Advice for Troubled Marriages, Part One
I love to meet with women in my biblical counseling ministry. Of course, most of them come to see me because they have a problem in their lives and are looking for biblical answers to it. Not a week goes by that I don’t have to tell someone something difficult. I don’t like to say it, and they don’t like to hear it but it must be said.
The General Scenario
The woman makes statements that include the following: My husband doesn’t pay me enough attention, he won’t talk to me, he shuts me out, and isn’t intimate with me on any level. I don’t feel (loved, appreciated, cared for). He avoids me. My husband doesn’t lead me or our family. Such a wife frequently complains her husband won’t pray or read the Bible with her either. I will address these issues in a series of three articles and I hope you are ready to be challenged. The topics I intend to write on are going to hit some of you where you live. Let’s get started!
Many of the married women sitting in my office share the same qualities; they are Bible literate, faithful church attendees, and clearly really love the Lord. Some are willing, to be honest with themselves and recognize their culpability in the discord that has overtaken their relationship. With a little pressure, almost all women will admit that they are close to half the problem; but the majority believe the problems in their marriage are mostly due to the husband. Such women are very focused on all the things the husband does wrong and his failings; they find it very hard to examine themselves on a deep enough level for a biblical conviction to be produced over their own sin.
Difficult Marriages, How to Respond
Women in difficult marriages must examine themselves (2 Cor. 13:5) in the light of Scripture to learn their own failings in the relationship. It is far too easy for us to rationalize and justify our own sinful responses toward our husbands, especially when we are led by our feelings.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
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Complaint #1: My husband won’t lead the family.
Poor, or lacking, male leadership happens for a couple of reasons: 1) he doesn’t know how to lead or 2) he’s given up. Both are problematic and both are fixable.
He Doesn't Know How to Lead
Men are by nature leaders. They are wired to take charge, protect, supervise and lead. Our current culture does not encourage men to develop these skills; in fact, our culture is determined to emasculate men. An unfortunate reality is there are more than eight million boys being raised without fathers. Their moms love them and do their best, but a boy will not learn how to be a man from his mom, as much as she tries to instill those qualities in her son.
We routinely find men that don’t know how to lead and are embarrassed to admit it. The good news is a man can learn how to develop biblical leadership skills and habits through individual discipleship with another man. This kind of relationship will help equip him in the areas of being a godly man and husband.
He Has Given Up
The second problem I am addressing in difficult marriages is more damaging than him not knowing how to lead; it’s when his wife undermines or gets in the way of his leadership. We see this all the time. Ladies, here is where you need to get honest with yourselves! Are you undercutting or disagreeing with nearly every decision he makes? Have you stepped in to be the leader “Because, after all, someone has to lead this family”? Have you given him the message that he doesn’t lead “right”? Do you disagree with the direction he wants to take you and the family? Have you delivered the message that you do not trust him or his leadership?
Husbands are easily discouraged by wives who won’t follow or who question their leadership. They quickly learn that they are not allowed to make decisions for the family by themselves. In these circumstances, often the man will tell us his wife is undermining him and that she criticizes him when she doesn’t agree with his decisions. He says his wife belittles him and always has plenty of reasons why his ideas and plans are insufficient or won’t work.
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This reveals an enormous failing in submission on the part of the woman. Submitting is not to be demanded by the husband, nor is it to be done grudgingly or with fear.
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:13
In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 1 Peter 3:1-2
Peter's Instruction to Women
The next few verses of 1 Peter instruct women not to be fearful to obey God in submission, but to be like Sarah (Abraham’s wife) who, while she had at times good reason not to trust Abraham or his leadership, placed her trust in God who was her ultimate authority and followed her husband’s leadership (See Genesis 12:10-20).
When a woman fails in submission, the husband eventually gives up attempting to lead and cedes the leadership of the family to his wife. This is another area of complaint from the wife, who does not realize she has, to some degree, created her own problem.
To correct this pattern, first, the woman must be convicted that she is guilty of these things. She should confess to God and then her husband that she has usurped his authority and disobeyed what God’s Word says about submission in marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Peter 1:3-7; Titus 2:5). It is helpful to make a detailed list of all the ways she can recall she has sinned against her husband by failing to follow his lead, and then have a private time of confession to him. If there are children in the home, she should also confess to the children that she has not been willing to follow their daddy and ask their forgiveness. She has set a terrible example for the kids in her disobedience to God, and I have seen what an impact it makes on them when mom is willing to admit her sin and ask for forgiveness.
She must also cease her attempts to lead her husband. This is tough when she has little confidence in his decisions or when he is a weak leader. However, she must remember that it to God she ultimately submits and it is God who is leading her family.
A faithful wife will let her husband know she has input to offer in a situation and ask him if he wants to hear it. A wise man will accept his wife’s counsel, and take it into consideration when making a decision. When he does not, she must entrust herself to God and believe our sovereign God has the situation in His hand.
On a Personal Note
I have learned these lessons the hard way. I have practiced these principles in my marriage through most of our 26 years together. When I did not and determined to do things my way, there was hardship and difficulty. My husband was disrespected by my actions and my attitudes and a lack of unity was the result. I learned two important things: men will not tolerate being emasculated by their wives, and you cannot expect to usurp his authority without consequences.
Truth: It is better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.
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