Respecting a Difficult Spouse – Marriage Message #120

Rejoice whenever you face trials in your marriage, knowing that even though it hurts right now, as your faith is tested by these troubles, you are developing perseverance. As you persevere in love, you will grow increasingly more mature in heart and mind, and God’s beauty will be made complete in you.(Paraphrase of James 1:2-4)

Photo by Num_skyman,
Photo by Num_skyman,

The following is a true testimony written in the book, Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in an Imperfect Marriage (by Deb Kalmbach and Heather Kopp). It’s a book we HIGHLY recommend! Even though it’s written from a woman’s perspective, there’s a message that both women AND men can benefit from reading.

I (Steve) will put a man’s spin on it afterwards to help husband’s relate to it also.

In this one particular part of the book, the author begins by saying that she used to think of her husband, Larry, as a “complete jerk.” She says that he’s been “verbally abusive, a problem drinker, arrogant beyond belief, and an absentee dad to the children he had with his first wife.”

She claims that he didn’t help out in doing anything around the house in any way. He even told her to get a part-time job so she could hire someone to do whatever it was she wanted him to do. She goes on to say:

“When we got married, I didn’t know the Lord, and I didn’t really know my husband either. After coming to Christ a couple of years ago, I kept hearing all this stuff about honoring Larry, submitting to Larry. And I’d think, ‘Are you serious?”

“A few weeks ago our women’s Bible study was studying in Ephesians. When we got to the verse, ‘Let the wife see that she respects her husband,‘ I knew everyone was thinking of Larry. They all know I’m in an unhappy marriage, so I finally just blurted out: ‘How do you respect a husband you don’t really respect? Someone help me understand how you honor a guy like my husband.’

“An uncomfortable silence ensued. ‘Well,’ Karla, the group leader finally said, ‘let’s talk about that. Does anyone have any insight to share?’

“Finally a woman named Marsha spoke up. ‘I think you have to think about how the word respect doesn’t mean the same thing as approve or condone. You have to separate what Larry does from who Larry is. You can respect his position, just like you respect a cop who pulls you over, even though you don’t like what he’s doing to you.’

“That made sense to me —sort of. But could I somehow find a way to respect and honor Larry simply because he’s my husband?

“That afternoon, I continued to debate with myself. Lets say I did decide to honor Larry because God says to and because God loves him. By honoring him, wouldn’t I be telling him, ‘You’re perfectly okay how you are —I think you’re just wonderful because God loves you?’

“Later, after dinner had been cleaned up and Larry had become one with his recliner, I went to our bedroom to read a novel. The main character was a man who was everything I could want in a husband and the exact opposite of Larry. The contrast was painful. Finally, I put the book down and began to pray half-heartedly for Larry. I tried to picture him as God sees him. But that wasn’t working. Larry, after all, isn’t wearing Christ’s robes.

“I kept at it, though, and then something happened. Suddenly all this grief welled up and I sensed it wasn’t mine, but God’s. It was like He was crying —over Larry! I’m not the type of person to see things or hear God when I pray.

“So I asked God what this meant and waited. It began to dawn on me that when God sees Larry, He sees a son of His who won’t come home. He sees the marvelous man Larry could be, would be, if he would only let love break through.

“Larry doesn’t behave in ways that deserve my respect. But the Larry God loves, who’s buried behind that brick wall, does. Now I’m trying really hard, every day, to feel God’s grief over, and love for, Larry.

“I keep looking for ways to show him respect. I ask his opinions about things that I never used to before. I listen carefully to what he says and I make eye contact when he’s talking to me. I tell him I’m proud of him when anything good happens at work. And I don’t grumble and complain about him to my friends every day.

“As I’m doing this, I’m realizing something important. Respect is a man’s #1 love language. You should have seen the look on his face a few days ago when I asked Larry what I could do to show him more respect. He was so stunned, he was speechless for once.

“Then yesterday I caught myself thinking, Larry seems to appreciate having my respect, but I still don’t know if this is going to work. I had to quickly remind myself that it’s not supposed to work. Changing Larry isn’t the goal. That would only turn what I’m doing into manipulation.

“I can honor Larry because God asks me to. Buried deep inside of him is a man worthy of respect. And for now, that’s good enough for me. The rest is up to Larry and God.”

While this message gives the account of how one wife was able to begin to respect her husband (in spite of him), it’s important that we husbands realize that God expects even more from us. Nowhere in scripture does it say that we are “to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her— ‘as long as she respects me.'” That’s because God’s love for us is unconditional and our love for our wives is to be unconditional.

As couples we need to guard against playing the “Blame Game” —blaming our spouse for their behavior and then responding self-righteously. In his book Man to Man, Chuck Swindoll said this on this subject:

“If we blame others, we enlarge the distance between us and them. We alienate. We poison the relationship. We settle for much less than God ever intended.”

“Consider this: Blame never affirms, it assaults. Blame never restores, it wounds. Blame never solves, it complicates. Blame never unites, it separates. Blame never smiles, it frowns. Blame never forgives, it rejects. Blame never forgives, it remembers. Blame never builds, it destroys.”

Please stop blaming your spouse for your actions (as Adam did in pointing to Eve the garden of Eden when God questioned his sin) or blaming your spouse for your reactions. Instead, do what YOU are supposed to do in loving your spouse “as unto the Lord.” As Dr James Dobson says, “Anything you invest in your spouse will come back to you.” It may not come back in the way you expect, but God will somehow redeem the “right” which you do in the proper time. We hope you will prayerfully consider this.

Steve and Cindy Wright

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7 responses to “Respecting a Difficult Spouse – Marriage Message #120

  1. (USA)  I want to do what God wants so badly, as I often pray for his will to be done. When it comes to my marriage I firmly believe in everything that this site puts forth! I have a huge problem with my wife. She has not respected me above all things, and to boot has major trust issues. I am on deployment and I want nothing more than to communicate with her, but she refuses. Some communication exists, but I love her and want more.

    When a long period of time goes by with no email from her it angers me to no end. Furthermore, when I confront her about the need to communicate with her she is very disrespectful and only argues with me. This is only the latest straw on the camels back. There are many more. I told her I’m filing for a divorce. I would love for someone to tell me either what I can do to get her respect or explain to me how this is just possibly not meant to be.

  2. (USA)  My husband and I have been married for 22 years and are trying to rebuild where some mistakes have been made. To start we are trying to spend more time together. Last night we rented and watched the movie “Fireproof” together. If you haven’t seen it, it is the one with Kirk Cameron from the television show “Growing Pains” in it. This movie might be very helpful for your marriage as well. The song at the end of the movie that was sung really touched my heart. I think the name of the song is “Love is not a fight”, and it is by Warren Barfield. Part of the lyrics to that song says this… “Marriage is not a fight, but it is worth fighting for.”

    May God heal your marriage. Don’t forget… With God, NOTHING (and that includes your marriage) is impossible. Another good song lately (as you might can tell… music speaks to me) that really speaks to my heart concerning my marriage is one by the group Kutless….”That’s what faith can do.”

  3. (US)  I cannot help but ask if the shoe were on the other foot, would Larry be as tolerant and righteous? If the writer were wealthy, would Larry be so indifferent? There is sometimes a very thin line between being a faithful dutiful wife and being a doormat, being taken advantage and living in an unhealthy household. Has the writer ever told Larry what her needs are and what she thinks he should do to improve this horrible marriage?

    Respecting a spouse does not take you off the hook of not telling them that they have serious flaws. Larry’s wife’s thinking that her husband’s poor behavior is between him and God makes her an enabler and a very poor example of what married life should be for her children. Would she say that about other family members with bad manners or rude behavior. Why should Larry be exempt?

  4. (USA)  God asks us to respect and honor the marriage but you cannot SUBMIT TO ABUSE… that is not part of what the Lord wants for us. You are to respect and honor your husband and the marriage, but you are clearly warned to not be blinded and foolish. Clear and boundaries must be defined by the victim of an abuser and if it does not stop, then the marriage must have distance until the partner can understand. Allowing the abuse verbal or mental on a ongoing basis only perpetuates this. It does not cure the problem no matter how kind and respectful you are.

    So if you leave the marriage, you are no longer respecting it? Because you do not want to submit to abuse?!?!? We are to clearly point out to our spouses when we feel they are doing harm and not condone it.

  5. (USA)  GOD IS GOOD… Wow, The “BLAME GAME” …What True Wisdom, Knowlege, Revelation, and a Blessing that was to me. Thank you so much for your hard work, sharing wisdom. God Bless you always. Sincerely, Mrs Jess

  6. (ZAR)  Thanks for the article it was very interesting. What I really need to know is men are different so they want to be respected differently. So I have a husband; we have being married a little under a year now and things are not working out, cause according to him, respecting him means he has to do nothing around the house. The only thing he has to do is go to work (I also have a fulltime job). I can’t get his opinion over anything. If I ask him something it turns into an argument. What I find worse is that he doesn’t value my opinion at all (I’m not clever enough). So how do you show respect to a man? Do you keep quiet and agree with everything he says? Should you be at his beck and call 24/7?

    1. (USA) Dear Concerned, You’re right in questioning what “respect” means when your husband interprets it differently than you do. I came across a series of articles written by Paul Byerly, which I’ll provide a link for you so you can read them, because they may clear up some things. You may even want to write to Paul, asking him questions concerning your husband’s interpretation of respect. Just make sure he knows you are from South Africa so he is aware of the fact that he is dealing with a different culture. That may help him in addressing your concerns. I’m not sure if Paul can answer your questions or not, but it may be worth a try.

      The third in a series of articles Paul wrote and posted on his web site is titled, “Respect –Take Three.” He links provides links to the other articles in this series, as well. You can find them at: I hope this helps.