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Friday, June 18, 2010
There are really two ways in which a husband can fall short in leading his wife on the journey to a surrendered marriage, in which his role is to be a reflection of Christ’s loving leadership of the church. He may refuse to accept the authority that God has given him as a husband or he may actually abuse that authority. I’ll deal with the former in this post and latter in my next one.

Whether from ignorance, neglect or insecurity, a husband who doesn’t see it as his responsibility to lead his wife and family typically defers to his wife in most matters, pushing responsibility her way and minimizing his own role in the marriage. He may even think that his duties end when he brings home a paycheck. Perhaps he’s simply bought into the common (though inaccurate) societal norm that says husbands have no special authority in “modern” marriage, or maybe even that it would be wrong to think so.

A wife who finds herself in such a marriage may feel neglected, unloved, overwhelmed, resentful, frustrated or some combination of these. What can she do?

Before I discuss some specific ways you can help move your marriage forward, first a word of caution. In all you do and say, be aware of and preserve his need to feel respected, trusted and admired. As a woman you may not see the importance of these things to your husband, because these are not necessarily important to you. But let me assure you that they are important to your husband. So let love prevail, but let it be expressed in ways a man needs it expressed.

Second, remember my admonition to pull instead of push.  Create an atmosphere that invites his leadership rather than trying to directly push him into it with complaints or guilt  Despite the title of this post, remember to stay focused on what you can do to improve your relationship instead of on what your husband is or isn't doing.  If you want your husband to step forward in godly authority and Christ-like leadership, work to keep yourself in "church-like" submission to him.

1.  Education

Share what you understand about the bridal paradigm in a respectful, loving way.  Don't come at it like you have all the answers and he needs to get a clue. Explain what you've learned about how headship and submission go hand in hand to build a great marriage.  Invite him to join you on this journey toward understanding what it means to have a surrendered marriage.   Explore what The Bible says about marriage together, and discuss what you think it means and how it might apply to your relationship. If you find my writing on this helpful, point him to stuff I’ve written here.

2. Motivation and Inspiration

Make it clear that you are not trying to just manipulate him into doing more.  If you are, then deal with that issue in yourself before you begin this discussion!  Tell him that your motivation is in a better, stronger marriage and deeper bond of intimacy between you.  (If you are feeling particularly bold, you could also mention that this includes sexual intimacy.)  

Express your needs in non-demanding and non-threatening terms. A shout of “I need you to get off that couch and take out the trash” might get the trash taken out, but probably won’t affect any lasting change in your relationship, at least not for the better. “I’m feeling overwhelmed with my responsibilities right now and would really appreciate your help. Do you think you could take the trash out for me tonight?” would be a better approach. Let him know how much you need him.

3.  Appreciation

Make sure to express how much you appreciate each small step he takes toward leading. My silly little example of taking out the trash is not much of a step toward assuming more leadership responsibility toward you and the family, but if you respond with appreciation and affection, he will begin to see your need for him and will likely be more responsive next time. You might be asking, “Why should I make a fuss when he’s just doing something he should be doing in the first place?” The answer is, “Because you want him to do more of it.”

Whenever he acts in a way that is consistent with the role The Bible defines for husbands, reinforce it. Each time he takes a step of self-sacrifice, of showing affection, protection, or concern, whenever he takes responsibility or initiative to lead, let him hear your thanks.
  • When he comes home early from work because you aren't feeling well, say, “It makes me feel so good when you take care of me this way.”
  • When he agrees to sit down and work up a family budget with you, say, “Thank you so much for helping set our spending priorities. I really appreciate the hard work you do every day to provide for us. Thank you for doing this budget for our financial well-being.”
  • When he decides where to go on a date and makes the reservation, say, “I appreciate you making our date night arrangements. It really tells me I am a priority to you.”
  • When he pays you a compliment about a new outfit/hair cut/lingerie, say, “Thank you. I love knowing that you find me beautiful/attractive/sexy/desirable.”

Even if his attitude or actions fall short of wholehearted leadership, let your words affirm every step in the right direction. This is what I call speaking to what you want to see rise up. Even if my examples seem a bit contrived, hopefully they convey the idea that appreciation can work wonders.

Concluding Thoughts

Keep in mind the general pointers from yesterday’s what-if post about the power of prayer, the importance of keeping your heart in the right place, and the fact that a healthy dose of grace is essential. Don’t expect too much too soon. Treasure the small steps forward and don’t fret too much over backward stumbles on this fascinating journey to surrender.

Next time:  What if... My Husband Acts Like A Dictator

Related:  How Would You Respond if your wife asked you to step up and lead?


Kathleen Quiring | Project M said...

I think this is a great series, Scott. And I wanted to take the opportunity to comment on something you said on my blog.

When I was questioning the value of male headship in marriage, citing the example of my own husband (pointing out that he does not demand my submission), you commented that he probably is already acting as head. I've been mulling over that idea ever since. And I'm
starting to think that maybe you're right.

As your previous posts on headship explain, true biblical headship does not look much like the kind of "headship" (aka dictatorship) we've seen in most traditional marriages. Maybe that's why I haven't recognized my husband's natural headship -- because he's doing it so well, and I've only ever seen it done wrong. Maybe he's already acting as a good and proper leader. I don't want to go into details here, but I wanted to say thanks for making that suggestion. You're making me think about some interesting things here.

Anonymous said...

Amen! I love this post. This is important - especially for new husbands and wives. Because I noticed new husbands may not know how to lead or be comfortable leading. It's good to know that besides praying, there are steps us wives can take to help

Scott said...

Kathleen, I'm glad you are enjoying the series. I agree that often "real" headship is hard to find because it isn't necessarily what we picture when that word is used. I appreciate our exchange of ideas on this important topic.

Favor, you are right that husbands often come into marriage not really sure of their role. Between the androgyny that society promotes and limited accurate biblical teaching by the church it's no wonder. I've been working on it almost 28 years and still am discovering new things all the time about this fascinating journey called marriage.

Anonymous said...

This post is a good start, but I wish it went more in depth. Are we really yearning for husbands to take out the trash? Our spirit longs for a husband who is fully the head of the household, especially spiritually. We yearn to be the follower, helpmeet. We yearn to be provided for, protected. We yearn to feel like the "girl" in the relationship. Instead it is left up to us to do the leading, because if we don't do it, it seems nobody else will. This leads to burnout and resentment; and ultimate to loneliness.

Scott said...

Annon: I understand your longing for your husband to step up to his God-given mantle of leadership, and I understand your frustration and resentment. This is one reason I decided to start my feature called "Man-up Monday." You might want to check a few of those posts and see if it goes "more in depth" in the way you are seeking.

Thanks for your comment. I hope you'll chime in often.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Smile, Eat Chocolate, and move forward... said...

what happens when a husband KNOWS what his responsibilities are but can't be bothered doing them? It was suggested once I just let him fall and find out for himself what happens when his wife doesn't take care of his responsibilities,consequence? we now have a $120,000 tax debt,a daughter who left home because her father chose to make choices based on self and not God, so she felt she had the right to do the same thing, I became the boring enemy of the household because I refused to compromise my faith for inappropriate movie material, and the list goes on , somewhere I feel like i've lost myself, as a wife and a woman, I now find myself questioning God, asking Him "If He's such a big God then why won't you shake my husband out of this behaviour", i've gone from being a beautiful loving submissive wife to being a frustrated hurt old aged looking woman of 39. I've done everything mentioned in this artical over the years but he's no different from the day we got married, I give up.

Heather said...

Smile and Eat Chocolate ... I can completely relate. My husband has not had a job in over a year. We have 3 children that live with us and 4 that do not (his from a previous marriage as is our oldest child) . We lived with his parents for a year, now we are staying with my mom. During all this time he has not and refuses to humble himself with a fast food job. Meanwhile we have very little money. I am disabled so I can't work myself but do whatever I can to save money while my husband spends it as if there was a money faucet to just turn on. I too am the evil tyrant, the one who is deemed no fun, if I do purchase something the children don't believe I bought it and give credit to dad because in their eyes I never buy anything.

How can you submit yourself when your husband has cheated on you multiple times with the same person, continually does not take any responsibility for anything including the rearing of his/our children, and always makes excuses?

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