Broken Dynamics in Marriage (Q&A)

Lessons on Living as Exiles, Part 16

How should a Christian husband respond to his wife if she won’t submit, but instead tries to control him? Conversely, how should a Christian wife respond to a husband who won’t take leadership in the marriage?

Let’s take the last one first. This is not her problem. This is the problem of the men in the church and her husband and how he relates there. They’ve got to step up and help her here. I don’t think a wife can turn her husband into a leader. This is why the text is written the way it’s written. It’s “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1) kind of conduct.

The church exists because most of the problems where men are failing should be dealt with by the men of the church. Wives should never be abandoned to handle the problems their husbands are involved with. I’m thinking of the worst problem from abuse to the smaller problems of something like hygiene, bad breath, or whatever. The men need to step up here and get into the life of the men.

And this is delicate because how are they going to know there’s a problem? If she tells them? Is she going to tattle tail and that sort of thing? So I think she needs to face up and say to him, “I’d so much like it if we would have devotions, and I don’t want to nag about this. Pastor John said you should initiate this.” And that might make him very angry or it might convict him or whatever. And after you’ve done that two or three times over months, years, and he just won’t do it, you say to him, “Could we seek some help? Would you be willing to talk to some guys and just see how they do it?” And her next step after her own query would be to try to broaden out and join the church.

And I’m not thinking of professional counseling there first. I’m just thinking of men in their lives, which is why community is just so crucial. I mean, Noël and I have a couple of couples in our lives that know everything. That’s glorious. They know everything. And when we went to counseling some years ago, they went with us. One couple went with us. They know everything. But there are no secrets. The other man is not intimidated by me or anything. So if Noël has an issue, she’s going to go to that wife. And I mean, we’ve given each other permission, right? This is a blank check of, “You can talk to them.” That’s risky but very good. So she’s going to talk to her, and he will come after me. That was the second half.

The first half was, “How should a Christian husband respond to his wife if she won’t submit, but instead tries to control him?” Over time in humble Christ-like leadership, he prays that she will be won over to get in step with the patterns that he’s setting. Here’s what happens. A strong, domineering woman may not even know she’s doing it. A man generally does not want to fight a woman. Men do not like to fight women. The reason we put men in jail who fight women is because of how exceptional it is. Men don’t like to do that. Men don’t want to hit women or fight women. Men retreat. And they ought to, in general. If a woman starts getting in a man’s face, a man’s going to go like this until his back against the wall. And then a man who’s not a Christian might just really lash out and we have big, big trouble.

So men don’t want to push, and therefore, they tend to be quiet. Now, that’s not the way to solve the problem. Withdrawn, solemn, quiet husbands are a plague and they’re ubiquitous, and we need to help that not happen. So I would say it’s wonderful if you’ve got a husband who wants to lean into this situation. If that’s the case, he leans in with gentleness, with kindness, and with honesty of what he perceives about her habits that are demeaning his leadership as he perceives it. And he may find she doesn’t mean that at all.

That is certainly true with my wife. If I point out some verbal habits over the years that she has had of jumping in conversations in certain ways and whatnot, and I say to her, “I just felt like you cut me off. You weren’t even listening.” She will say, “I don’t want to do that.” That’s one possibility. I mean, if you get angry and smash, she’s going to bristle and push back because it wasn’t her intention.

You’re living together with honor with a weaker vessel, which means your demeanor is one of protection and tenderness and kindness and emotional sensitivity. You want to care for her. Men who’ve been pushed hard by a domineering wife, they lose that whole dimension of, “I want to care for you as a beautiful diamond in crimson velvet.” They have lost that. They don’t think that way anymore because he doesn’t feel like she’s worth being cared for.

So step in, tell her what you’re feeling, and see what her response is. She may not at all mean what she’s doing, or if she does and she says, “Well that’s just not what I think about marriage,” then you might have to go a step further and draw in other people. You might have to go to some kind of biblical counseling to see if you can work out your disagreements. And then in the end, you might have to live with it. You just might have to live with it. And she may not be a believer, or she may be a believer and she has deeply different convictions. Or she may be a believer with the same conviction and has a wiring that makes her responses annoying to you and you just have to live with it.

Young people here who are single. I hope I haven’t wrecked the whole thing for you. It’s worth it. It’s worth it for numerous reasons. Maybe I’ll come back someday and we’ll do a marriage thing, though I’ve said everything I have to say. Singles, it is a big deal. Don’t settle for Mr. Wrong or Ms. Wrong. Just wait. Be patient. He’s not going to be perfect. She’s not going to be perfect. But if you’re desperate to be married and you decide, “Well, maybe he just goes to church and he’ll change.” Don’t go there, you will regret that.