She has absolutely no respect for me, is very rebellious toward me, and outwardly refuses to obey me in nearly every manner possible. She does not acknowledge that I have any authority over her. I have told her that she needs to obey me and leave it up to God to deal with me if I am wrong. I am heartbroken. I have been unable to make her happy in nearly everything for years. I feel that she needs a serious trial to bring her to her senses. I want God to do this, but… We have been married nearly 30 years. I don’t want a divorce, but I do want her to be my true Help Meet.

 

Michael Answers:

Dear Heartbroken,

Why should your wife have respect for you when you don’t have respect for yourself? You sound like a 13-year-old boy, whining because his six-year-old sister won’t treat him with respect. Did this wife, with hair on her chest, crush the man in you, or did you bring your insecurity to the marriage? It really doesn’t matter how you answer; the cure is the same.

I cannot tell you how to MAKE your wife lovely. I can tell you how you should conduct yourself as a man and a husband, which MAY result in her becoming a worthy help meet. Even God is unable to change men and women who will not cooperate. However, there is hope. There is a way that offers great promise for the redemption of your marriage. But first you must obtain for yourself that which is readily available to make you the husband and MAN you need to be.

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Hear what I say: You cannot decisively change your wife, but you can change yourself so that you do not suffer so. And change you must, if there is going to be any joy in your life. In time, perhaps the change in you will provide fertile ground for a change in her, resulting in a heavenly marriage rather than a hellish home.

UNDERSTAND YOURSELF

If you are to change for the better, you must first understand yourself. Until one hates what he is, not what others are, he cannot change himself into something better. If a traveler strays from his path and gets lost, he must first locate where he is on the map in order to correct his course and navigate back to his desired destination.

No marriage has improved by one person getting concerned about changing the other. Those on the outside can see what you cannot. You think your wife is the cause of your unhappiness. Not so. I must do surgery on your self-perception before I can give you the cure. So bite the bullet, and hold still. This may hurt a little.

You have made yourself dependent. In your struggle to be recognized as the head of the relationship, you have actually consigned yourself to a secondary role. Like many people—husbands and wives, teenagers and children—you look to others to make you happy and meet your needs. And when they don’t come through for you, you grow weaker and more dependent. You will disagree with my evaluation, for your anger and aggression make you think you are strong, but those emotions are a further expression of your crippling dependence.

You regret that you phrased the letter the way you did, feeling confident that if you could just explain further, I would see that you really are the abused victim and that she is the guilty party. Let’s get this straight. I am not absolving your wife of blame; it is just that it is a waste of time to discuss your wife with anyone other than your wife. If she is troubled about her miserable marriage, let her obey the Biblical teachings found in my wife’s book, “Created To Be His Help Meet”. I can’t change her, and neither can you, but she doesn’t have to change anything for your life to become joyful and confident.

Be the man

The apostle Paul said, “Quit you like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). The word quit means “to show one’s self a man, be brave”. A commander would say to his soldiers before battle, “Quit yourself like men this day; act like the men you need to be to win this battle. There is no place for the squeamish, the cowards, the weak, and the fearful. Stand tall and be bold, like the great warriors who have gone before.”

To equip you to be a man, we are going to do a Bible study, not to be religious, but to obtain the grandest knowledge and wisdom the world has ever known concerning these issues. You have misperceptions. The Bible will correct your thinking (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But first, we are going to look into your heart through your words.

God did not command the man to rule over his wife.

You said, “I have told her that she needs to obey me.” Let me say it again, God did not command the man to rule over his wife. There are several passages that address the woman, telling her to be in subjection to her husband; for that reason men get the impression that God has granted them some divine right to rule their wives. Not so. The Bible never gives the man license to command his wife. That is a Muslim practice, not Christian. God does command the wife to submit to and follow her husband, but it does not command the man to demand submission. God did not create one sex to rule, and the other to be ruled. A wife’s submission is a gift to be given. It is a praise and honor to her man. No man deserves the submission of another human being. No man has a right to subjugate another—especially not a woman whom he loves. The role of a woman’s submission to her husband is a spiritual duty before God, not a social class system to be politically enforced. When Sarah called Abraham lord (1Peter 3:6), God commended her for it because it was a voluntary act of humility and faith and an expression of her submission to God.

No authority over her

You said, “She does not acknowledge that I have any authority over her. I have told her that she needs to obey me and leave it up to God to deal with me if I am wrong.” Authority is the power to constrain. God did not give you that authority, nor even the authority to rebuke. I have been married for 37 years and I have never so much as hinted to my wife that she should be in subjection to me. I have acted as one in charge, and in most cases she has honored that. But in our early marriage, when she was sometimes cantankerous, I left her alone and moved forward as if I were in charge and she were voluntarily following. In time, she always caught up and was right by my side with her support. I knew well what her God-ordained duty was, but I also knew that God had asked more of her than I deserved. I felt that it was my duty to earn her respect and trust, not to come between her and her God, lashing her with my words when she did not obey God’s command. A man is never so arrogant and small as when he acts the dictator and presumes upon his wife’s spiritual duty to be his helpmeet. She is a voluntary helper, not a ward of his state.

On a side note: If you were to ask my wife, she would tell you that she has made it a practice to follow even when I led in a direction she knew was wrong and when I acted unworthy of her submission. And I have already told you that I led without rebuke even when she didn’t follow. The truth is that neither of us has been perfect in practicing our principles, but when at least one of us was willing to do his or her part, it created a bridge until both of us were back on track together. With that kind of support, we have had a perfectly beautiful marriage, where the little bumps are forgotten and in time seem not to have been bumps at all.

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Heartbroken

You said, “I am heartbroken.” Excuse me for not being sensitive like a psychologist, but my response to your broken heart is, “How pathetic.” Where is the man in you? As they say, “Get a life.” What woman respects or is attracted to a brokenheart? As I think about it, there are a few, but they pick up stray cats and sick dogs who don’t need them as badly as they need to be needed. They are also attracted to men who are whining losers. It gives them a sense of purpose to have the weak and broken depend upon them. Your wife, like most wives, is not looking to be a martyr. Stop crying, and get a vision outside your marriage. Enjoy life. Become exuberant with creativity and adventure. Share the gospel with others. Minister in a rescue mission or homeless shelter. Get a speed boat or go wind surfing. Do some gardening or build a chopper (motorcycle) in your garage. Take up sky diving, or go on mission trips to the Kurds in Turkey or Iraq. Do all of it. Cram your life full of service to others and of daring adventure. In doing so, you will become attractive to everyone, including your wife. If not, at least you won’t have time to whine and feel sorry for yourself. You may not have a good marriage, but no one will know it, and your life will still have meaning.

No respect

You said, “She has absolutely no respect for me, is very rebellious toward me, outwardly refusing to obey me in nearly every manner possible.” It is embarrassing to demand respect and then be brokenhearted when you don’t get it. Where is your self-respect? Determine to earn any respect you get, instead of trying to undeservedly cash in on her spiritual duty before God. Until you respect yourself based on your life outside your marriage, don’t expect her to respect you just to make you happy.

Unable to make her happy

You said, “I have been unable to make her happy in nearly everything for years.” Quit trying to make her happy, and get happy yourself. It is the case with most women that the more a man grovels at their feet, the more they despise him. Get some steel in your backbone and some gravel in your voice. Approach her like a lion, not like a rabbit that needs petting. If she rebuffs you, keep your chin up and walk on past her like someone with another destination in mind and more important things to do. Women are attracted to men.

Trial for trial

Finally, you said, “I feel that she needs a serious trial to bring her to her senses. I want God to do this, but…” But what? If God doesn’t cause her to suffer for hurting you, then you will. . . what? Your desire to bring a “serious trial” upon her is vindictive. You are not loving her; you are bitter because she has hurt you.

I told you I was going to put the knife to you. Now let’s look at the Bible text itself.

What does the Bible say?

To begin with, the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Colossians 3:19). It is a fact that God made the male to need the female’s honor, affection, and voluntary submission. Without being able to define it, all men feel that these things are their due. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). So when their woman defies the natural order, a husband feels cheated, like someone has broken in and stolen what is rightfully his. When the man takes verbal steps to try to reclaim what he instinctively feels is his due, and he meets with repeated resistance, even defiance, in his frustration he will become bitter toward her. To avoid bitterness, a man must surrender his emotional needs to God and accept the fact that he is not his wife’s god, and has no right to thunder judgment at her. He must let it go, stop dwelling on his loss, and build a successful and full life without her. It is difficult to go forward joyfully without a gentle help meet, but it is very possible.

A Savior

Nature teaches a man that he is the head of the relationship. That comes through loud and clear, but there is another aspect of the relationship which, due to our fallen condition, nature does not teach us. If a man is walking in love and harmony with his wife, nature will make him act as his wife’s “savior”, laying down his life for her. But, if she gets cantankerous, nature teaches him that he is her boss—a fallen assumption based on our degenerate minds. We husbands are commanded to relate to our wives as saviors, the same way Christ relates to the church. We are told to do as he did and “give ourselves” for our wives. Read that Scripture carefully.

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:” (Ephesians 5:23-29).

You hoped to marry a perfect woman, but you discovered that she was a descendent of a fallen race. God has made you her “savior” in the relationship. The assumption is that she is in need of saving from herself. Saviors lay down their lives for their charges. They bleed and they suffer. They are longsuffering and forgiving. They are patient and kind—merciful to the point of ridiculousness. That is a savior. That’s what you are created to be!

Sanctify your wife

Being her savior doesn’t mean being her servant. It means taking steps to heal and sanctify her. The text says that a man is to “sanctify and cleanse” his wife, just as Christ does the church.

If we husbands are not enlivened by the Word of God, we become demagogues, and put our wives in the position where if they will obey God they must obey us even to the point of suffering wrongfully. It is wicked to take advantage of a woman’s spirituality by accepting the gift of her suffering on our behalf in order to fulfill her role. Just as we Christians are forgiven and accepted into God’s kingdom when we are still ungodly and sold under sin’s habits, so we husbands must embrace the responsibility of sanctifying our wives.

A sanctifier must look beyond the outward hostile words and see the hurting heart inside. Don’t dwell on your innocence and her abuse. Dwell on her need. Try to see things from her perspective. How is she interpreting the relationship? It is not about what you said; it is about what she heard. It is not about what you did; it is about what she thought you should have done.

By your words

What tools do we have at our disposal to sanctify our wives? “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Our tools are identical to Christ’s tools—our words. Words can be a sword that cut, or they can be a balm that heals. A savior doesn’t cut. He heals. His rebukes are patient. His judgments are measured to bring healing, not pain. His words are never the final straw that breaks the emotional back of his charge. I love the song, “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life. Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life…beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.” Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

Just as a man has a natural need to be honored, a woman has a natural need to be cherished (Ephesians 5:29). When a man learns to speak sincere words of tenderness and love to his woman, she will respond like butter in a hot skillet. She will sizzle and melt all over him. Learn to speak words of life to your woman, and then watch her become your sweetheart.

Cleanse

The text, speaking of Christ and the church, says that he would, “…cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). It offers this as an example of how a husband should cleanse his wife. Your wife may be quite unclean in spirit. She may have, like the wife of Hosea the prophet, come to you defiled. Or, maybe she has become defiled just living under your regime. Regardless of how she got there, wives need cleansing of all manner of negative thinking and reacting. You cannot just demand that a woman be all that you dreamed she should be. Coming into a marriage is like buying an old house. It needs fixing from the start. It must be maintained. Some men are lazy. They are absorbed with themselves and want to come home to a perfect family. They are shocked that their wives are “fruit cakes” and their home is a preschool in the Bronx. Rather than taking the time to be a savior to heal and to cleanse, they get angry.

Some of you guys reading this should be very thankful that your wives have read my wife’s book, “Created”, and have learned to suffer in silence. Otherwise your wife would already have left you and not looked back. Your marriage has improved greatly, but no thanks to you. You just have a far better woman than you deserve. Shame on you for allowing her to carry the entire burden and then sitting back enjoying the fruit of her sacrifice to God. Now, wife, don’t show the former statement to your husband.

A gift to yourself

“That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” Ephesians 5:27. Again, Paul uses Christ and the church as an example of how the man should relate to his wife. A man does not marry a perfect wife. But with some effort, in time, he can present to himself a glorious wife without spots or blemishes. God doesn’t give men glorious marriages. Men and women make their marriages glorious through attention and sacrifice. Nothing in this corrupt world comes to us perfect. By God’s grace—lots of enabling grace—we can arrive at the most glorious thing this side of heaven. Don’t expect God to give you a glorious marriage. You must labor to “present” it to yourself.

One more passage

Let us examine one more passage.

“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, [knowledge that a man doesn’t possess naturally] giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered”. [A man or a woman out of sorts with their spouse puts themselves in a place where God will not hear their prayers.] Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; [opposite to what you are receiving, give her a blessing] knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. [blessing from God, not your spouse] (1 Peter 3:7-9).

Weaker vessel

He tells us that we should relate to our wife according to the knowledge that she is the weaker vessel. That means that we should carry the heavier load. Women are not as equipped emotionally to juggle the various issues of life as are men. Of course there are exceptions on both sides. Just as there are some women taller and stronger than some men, there are some women emotionally stronger than some men. You might have married a woman taller and stronger than you. Exercise and drink a protein drink. You are to carry the heavier load regardless of your emotional size. Wives will respect a little man who tries. They will not respect a little man who cries.

Heirs together

The text says that husbands and wives are “heirs together of the grace of life.” That is an amazing and critical point to our discussion. Just like a safety deposit box has two keys that must be inserted at the same time and turned together, a man cannot enter God’s “grace bank” without his wife inserting her key at the same time. He can access grace to be saved and to be sanctified from sin without her, but he cannot access what is called “the grace of life.” Think of someone you know who is perpetually out of sorts with his wife. You know that there is a certain something of life missing from his eyes and his step. It is the grace of life. For that man, life is a burden that must be borne, not a gushing fountain.

“That your prayers be not hindered”

A man who is out of sorts with his wife cannot pray effectively—neither can the woman. Where does that leave the children who need a prayer covering? A woman who is not in fellowship with her husband but thinks she a fountain of grace is deceived, just as is a man who neglects his wife’s needs and thinks he can minister to others.

Blessing for railing

The text says, “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing.” This is self-explanatory. When your wife rails (nags, condescends, criticizes,) don’t return the ugliness. Bless her in return. That is what separates the saviors from the divorcees. In one’s own strength he cannot bring himself to bless when cursed. Only a touch of the grace of God will enable a man to see beyond his needs and consider the needs of his nagging, cantankerous wife.

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Colossians 3:12-13.

Conclusion

A good Christian man is a good husband, and a good husband will usually make a woman into a good wife. If not, then he has great reward in heaven and a ministry of mercy and helps here on earth.

Our ultimate goal in all of life’s circumstances must be the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom. If that is the case, then a bad wife will not destroy us—discourage us from time to time, yes, but not disable us. When a man’s strongest passion is to be satisfied in a beautiful marriage, he becomes unreasonable and desperate, actually making the thing he desires less likely to occur. But when his all-consuming passion is the Kingdom of God, then he becomes more attractive to his woman and is more of “the man” altogether. Quit ye like men.