The idea of “improving” your husband by patiently serving an imperfect man and living up to your own responsibilities and commitments is actually ancient advice. The famed theologian and moralist Erasmus (1466-1536) lived during the Middle Ages. In the Colloquies, he has a section titled, “Marriage,” in which he recounts the conversation of two women discussing their husbands. One woman paints a terrible picture of her spouse: he doesn’t provide very nice clothing for her; he’s lazy; he even comes home drunk and vomits in the bed. “I would rather sleep with a brood sow than with such a husband!” she declares.
In response to his earthy behavior and appearance, she attacks him verbally and even, on occasion, physically. She screams at him, berates him, and belittles him. “If he won’t treat me as a wife,” she explains, “I won’t treat him as a husband.” In essence, she’s saying, “If he’s going to be irresponsible as a husband, then I’m going to be irresponsible as a wife.”
This is a common and often relationally fatal attitude.
This woman’s friend concedes that marriage with such a man must indeed be a trial, but she wonders if perhaps the woman isn’t making a bad situation even worse. “In the first place,” the friend says, “remember you must put up with your husband, whatever he’s like. Better, therefore, to put up with one who behaves himself or is made a little more accommodating by our politeness than with one who’s made worse from day to day by our harshness.”
This very practical advice, though ancient, has many contemporary applications. You may indeed be married to a difficult man—but is your response making the situation slightly more tolerable, or would you prefer to give in to your anger and keep making the situation worse? The beauty of your responsibility is likely to rub off onto your husband; but even if it doesn’t, it’ll still make your home a more pleasant place and at least testify to your children about what a God-honoring life looks like. If you can’t give your children two godly parents, at least give them one.
Remember, Jesus’ advice is radical. We’re responsible to love even the unlovely. Luke 6:32-36 says:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.“
Such a love can work transforming wonders.
“Wouldn’t you change [your husband] from drunk to sober, spending thrift to thrifty, idler to worker?” Erasmus’s wise woman asks her friend. “Indeed I would, but where can I find those arts?” “But you’ve those very arts in yourself, if only you’re willing to make use of them. He’s yours whether you like it or not; that’s settled. The better you make him, the better off you’ll be. You have eyes only for his failings. These intensify your disgust, and with this handle you’re simply catching him where he can’t be held. Mark the good in him, rather, and by this means take him where he can be held. The time to weigh his faults was before you married him, since a husband should be chosen not only with eyes, but with ears too. Now is the time for improving him, not blaming him.”
I love that phrase: “Now is the time for improving him, not blaming him!” It’s a stark admission — since you’re stuck with him, and since God is still going to call you to live up to your responsibilities and commitments, what are you going to do? Wallow in your misery, or decide to make the marriage more pleasant by your own actions? It may never become as pleasant as you once dreamed; but can you make it more pleasant than it is? Will you rise up and assume this responsibility, or will you shrink back and let things grow even worse?
The frustrated wife goes on to complain about how long this process of change might take, and her friend gently chides her: “Would you shrink from working hard to reform your husband, with whom you might spend your life pleasantly? How much labor men put into training a horse! And shall we be hesitant about laboring to make our husband more tractable?”
“What should I do?”
“I’ve already told you. See that everything at home is neat and clean and there’s no trouble that will drive him out of doors. Show yourself affable to him, always mindful of the respect owed by wife to husband. Avoid gloominess and irritability. Don’t be disgusting or wanton. Keep the house spic-and-span. You know your husband’s taste; cook what he likes best. Be cordial and courteous to his favorite friends too. … See that everything is cheerful at home. If he strums his guitar when he’s a bit tipsy, accompany him with your singing. Thus you’ll get your husband used to staying at home and you’ll reduce expenses. At long last he’ll think, ‘I’m a fool to waste my money and reputation away from home on a drab when I have wife much nicer and much fonder of me, from whom I can get a more elegant and more sumptuous welcome.'”
If you’re a working woman, you need to modify this advice; but the spirit behind it remains relevant. Maintain a positive attitude; don’t resent your husband. You might even use some of your hard-earned income to occasionally buy him tickets to a favorite sporting event. Decide to bless him and make his life more pleasant. Be responsible with regard to God’s calling to be a practical helper to your husband.
As a wife finally becomes persuaded to give this a shot, she tells her friend, “May Christ favor our effort!” She replies, “He will — if only you do your part.”
Yes, the conversation seems dated, given today’s views on marriage, but much truth remains buried in this account. Moving your husband toward better character and godliness may indeed involve a lot of work and take many years, but I’ve talked to many people who have gone through divorce — and the work, heartache, and pain involved in that choice is far greater than you could imagine. Just about every divorced individual I’ve talked to has encouraged me to urge others to spend at least the same amount of time and effort trying to save the marriage as they’ll have to spend coping with the pain, heartache, and financial cost of a split.
…Marriage constitutes a claim, a call, and a commitment. I firmly believe you will have the richest, most fulfilling life when you take seriously your responsibility to fulfill each of these.
Do you truly want to influence your husband? Then work hard to become a responsible wife. The world may not applaud your efforts, but your God will reward you, and your husband will praise you. Granted, “responsible wife” may not sound very sexy — I guarantee you they won’t ever film a prime-time television drama using that phrase — but the concept is biblically important and powerful and life-giving. Responsibility really will bring the joy and excitement of spiritual beauty into your home and heart.
The above article came from the book, Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands, written by Gary Thomas, published by Zondervan. This is one of Cindy’s favorite books. It’s difficult to describe how impactful this book could be to every woman who reads it. In the pages of this book, you’ll find a fresh perspective to help you understand your husband: the view of the marriage relationship through a man’s eyes. Gary Thomas gives you insider information on how men think, feel, and can truly be motivated. Does a heartbreaking marital problem—a hair-trigger temper, Internet addiction, irresponsibility, emotional distance—feel like an impossible roadblock to you? This book doesn’t gloss over issues like these but faces them head-on with a solid, positive advice. This is a WONDERFUL book that we HIGHLY recommend for you to read.
Filed under: For Married Women