(Disclaimer: This is not written to ANYONE I know in particular. I am simply sharing my thoughts in general and hoping this might shed some light for someone. Also, know that women have PLENTY of things they need to work on, to get a man's perspective on. I hope your wives are doing that. But you need a woman's perspective sometimes too.)
Repeat after me:
My wife loves me. She does NOT think I'm a failure, and especially not because I put a collared shirt on my preschooler to go outside and play in the mud in, when I KNOW (because she has told me one other time) those are only for school & church. She does keep track of all the good things I do. She would be miserable without all the ways I come through for her. When I forget her take-out order for the fifteenth time or watch football all day while she's away with the kids instead of cleaning up the kitchen like she asked, she does not really take joy in making me feel like a complete failure with her words when she gets home. She is hurt. She feels like I don't love her, or at least wasn't loving her or thinking of her in that moment. And when I react at her hurt with anger, that hurts her exponentially more than the original offense did. I do this because I think she just likes to get on to me about any little thing I do wrong, but she doesn't. She is hurting and feeling unloved. Me withdrawing or blowing up will do NOTHING to help our relationship. Trying to understand the hurt behind the complaints will move mountains for us.
Repeat after me: "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking of you. How can I make it right?" Those 3 sentences will change your life!
There are things she does to me that make me feel unloved and disrespected also. I need to stop being passive aggressive about them and let her know what's going on. I will let her know what I need more of, what I need less of. I will try to remember that women understand this kind of communication and it likely won't undo her like it tends to undo me. I can help hold her accountable, gently and patiently. I can share what hurts me. It's my right to do that.
I am not responsible for my wife's feelings. Those are hers. When I hurt her, I fix it with the 3 sentences above, but every time she's hurting, it is NOT on me. Every time she's down, depressed, anxious, irritable, it is NOT my fault. I am NOT failing my family (same goes for my kids), and I CAN lead her out of it by being cheerful and PURSUING her, NOT lecturing or reacting with my own poor attitude. My joy comes from the LORD, not my wife.
Even though my wife wants me to lead her, that doesn't mean it's always easy to follow me. I am not perfect. I need to be open to her suggestions and advice, especially where it comes to our young children. Repeat after me: "You (probably) know more about young children than I do. Do what you think is best." (or whatever area your wife is better with. It may not be this area!) When she sees me about to take our family over a proverbial cliff, she cannot just be quiet about it. And after she has spoken her mind and I still decide to drive over (or not! Maybe it will turn out fine! You can never tell with guys like me. ;) ), I need to understand that that is one of the hardest things I will ever ask her to do. If she still supports and follows me, I need to give her all the credit in the world.
But just because she questions my decisions sometimes does NOT mean that she doesn't trust me at all or doesn't want me to lead. She is just scared. I am not God. Say it again: "I am not God!" If my security is in Christ and not her approval, I will be able to step out in faith, even after failure, and risk again, adjust my course, and try again. Don't be discouraged, self! Don't be discouraged. She needs me to be strong for her, to protect her, to love her. And when I do all of this for our children as well, that also fills her up. Her children are her heart. Hurting them is hurting her. Playing with and caring for and investing in them is doing the SAME thing for her. I kill 2 birds with one stone- bonus!
I can do this. God is my strength. He has given me everything I need.