Living With Your Wife In an Understanding Way
It’s a very high calling —to become more like Christ in your marriage. How are you going to achieve this? How will you become more fully alive and mature as a Christian man, and attain the rightful place of spiritual leadership in your home?
The Apostle Peter wrote: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”
And a familiar verse that could go along with that one is in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.“
Some of us have heard these verses so many times they don’t really register much any more. But what does it mean to live with your wife in an understanding way? What does it mean to love her as Christ loved the church? If you aspire to be the spiritual leader in your home, are you really caring for your wife’s spirit as if Jesus was in your home ministering to her spirit? The implications of these verses are staggering to me.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to interview Coach Bill McCartney, the founder of Promise Keepers, the Christian men’s movement. He was formerly the head football coach at the University of Colorado, and led his team to the national championship in 1990.
I asked him about his transition from coaching to leading Promise Keepers. He said, “My last year as a coach was in 1994. My team was undefeated and was ranked third in the nation —we had a great team. The pastor in our church said, ‘We’re going to have a visiting preacher next week. And he’s coming with the single-most important thing he’s learned in 41 years of preaching.’ And I wondered, what could be the single-most important thing?”
“So here’s what this preacher said: ‘Do you want to know whether a man has character or not? All you have to do is look at his wife’s countenance, and everything that he’s invested or withheld will be in her face.'”
“I turned and looked at my wife, Lindi,” McCartney said. “I didn’t see splendor. I saw torment. I didn’t see contentment —I saw anguish. And I tried to defend myself to myself but I couldn’t. That’s really the reason I stepped out of coaching. I realized that before God I was a man without character.”
I have to admit my wife Sally has a very expressive face. So I usually know if there is something wrong in our relationship right away. And there have been times in our marriage when her countenance spoke volumes about my care for her as a husband. My wife and I have a pretty good marriage. In spite of my selfish qualities, Sally is very encouraging and supportive of me, and I think she would say we have a good marriage. Looking from the outside, some might think we have a picture-perfect marriage, but I’ve come to believe we’re falling short of what God is really intending for us.
I want to be able to look at my wife and see what McCartney did not see —a radiant countenance —because I’ve really cared deeply for her spirit and nurtured her just as if Jesus was in our home ministering to her spirit. In Ephesians 5 Paul says that Jesus laid down his life for the church to present the church holy, so a husband should lay down his life to present his wife holy. That’s the ultimate goal.
But laying down your life doesn’t necessarily mean falling on a grenade for her. It means putting her first in the marriage, trying to meet her needs even before your own needs, and giving her opinions value and priority over your own.
Ken Nair’s book, “Discovering the Mind of a Woman,” deals with many of these issues in a straightforward, biblical fashion. Nair, the founder of Life Partners Lifepartners.org in Phoenix, Arizona, has discipled more than 500 men about how to be Christ-like husbands. In his book, he identifies what he calls four male prejudices: First, women are difficult if not impossible for men to understand. Second, women are the real problem in the marriage relationship. Third, men are supposed to be “The Boss.” And lastly, as a ‘helpmate,’ women are inferior to men.
Let’s consider the role of your wife as a helpmate. “As men, we readily classify women as helpmates,” Nair writes in his book. “It allows us, even biblically, to have an on-site mate whose job is to grab the other end of the two-by-four for us.” As it applies to marriage, I always thought it meant someone whose job it is to raise the children, to do the cooking and housework, like laundry and ironing and dishes and cleaning floors and windows. With two teenage boys in our house, you can’t imagine the piles of laundry my wife Sally ends up doing.
Nair maintains that the word helpmate has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by many Bible teachers, and he asks men at his conferences to follow this line of reasoning. He says, “Let’s go back to the beginning of time. God has just created Eve and named her ‘helper.’ Were there any children for Eve to raise? The guys say, ‘No.'” “Were there any houses? Again, “No.” “Were there any clothes to launder?” “No.” “Any dishes to do?” “No.”
Well then what did God have in mind? In Dr. Frank Seekin’s book, “Hebrew Word Pictures,” he studied the most ancient form of the Hebrew language. The Old Testament, of course, is written in Hebrew, but the most ancient Hebrew form doesn’t look like the modern letters, it more closely resembles Egyptian hieroglyphics, where little pictures are used to describe a word.
For example, the word for shepherd shows three pictures: a head, an eye, and a window. Together they reveal the shepherd as a person who is looking out the window or one who watches intently over his flock.
The Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:18 for helpmate is ‘ezer,’ composed of two word pictures: an eye, and a picture of someone with a hatchet representing ‘the enemy.’ A literal interpretation means ‘one who sees the enemy.’ In Hebrew there are two words used for helper. One of the words, ‘eved,’ does mean servant, but that’s not what God used in Genesis 2:18. He used a word that has a more powerful meaning. That word reveals the wife is not a servant, but an ally with a special role in the battles her husband will face in life. She is literally one who sees the enemy her husband can’t see.
God has given your wife an intuition you don’t have. She is like a second set of eyes that can see danger, can add depth perception. She can warn you about dangers outside the camp, or dangers right inside their own home. She can warn you about dangers within yourself.
Because of my pride, stubbornness and selfishness, I’m often blind to these dangers. I usually sleep pretty soundly at night. But my wife Sally is often awake, processing in her mind all these potential dangers, problem areas lurking within and without, inside the home and outside the home. And my tendency as a man is to downplay some of her warnings, to think she’s getting carried away with things.
The hardest thing for my ego to accept is when her finger is pointing at me —when I have to recognize the problem is within me. Then I have to swallow hard. I have to get past my tendency to see her intuition, which leads to constructive criticisms of me —as nagging.
As hard as it is for me to accept, I’ve got to accept that this is an important part of her role as a helpmate. Ultimately she is a big part of the sanctification process for me —to help me die to my old self, and become more and more like Christ in our home, a major point reinforced in Nair’s book. The same Hebrew word translated helpmate is used in Psalm 133:20: “Our soul waits for the Lord: He is our help (helpmate) and our shield.“
It’s pretty clear God is not our servant, but he is our ally in a powerful way. He is mighty in battle, and he designed a woman to be at your side to help you in the battles of life.
What about the idea that the man should be the leader of the home? I, for one, fully accept this ideal for Christian marriage. But what does it really mean to be the spiritual leader of my home?
In his book, Ken Nair makes the point that Philippians 2 is not usually cited in connection with a husband’s role in marriage, but it should be taken seriously in the context of marriage:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!“
This is the model of Christian leadership —servant leadership empowered by the sacrificial love of Jesus. There is a mutual submission to the Lord and to one another. While there’s a part of me that kind of relishes the idea of being an autocratic ruler, I’ve been forced to accept a different conclusion.
“My experience has been that when a man makes a commitment to step down from his ego-controlled throne, and yield his throne to Christ, there is a remarkable change in the dynamics of his home,” Nair writes. If I’m willing to die to my old self with its selfish attitudes, critical attitudes, and controlling attitudes—to purge myself of these un-Christlike attitudes and behavior —then I’ll be ready to assume real spiritual leadership in my home.
God cares a lot more about me becoming Christlike than whether I’m ruling over my household as king. Proverbs 20:28 says, “Mercy and truth preserve the king, and by lovingkindness he upholds his throne.” I need mercy, truth, and loving kindness to be the leader he’s called me to be.
In Nair’s book he tells the story of a wife who was suffering severe fainting spells. To keep her from getting hurt, someone had to be with her constantly to catch her. She couldn’t drive her own car, go grocery shopping, and prepare dinner, or almost anything by herself. When she and her husband came into Nair’s office for counseling the wife was a nervous wreck. It soon became obvious she could do nothing to satisfy her husband’s controlling personality and his demands for perfection. He questioned the wisdom of her purchases at the grocery store. He criticized her choices for meals and even how she set the table. He constantly reacted negatively to her decisions.
She felt she couldn’t do anything right. Nair concluded that she was so uptight about being a failure in his eyes, that rather than face his emotional rejection from another wrong decision, her body would compensate by fainting.
He profiles another case of a medical doctor’s wife who was suffering unexplained hair loss. They had two children, and he was so busy with his medical practice, that he seldom was around to help with the children. She was expecting their third child, which was an unplanned pregnancy. She was struggling emotionally with her attitudes toward the third pregnancy and anger toward her husband, because he always seemed to be too busy for her or the children, which made her feel isolated, unimportant, and lonely. It seems that her emotional struggles were causing her to lose her hair.
He profiles another woman he labels the “dying inside wife,” who was taking medication for depression. Her husband maintained a consistent pattern of indifference toward her, which felt like personal rejection and led to a wounding of her spirit.
She too began to experience physical symptoms from her emotional wounding. Both the husband and her friends began to be concerned about her emotional stability, and wonder how the husband could be so patient and tolerant living with such a troubled person.
While the husband was seen as stable, she was seen as unstable. This rejection by her friends only increased her guilt and sense of despair.
Now I’ve just cited a couple of somewhat extreme examples, and I know that many women are suffering silently with symptoms that are not as obvious. What is the answer for these three women? Is it Zoloft, Paxil, or extensive Christian counseling?
In one or more of the cases cited in Nair’s book, the husband has the disease, but the wife is taking the medication. “The wounded spirit is the cause of the physical symptoms, and you can not medicate the spirit of a person,” Nair writes. The drugs will not work if one is dealing with spiritual woundedness.
In each case it’s the husband who needs to learn what it really means to live with his wife in an understanding way, how to minister to his wife’s spirit as if Jesus was living in the home, how to love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church. If you really want to be the spiritual leader of your home, these are the things you need to do —these verses in 1 Peter and Ephesians 5 are not just suggestions for husbands to follow.
Nair has counseled more than 500 couples and his conclusion is that in most cases where the wife suffers emotional problems or depression, the husband is the root of the problem. And he is astounded at how many men don’t have a clue that they’ve created many of their marriage problems.
Many men react to Nair’s counseling advice with denial, saying: “I’m not going to take the blame for what’s wrong with our marriage. If you knew my wife, you would see she had these problems long before I met her.”
“Granted. But let me ask you how long have you been married?” Nair replies. “When I ask that, husbands may say, ‘Ten years,’ with a puzzled look on their faces, wondering why I asked the question. ‘Okay, you’ve been married ten years. Has your wife gotten better or worse since you married her?'” Nair asks. “Without fail, the husbands reply, “Worse.’ If you are the spiritual leader in your home, and the job of a spiritual leader is to bring the one you are responsible for to spiritual maturity, then why has your wife gotten worse instead of better?'”
Remember one of the prejudices of most men is they think it’s impossible to understand women. Then how can I live with my wife in an understanding way? How can I relate to her emotional world when I can barely identify my own emotions?
It’s said that researchers have identified some 2,000 emotions, but most men can only identify three. The three most commonly identified by men are indifference, anger, and humor. And yet God’s picture in the scripture of what a real man looks like is King David. He was a man’s man.
In addition to being a warrior who was mighty in battle, he was also a singer, a poet, and a musician. You see the depths of his emotional world revealed in the psalms. He felt a lot more than three emotions. He was not cold and indifferent about the human experience. He was passionate about God. He was passionate about life.
I’ve written previously about the dangers of pornography, and one of the things I’ve cited is that men who are exposed to this material at an early age, as I was at age 10, become stunted emotionally to some extent. Most men have difficulty relating to their emotions. For men exposed to pornography, it’s an even greater challenge.
I talked with the director of “Be Broken Ministries,” Jonathan Daugherty, who deals with sexual addiction and he told me he sees many middle-aged men who are teenagers emotionally. “They can be 40-years-old, but they’re 13-years-old emotionally. Their wives are dying inside because their husbands can’t connect with them,” he says.
In my accountability group for men one of our exercises is to identify an emotion we’re feeling —and I have to admit this is work for me. But this is the only the beginning. If I can’t identify my own emotions, how can I identify with my wife’s emotional world and make a connection with her?
One of the starting points for living with your wife in an understanding way and connecting with her emotional world is to become a better listener to her. Loving your wife as Christ loved the church often begins with something as simple with just listening to her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed my wife Sally in this area.
When I get home from the office she may begin to unload all the various problems she’s encountered during the day. If I happen to be distracted or half-listening, Sally can usually tell immediately, and she will begin to protest, saying “You’re not listening to me,” and she starts to shut down emotionally.
“Wives have a God-designed sense about whether we are listening or not in order to help us learn how to relate to them from our hearts,” Nair writes in his book. “They are the training ground to learn to listen from our hearts so we can also listen to God from our hearts.”
Nair says there is a difference between listening with the physical ears and listening with the heart. When my mind drifts to a project I need to take care of while I’m listening to her I’m not really emotionally connecting with her world and she can tell.
I have recently learned that there is a fine art to listening with empathy. It happens when I begin to identify with what she is telling me. And if I am really listening genuinely that will show up in my facial expressions, my body language, and my attitude. And this will minister to my wife’s spirit, according to Nair. When we first got married Sally was convinced I had a hearing problem and she insisted I go and get tested. But after the test they told me my hearing was so good they could calibrate the testing equipment from my ears. The problem wasn’t hearing —it was selective retention.
Wives have a God-given sense about whether we are listening to them or not —remember that intuition I spoke about earlier. This is designed by God to help husbands learn to relate to them from our hearts.
Remember the example in Nair’s book of the busy doctor who had the wife losing her hair? He decided to make his wife a priority in his life and set aside time for her, caring for her as Jesus would. Instead of sitting down and watching TV after he got home, he spent time with his wife and children, and offered his wife some relief.
Within six months his wife was emotionally stabilized and she stopped losing her hair. This medical doctor had more healing power at his disposal than he ever imagined —by taking seriously the high calling to be Jesus in that household, and to minister to his wife and children.
Remember the wife with fainting spells? After the husband was taught to not be so critical and negative all the time, after he began to see his wife as Jesus would see her, and he began to praise her for things she was doing, offer her encouraging words —it’s amazing —the fainting spells started to go away.
One of these wives said “I would never have believed it possible that feeling a greater closeness with my husband than I have ever felt with anyone else in my life could also make me feel a greater closeness with God. And yet, I know in my heart that is exactly what is happening within me.”
A few months ago I was with a pastor and his wife I hold in high esteem —they’ve accomplished wonderful things for God. But at one point when I was talking with this pastor’s wife she broke down in tears, saying she felt emotionally starved in the relationship, that her husband never confided his plans for the future, that he was aloof and indifferent to her needs.
I contrast that with a retired pastor and his wife —Ray and Anne Ortlund —who are both around 80, and you can tell when you’re around them that they’re deeply in love with each other. They’re still like honeymooners. At 80, he still calls her “gorgeous.”
That’s what I want for my marriage. I know I have a long way to go. But there’s a huge payoff for living with our wives in an understanding way. We not only can find the joy that comes from a great marriage, but 1 Peter 3:7 tells us if we live with them in an understanding way, then our prayers will not be hindered. What a great promise from God —more answers to prayer!
So begin to see your wife as a powerful ally in the battles of life, one who can spot the dangers outside your home, and the dangers within your own heart, so you can become more like Jesus in your home.
The above article, “Living With Your Wife in an Understanding Way” is written by Mark Ellis. Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service. He is also an assistant pastor in Laguna Beach, CA. Contact Ellis at firstname.lastname@example.org. ASSIST News Service is brought to you in part by Open Doors USA, a ministry that has served the Suffering Church around the world for nearly 50 years. You can get more information by logging onto their website at Opendoorsusa.org
— ALSO —
If you perceive that your wife is trying to control you, the link below will take you to an article written by Paul Byerly (posted on The-generous-husband.com web site) that you might find helpful to read so you can live with your wife “in an understanding way.” Paul gives you insights into the reasoning some wives try to control and gives you verbiage that might help you, so as you take this approach she might better understand your point.