Question (from Facebook community): “I am in a very difficult marriage. The Bible and my church leaders tell me I’m supposed to respect my husband. How do I do this even though he…?”
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit when Senior Pastor Bill Hybels interviewed former President Bill Clinton in-person. There was a ton of controversy over Willow’s decision to invite President Clinton and I even had my share of internal conflicts. His infidelities had not yet faded from our collective memories and I didn’t know what the point would be of parading him in front of an audience of mainly conservative church leaders (except that he is known for his stellar leadership abilities and, you know, it was a leadership conference). Though I didn’t vote for him and though I couldn’t bring myself to fully respect him as a man for the dishonor he brought to the office and to his family, when he entered the room, I found myself standing and applauding, along with pretty much every other conservative church leader in that packed-out auditorium. (I was even interviewed for NBC News and said something very, very blonde…awesome.)
Why did I stand and applaud? Because he used to be the President of the United States. That’s huge. I was compelled to stand to my feet and show reverence for the role, if not for the man.
The role of husband as head of the household is also huge. The weight on the shoulders of men to gently lead their families to serve and honor God is heavy, and I believe they will be held to a higher standard before God for the successes or failures of their families. Totally scary. The role, if not always the man, deserves respect.
But what do you do if the man you are supposed to respect is unfaithful to you, is abusing you in any manner of ways, is addicted to something, or has emotionally checked out?
I used to say to myself that I would respect my husband when he earned it, when he loved me. But somewhere along the line, I realized that it’s not a conditional statement. God doesn’t say, “Wives, respect your husbands when they love you the way you want to be loved.” He says, “Wives, respect your husbands.”
I didn’t do this well. Like, at all. This was hands-down one of my biggest failures over the past eighteen+ years. I justified my words and actions way too often, letting myself off a hook that God hadn’t taken me off of. So, here’s what I can tell you as you grapple with living within the small spaces of a difficult marriage and trying to obey God: respect the role.
Acknowledge that being a husband is an honored role in Scripture. God isn’t up there scratching his head looking at these hard marriages of ours and thinking, “Wait…I didn’t see any of that coming when I told wives to submit…” He knew it would be difficult. In fact, if you think about it, he pretty much predicted it in Genesis 3:16, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Pray. Ask God how he wants you to do this within the context of your situation. What would honoring God look like for you? It might not look like anybody else’s marriage. And do not compare yourself to women in solid and godly marriages…that will only serve to make you feel worse about yourself and your marriage.
Show common courtesy. Sometimes, things are so broken between a husband and a wife that the best way you can respect your husband is to be kind to him. We’ve talked about this before, but show him the courtesy you would show a stranger. Use gentle words. Use fewer words. Challenge yourself to perform one act of kindness per day. For a while there, I was making a salad every night for dinner for my husband to eat whenever he came home. It was a small act but it showed me and him (and God) that I was still trying.
Know your reality. There are times when a husband can be in such a state of sin that he has abdicated his role as leader of your family. I believe you will know when that is. If your husband is asking you to do something that conflicts with Scripture, I believe you are to place God’s will over your husband’s will. However, if what you’re being asked to do isn’t in violation with God, even if your spouse is not acting as leader with his life’s choices, I believe that with prayer and getting some wise counsel, you can freely and clearly follow what he’s asking of you, knowing that your Maker is your true husband.
Remember God’s sovereignty. I’ve mentioned this before, but it was so life-altering for me that I keep coming back to it. One time after a difficult family decision was made that I didn’t agree with and that broke my heart, I felt God remind me that if I actually felt this sad decision could thwart God’s plan for me and my family, I was giving the human decision-maker too much credit and God not enough. God’s will will prevail, regardless of who’s in human charge.
This isn’t an easy topic. It will take prayer, much thought, and getting insight from other wives (preferably those also in difficult marriages who understand the unique dynamic), but I believe God will give you a special measure of discernment and strength to do what he’s asking you to do, despite how you’re feeling or where you find yourself in your marriage.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.
I keep telling myself that as an image bearer of Christ, my husband deserves to be treated with respect. I am to not sink to the level he does and retaliate with hurtful words just because he has hurt me that way. I have to trust that God DOES see my hurt and pain and leave justice in HIS hands (which means forgiving the offenses in my heart since my husband doesn’t see that he has offended me at all. It’s hard. I practice biting my tongue. I cry out to God in my pain and frustration and in the end have to trust that as I walk in obedience to HIM, He will watch over me and my children and my integrity will someday, possibly, be the catalyst for God to vindicate me before my husband.
Lily!! I’ve been there! I assure you that if you keep being obedient to The Lord, He will change your husband!
It may not be easy…wee are human and we hurt..God will heal the hurt…mend the broken places!!!
May God Bless Your Marriage as He strengthens You to make out through and come out just like pure Gold!
Respect Him? Really??
All I can say is Hallelujah for such a well written….thought provoking……intimate…most of all, scriptually based article.
I too am in a difficult marriage of over 21 years!
In June, I decided enough was enough and I filed for divorce. Our final date was set for this past Wednesday, the 19th of September, however, because we had an out pour of support from our Christian friends, I decided to postpone the divorce! I am grateful I did!
My husband, for the 1st time in our 24 year relationship dedicated his life to Christ and is taking the right steps to accept responsibility for his misdoings, and seeking GODLY COUNSEL, from men in Our Church who have overcome the strongholds in his life that led us to divorce! I am also working on my strongholds and understanding my Godly responsibilities as a Wife.
May I suggest The Power of A Praying Wife, by Stormie and The 5 Love Languages!
They have been instrumental in our Long, but not impossible with God 1st!!), Road to Martial Happiness.
Thanks for sharing and May Our Lord Jesus Richly Bless and Shape Your Marriage Elisabeth..
Be encouraged By The Word of God!
“I assure you that if you keep being obedient to The Lord, He will change your husband! ”
It is simply unfair to place her husband’s sin on her shoulders. God’s grace extends to each of us – and as we struggle in difficult marriages, we are responsible for our behavior before the Lord and not our spouses.
I’m glad God healed your marriage. I hope it continues to be a sweet place for you. However, this isn’t a true reflection of all women who walk in obedience with our Lord and Savior.
Keegee39, I am so glad to hear that your marriage was restored.
I read all the books out there, among doing many other things, but my marriage ended in divorce on July 18. God is still a God of restoration in other ways though.
I agree with Anonymous…though I believe God’s desire is to restore all marriages, there are three parties involved – the husband, the wife and God. And because of free will, all marriages will not be restored. And if that’s the case, it isn’t the fault of the Christ-following one for not being obedient enough.
At anonymous and Elisabeth. I did not mean to imply in any way, shape or form that the sins of her spouse falls on her.
I was simply referring to the scripture in Ephesians that speaks on the wayward spouse being won over by the Christian spouse.
Also, the books that I referred to, The Power of …….and 5 Love Languages Will Not Save Your Marriages, or Mines.
They are simply tools to add to YOUR TOOLBOX…..if you’d like.
In All Things…get an Understanding…Proverbs….
thanks for sharing..