So many Christian women come to biblical counselors to learn how to change a husband who is difficult, harsh, and unloving. The wife is crying out for love and affection in her marriage and her husband is not interested in providing it.
The last thing she wants to hear is, I’m sorry, you can’t change him.
It is really hard to look the sorrowful wife in the eye and confirm what she’s suspected all along. She can do everything right, she can be obedient, godly, sexy, submissive; really, be a great wife and mother and he will still be who he is. This is deeply discouraging for a woman to hear. His heart change does not depend on her behavior. He will only change as the Spirit of God moves in his heart; as he is convicted by the word of God as to how he is to live and then responds.
What I have observed about women in such marriages is her heart is also in danger. A natural (but sinful) response to such hurt and sorrow is anger and bitterness. Even if she doesn’t recognize it as such, it is often present and is evidenced in her words, demeanor, and actions around her husband. She sees everything in the marriage as being to his advantage because the Bible commands her to respect him, submit to him, and obey his wishes. This includes give him sex when he wants it. When she has contemptible feelings toward him she wants to do none of these things.
Sometimes such a woman comes for counseling looking for permission to leave her husband. She is angry because she wants to escape the marriage and it is common that she has already been told by her pastor or other church authority that she has no biblical grounds for divorce. She feels trapped. She comes to view her marriage as something to bear instead of as a one-flesh relationship. A woman in such a marriage often says she has no positive feelings for her husband anymore. She views the rest of her life as misery to be endured because she does not love him. Her life becomes performance out of obligation, and she dreads it. The more she focuses on her circumstances and the negative feelings she has, the more anxious and unhappy she becomes.
Because few pastors are trained to do any effective counseling (biblical or otherwise), they refer such couples to a marriage therapist who will use unbiblical methods with the couple. Since it is common for such counsel to be focused on feelings and his needs/her needs and not on the heart issues or the necessity to change for the glory of God, little change takes place. The other thing we hear in our office is wives are blamed for the actions of the husband. One woman reported her pastor saying to her, “Surely you must have done something for him to turn away from you.” When this kind of “help” is given it is common for one or both marital partners to become increasingly frustrated and hopeless. It is at this point the marriage breaks up and very often one or both people leave the church. They believe the church failed them, and Jesus or His Word was not sufficient to address their problems.
I believe it is extremely important for the church to be involved in reconciling these relationships, either directly by providing biblical counseling or by referring to a biblical counselor who has experience in these issues. The church must teach, and train the couple in righteousness, and they must be correcting and rebuking them for their individual sin. A wise, godly man should be actively confronting the husband for his unbiblical actions in the marriage if he is willfully withholding himself from his wife. A wise, godly older woman should be addressing the sinful responses of the wife as well (Titus 2). In the best case scenario, this will be taking place in tandem with weekly biblical counseling.