18 January 2011

Are you sure you want a husband who...?

by Dan Phillips


I was a young(er), inexperienced pastor, and befriended two church members. Both were long-timers, very active, seemed like good folks.

As I got to know them better, I got the message very clearly from "Suzy": she was really frustrated with "Bill," because Bill just wouldn't lead. Suzy made this known in many ways, over and over. Bill was not leading, Suzy really wanted him to, she was really bitter and angry and frustrated over it.

Well I was youngish and green, and my dutiful goal was clear to me: I needed to work with Bill, help him become a leader in that marriage. So I spent time with Bill, worked with him, made suggestions. Bill was initially a bit leery but not unwilling.  In fact, he became very cooperative.

The result? Bill became an effective leader, Suzy was radiantly happy, both praised and honored God, both loved me, and they remain dear friends to this day.


That sound you just heard, in that pause? It was 97% of the pastors reading this, laughing bitterly and saying "Riiiight!"

Those pastors can tell you what really came next. Suzy was not happy with Bill or with me, and both ended up hating me. Why? I'm sure many of you will assume I did things wrong, and I won't disagree with you. But the bottom-line was that Suzy did not want a leader for a husband, and Bill's reticence was a form of self-protection forged from that conflict.

Bill's shortcomings gave Suzy what she really wanted. She really wanted something to complain about in her husband. She wanted a tale to tell on him in gatherings. She wanted something to bring her sympathy and commiseration, to make her look martyred and longsuffering. It fed into her self-image. And she wanted to stay in charge.

Take away from that, and she lost something dear to her. See, everyone does what (s)he does because (s)he believes it will bring happiness. So this poor woman was batting away what she needed by the very things she did in pursuit of what she wanted. And I was sap enough to come between her and it, in kind of a Proverbs 26:17 no-win situation.

Ladies, does any of that strike any chord within you, any "ouchy" chord? Look, it's just you and me, nobody's watching. You can be candid. You grouse about your poor schlub of a husband who doesn't initiate this and doesn't pursue that and doesn't decide for himself and do the other thing. Maybe your pastor and girlfriends know how frustrated you are. Maybe your pastor knows. Worst of all, maybe your children even know.

Let me ask you just two questions, as I've asked many more elsewhere.

First question: have you possibly contributed to his abdication?

Note the careful wording. Every man's sin is his own, as is every woman's. But God gave you to him to help him (Genesis 1:26); so you do have a crucial, God-given role in his life. He needs this from you. Are you giving it?

Proverbs 14:1 says, "Feminine wisdom builds her house, but feminine denseness tears it down with her own hands" (my translation). I've often thought "hands" could also be "tongue." God has given you a very powerful tongue, which you can use for good, to make him feel like a king (Proverbs 12:4a), or for evil, to eat out the very bones from within him (Proverbs 12:4b). But if you're wise, you will commit yourself to do your husband nothing but good, ever, whether with hands or tongue (Proverbs 31:11-12).

So how does he feel about leading you? Does his heart sing at the prospect? Or does he wince and cringe and groan, because he knows every decision will be faulted, criticized, found wanting, and countered; every mistake will noted, analyzed, and commented on; and every success will be minimized or credited elsewhere? Were I to ask your husband who his most loyal admirer and supporter was, would your name leap to his smiling lips? Should it?

Your husband listens to you better than you think he does, very possibly better than you listen to yourself. He hears you. What you say has an impact. If he's off in a corner somewhere rolled up into a ball, it may say all sorts of horrible things about him. But I'm not talking to him right now. I'm talking to you. And I'm asking you — have you played any part in that?

Second question: do you really want him to become a leader?

You see, the thing about a leader is he leads. That doesn't mean that he always demands his way, untouched by others' input. That's a fool, not a leader (Proverbs 12:15; 13:10; 15:22; 20:18). But it does mean that he will lead, that he will make the final decision. And it means that you must follow, and that not in a formal, outward, dotted-i-but-resentful-hearted way; you should follow respectfully and from the heart. At least, that's what God says (Ephesians 5:22f.; 1 Peter 3:1-6 [remember this post?]).

Now it is possible that you'd have 40, 50, 75 years of married bliss in which every notion your husband has just happens to be exactly what you'd have thought of yourself. Meanwhile, here on Planet Earth, odds are in the other direction. And what do you do in that case? Undergird, or undermine? Embrace or embitter?

Another thing is you may have to doff the martyr-cap, stop blaming your unhappiness on your husband, and deal seriously with the Lord. Maybe you have issues with being a woman, as God defines femininity. Lot of that going around, and sadly it has a lot of "cover" from the spirit of the age and creampuff "evangelicals." But anytime we think we have a better idea than God, we're back in Eden doing the Eve-thing that (after her husband's compliance) got us into this mess in the first place.

Remember, too: "leading" does not mean "doing what you want him to do without your having to tell him."

If any of this hits anywhere near where you live, sister, you need to do some serious work. It's important, it matters. You need to start with the premise that God's "dumbest" idea about womanhood is light-years better than your "brightest" idea. You need to start there, and work it out. Yourself, before God. You take up your cross, to die to your personal ideas of femininity in order that you might rise to God's ideas of femininity. That isn't your pastor's job or your husband's job. It's your job.

Otherwise, you really truly need to revisit the whole core of what it means to be a Christian. I am not saying you aren't a Christian; I am suggesting that maybe you have forgotten for a moment what it means, in practical terms, to be a Christian.

Much more could be said, but maybe this is enough to think over, for one short post in a blog.

But in parting I will try to sum it all up in one final pointed question: are you the sort of wife you would want to lead, if you were in your husband's shoes?

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

As you read and prepare to comment, remember John 21:22.

The largely-wasted meta from my last post has left me impressed that I should moderate with a firm hand. Stay on-topic, contribute something worth saying, and don't waste the opportunity, or others' time.

Boys? See you Thursday, DV.

Thomas Louw said...

Going to mail this one to my wife!

Oeps, Just read John 21:22.


Anonymous said...

You are my new favorite theologian...

DJP said...

Louw - LOL.


Anonymous said...

Let me say first that I am not married. I know that should probably unqualify me from commenting but here I go anyway. I think this makes really wonderful points and it's my observation that this sort of thing stems from, well as you hinted to our culture. I know it's difficult to never see or hear television programs but we are so influenced by these behavior trends as Christians even more than we realize. I think as Christians we think if we stay away from the obviously bad stuff like nudity, cursing and other no no's it's ok to watch these shows, and we end up being influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of these sitcom couples, and I don't think we are aware of just how much. I think the running theme of smart wife who leads the way and befuddled, goofball husband that messes up everything has really had an impact on many people I see, Christian families included. Even the smarmy attitude of our kids who in tv land really run the household. Maybe that's a strange observation, or someone would say I am being too much of a seperatist but the health of our Marriage's and famlies, and having them be the result of Biblical living should be of utmost importance to us. I really appreciate the honesty in the article, as a single Christian woman I really need to honor God's word and have a Godly attitude about dating and interacting with Christian men, or a possible spouse. It's really easy in our culture to have very selfish, fairy tale ideas of what relationships should be, thanks for the much needed reality check.

Cathy M. said...

I came to Christ about 12 years before my husband. When God saved him, it was a real adjustment for me to relinquish many of the roles I'd assumed by default. It still amazes me how much better equipped he is for the headship role than me. It's sort of like driving a nail into a board with a hammer after smacking at it for years with a spatula (if that makes sense.)

It's so easy and natural to develop a habit of complaining and very difficult to honestly self-evaluate in this area. Thanks for a good reminder to check my words and attitudes.

lee n. field said...

Good stuff.

If you've got an hour, go listen to an interview with Rick Phillips on the Masculine Mandate (Reformed Forum, Sep. 2009).

Barbara said...

Voddie Baucham puts it very plainly when he states that if you are not submitted to the authority that God has placed over you: citizen to government, church to pastor, child to parent, wife to husband - all of which has been placed by Christ for His glory (Col 1, Rom. 13, etc), then you are not submitted to Christ. Period.

....speaking as a strong woman who divorced her chronically unemployed, alcoholic husband 17 years ago; and who after being brought to repentance in Christ 3 years ago recognizes that I acted sinfully in response to being sinned against and who now prays for the salvation of both him and his current wife and that she will submit herself to him as to Christ and that he will become a godly leader of his home. If anything, it just accentuates how much carnage sin leaves in its path. Compounding that with my own sin of pride only added to it, it didn't remedy anything.

Robert said...

Why do I have the feeling us guys are in for it come Thursday? Ususally these types of lessons come in pairs...at least where I have read them in Scripture they come in pairs (well, threes if you include children).

DJP said...


Ooh, children. Didn't think of that.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I detect, let me know if I am wrong, that you may be saying that women should teach their husbands how to lead, if they are weak? Not quite sure, though. (???) I think it was this statement: “But God gave you to him to help him (Genesis 1:26); so you do have a crucial, God-given role in his life. He needs this from you.” Please don’t be upset with me, I know you used the word help, but it sounds like this “crucial God-given role” is to do more than just help. J

I think it really depends on what you mean by “help”, if you mean “teach” him how to be a godly man, who is to take headship seriously, then, no, I do not feel a woman should lead in this way. If the man is a true Christian, God will institute the necessary changes. But, yes, it is a woman’s loving, God-given responsibility to be supportive of her husband, and build him up to be the man God created him to be, by using encouraging words and showing submission. In this way, I could see her “teaching”, leading and helping him. It makes better sense to me. And it is also a man’s responsibility to love, respect and encourage his wife, so that she can be the woman God meant her to be.

There is this **mutual** interplay of give and take, love and respect, that fosters and undergirds all successful marriages. No one is to Lord it over anyone, whether that be a frustrated female, who has a wimpy husband, or a husband, who has an aggressive, pushy wife, that finds it difficult to submit. The non-submissive wife needs love and gentle encouragement from her husband, so that she will eventually submit to his headship.

I don’t know if it just me or not, but I just have such faith that if both husbands and wives are doing God’s will, then this really should not be an issue. It only becomes an issue when one party is not willing to submit to the roles God designed for them.

Great topic, Dan. Sure to stir the pot, just a wee bit.

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a Women's mission trip to a small village in central Mexico. These issues are not so much cultural as they are human and worldly. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. What is less worldly than a godly marriage?

piluTLight said...

Dude... Frank is going to have to work hard to win my favorite of the week

Scot said...

Hmmm...to successfully keep Dan from challenging me on Thursday, I will need A) to avoid my computer, which I sit behind all day at work, and B) my iPhone, which is pretty and gives me happy feelings.

Darn you Steve Jobs!

I foresee a lot of conviction coming my way Thursday...

In keeping with the request to contribute something useful, I want to ask a question. Would it be helpful for a couple to look at this pair of posts together and evaluate their marriage, or should each spouse go before God first and soberly ask the questions posted?

I ask because I wouldn't these great posts to be used to bash a spouse over the head or bring past wrongs back into the light. And I also ask as y00t in a position to seriously consider mawwiage.

Kris N. said...

Thank you, Dan. As a (recently-committed) Christian married to a non-Christian, this post says many things to me. It's very hard to let him lead in all areas (including financial) when our goals and values are not the same anymore. I need to examine myself to make sure that I see him and treat him as the head of our household (and I can tell you, it usually doesn't go too well). It's so very easy to think that we are not the problem and that there isn't anything we can do to "change someone else." I hear you - it's not about changing someone else, it's about changing me (and allowing the Lord to work in me). Ouch. It gives me lots to think about on a slow Tuesday.

By the way, the other day our daughter (she's 8) asked me if Papa was going to heaven. I asked her if she thought he was. She said, "No, because he does believe and live for Jesus." I said that was right, and she started to cry. I told her that was why it was so important for us to live as Jesus would want us to - so that Papa could see Jesus' light in us and thus believe. Not to get off the meta here, but if anyone has something better (better phrased anyway) that I can say to her, can you email me? I'd appreciate some help/feedback on this one.


Robert said...

Well, children and parents, too...there is that thing of not exasperating your children and teaching them up in the ways of the Lord. That could be for next week...although I'm sure I'll be convicted enough after examining my shortcomings in trying to love my wife as Christ loves the church. I will say that my wife, while a bit headstrong, is extremely supportive of me (especially in talking to others). I can honestly say that it makes my life so easy because I can't imagine the burden a man would have with a wife speaking poorly of him behind his back to people at his church.

FX Turk said...

I was never married to this woman, but I knew a married woman who once said in a group of other Christian woman, "I never realized that submission didn't mean that I get everything I want."


FX Turk said...

PilotLite --

I own you -- at least be honest.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

My goodness! After a long, relaxing weekend, this post is like a piece of beef jerky to be chewed on a while. And I only glanced at some of the links, but I feel as though I've got a lot of homework to do before really working out a decent response.

But a brief thought to consider: The term help-meet seems to sometimes be misused by women who condescend to their husbands: "I'm smarter/more spiritual than him, so God sent me to to 'help' him." And you're exactly right that some women are more comfortable in that role than being considered the "weaker vessel," but are often scratching their heads as to why their marriages are not happy and satisfying.

"You need to start with the premise that God's "dumbest" idea about womanhood is light-years better than your "brightest" idea." Amen! And in this statement you rightly demonstrate how prevalent this attitude of superiority is present in so many of us "well-intentioned" but sometimes thick-headed and stubborn women (even we passive-aggressive types).

Lots to think on here. Thank you.

DJP said...

piluTLight, I've had a look at Frank's post. You'll forget all about my humble offering.

Barbara said...


Don't give up. Your husband is still breathing air, there's still hope that he might be brought to repentance and faith. Pray together with your daughter for him, and regularly. Cry out to the Father for him. He hears. He will respond in His time for His glory either with a yes, or a no, but He will comfort you either way.

I was 40 years old with my fist in God's face when He saved me. Six months later I was humbled beyond words to learn that my children had sat up all night tearfully praying to God for my soul.

Keep going. Serve him as Christ has served us. Love him as Christ has loved us. Pray for him and rememeber that this is the kind of thing Philippians 4:13 is geared for - you can do these things, not in your own power, but through Christ who lives in you and gives you strength. Not to mention a perfect hope. If He gave me a heart that weeps for the soul of my ex-husband and his wife, (who counts herself a virulent enemy of mine), his miracles know no bounds. He saves to the uttermost. Hold fast in Him.

piluTLight said...

Yes master

Strong Tower said...

The faucet needs to be fixed.

Drip, drip, drip.

Okay, let me show you how.

Drip, drip, drip.

No, wait, fix the faucet, please.

Drip, drip, drip.

Sure. Be my hands, be my feet, grab the wrench and screw driver Sue, and in the drawer you'll find a washer or two. A wrench for you, screw driver for me, and we can raise a family, don't you see how happy we can be?

Drip, drip, drip.

No, no, you don't get it, you fix the faucets.

Drip, drip, drip.

That's exactly what I plan to do... as soon as I come down from the attic.

Pastor, he just won't lead.

Oh, where is he? In the corner of the attic. He said there's a drip up there, too.

Drip, drip, drip...

Tom Chantry said...

Count me in the 97%, Dan, not because I've had that particular experience, but because it is so rare for anyone seeking counseling to truly want what they say they want. Or at least to want it thoroughly, without remaining sin pulling their desires in another direction.

To Kris, I say this: Dan's first question is every bit as valid to the believer married to an unbelieving husband as it is to one married to a believer. In fact, possibly it is more so. A believing husband ought to extend grace to his wife if she struggles in this area of sanctification. It is an unbeliever who most needs to observe the transforming power of saving grace in others. As you wrote, it is "so important for us to live as Jesus would want us to," or, as Frank might say, "Live like you believe the gospel to be true." My pastor in college used to say this all the time to Christian kids from unbelieving homes: the first thing your parents ought to know about your conversion is that it has made you a better child. I've seen it work in marriages, also. The husband who sees that genuine Christianity has made his wife a better wife has seen a powerful testimony.

Victoria said...

I believe we women must constantly examine our marriage in light of the truth in this post. I will be married 45 years on Feb. 12th and must examine myself constantly. I believe that your admonition about kindness and encouragement with our words, to our husbands,is CRITICAL. Thanks Dan-this is always needed and appropriate.

DJP said...

Chantry: your "it is so rare for anyone seeking counseling to truly want what they say they want" reminds me of this post.

terriergal said...

This is not a new observation. The secular world calls it 'codependency.'

However I have a little trouble "But if you're wise, you will commit yourself to do your husband nothing but good, ever, whether with hands or tongue"

The way "good" is defined these days is so malleable depending on who you talk to. If your husband is abusive and cruel, this statement will be interpreted by him (and by the woman who he has convinced to submit to this thinking) as "you shall not question me."

I realize that it is pretty much impossible for two to walk together except they be agreed. It's difficult, though, when both are sinners to point fault at one over the other, if neither one is doing what they should. If one is supposed to be the leader and not leading, how can the other follow at all?

If the man takes up leading and sees his wife get worse, he should not be surprised and angry, otherwise he is leading for pragmatic reasons, (i.e. because he wants her to follow, to save the marriage, to 'fix' his wife) and not out of an act of service/worship to Christ first.

As far as her misbehavior, she has had no leadership for a long time. I'm not sure why applying law here helps. It is the husband who is going to have to help her to see. The preacher can tell her all he wants that 'oh yes your husband listens to you' but if the husband himself doesn't convince her that that is true in the specific, she'll just think the preacher is blowing smoke... because the preacher doesn't have to live with him.

Btw I am speaking from the point of view of someone in a stable, not unhappy, marriage.

Tom Chantry said...

Dan, as I recall that post got rave reviews from pastors and endless criticism from techies. I suppose we all have our complaints.

terriergal said...

Voddie Baucham puts it very plainly when he states that if you are not submitted to the authority that God has placed over you: citizen to government, church to pastor, child to parent, wife to husband - all of which has been placed by Christ for His glory (Col 1, Rom. 13, etc), then you are not submitted to Christ. Period.

I love Voddie, really. But this statement in itself does nothing but condemn us all. It does not give me any hope. When I read it all I feel is a lump in my throat and "I have to try harder!" I need the gospel here as much as anywhere else in my life. And I am sure that voddie probably does bring the gospel to bear elsewhere in the piece this quote is taken from. However, the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. How many of them do that? Without that love the church would never have been able to respond to him in the slightest. We love because he first loved us and gave himself up for us.

Sunday said...

I knew all the things you said in your post, even in the linked ones (because I'm reading through your archives slowly but surely :P) but what really got to me was the end of the slave post you linked. You said 'move your but' and I laughed, but it convicted me too. I can't just know this stuff, I have to go DO this stuff.

At one point I WAS living this, and my marriage was amazing. Apparently I slipped away from it and didn't realize it.

I'm also going to give that "Questions for a Godly Wife" link to my husband. I really do want to know what he thinks and how he feels about me in that context, so I can focus more on what he needs from me and less on what I think I need to do.

Cause let's be honest, what I think I need to do might not be what he needs me to do.

Thanks for the kick in the 'but'. :P

DJP said...

I think it has to be possible to call any Christian, man or woman, to repent and show love for Christ by keeping His commandments, without the "legalism" card being played.

Otherwise that's a pretty snappy trump card for any unwelcome commandment, isn't it? And (while we're talking cards) it means I get to hand in my "slave" card, and call for Christ's "Lord" card to be turned in as well, doesn't it?

kateg said...

It is hard at times to submit to Jesus Christ who is perfect, who gave His life for mine, and who has set out his revealed will in black and white. It is that much harder to submit to my husband who as a fallen creature like me cannot truly love as Christ loves, and who also doesn’t get nearly as much instruction on how to do that, as he does on the issue that he is the one in charge. I must remember my ultimate submission is to Christ, who has put me here with this man. Christ is my true protector and aim.

I want to want to be led, but it can be especially difficult in the beginning. Like being a partner in a dance when think you know how to dance and the one who is leading only has a vague idea, I want to want to follow but in the beginning it is not pretty and there is temptation at every turn to take ‘helping’ too far and take over. Both partners can get discouraged.

When a couple comes in and the wife wants a leader and the husband doesn’t lead, it is never an individual issue. They are one flesh. The dynamics must change. It’s not like there was no leadership before. There was. And if it wasn’t the man, it was the woman.

DJP said...

Sunday - "what I think I need to do might not be what he needs me to do."

Wise woman.

Sunday said...

(I was TRYING to live it, is what I meant to post. My brain is occasionally faster than my fingers. I didn't have it all figured out, but it was definitely better.)

Sunday said...

And thanks, DJP! I try. :P

Mark Lussier said...

Doug Wilson's book, 'The Federal Husband' made a big difference for me and my willingness to be the husband I need to be.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Are you sure you want a husband who...?"

Ask the Lord for wisdom!

Barbara said...


Personally, I didn't read Voddie's statement as a condemnation so much as a statement of fact pointing me in the right direction - back to the Christ whom I love (and therefore submit to and obey) only because He first loved me, and He gives the means of grace by which to submit. I see it not as condemnation, but conviction and something of which I need to repent.

beaconlight said...

Honest question here: If a non-Christian wife is unwilling to relinquish one iota of control and undermines every decision the husband makes, what is a Christian husband to do?

SolaMommy said...

Remember, too: "leading" does not mean "doing what you want him to do without your having to tell him."


Stefan Ewing said...

Note to self:

Do not read this blog on Thursday.

But seriously:

I'm probably jumping ahead to Thursday, but this has been an ongoing, gradual transformation by God's grace for my wife and me. When I first met her, neither she nor I were saved, and quite frankly, she led more than I did, and I was happy to let her lead. (It was a reflection of our natural inclinations, as shaped by our backgrounds and upbringings.) At first, it seemed that this is the way we were comfortable being: she made some good decisions that benefitted both us, and I went along for the ride.

But after I came to faith in Christ four years ago, it became clear that not only was this the reverse of the biblical model, but over time, as the Holy Spirit has been transforming my (believing) heart and her (not-yet-believing) heart—especially as we bore the consequences of some decisions that were not so wise—she's been expecting more leadership from me than I was providing.

So we're feeling this through step by step, guided by the Apostolic counsel in 2 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5, and 1 Peter 3, and resting increasingly deeply on the grace and providence of God, secured by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It can't be exactly the same in every marriage, but at least in our case, we both know now that the burden falls equally upon us both: it takes two to tango. It can still be difficult at times, because we're both bad tango dancers, but learning, step by step.

lee n. field said...

"but are often scratching their heads as to why their marriages are not happy and satisfying."

Our marriages are not happy and satisfying because of when we live -- after the Fall, before the new heavens and new earth.

""I never realized that submission didn't mean that I get everything I want.""

Too many negations for my mind to untangle on the fly.

Brad Williams said...


I was one of those who read the first paragraph and thought, "Seriously?"

I have found, almost without exception, that any wife who will complain/condemn their husband in public will very rarely submit to his leadership in private.

Rachael Starke said...

This morning i read this and it felt a little like that painful shock you get when you whack the side of your elbow on something. The sting lingered all morning, but at 2:45 p.m., because it was still lingering, when a very important - something - did not go the way I was praying in faith that it would, I did not say the many things I might otherwise have felt led to say.

Usually the conviction and repentance in this area comes for me after the words have been said, and can't be unsaid, no matter how desperate I am to take them back. Today, they stayed unsaid.

So, ouch. But a sincere thank you, too.

The Squirrel said...

Did I mention that I'm traveling on Thursday? I didn't? Oh, well... I'm traveling on Thursday.

Really, you can check my Twitter feed Thursday. I'll be on the road.

Just sayin'...

(& I'm in that 97%, too...)


Esther said...

Just FYI...my husband was killed 12.5 years ago, but we were married for 18 years. Learning to submit to his leadership was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life--it ranks right up there with burying him, raising my kids alone, and going back to school.

And we were both Christians, on the same page, similar spiritual maturity levels and goals.

I cannot imagine how hard it would be to learn to submit to the leadership of an unbelieving husband. I pray God that after being forced to be the leader in my home, should God gift me with another wonderful husband, I will be able to back off and let go of the leadership God appointed me to.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Rachael, I've said it before, but I think you and I were cut from the same cloth. I actually DID whack my elbow this morning!

Paula Bolyard said...

First, I want to share that I had a conversation with an editor on Sunday who told me about a new book they're publishing that he thought I'd really enjoy - by a certain blogger - Dan Phillips! He ended the conversation by saying, "You definitely don't have to guess how Dan feels about something!" (see Exhibit A above) : )

I don't think there's a Christian woman alive who can read this and not feel it poking into some uncomfortable spots. I can see where I've done this some over the years. It's definitely a process. Though I'm not as overtly trying wrestle control away from my DH, I definitely have more subtle, covert ways of going about it. Fail.

I've also seen it destroy the marriages of friends - Christian friends. In several instances, the wives adamantly insisted that they were submissive, despite having to live with men who were....[fill in the blank]. In one case the same adamantly submissive wife ended up twice-divorced and is now re-married a third time.

I think what I've seen with these women is a passive-aggressive form of submission - they're submissive in word, but not in deed. If you scratch a bit below the surface of the thing, you find that it's more of a martyr act than true biblical submission.

Sadly, it's not too difficult for her to gather a group of sympathizers/enablers around her who place the blame squarely at the feet of the husband and perhaps even encourage her to "throw the bum out."

Thomas Louw said...

@ Kris N

That must have been one of the most difficult things to have told your daughter. Till this day I find it difficult to answer such questions, especially at funerals. Not because we don’t know the answer but, because we know the answer.
You answered well. I would just explain as many times as possible that her father’s salvation doesn’t rest on her prayers or behaviour.

Hold on to the sovereignty of God rest in it. Pray more than you can, live spirit filled lives showing Jesus to him.(this should not be the prime-reason for living a Christ centred life.)

Never get or give the impression that either of you are responsible for his conversion to Christ.
No one is responsible for another’s salvation.

T Boots said...

Sorry but I just have to put this in the comments... I feel in my heart that Zippy is a fool in the proverbial sense of the word... as you were...

Matt Kleinhans said...

I think what Zippy was trying to say is that the post is so good that it has made him/her dumb in the sense of mute before the awe-inspiring truth of God's Word, and that the truths presented here are so unbound by time that no matter what year they were written they would hold true.


David Regier said...

I'm sure you've heard of the husband who started to display his leadership around the house, fueled by Eph 5:22.

He didn't see his wife for two weeks.

By the end of the second week, he could sort of see her out of his left eye.

EJN said...

Live there, husband repented.
I got mad and mean, husband stood fast.
I got madder.
Husband stood firm in love.
I relented and repented.
Waded through the learning process.
Felt peace and enamored.
Still visit on occasion.
Control loses its glitter quickly and Abdication feels more like work than rest.
We repent.

Am I a wife that follows? Yes.
Do I always like it? Nope
Do I feel protected and loved? Absolutely.

Great post.

Cindi @ Rustique Art said...


This post was a "woodshed" moment. I needed it too.

Thank you

Eric Rasmusen said...

"1. How does a wife teach a husband to lead?"

Good question. Maybe some clue would be provided by thinking about,

"2. How does a wife teach a son to lead?"

I think it's easier for wives to think about the second question, tho of course some hate sons who grow up just as much as husbands who do.

And, this prompts me to now think about:
"3. How do I teach my children to submit?"

That's a lot easier question than

"4. How does a husband teach a wife how to submit?"

(search teh commetns above for the one with "left eye" in it)

Anonymous said...

"Remember, too: "leading" does not mean "doing what you want him to do without your having to tell him.""

You know, lots of us middle-aged gals need to hear this again and again, as we were raised with an entirely different understanding of what it means to follow our husbands.

I am so thankful to have a husband who has helped me understand that the safest place for me is the place God carved out for me.....in cheerful obedience to the head of my house. But.....I had to learn it. It did not come easily at first!

Thanks so much


Michelle G. said...

Sometimes this issue has many layers to it; who knows which part "started" the problem? I've seen men who condescendingly lead their wife in "family devotions," treating her with disrespect by talking down to her when she has at least as much biblical knowledge as he does. When she bristles at the disrespect, his pride is offended, so he just gives up "leading" at all. Ultimately, all of this comes down to respect. If I love my husband as I should, I will agree or disagree with him respectfully, not complainingly. If a husband loves his wife as he should, he will listen to her "complaints" with respect. I think a lot of these problems aren't truly about men not liking to lead or women liking to complain. I think they're about two people who do not feel each other's respect, so they resort to these behaviors instead.

Jim Pemberton said...

Barbara: "...I was humbled beyond words to learn that my children had sat up all night tearfully praying to God for my soul. "

I'm in tears over this. My wife is the ministry coordinator for our local chapter of CEF and she has accounts of kids who come to Christ as a result of the ministry who are now praying their parents into the Kingdom.

As for my wife...

I thank God every day for her. God has raised her up as a great administrator and I'm so grateful for what He has done and is doing through her. I was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, but I don't have the right charisma to be identified as a great leader, so I don't identify as one.

So, in many ways my wife exceeds me in the area of practical leadership. Nevertheless, she has never complained about any decision I have made for our family and has willingly submitted. Naturally, I seek her insight and weigh her opinion carefully, but she always leaves the final decision up to me. She is even trying to help me be more of a leader in our church and raise me up that way. What a gal!

I have always seen it as my duty as her husband to build her up, and she has responded in kind. Therefore, we never complain about each other in public, and anything between us that others might consider being a source of complaint against their spouse is a source of private humor between us.

She has a set of friends from church that engage in particularly godly discourse and I'm grateful for that, but she also has some old friends from her childhood that she gets together with once in a while. They are not all Christians and most who are are nominal. I love it when she goes out with these because I look really good compared to all the complaints she hears about their husbands and she always comes homes glad she married me.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am part of the 97% and I've noticed that a lot of wives "submit" though they in many unspoken ways make clear to their husbands what decision he should make so that they then submit to is what they wanted all along.

Jennifer said...

Love this post -

Codependency exists in the Christian world as well... I have been attending Celebrate Recovery for 7 years now and it has transformed my life. I am a daughter of the Mighty King, saved by his grace, and (because I am human) I struggle with codependency (and lots of other things)!

I fought with my husband over leadership for YEARS (we have been married for 15 years) - and that was ME - LEAD LEAD LEAD!!! (but here's how you should do it.)(and his view of leadership was skewed due to upbringing...)(oh, it was a MESS)

After working a program FOR ME for 7 years - I have found great freedom in the balance of our relationship. I entered recovery because I knew my life was not working the way it could and I had no idea how to do it different. I was TRYING so hard and it was just getting worse.

Someone commented about your statement “But God gave you to him to help him (Genesis 1:26); so you do have a crucial, God-given role in his life. He needs this from you.” and how that could be misconstrued to put leadership on a wife to lead her husband to lead...

God does his own work, but he uses US to do a lot of it. As I have worked to make sure that my relationship with Christ is clean and clear, my relationship with my husband has dramatically changed. And I believe that God has used me and all the changes he has made in me to influence my husband. He told me a few years into recovery that the changes he was going to make in my husband were going to have NOTHING to do with me. I was always trying to find the THING to say or do that would make him 'get it.' God reminded me that I was not the one in control - he was - and while he might use me, it wasnt gonna be in a way that I could claim the ownership on whatever happened in my husband.

Men need respect - women need love, right? That is identified even in the secular world. This was a HARD prayer to pray but i did "Lord show me what it looks like to respect my husband when he is making dumb choices, treating me badly, and annoying the crap out of me." For a long time, I did not know what to do and didn't seem to hear anything.

Then out of the blue one day, I decided to sit him at the head of the table every meal. Now mostly that is dinner - but to do it every time. I did not say anything, just starting setting the table that way and telling the kids where we were sitting.

A few months later, I asked him if he would be willing to be the one to say grace at dinner time. He tended to let the kids do it - which is sweet and fine, but I told him that I thought it was important to have the kids hear him pray on a regular basis. He nodded his head and said "I guess."

I started just giving my opinion and letting it go. I started accepting his idea for dinner without a word, and if he asked me, I would say, "that is fine with me."

NOW - do not think that I laid down and 'denied myself' a phrase as the Christian world so likes to overuse and misinterpret. When I have an opinion, I say it. When I feel something, I say it. When I really want to go to Olive Garden, I say it. But I am leaving room - no, MAKING room for my husband to feel respected in his thoughts and actions. I am giving him a space to learn - providing places for him to learn how to lead - not as a teacher, but as a lover. I love him. I want him to feel important and thought of and cared for. And I am trying to do that in a way that mattters to HIM - not how I think it should be.

That is a LONG post - but God has done a miracle in my life and in my marriage and I have to share it.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue said...

Just accidentally ran across this blog. I know I'm late to this discussion and I'm intruding, but I have a different perspective--
I've had a wonderful husband for 34years and we have 3 wonderful grown children.
My husband is my best friend. We are both mature adults. I really don't need a leader. I'm too busy enjoying our friendship.

Renee said...

OUCH!!! God has been dealing with me for awhile now about this issue. So thankful that He loves me enough to "get in my face". I have been married for 22 yrs and saved by the grace of God for 20 of those married years.

God has been working on me for awhile now. I haven't always listened. In fact, I have done lots of complaining and crying to God about my husbands lack of "leadership". To be honest, I have all but begged him to "lead" yet over the years when he has stepped out to do the very thing I thought I desired....guess what? I was critical and sarcastic. So the very thing I want I don't get because no man will lead if he is going to be belittled and demeaned. This has been a hard thing to look at. Truth does indeed hurt, especially if the truth revealed is about us.

I have been working on a blog post titled, "Head or Heartbeat" speaking of the God-given roles under God's leadership for the home, marriage and church. I'm learning. I realize I will probably always to some degree fight this desire to "control" and "dominate" (thanks Eve), but with God ALL things are possible. He can change my mindset and my heart. I am so thankful for His patient teaching and correction in my life. God bless. Good post! Still hurts but good post.


DJP said...

Renee, there is a lot of godly wisdom in your comment.

I think this sort of dynamic happens a lot:

"Come on! Lead! Lead lead LEAD!!!"

{ pause }

"No no no, not like that!"

Becky said...

Great article, thanks!

Mark B. Hanson said...

A humorous parable by Doug Wilson on this subject:


DJP said...

That really is very good.


Maybe one day people will be linking to my posts in Wilson's (another others') metas.

Hey, a man can dream, can't he?

Mark B. Hanson said...

What I like about the parable is that it gives advice on how the man can begin to put leadership into practice, or at least kick the tires a bit.

Oh, and by the way, Wilson linked to you first.

Mommy of 8 said...

My favorite subject, submission :D

I love my husband, he's an awesome leader. I'm proud to submit to/under him (As on to the Lord) and I don't care who knows it or likes it.

He's grown so much since he came to the Lord & in his growth he has challenged me to change ( I was a "Christian" for many yrs before we met & he came to the Lord) & be even more submissive then I thought I needed to be (in all things as on to the Lord).

That includes when he asks me to set time aside to spend time in the word, or to remember to eat my breakfast so that I can function during the day (we have 3 kids, I'm sometimes so enthralled with caring for them I forget to eat).

I'm honored to serve under this man of God. And I constantly see that I'm happier for it esp compared to my friends who either wont submit, think they are submitting but are plainly disrespecting, mocking, etc... their husbands (has lead me to harsh situations where I have to hold them accountable) or are not Christians period.

God's plans are awesome & I'm so blessed to have His instructions through His holy word.

Awesome blog post.

As my husband likes to point out when ppl. get upset or defensive when he points out God's word to them, "it isn't me who condemns you it's the Spirit of God through His word."

Amen Sir I will be recommending this blog to my husband, my best friend.

Holly J Banks said...

I just want to add that I appreciate the leadership of my husband who truly leads by being an example of love, forgiveness, humility,generosity and other godly characteristics. Too many Christian men think that they are to lead by forcing submission and pushing from behind. Please to remember that the Bible tells women to submit themselves not husbands to force submission upon their wives.

We will be celebrating our 35th anniversary in few months, and the happiness of those years is mostly due to his leading by being FIRST to apologize(even if it's not his fault) first to recognize that a problem is spiritual at it's root, unfailing in forgiveness of my wrongdoing, unselfish with all resources.This is a truly self-sacrificing man who has shown the love of Christ in our marriage. There are those who do not respect this kind of gentle and loving leading, but I believe that he is an example of how to love your wife.

DJP said...

Right. Given that God Himself commands submission, respect, subordination, no man should have to bring the subject up to a believing wife.

Taryl said...

This was something the Lord gracefully broth to my attention, the slow and hard way, after about two years of marriage. We struggled rather mightily against one another prior to my realizing what my true role in our marriage was, and communicating very directly with my husband on what exactly the Lord wanted us to achieve within our union.

The resource that blessed me so richly in this area was Martha Peace's "The Excellent Wife". That! And the companion book "The Exemplary Husband", by Stuart Scott, are now my default wedding gifts for Christian couples :)

Becky said...

Dan, May I translate this into Spanish for my blog? (I promise it will be accurate :)) You'll have all the rights to use the translations as you wish.


Note: My Spanish blog is written from a Reformed perspective and for women.


DJP said...

Si. ¿Como no?

Becky said...

OK, ¡Gracias! Cuando lo tenga listo te aviso. (I don't know how much Spanish you know so.... Whenever it's ready I'll let you know) :)

DJP said...

Recibo y contesto llamadas de México y Puerto Rico en mi trabajo. Mis clientes dicen que tengo excelente acento, pero sé que ellos son muy amables.

Becky said...

¡Listo! Puedes ver tu post en español


Y me queda claro que tienes muy buen español, quizá la próxima vez tu quieras hacer la traducción. :)