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.
In your pain and humanness, you are marking a path for others. And it is an important one. You are doing so with grace and humility.
So many reasons to love you and respect you and your husband here.
“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.” Beautiful. ????
I found your words to be truthful. Grace to you both.
Yes! This is truth…I bless you for sharing!
Thank you so much for this post. It’s an echo of my heart and you put it in clearer better words than I could even think out. It’s what I needed today. Thank you.
As someone who’s struggling through starting a new relationship, this post was immensely encouraging. I know he’s not perfect, in fact I know it so well I’m struggling to believe we could have a future. How can two humans who both have so many struggles, ever figure out how to make marriage work? But truth from the heart, like you shared, gives me hope. He’s not perfect, but he wants God’s glory in him. I’m a tangled mess of needs, but I long for God more desperately than anything else. I want that long view. Thanks for the light on the path.
God bless you, Sharla.
Thank you for saying this. It needs to be said, and you said it so very well.
You’ve put so many of my thoughts into words and they all resonates with me. It’s so beautiful and painful and good… I read #8 several times over and am so grateful for the words. I’ve struggled alot with what trust means post major failure and it’s good to feel understood.
Shari, I admire your courage to speak out on and wrestle with these issues. I bless your vulnerability. You are not alone. You are speaking for other women. May other women also find courage to come out of hiding and find help. May the shame that has been projected on women (“it must be her fault”) be lifted. May the church rise to the challenge of helping women find help and strength to heal from betrayal trauma. Amen.
Thank you, sir. This means a lot to me.
This is a loaded post. I will need to read it a few times????
I appreciate point 7. Number 9 stepped on my toes…pick and choose which ones of hubby’s wishes I’ll honour and which ones I won’t and still think I’m a “submissive” wife???? And how can a wife arise above her fears of what her friends might think or say of her husband’s direction for their family-even if it’s sound and scriptural?
Shari, your honesty is needed. Keep writing. Maybe a post on “when he’s right????”
Do you mean loaded as in “full of content” or //loaded// as in “fraught, nuanced, and potentially inflammable”? Lol. Thank you for making me laugh.
Yeah. The fear of being misunderstood is very real. I like your final comment/suggestion.
Loaded?! Well, I guess I meant alot of good, deep, meaningful, etc. content???? Alot of great reading anyway!
I don’t know how to put into words, how my heart feels reading this…
I will say, I admire and honor your vulnerability, honesty, and courage.
And, I respect very much your position and your husband’s in that he is seeking healing for you too. God has you both…Lean in hard.????
Thank you for saying this. It needs to be said. So much truth.
Shari, your words are full of bravery and truth. As you walk this painful path you are shining light on the path of others. I especially appreciate your humble attitude…clearly giving the message that we are all in need of a saviour and His amazing grace. Not just the man with moral failure, but every single one of us. It is truth. Thank you for fighting bravely and inspiring others. ❣
Well stated, Shari! I hope God blesses you richly for your willingness to speak and process while you are on this journey. Because, there is no doubt in my mind that many godly women are in your shoes – and having you articulate so well both the struggles and the joys is sure to provide guidance for others.
Shari.???????? Looking on as the two of you navigate this path, I have been challenged by your commitments to each other and to the Father. God is turning the pain into beauty. You are loved and prayed for. We are blessed to know you.
Thank you for this. It has the clear ring of Truth.
I know I think like a man (it’s who God made me). You just laid out for me, in a marriage analogy, the relationship in a good ministerial team. The balance of personal conscience vs working as a team is very real there too.
God bless you both.
Shari, thank you for being open and honest about such an extremely difficult topic. I wish I can go back in time and change how I would have done things when it happened to me. I couldn’t share with anyone and definitely no one at church. And to be honest, I don’t know if it’s still going on. You’ve given me a lot to pray about. Thanks dear sister.❤
Courageous Friend, I love you and am in awe at the marvelous work the Lord is doing in and through you.
You are brave, and I’m sorry for the hard you’re experiencing. Something’s been bothering me about some of these posts, though. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it started with Ryan’s post on running. A certain level of denial, maybe? But then, denial is a stage of grief. Love you, friend.
Oh good, I was worrying I had scared off all pushback. This is an interesting comment. There are certainly large chunks of uncomfortable emotions, juicy details, and painful experience that we do not share here, at risk of shaming each other and our community. We are trying to live/walk/speak our way through it all. We are not trying to write our way through it all. Perhaps that is what you are feeling. Perhaps not – there may be more to it. Either way, I do not know that we are right. We receive your critique and thank you. ❤
Oh Shari. I can identify with this post so well, but with a difference application relating to my husband. I especially identify with the earlier part of how after marriage we are drug through his mud puddles along with him (that’s my paraphrase). I’ve even winced recently about praying for God to change ‘xyz’ in his life, because, oh that’s right! I might was well expect a nice juicy mud bath myself. LOL =) I would love to sit and discuss these issues with you. So much of it, as you stated, is not clearly defined. Neither is the approach the same for all women, depending on their situations. Its also true that the church has not equipped us to handle these issues. I was only well-versed in the “submit and be obedient” dialogue, but could recall nary a word about how a dignified and gracious wife should respond in a whole manner to a husband’s unacceptable actions and behavior. I want to pre-order your book. =)
Thank you, and so much love. I can think of oodles of things I’d love to chat about. 🙂
Thank you for sharing this, Shari! It’s a hard road to walk-wait maybe we crawl it or God carries us, I’m not sure anymore. You’ve put into words a lot of what I’m also learning and trying to live. God’s grace and strength to you!
So many of your comments can fit other marital quagmires as well. Mental illness is another difficult place for a godly wife. Where is the line of finding help and stepping over the submission line? And when you have found your way ‘ thus far’ when do you ‘hand the reins back’ that you had to hold firm when he couldn’t? Thank you for your comments.
Thank you so much for this!!! I’ve struggled with trust issues and every time I am feeling the trust come back I get slam dunked with another scenario of dishonesty and impurity. It’s very challenging to be the wife and also the mom to our children with this. But God has been speaking to me… I’m not his mom, I’m not responsible for any of his actions…. I’m only responsible for my actions and for raising my children for Jesus. And so I completely have him to God… And o what freedom!!! I so feel and hear what you are saying. God bless you richly for sharing!!! Praying for you in thes times. And yes, I’ve been shocked and appalled with how so many slap the problem into the wife and we become a partner in crime or the reason for the crime. It’s so hard. And so not true. Keep serving God. Keep seeking His face. And I will keep praying for you. Bless you for being real and sharing.
Ditto to lots of the above comments, thank you for putting in words and practical lessons this much needed topic. May the source of Grace be your guiding light as you walk on.
I really appreciate and am grateful for you sharing your journey here…these are good good things. And I’m glad you have people and support around you. Walking through a journey like this alone is so painful.
[…] When He’s Wrong. A blog post by Shari Zook of Confessions. If you are a Christian wife who wants to allow your husband to lead in your home, what do you do when he’s wrong? This post by Shari is deeply thought provoking, written from the heart of human experience. To give her thought process context, she writes this: “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.” If you are a wife, if you are a husband, this discussion may help you sort through issues in your own marriage. […]
In response to the blog “ when he’s wrong”, what’s a husband do when the wife is wrong? I understand that husbands can do things to hurt and betray their wives and give them reasons to not trust or submit to them. How does a husband redeem a marriage when the wife refuses to acknowledge her sins and destruction in the marriage?
An excellent question. I am not sure if I am qualified to answer it, as I have no experience with being a husband. Though I certainly have experience with being a stubborn wife.
I am not sure it’s that different, really – no matter which spouse is sinning. We appeal to him OR her, we set unapologetic boundaries, we take ownership of our own domain (my emotions, time, decisions, responses, complicity, and lifestyle are my own – no one else’s), we uncover all the destructive secrets to someone we trust – perhaps seeking pastoral or professional help – and in the end, we make the choices we need to, to stay sane and holy. I am so sorry for what circumstances they may be that led you to ask this question. Prayers for your peace and wholeness.