Welcome back to a new week of episodes with John Piper on the Ask Pastor John podcast. Eileen, a listener, writes in to ask, “How should a wife, who desires to be godly, react to her husband’s habit of spending about seventy percent of mealtimes together communicating with others via texts and social media on his phone? It irritates me so much that sometimes I lose myself. Thank you.” Pastor John, what counsel would you offer Eileen?
I think Eileen is not alone here in her concern, and I don’t know what the proportions are, but there are many men as well as women who are frustrated when their spouses are distracted by something during a time when it seems like the two of them should be paying attention to each other. So I just want to make sure that women know that we men like to be paid attention to as well. And it is right that her husband pay attention to her.
There are a couple of questions here in Eileen’s concern, I think. One is what might be said to her husband or about what he should think and what he should do, and the other is more delicate — namely, what Eileen should do about it. So let me take those one at a time. I have got some ideas for both.
Five Principles for Putting the Phone Away
So the first few are really for her husband, and she can decide what she wants to do with these. Maybe he will listen. I have got five things to say that, if he believes what I believe, he’d put his phone away at dinnertime.
1. God calls you to honor your spouse.
Honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life. I have got a verse for each of these that I hope will add God force to it. First Peter 3:7 says,
Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life [I think that means eternal life], so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
She is not honored when she is being ignored. If the president of the United States were sitting across from you at your table, you would not be on your phone. And I want to tell you, Mr. husband, she is far more important than the president of the United States — period — because it says she is a fellow heir of the grace of eternal life. Jesus bought her for eternal life. And he bought you, and therefore you are fellow heirs. So treat her better than the president, for goodness’ sakes. He is just a peon.
2. Your countenance expresses interest.
The lifting up of your countenance upon her with favor is a great blessing to her. Here is the very familiar blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Why does the author stress the face of God shining on us and being lifted up to us? Because it is such an incredible grace. It is such a favor that God would turn away from his iPhone and look at us with favor. He is not more interested in something else. That is why it is such an astonishing blessing. So our face matters; looking at people matters.
3. We place others’ interests above our own.
You are called to take interest in her above yourself and your own interests. Philippians 2:3 says,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
So, husbands, count your wives more significant than what is on your phone and more significant than your desire to be on your phone. Verse 4 says,
Let each of you look not only to his own interests [you can do those after or before], but also to the interests of others.
And that is namely her. Now is a very good time to obey Philippians 2:4.
4. God calls you to act how you ought to feel.
You are called to act the way you ought to feel, not the way you do feel. You may feel distant from her, but that is no justification for acting distant from her. Mark 8:34 says
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
You may feel like you have a right or a desire to be distant and indifferent, but you don’t have a right to do that, and that leads me to the last point.
5. We love as Christ loved.
You are called to treat her not the way she deserves, but the way that will show how Christ loves his church. It doesn’t matter what she deserves — good or bad. You are called to treat her the way Christ loves his church. Ephesians 5:25 says,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her.
So if you need to die a little death to put your phone away, then do it, because that is what Paul said. “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her.” He died for her and he, therefore, is calling you to love her with self-denying sacrifice if necessary. So I conclude that any husband that ignores his wife and sinks away into his social media when she is longing for his attention and engagement is displeasing the Lord and walking in sin.
How to Approach the Issue
Now, lastly, what should Eileen do? And the answer to that depends very much on the spiritual state of her husband and what the long-term dynamics of their relationship are. If he is not a believer, that will determine how she approaches him. But here are some suggestions, and I will just tick these off really quickly:
1. Timing is important. Don’t address it only in the moment when it is happening. You are too angry, and he is already caught flat-footed, and he is going to be defensive. Choose a time when you are not seething, and he is feeling more gracious. And then bring it up.
2. Don’t tell him what a jerk he is, even if he is. But tell him you miss him. In other words, if he can hear this first as an invitation because he is missed at the table — I mean, you miss his attention — if he can feel that he is missed before it is a failure of duty, he just might, by grace, be willing to see his failure and repent.
3. Tell him plainly that you like it when the two of you talk together at mealtimes. And tell him that it just seems like the most natural time, and you would love it. Ask him for it.
4. Ask your friends — your small group, your closest friends — to pray for you and him together.
5. And if he is resistant, perhaps draw in another couple that you both know and trust, and see if the man could talk to him about it and encourage him.
6. And, of course, pray for him and for yourself. Treat him and win him with the greatest respect and helpfulness, so that his heart doesn’t get hard towards you. Many marriages end not only because husbands become distant, but because wives have developed over time a pattern of subtle putdowns. So bathe all things in prayer and let the mind of Christ dwell in both of you.