You may not know it on your wedding day, when you look into his eyes and believe he is practically infallible, but there comes a time in every marriage when you know your spouse to be dead wrong. You know deep in your bones that what he is thinking or doing or feeling or chasing is going to land him in deep guano sooner or later.
I say land him, but part of the difficulty is that you are now a part of him. Where he goes, you go. And your children follow. This loads all of his decisions with more weight than they used to carry. And, of course, all of yours. You will certainly be firmly in the wrong yourself, often.
I like to imagine that this issue is easier for a Christian man to face than a Christian woman, though I don’t know for a fact. Theoretically at least, he can put his foot down and say what happens under his roof. When a woman who desires to be submissive faces it, that crossroads where she knows her husband to be in the wrong, it’s a really tricky spot to be. If he can’t change course, I mean, or won’t – and several miles down the road her red flags go from intermittent flashing to the whole dash lit up like a house afire. She runs the risk of being contentious on the one side, or complicit on the other, and it’s hard to find a happy middle road when your brakes want to lock. She can confront him, appeal to him, and pray for him, but she can only do so much and if she’s not careful, her response may be more damaging in their home than his original behavior was. And I mean on either side: her disrespectful resistance, or her devastating consent.
When I look back over the events of the past year, and especially farther to my early days of being a wife, I realize that I care about this subject not because I am right (who is ever entirely in the right?) or because I have the answers, but because when I faced it I didn’t know what to do, and every path felt disloyal. If we the church don’t have this conversation, we set ourselves up for all kinds of abuses.
Here are a few pieces I believe from my heart.
1. I can never control him into choosing what’s right.
No matter what the issue is: purity, fatherhood, church leadership, spending of money, or use of time, I can NEVER be the conscience that guides him or the final accountability to which he answers. For one thing, I’m not strong enough. For another, I’m not responsible for his choices. For another, even if I could wrestle away this much power, it would become a tangled web of control and hypervigilance and bondage. For us both. Love starts with respect: he is a person. I am a person. We each have choices.
2. If he doesn’t reach for the help he needs, I can request it myself.
He is responsible for his choices, but I am responsible for my responses. If I know his ways to be wrong before God or the church or the law or the bounds of responsible adulthood, I can ask for help without fear. I must. I will first request that he do it himself – if he will not, I will ask that he do it with me – and if not, I will do it myself. I can seek out a pastor, either set of our parents, or someone else who is in authority or relationship with my husband. This is not betraying him, it is getting help.
Then I need to let those key people take ownership of getting him to a better place. They shouldn’t just be coaching me in working with him. They should be closing the circle by talking and working with him. I must trust them to bring wisdom – they don’t have to agree with me or use the methods I wish.
3. God is not complicit in all the choices of my authorities. I can separate the two.
For a sheltered woman who has trusted most of her authorities, it’s surprisingly easy to confuse God with my father or my husband or my pastor. Infallible, unquestionable, and final word. In good times, that /appears/ to grow trust, but when hard times come, it leaves me confused and with no one to turn to – because if my pastor is wrong, God must be wrong? If my husband is untrustworthy, God might be too?
No one is ultimate or infallible except God, and He doesn’t approve of all the things His children do. I draw a little line between Him and my authorities, when I can. A little line. Not a double barred permanent marker line.
4. I don’t need to confess his sins.
I have enough sins of my own. It is good for me in these times to reflect on and repent of them; they are the ones to work on. I don’t have to inform on my husband to anyone who is not part of the problem or part of the solution. Personal questions are his to answer or dodge. Opportunities to disclose are his to take or to leave. I don’t have to notify, update, tattletale. I’m not the gatekeeper or image manager.
5. But I don’t need to cover for him. I will say the worst of it in two or three trusted places.
The secret, I think, is to find the few I can be truly honest with, the ones in his story who can help him and the ones in my story who can help me. I don’t fudge the truth with them. I tell what’s happening.
6. Honoring him in the rest of my conversations, even while acknowledging hard things, is an important part of both my healing and his.
The attitudes that I focus on will grow. If in every grocery line and ladies’ luncheon I’m bringing up how messed up men are and how much I disagree with mine, I’m sabotaging my own marital healing. If I stand with him behind his back, it becomes easier to do it to his face. And he will sense the attitudes of my heart, no matter how cleverly I think I reframe them.
7. Without any guilt, I can let go of unhelpful comments made to me about him, or the relationship the two of us share.
I have fielded very few, and much kindness. But a wise woman coached me on how to handle unhelpful comments when they do come. Smile. Say thank you. Walk away. I don’t have to respond beyond that, or pass the insights on to my husband. I don’t need to shoulder others’ feelings and suggestions and myriad opinions on the matter. And no one should be telling me what my husband ought to do. If they don’t have the place or the courage to tell him themselves, their words may slip in one ear and out the other.
Smile. Say thank you. Walk away. Let it go.
8. Trust doesn’t have to be utter to count as trust.
I want to trust my husband. But trust doesn’t mean a blank slate, a you-may-do-whatever-you-want permission slip. It doesn’t even mean I think he will make good choices or be trustworthy. Trust just means opening my heart a little. Letting him love me in the ways I am able to receive. Drawing close sometimes. Being honest about the pieces that feel appropriate. Sharing coffee. Being a tiny bit vulnerable. Baby steps.
9. Boundaries (and a backup plan) are appropriate. As is full commitment.
Submission is required for Christian wives. Marriage till death, same. But I have choices.
I want to say this carefully, because it can be abused either way. I’m deeply uncomfortable with a wife picking and choosing when she’ll honor her husband’s wishes and follow his lead – and still imagining herself submissive. Easy to do. Horrible to witness. If the issue on which we disagree is not spelled out in Scripture or the laws of my country, I honestly believe that after all the words are said, I need to work with him and not against.
At the same time, I reject the idea that no matter what a husband does, his wife should be present and compliant. In a scenario in which ethics are violated, it is more than appropriate to create emotional, spiritual, or physical space for protection and healing. It’s okay to communicate clearly about what I will and will not go along with. It’s okay to know what I would do if the worst happens.
10. Divine blessing does not depend on us getting everything correct. We are more than the sum of our sins.
If I want mercy for my mistakes and faults, I must show others the same grace. I must focus on the Father, whose heart is toward his children. When my husband and I are at our worst, He is looking on us and saying My beloved son. My precious daughter. We are His, and nothing can separate us from His love.
I need a long view, one that goes beyond this situation to our big picture holiness and joy. Lift my eyes. Praise. Believe what God says about my husband, and about me. Know He’s in charge even when it doesn’t feel like it.
That’s what I’ve learned so far.
And the awesome thing is that repentance and life change are shaping us into different people. We loved God and each other on our wedding day, but we love better now – I mean both love more and love in healthier, truer ways. And this is cause for serious rejoicing and hope.
My husband was removed from church leadership in June following his voluntary confession of hidden pornography. I am blessed to belong to a man who is actively seeking both his own healing and mine – the beliefs I just presented are beliefs we share. We are rebuilding trust and growing in grace, and we still have a lot to learn. This post is interspersed with pictures from our anniversary celebration in Cleveland, October 2020.