Thursday, June 15, 2006

What wives need most from their husbands

It has been revealing to read the comments on my marriage posts (see my "Couples Counseling: A Retrospective"). They confirm a pattern I see again and again as I meet with couples. Generally, wives complain about their husbands being distant and detached, while husbands complain about their wives being demanding and demeaning. With those two pairs of "D" words guiding me, I will post my thoughts about what wives need most from their husbands, and what husbands need most from their wives. Let's start with the first of those two topics.

It seems to me that what wives need most from their husbands are two things: passion and forward-thinking leadership. Again and again I hear wives say things like:
  • "He's so content! Nothing I do or say upsets him. Sometimes I wish he'd get really angry, just so I know he's alive!"
  • "My husband doesn't take initiative with me; he just reacts."
  • "My husband is passionate about his work. He leads high-level meetings, he makes decisions affecting hundreds of people, he sets goals and has dreams for his company. Why can't he do things like that for our marriage?"
  • "I don't really matter to him. He would be just as happy without me."
  • "I wish my husband desired me like he did when we were dating. I'm worried that he's having an affair."
Comments like these from wives tell me that somewhere along the way, their husbands started retreating from them. Perhaps it was in reaction to their wives' unhappiness or nagging. Perhaps it was a learned response to their own insecurities. Whatever the reason, they are now detached and distant from their wives. In a word, they are passive. It's the sin of Adam, and it haunts every man in some way.

Husbands, our wives need us to be men of passion and leadership.
  • Passion not just when it comes to romance (although that would be wonderful), but passion about life in general. They want us to care deeply about issues facing the family (like school choices, family devotions, priorities, time commitments, a budget, home repair, and the like) as well as issues we ought to care about personally (like our own health, our hobbies, our commitment to God, church, and community).
  • And leadership, which does not mean ordering family members around and acting like you have it all figured out. Loving, Biblical leadership means anticipating conditions in the future and making sure the marriage is ready for those conditions. It means knowing your wife and helping her reach her fullest potential as a person in God's image. It means partnering with your wife to create goals and action plans for the future. It means making sure that the home is God-directed rather than focused in on itself.
One reason we men lack passion and demonstrate weak leadership in the home is that we've been told over and over again that men, and the things men care about, are bad. TV sitcoms constantly bash husbands for being chauvinistic, dumb, and insensitive. The feminist movement has made us feel that the preeminent values are tolerance, sensitivity, kindness, and dialogue. "Male" values like achievement, success, and conviction have been caricatured as so much Archie Bunkerism.

I'm not trying to get us men off the hook, but women need to understand that there are few positive role models of godliness for men. Most of us have no idea what God calls us to be or do.

Having said that, men, our wives are dying for us to care about them and to care about important life issues. One reason they get demanding and demeaning is that there is a vacuum of passion and leadership in the home. They hate that. They need us to stand up and be men.

Here are a few suggestions for how you as a husband can provide passion and leadership in your marriage:

1) Tell your wife what you need her to do for you. Tell her what you want. This can be something as trivial as a movie you want to see on Friday night, or something as important as a career move you'd like to take some day. She will love knowing that you need her and are not self-sufficient.

2) Share your emotions with your wife. For most of us, this takes focused concentration. If you're like me, you don't even know your own emotional state much of the time. That's wrong! When you come home at the end of a work day, sit down and tell your wife what you thought and felt that day. Tell her about people who made you mad, things that got you excited, actions you took that you're proud of. She will love that you are revealing yourself to her. If she makes you angry, tell her so (without attacking her, of course). She needs to know that you respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself.

3) Date your wife. Imagine you are courting her again, and treat her special. You don't need me to spell this out for you. Listen, if you are not dating your wife, you are killing her heart. It's no wonder she has shut down ever so slowly. When it comes to sex, you've got to broaden your definition of the sex act. For your wife, sex starts when you wake up in the morning and doesn't end with your climax. Reach into your heart and find the romantic in you again.

4) Read John Eldredge's book, Wild at Heart. It will help you reconnect with your own heart and encourage you for being a man.

5) Research and plan (with your wife) an annual getaway for just the two of you. Spend some money on it. Or if you don't have much money, be creative. But take an annual retreat to have fun, to reflect together, and to look forward. Your wife will love knowing that you care enough about your marriage to make sure this happens at least once a year.

6) Initiate getting some marriage counseling. Almost all of the time, it is the wife who initiates this. It is the wife that reads the marriage books. It is the wife that begs her husband to join a men's group or get therapy. Men, that is intolerable. We should be the first ones to call the counselor. God says WE are the head of our homes. The job of the head is to take care of the rest of the body. If the body needs attention, the head is supposed to get it the help it needs. A good marriage counselor or pastor can help you succeed as a husband. Why delay?

7) Last but not least, go to God. The Bible says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). It also says, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him" (2 Chronicles 16:9). Your weakness as a husband is an invitation from God to draw near to Him and lean on Him. You will not succeed as a husband without a vital relationship with God. To enter that relationship, you must admit your sins and failings and trust - really trust - that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save you from those sins and give you a new life.

In my next post, I'll share my thoughts on what husbands need most from their wives. I invite your comments.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that hit the spot, completely. This culture has basically thrown men under the bus, leaving us wondering if we could ever do anything right in a marriage.

Thank you for these words, of course I've heard them in pieces before and through counseling but i am glad to read them in completion here.

Anonymous said...

Go to God?

If God exists, he doesn't listen to that kind of requests. God, give me more money, make me not fat, etc...God gave you brains and body to work it out.

Don't be lazy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights, i am a father starting out, 1 boy 2 years old in Feb and a new arrival (Girl coming March 31).
To live a Godly life & be a pleasing husband to my wife is my life Goal.

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts here! Thanks for some concrete suggestions on how to engage our wives. One quibble, though, and it may be more of a question of nuance than actual substance: When you say we don't have many positive role models, I ask, "Were you expecting any from today's culture?" I certainly hope no Christian husband is looking to TV sitcoms or elsewhere in this world's culture for a man to emulate. Don't let the world define what you should be as a husband. Look to God's word, which has a lot to say about how we should act. Look to your pastor or other godly men in your church whom you could learn from -- either just by observation or by a formal mentoring relationship.
Just an addition to a really good, thought-provoking piece.