Five Ways to Harm Your Husband by Being a "Good" Wife

Good Wives Guide

Several weeks ago Wendy Alsup wrote a striking post about how complementarians (folks who believe that men and women have differing roles in society, the home, and the church) are shooting themselves in the foot with faulty reasoning and extra-Biblical teaching. It seems that on our way to understanding manhood and womanhood, our generation has started taking some shortcuts—shortcuts that are going to have significant consequences for whether or not we develop a fully biblical understanding of gender and human relationships. In this sense, the concerns she mentioned are serious; but even more so is her overarching point: while we may have a seemingly noble goal, if we don’t reach that goal in an authentic and legitimate manner, we undermine everything we are trying to accomplish.

This is not a new problem for us humans. Whether it’s yelling at our kids to be quiet or speeding down the highway to avoid being late to an appointment, we regularly—although often unintentionally—conduct our lives under the assumption that the end justifies the means. Wendy’s post also got me to thinking about how this kind of pragmatism can invade our relationships, specifically our marriages.

Is it possible that in our attempts to reach an ideal, in our progress toward becoming “good” wives and husbands, we could actually be harming each other? I think it’s more than possible; I think it’s very common. And like so many areas of Christian living, the danger is not so much in what we’re doing, as what’s happening in our hearts and revealed through the process of doing them. And while I can’t speak for the men, here some problematic tendencies I’ve observed among Christian women—they are simply things I’ve heard, things I’ve seen, and truthfully, things I’ve done myself at times.

Let’s just file them under: “It’s a bad thing when…”

1. You encourage your husband to be a leader…the same way you encourage good behavior in your child or pet. Many women I know are not truly satisfied with their husbands, but they are “gracious” enough to give them time and space to develop—much like they are gracious enough to give their children time and space to mature. While waiting, they offer false praise or over-praise them for small acts of kindness or what they consider to be “growth.” This is dangerous for two reasons: First, it is fundamentally condescending. And second, people know when you are not being truthful. What your husband learns is the same thing that any of us learn once we realize praise is false or overinflated: he learns that he cannot fully trust you or worse, that you didn’t think he was capable of success in the first place.

2. You heap massive expectations on your husband to be the god-figure in your home…and then are disappointed when he isn’t perfect. Perhaps worse than underestimating a husband’s potential is over-estimating it. When a wife looks to her husband to provide what only God can, she sets him up for failure. And there is nothing more damaging to a man’s spirit than failure—especially failing those he loves. When you expect him to be what he in his humanity simply cannot, you set a trap for him. He never even has a chance. Instead, recognize who your husband is and who he is not: he is your fellow traveler, your fellow sinner on this road to glory. Celebrate his strengths; accept his limitations. And love him regardless.

3. You don’t disagree with him…because privately you don’t believe he can handle it. On the surface keeping quiet when you don’t like what someone else is doing can pass for deference when in reality it can be arrogance. Some women don’t disagree with their husbands simply because they don’t really believe he can handle it. They see his manhood as fragile, so much so that he is in constant danger of emasculation. The irony of this is that refusing to disagree with him has less to with respecting him than it does with feeling superior to him. Of course there are ways to engage in debate that can belittle and harm another person—but that’s true regardless of gender or marital status. In the long run, disagreeing with your husband (with kindness and a keen sense of timing) may be the best way to respect him because it says that you see them as the mature human being that he is.

4. You pray for your husband to be a better a) father, b) husband, c) leader, d) all of the above…and ask others to pray as well. Now of course, you should pray for your husband, but there are ways of praying that are actually harmful. (Just ask the Pharisee and the publican.) If you pray for your husband out of a heart of discontentment, you are fundamentally praying a prayer of judgment. You are telling God (and anyone else who is praying with you) that your husband does not meet your expectations, that he is not performing well enough, that he is a disappointment. Instead your prayers for your husband should be like Christ’s prayers for you – prayers of unconditional love, protection, affirmation, and support. They should be prayers directed toward what God is doing in his life, not where he needs to pick up slack. If you are really struggling with a behavior or habit of his, love him enough to actually talk to him about it. Love him enough to engage him instead of whispering behind his back—even if it’s only to God.

5. You don’t confront him when he sins…and then taking it personally when he fails. While wives must accept that their husbands are human, they must also accept that God has providentially placed them alongside their husbands as meet helpers in their struggles. Sometimes when a husband sins, his wife won’t approach him out of fear that doing so will somehow usurp his spiritual headship. And so instead of being the first line of defense against spiritual attack, she stands by and watches as her husband gets pummeled. Worse, she takes it personally and feels like he is somehow failing her. But our husbands are just as much flesh and blood as we are, and we are best their helpers when we actually….help them. This is something of what Solomon was referring to in Ecclesiastes 4:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up…. And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.

Ultimately, we have to remember that simply aiming to be a “good” wife will never accomplish all that God has ordained for us in marriage. It will never make us more unified, it will never make us more sanctified, it will never make us one. That road is a lot harder and there are simply no shortcuts. And it is a road we walk—one day at a time—through honest communication, unconditional love, and large doses of grace.

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Susan R's picture


I really like this post. It took years to deprogram myself from some of the condescending and manipulative things that I learned as a young woman about being a 'good wife'. But every once in awhile I hear those old cliches bouncing around in my head. Yowzers.

At the root of a good relationship is humility. Husbands and wives who truly cherish each other will find many ideas proposed - in the name of being a 'help meet'- rather distasteful. "Treat him like a king and you will be queen". Well, I don't want to be queen, and my husband doesn't want to be king. Is there a Scriptural pattern of 'husband as king' and 'wife as queen'? I don't think so. The Biblical model of leadership in the home and in the church is always that of someone who desires to serve rather than be served, and that of submission is at heart being able to consider the well-being of others ahead of our own. If I am 'submitting' in order to get something for myself, I am still acting selfishly.

The Bible is full of ideas that at first glance seem contradictory. If you want to be fulfilled, you have to be empty. If you want to lead, you need submit and obey. If you want to live, first you have to die. If you want spiritual gain, first you have to lose everything. Do we really think we can psychoanalyze all this and come up with a formula for marital success?

Looking at one's spouse as if they are just a series of buttons to be pushed in order to get what we want from them is destructive. It isn't my job to 'fix' what is 'wrong' with Mr. Raber, and my assessment of what is 'wrong' with him would be skewed anyway by my own deceitful heart. I help my husband in his spiritual growth simply by nurturing my own spiritual growth. We present our needs and burdens before God together, as halves of a whole. No deceptions or underhanded machinations, or efforts to dominate and control. The number one place we should "provide things honest" is in our marriages.

JD Miller's picture

Before we got married I wanted to make sure that my wife understood submission. In my view we each get a vote, but I get the tie breaking vote if we disagree :). Let me explain that a bit though- I only cast the tie breaking vote ofter hearing her reasons for why she voted the way she did and sometimes after hearing her side, I cast the tie breaking vote in her favor. This is far different than just making all the decisions and leaving her out of it.
Recently I became very concerned over some of the extremes and even manipulations coming from some of the submission teachings directed at women. Since I am a man, I had not paid much attention to the women's books until something happened at church. My wife is a wonderful helpmate. I pastor a small church and print the bulletins myself, and from time to time there is a typo or spelling error or a wrong date or time. If I read announcements and do not catch them, my wife has been kind enough to point it out to me so I can correct it in the next announcement (she has enough confidence in me and my ego that she is not fearful to do this). Further I used her in an illustration during a sermon to show how she had pointed out a sin in my life that I had to correct. I presented it in a way that showed that I was thankful for the accountability. Sadly, she was confronted by a lady in the church and given a letter of reproof for challenging and correcting her husband- both for his sin and for the errors in the announcement/bulletin.
I then had to address this woman and explain to her how that if my wife were to listen to her, she would not be submitting to me because I wanted her to help me and hold me accountable. My wife then began to show me some of things that Debi Pearl had been teaching and I began to understand why this issue had even come up. I definitely believe there are huge problems in marriages with women and men not understanding their roles, but I fear there are also very serious problems with some of the teachers who are trying to instruct women in the area of submission. Thank you for bringing some balance back to the discussion.

Aaron Blumer's picture


There is a tricky balance there. The biblical view of authority and submission certainly doesn't prohibit the submissive one in the relationship from confronting or expressing a point of view (whether the relationship is wife-->husband, or member-->elder, employee-->employer or any number of other submissive-authoritative relationships). But there's a line in there somewhere where prolonging a confrontation or persisting in argument turns into, frankly, kicking up a fuss. Well-meant feedback declines into giving a decision-maker grief as we try to straighten them out. But straightening out the leader is not the responsibility of the submissive person in any authoritative-submissive relationship... and is a lose-lose scenario (Heb. 13.17).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Susan R's picture


I agree, Aaron, that it is a tricky balance. But I think when the question is one of morality vs a decision about the color of the drapes or budgeting for groceries, persistence is not necessarily a bad thing. I feel sorry for women who are told not to 'nag' their husbands when the guy is viewing porn on the internet or physically and verbally abusing her and the kids. She shouldn't stand over him wagging her finger, but she should take steps to protect herself and her children.

handerson's picture

I also think you can't divorce submission from love. That really helps to clarify motivation and the extent to which (in this case) a wife should engage her husband. If it is an issue that is obviously harming him (like an addiction), it suddenly becomes very clear that she should persist in engaging the issue. But love also demands that she do that in a way that respects him and isn't condescending.

Susan R's picture


handerson wrote:
I also think you can't divorce submission from love. That really helps to clarify motivation and the extent to which (in this case) a wife should engage her husband. If it is an issue that is obviously harming him (like an addiction), it suddenly becomes very clear that she should persist in engaging the issue. But love also demands that she do that in a way that respects him and isn't condescending.

I agree. Motivation will guide the response. I was thinking how far too often I've heard that a spouse's loyalty, so to speak, should be for the other spouse, and that children should always take a back seat to the marriage. IMO that is a false dichotomy. Anything that is 'bad' for the kids is bad for the marriage and vice/versa. I'm not talking about requiring that the household revolve around the whims of children, but a wife shouldn't believe that she can't remove herself or her kids from an immoral or dangerous situation and find help for her husband without putting herself and the kids at risk. Basically, an adult can take care of themselves, but a child is defenseless. I can't imagine putting children at risk to cater to an adult engaged in unrepentant misconduct.

Over the years in IFB churches, I've heard many a Bible study about how to be The Good Wife. Some of it I can't even post here in mixed company. Seldom did it ever include anything about the fruits of the Spirit. Plenty of times it revolved around what to wear in the bedroom or to meet him at the door. :/

Marcia W.'s picture

So, would it be appropriate for a man to be church disciplined for being a reviler at home? Once the wife has spoken to him about it, and the church elders have spoken to him about it, isn't it time for church discipline? We're talking about cursing and yelling in anger at wife and children.

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