How Can a Wife Respect an Ungodly Husband?

Biblical counselors are often asked by women who are in difficult marriages, “How can I respect my husband when he is so ungodly?” Respecting her husband is something a wife is commanded to do (Ephesians 5:33). This is especially difficult if her husband is not a Christian or if her husband is foolish and has made decisions that have been harmful or brought trouble into the family. Even if a husband does not walk with God or is a poor decision maker a wife is still expected by God to respect his position as the leader in the family according to God’s design (1 Corinthians 11:3). God has ordained the husband to be the head of the wife and children, and the head of the home. In some cases, respecting his position is easier than respecting his personality.

A Heart of Submission

A wife is not to wait until she feels like respecting him to carry out this command. Respecting her husband is primarily an act of obedience before God. It is an attitude of the heart of the woman that has submitted herself to God’s authority and in so doing is willing to respectfully submit herself to her husband’s authority.

The wife can show respect even to an ungodly husband by watching her words. She should be careful not to be insulting, critical, hurtful, or sarcastic with her speech. She should also be careful with her nonverbal communication; paying special attention not to “give the cold shoulder” or to have an attitude of general indifference toward him. Instead, her words should be kind and edifying (Ephesians 4:29) and be used to encourage and build him up. She should speak honestly and avoid using manipulative tactics in order to get her own way (Proverbs 14:1). She should treat him with love and compassion (1 Corinthians 13:5), and speak highly of him to others instead of pointing out his failures and flaws.

Another way a wife can show respect to her husband is to do as he asks even if it doesn’t seem important to her (1 Peter 3:5). A disrespectful woman may use passive aggressive techniques to convey her lack of respect without using words. She may “forget” something he has asked her to do, or schedule something at a time that conflicts with something that is important to her husband (Proverbs 12:4).

Respect is an Attitude

Respecting a difficult husband can be done. We know this is true for God has commanded us to do so. Respect is an attitude long before it is ever an action. If a woman is having a difficult time respecting her husband she should begin to think about how she would respond if God had asked her to do the same thing her husband has asked her to do. Her attitude should be one of always responding to God no matter who is doing the asking. This is especially helpful when a woman is married to a very ungodly and hostile man. I will often tell a woman in such circumstances that when she is respecting her husband she is respecting God. I remind her that she can look past her husband’s sinfulness and do what she is doing for the glory of God. It is helpful to say that as she is respecting her husband, she is also respecting and glorifying God. She will be blessed for her obedience and her husband will be the beneficiary of her desire and determination to obey God.