Are you continually working on “improving” your husband? 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 it 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, and 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.”
Improving Your Husband
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. Plus it will 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.
Find the Good
“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 Long Process
The frustrated wife goes on to complain about how long this process of change might take. 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.
May Christ Bless Your Effort
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.
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13 responses to “Improving Your Husband”
(SINGAPORE) As you put it, it’s "ancient advice". I wonder how many wives will heed it. And even if they do, how many husbands will notice it? It probably takes lots of patience and perseverance for the wives to do so.
(CANADA) It’s always the blame of the wife -always!!! Men need to take responsibility too.
You are very right. I got married 2 years ago with a man who is 8 years older than me and all he does is look at women wherever we go. What should I do? We are old enough….how long can I wait for him to behave? And why?
(USA) Great article. Sometimes we really have to do the best we can. If a husband has to improve, I guess a good atmosphere at home would encourage him and give him less things to worry about. If I do my part, he will be encouraged to do his. Let us overlook offenses and let our spouses be. Allow him to be comfortable in his own home then he will spend more time there.
(SOUTH AFRICA) I thank God for finally opening my eyes and giving me a new heart and a new way of looking at my husband. I have just prayed that, Lord I will do anything that you say I must do to make my marriage bring glory to your name. If I have to change I will change whether my husband changes or not. By God’s grace I will hold on to my word. The Holy Spirit will teach me all things, He will help me to persevere when things get tough and my husband doesn’t respond the way that I would like Him to.
Now I vow to support him, to love him, to encourage him, to respect him and to honor him. I have just confessed all that I have done to make things worse in my marriage and as if scales were removed from my eyes, I started seeing all the good attributes that my husband has and started blessing and thanking God for them. I thank Jesus that He has taken a proud heart out of me and gave me a heart of love for my husband.
I will do whatever it takes to give my husband a virtuous and joyful wife whether he sees it or appreciates it or not. I will do God’s will whatever it takes… I will not wait for my husband to change anymore I will do the changing myself.
The Lord has given me every spiritual gift pertaining to life, I am a new creature in Christ. I am dead to sin and now Jesus lives in me. I will be Jesus’ hands, feet, heart no matter what it costs me, starting at home. No nagging, no criticizing, no complaining, no judging,no self righteousness, no correcting all the time and putting down in the name of Jesus. All these are sins as well and I confess them and repent from them in the name of Jesus. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Thank you for the article and the website I have been coming to it for counsel almost everyday for more than a year now,now at last my eyes are opened. I thank God for this… In faith I confess that He has restored my marriage and saved me and my husband.He is our precious Saviour YESTERDAY,TODAY AND FOREVER.
Whoever reads this I encourage you to ask God to change you and make you an agent of peace and reconciliation in your marriage.The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective… Praise be to Jesus.
(USA) Thandi, Amen to that!! I am so encouraged. I have done that too and I promise you, this is an investment for your marriage and God’s Kingdom. It can’t get any better than that. The Bible says humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up in due season. The Holy Spirit helps us do things we can’t do by our sinful nature.
Let’s dedicate all we do as unto the Lord regardless of how our spouses treat us. If I need to cry, I cry to my God in prayer and He who sees me in private will reward me.
Continue reading the Bible my sister, it puts everything into perspective. Its the greatest comfort you can ever get.
(USA) I loved your comments in response to the article Improving Your Husband. It was very insightful and heartfelt and very wise. It takes a lot of prayer and humility to be able to accomplish the things you talk about in your comments. But I firmly believe that MYSELF as an individual I AM responsible for my actions. Even if our husbands never change we are still doing this for our King Jesus our Lord. Thanks for sharing your comments.
(KENYA) Eric may call it ‘ancient’, but in marriage I believe that if we go back to the ‘ancient’ basics then we wouldn’t have the troubles we are facing today in marriage. Right from Eden, the man was given his place and the woman too. More so, as women, we either build or break our homes just like Proverbs 31 says. The phrase “If he’s going to be irresponsible as a husband, then I’m going to be irresponsible as a wife” is actually challenging to me. How can one concede defeat and let everything go down knowingly?
And come on sisters, we have the power in our very hands to turn around these mens hearts and get our way more often than not. This is the best article ever. It’s very sound advice and I have seen it work in my neighbours house. She respected and took in all his late nights for years until he came to realize that what he was looking for outside had actually been living in his house for nine years. With God, all things are possible. Amen.
(USA) Hi Ivaline, Thanks for the encouraging post. It’s true we should keep the position assigned to us by God as different sexes. It does not mean God loves another sex better than the other but it’s the order of things. It’s evident just by looking at the world’s current disorder that our own human efforts in the name of equality have caused malfunction in many respects.
I know my husband doesn’t make the best of choices in some things, but who does? We are all imperfect but God is our creator and made an arrangement of how a family should operate. Stepping out of God’s will maybe be a “faster” or “cleverer” way of doing things but it will come back to haunt you and you wonder “what did ? do wrong?”
It’s better to take years and years to have your prayers answered than do it the quicker way disobeying God. Patience is important. It hurts me to to watch myself or other people being taken advantage of by their spouses, but suffering to prove the word of God true, is more important to me.
(NAIROBI, KENYA) All these are encouraging words especially for us who want to keep our families intact no matter our sufferings. God’s word is true and no matter what we go through, He is with us.
I am happy to hear and read about women that we share same circumstances and am now able to identify myself with them and feel that I am not alone in the struggle.
I read your comment/views but what can you do an unemployed husband that never worked for more than 6 months in a company, and always quits for no excuse? When we got married as a Christian we don’t date for a long time. He lied and said he was working any he was permanent and he could afford to have a family. After two weeks I then discovered that he was not working. I asked him and he became angry and said I got married for material or for love? Then I kept quiet.
After few months I advised him to get a license. I paid for it. He never tried to get a job. He said there are no more jobs for drivers around town. After 2 years of marriage I asked him to study and get a diploma. He agreed and studied for one year. I paid close to R 50000.00 for his fees. He then dropped out saying he is stressed and he can’t focus. I asked him what is it that he wants? He said he want to preach the gospel of God, now no more job hunting. Now he stays in his study the whole day for Bible and he doesn’t satisfy me at all….physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Dear BD, Obviously, your husband is only studying the Bible in ways that suit what HE wants to do. He isn’t really searching for, or living in Truth. If he is, then what does he do with what a husband is told to do in Ephesians 5:25-33 and 1 Peter 3:7-12? And what about Malachi 2:13-15, where the husband is told about the sacredness of the marriage covenant and the partnership involved with his wife. He is told to guard himself and not break the faith, which it appears that he is now doing.
And what about what we’re told in 1 Timothy 5:8? “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” He is worse than an unbeliever in God’s eyes if he ignores his family’s needs and goes off and does his own thing, expecting you to pay for everything. It’s one thing if you are both in agreement –that he feels called by God to devote himself to preaching the gospel without pay, and you see his calling, as well, and you both agree that you are to be the one to bring in the main income. But the way it is, it is the sin of laziness and of shirking responsibilities taking hold, from what I see.
He can’t be studying the Bible and ignore all of that. If he wanted to totally dedicate himself to studying the Bible and preach the gospel of God, without having to worry about supporting a wife and meeting her needs, then he shouldn’t have married. That’s what we’re told in 1 Corinthians 7. Once we marry, then we have a whole different consideration going –we’re to be marriage partners first, and decide together on how much of God’s work we will be available to do. If we go off doing our own thing, without considering what God tells us to do, once we’re married, then it’s like what Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23 where they clean the outside to look good to the outside world, but inside “they are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” He’s obviously not ready to “preach the gospel of God” because he isn’t ready to be serious about taking care of his own marriage, the life you have together, being truthful before marrying and afterward, and taking care of family responsibilities.
I’m not sure why he’s hiding from doing what he should in your marriage, and why he thinks that studying his Bible for the whole day, yet not living it is okay, but it isn’t. He needs to man up, get his life together so it lines up biblically, and THEN see if God calls him, and you support him in the calling to “preach the gospel of God. If he doesn’t, then he’s delusional in thinking that this would be what God would have him do, and you have a child on your hands to take care of. Whatever you do though, make sure you do it respectfully –speaking “the truth in love” and doing what wives and Followers of Christ are told to do, or you aren’t doing things any better than he is. He is responsible for living within your marriage as the Bible tells him to do, and you are responsible for living within your marriage as the Bible tells you to do. If you both do, then life can be good… as God intends. But if one or the other of you shirks your responsibilities, then there are problems. No matter what though, live as God shows you, even if he doesn’t. I pray strength, insight, and the Holy Spirit’s help for you in doing so.
Can I do this? I so want to throw in the towel. It sounds so hard. Is anyone going through this like me? Any big sisters out there to encourage me?