothing.” Stand up straighter. Look people in the eye. Maintain your dignity. God has given you all the resources you need to maintain your dignity in all situations.
  10. Remember to fear God, in a Holy and rightrous way. Somehow, we have gotten to the place where we think that if our sin isn’t egregious, sexual, violent, or involves breaking one of the 10 commandments, it isn’t something that God notices. I don’t think so. He notices. Fear Him when you decide to fight over a decision at home just to get your point. Fear Him when you belittle a co-worker, a younger woman under your direction, or a child. Fear Him when you engage in bitter gossip ( my personal downfall). And I take this last thought from my Role Model, Elizabeth Elliot, who recently said on her radio program, “Gateway to Joy”, that the real problem with an overly aggressive woman is not her pushy ways and language, but the way that she pushes God out of the way. No one else can hear Him if you are too loud, nor feel His sweet presences when you are so Angry, nor see His powerful actions when you are in the way. God made you to be strong and courageous, not weak and wimpy. But so often, strengths become weaknesses when they are abused.
  11. Treat every encounter with your husband as if it might be your last. I am cognizant of the fact that time is fleeting. Every minute counts. Your reaction to your husband makes a difference. Writing in the Total Woman, which by the way sold a couple of hundred thousand copies , Marabel Morgan cites research into early morning airplane crashes with test pilots, and notes that when the pilots left home angry and anxious, their judgement was severely impaired. Your husband may act like he could care less….but that’s not the case. Scripture cautions us not to let the sun set on our anger. Extrapolate that wisdom to this: Don’t leave home in anger…..
So, are you a contentious woman? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Jeremiah 17:9 says that:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick
Who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart,
I test the mind.”

Is He searching your heart today? Is He testing your mind? Is there bitterness and strife in your home? Are you relying on your own will, your power, your nagging….to change a man whose heart and mind do not belong to you? Are you relying on the natural world, with its emphasis on seeking wholeness and happiness…..to guide your marriage?

If you choose to move from Contentious Woman to the Strength and Dignity of the Proverbs 31 Woman, here are some scriptures to help…

gracious woman attains honor.” Proverbs 11:16

“She opens her mouth in wisdom. And the teachings of kindness are on her tongue.” Proverbs 31: 26

Strength and dignity are her clothing and she smiles at the future.” Proverbs 31:25

“She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Proverbs 31:12

“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house. Your children like olive plants around your table.” Psalm 128:3

“But a prudent wife is from the Lord.” Proverbs 19:14

“But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

“The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naïve go on, and are punished for it.” Proverbs 22:3

The opposite of a Contentious Woman is a “Woman at Peace”.

Isaiah 57:19 promises:

“Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near, says the Lord
And I will heal him.”

A woman at peace with who she is in Christ Jesus is free from the contention and strife that once plagued her. Her husband is free to come down from the corner of the roof where he has been camped out. Her home is sanctified by the promise and hope that are found through the transforming of our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

God bless you all.


Works Cited

  • New American Standard Version of the Holy Bible. Copyright 1977 by the Thomas Nelson Company.
  • Chapman, G. ( 1992 ) The five languages of love. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
  • Gurian, M. ( 1996) The wonder of boys. New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons.
  • Karges-Bone, L. ( 1998) More than pink and blue: how gender can shape your curriculum. Carthage, Illinois: The Teaching and Learning Co.
  • Larsen, W. ( 1989) Confessions of a mail order bride. New York: Harper Collins.
  • Morgan, M. ( 1973) The total woman. Old Tappan, New Jersey: The Revell Company.
  • Rohm, R. ( 1993) Positive personality profiles. Atlanta, GA: Personality Insights Inc.
  • Smith, B. and DeVorss, P. ( 1988) Caught in the middle: living a fulfilled life with an unbelieving husband. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House.
  • Tannen, D. ( 1990) You just don’t understand: women and men in conversation. New York: Ballentine Books.