What Is a Godly Wife Supposed to Do?

I just returned from a busy week of work travel. I love meeting our CONQUER sisters when I travel and talking one-on-one with so many women who are freshly learning that they are co-equal image-bearers. That they are not less-than and their purpose is not to prop up dysfunctional, foolish, immature, or wicked men, even if that man is their husband. 

Today’s Question: I have been married for 23 years. I met my husband at church and so looked forward to serving the Lord together. About ten years ago after a series of crises, my husband no longer wanted anything to do with God, church, or anything Christian.

I have three sons, and I found myself pleading with God, “But, Lord, how am I to rear them to be Godly men with a father so opposed and indifferent?” God has been faithful. He has always met me in my distress, and the more I get to know Him, the more I know that He is all I need. When my husband decided Christ was irrelevant, he also pulled away from us nearly completely (e.g., we had a gas leak in our garage one evening some years ago and he pretended to turn off the pilot light to the water heater, and then laughed the next day when the gas company informed me that it wasn't turned off). The boys and I had our lives, and he had his, a life that included outings with other women, pornography (and all the sexual expectations that accompany it), neglecting the kids (one of whom has a serious chronic illness) and mostly just being completely indifferent to our wellbeing or even existence at times. I often wondered if I would come home to find him in a catatonic state he was so disconnected. 

I have my own business and work from home. My husband's job would not support our family for one month. He wants me to pay the bills, and so if we need more money to cover whatever, the expectation is that I will simply work more to try to cover it. I stopped sleeping except for 2-3 hours a night, sometimes going 48 to 72 hours with no sleep to try to make things “work”. I have asked him to take over the family finances, to consider and get other work to help, all to no avail. Twice with the advice of counselors I asked him to leave.

In my pathetic weakness, the first time he didn't even leave the house, and the second he left for perhaps two weeks. With promises to change, and his tears of disbelief and distress, I caved and he stayed. Now I am in crisis. My health is deteriorating, and the doctor has told me if I don't change something, I am headed for a serious health crisis from stress, lack of sleep, etc. Financially we are suffering, and there simply aren't enough hours in the day to work more. My memory is failing from lack of sleep, and I simply am on empty. 

My biggest question these years has been what does God require of a wife? There have been times I have been crushed by the weight of contemplating that God would expect one of his precious daughters to continue in a marriage that is on paper only, but if I was convinced that's what He wanted, I'm willing to give my life. My Jesus is worth it. I'm so thankful that my oldest is striving after God, and all three of my dear boys have kind and compassionate dispositions. They continue to come to church with me, and I'm so thankful for them. They are 18, 16 and 13. In the last months, God seems to be softening my husband’s heart in that he is trying to be more involved, but I find my spirit dead and unresponsive. 

I am so, so very tired….it is a weariness not of body so much as of my very soul. I simply do not know how to continue on, how to set boundaries, how to “count it all joy”. When I do sleep, it's on the couch for the most part, and I fear that I am teaching my boys to accept a twisted and distorted idea of marriage. I am at a loss and worn completely out. What now… 

Answer: First, I’m so very sorry for how your husband has treated you. He not only checked out of his relationship with Christ, but also checked out of being a husband and father. These two things are not the same thing. You describe him living as a single man at your expense. He’s sexually unfaithful, under-employed, irresponsible, and indifferent to you and your children’s safety and well-being. Now you’re experiencing the very real health consequences of your inability to have loving yet firm boundaries. 

Your question is this: What does God require of a wife? Excellent question. Let me ask you? Does God require a godly wife to silently participate in her husband’s unfruitful deeds of darkness? Does he ask a wife to lay down her life, her safety or well-being to support her husband’s foolishness, sinfulness, laziness, or indifference? Does biblical love mean you give up the best of who you are (health-wise, financial-wise, person-wise) to enable the worst in him to continue without consequence? No. Sadly, I fear that’s what you’ve believed. You said it when you wrote, “I fear that I am teaching my boys to accept a twisted and distorted idea of marriage”. Indeed, that is some of what you are showing them by the way you live. 

I’m so sad and distressed about the wrong teaching many of us as women have received from church leaders around our role as a good wife. You swallowed the Christian Kool-Aid that teaches a godly wife faithfully endures mistreatment, abuse, pornography, indifference, betrayal, lack of provision or care in a heroically sacrificial way just to keep her marriage together. To honor and please God. To stay married until the end, even if it costs you your health, your children’s health, and even your very life. I hear your heartbreak and you feel like you’re on the edge of burnout. Yet, dear sweet sister, I love that you still desire to please God – so let’s start there.

Honestly, from your heart of hearts, ask the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Do you really think God asks you to willingly sacrifice and suffer to enable more of your husband's foolishness, mistreatment, and indifference? Why would God want that for you or for your husband? When Jesus said to lay down our life for a friend, he meant sacrifice yourself for the GOOD of another person. For example, saving a child from an icy pond, or giving your kidney to your spouse would be a noble sacrifice of your well-being for the good of another. Sacrificing yourself and your children to enable your husband’s sin to continue to wreck his life and yours is not a noble sacrifice, nor a wise one. It’s wholistically against what God teaches. For example, Ephesians 5:11 says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, rather expose them.”  

You wrote, “In my pathetic weakness I’ve caved……”. What’s that about? It seems like you have received some advice to separate from him, tried it, and then fell back into rescuing him from the consequences of his actions. Friend, you are not your husband’s savior. Jesus is. You are not mandated as a godly wife to cover for his stupidity and foolishness. That’s participating in his darkness, which God clearly tells you not to do. Read over the story of Abigail and Nabal (1 Samuel 25). This story took place in a patriarchal culture where women had few choices, but when she did have an opportunity to make a choice, Abigail made the choice not to ignore her husband’s stupidity nor submit to his rash decision. And her life and her household’s lives were spared.

It’s tempting to beat yourself up over these past decisions. Please don’t do that. It only fuels Satan’s destruction of you and your boys. He’s already ruined your spouse, don’t allow him to ruin you or them. It’s time to care about you. To have your no and no more. It’s time to steward your sleep, your health, your business, and finances, as well as your emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Instead of getting stuck in regret, learn from these painful lessons and move forward in a new way. Because you’ve been stuck in these enabling patterns for so long, I’d encourage you to reconnect with your counselor to get that support. 

In addition, we will be starting our 3-month group coaching program “Walking in CORE Strength” in March. I’d highly encourage you to consider joining in order to get the support and CORE strength you need to walk this new pattern out with dignity and strength.

Friend, what woke you up to stop enabling and rescuing your spouse (or adult child) and start taking better care of your own self?

14 Comments

  1. Marie on February 1, 2024 at 8:29 am

    I feel like even those who are helping people escape from the past are not understanding what keeps people in these situations. The “swallow the Kool Aid ” remark is hurtful. People are trying to follow God and the leaders He has taught them through and where He has placed the, without forgetting the the words, “take up your cross”. So often I feel the approach is harsh when the counselors and helpers view those looking for answers as not following what God wants, immature and unwise, all the while the victims are following the path Christ has placed them in.. They are hurt from both sides of the aisle. Christian counselors who are helping people see the Light, are adding to the weight of shame . This was the Christian culture God placed us in from children onward. It feels like blaming victims for following Christ and where He has placed them, and a one-up type approach in counseling.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 1, 2024 at 10:37 am

      Marie, I meant no offense with my Kool Aid remark. After watching the documentary Shiny Happy People and experiencing some of that patriarchal and wrong teaching in my own church I believe our leaders (most of them) thought they were biblical and following God’s ways, but were not “open” the possibility that they might be wrong. I remember early in my marriage attending a women’s retreat where the speaker was talking about “submission” and used an illustration that horrified me. A pregnant women’s husband wanted her to have an abortion because they couldn’t afford another child. I get that. I understand the panic of an unplanned pregnancy, even an unwanted pregnancy. The woman didn’t want to have the abortion but felt she should “submit”. The leader used this illustration that on the way to the abortion, the woman had a spontaneous miscarriage. No one objected to this misapplication of submission? Why? Because we drank the KoolAid. I didn’t believe what she was saying myself but my bad was I was too afraid to believe in my own thoughts and what the Holy Spirit was saying to me. I didn’t have the confidence back then, or the nerve to stand up and challenge what she was teaching. So my word KoolAid is a short cut for us all to remember the Jim Jones cult leader who convinced hundreds of adults to drink poison that would kill them and their kids. How did he get that kind of influence and power over the minds and hearts of adults that would sacrifice their lives and their children’s lives because of what this man said? I think we have generations of women who have believed what they have been taught, not having confidence to think things through for themselves, trust the Holy Spirit and disagree with the “leader” or “speaker” or “pastor’ or “husband”. I believe if God wanted women to be robots, he would not have given them a brain. I want to encourage women not to drink in everything someone says as true, good or right just because they say it’s biblical or right. I’m not blaming the victim, victims are victims – they don’t have a choice or believe they don’t. But ladies you do have a choice now. You can read, think, research what God says in his word and get yourself strong, which is GOd’s will for you.

      • Tara on February 1, 2024 at 10:46 am

        I loved the answer to the hurt woman and I love this ministry. The Christian kool-aid is a real thing and I have had to help many Christian women recover after I saved myself as well. Doormats are not godly wives. The teaching at the churches I have been to – have not been helpful at all in this area and I regularly refer people to this ministry . Thank you for all you do to expose the darkness and shine light and truth!!

  2. Kim Thiehoff on February 1, 2024 at 9:25 am

    I was going through life in the same manner as my husband, get up, go to work, come home, eat, watch TV, go to bed, repeat. On the weekends, I would sleep as much as possible. My health had already taken a massive decline. I was a mere shadow of my former self. I had given up on having a loving, warm relationship with my husband years earlier. It was obvious he wanted nothing of the sort with me. I was stick. I had made my bed, so to speak. One day, as I was headed out the door, God spoke to my heart: this is not the abundant life I died to give you. It was a few days later, on my birthday, that I told my husband we should separate, since we both were obviously so miserable. We were separated 6 years when he passed away in Nov of 2020. I was not prepared for the grief I experienced and had to process. It was during that time when I realized I had been in an abusive relationship for years. God is gentle and kind, more loving than I understood. I’m so grateful He didn’t give up on me!

  3. Caroline Abbott on February 1, 2024 at 9:44 am

    Great response Leslie. I think about the fact that staying and looking the other way has allowed this husband to be his worst self, and is causing your harm. That is not demonstrating Christian love for him or for you.

  4. Natalie on February 1, 2024 at 10:50 am

    Oh my goodness! SUCH WISE ADVICE! This was my story too! But through Gods grace & strength, He helped me step out of a very dysfunctional marriage and choose the abundant life He has for each & every one of us! It was not only the best decision for me but also for my son! I would encourage you to seek help as Leslie said! It’s difficult to change old (& often very unhealthy patterns) but in God’s strength you absolutely can! The Conquer course is wonderful! Please don’t let the fear of the unknown prevent you from making the healthy choices you need to make! Remember Joshua 1:9! God will help you to be strong and courageous & will be with you as you step out in faith! God bless you!

  5. Rachel on February 1, 2024 at 4:10 pm

    I came across Leslie’s book (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage) an absolute lifesaver. I’m no longer the same person. Thank you Jesus for Leslie and the team!

  6. Christy on February 2, 2024 at 10:31 am

    I’ve been married 27 years. About 7 years ago I found out some awful things my husband was doing and spent the next 3 years in a constant state of anxiety, shock and disbelief. I tried everything to change him with no success. He wouldn’t even admit what was happening and won’t even admit it to this day. In 2020, our only son tragically died and I then dealt with that trauma on top of the trauma my husband caused. After 4 years of counseling and focusing on my relationship with God, who clearly has given me the strength to survive, I think I’m ready to move on from my marriage. Although he has made many positive changes due to boundaries I’ve set, my heart is hardened and still on guard because he takes no responsibility and talks ugly to me sometimes still. Am I wrong for wanting better for myself even though he has made improvements? I feel like he is keeping me from being who God wants me to be because of the ill feelings I have towards him.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 2, 2024 at 1:10 pm

      Christy, you said “I feel like he is keeping me from being who God wants me to be because of the ill feelings I have towards him. If you left the marriage, you would still take your ill feelings with you as they are yours. What might be possible for you if you were able to let go of those feelings – forgive him. Then you could more clearly decide, “will I ever be able to trust him again? Can I be safe with him”? If the answer is no, my trust is permanently broken therefore a safe strong marital relationship is not possible – then you know your next step forward. Forgiveness isn’t necessarily for his benefit but it is for yours. So you can heal and grow to become your best self, whether in the marriage or not in the marriage. He’s not keeping you in these feelings, you are. Only you can deal with your feelings.

  7. Debra on February 2, 2024 at 10:53 pm

    Matthew 25
    John 6:1-26
    2Timothy3:1-5

    • Leslie Vernick on February 3, 2024 at 1:29 pm

      Hey Debra, thanks for the verses but what is your point? These verses cover alot. Can you be specific on what you would like to share by these verses?

  8. Betty on February 11, 2024 at 11:21 pm

    I left my husband a week ago with my 3 very small children (youngest is less than 3 months). But I am unsure what to do now. He blames me for our problems, says he is not going to jump through any hoops for me, and says he does not see how we can recover from this. He is.very angry that I have told people about our issues. He has been physical with me 5 times, most recently on the day I left. He denies the violence or minimizes it or says I have been more violent with him than he has with me. He also has a gambling addiction, job insecurity, and a temper. I have been confused about if there are other types of abuse at play. When we argue there are a lot of personal attacks and name calling but I don’t know how to know if there is emotional or verbal abuse at play.

    I want to reconcile with him and have been devastated at the thought that it might not happen. But I don’t know what to do from here. I don’t know if I should be talking to him – reassuring him that I want things to work out and encouraging him to get help. Or if I need to stop communication and just see if he takes any positive steps. I also don’t know how to figure out what is going on in me that has led to this. There are little light bulb moments, but then it all becomes fuzzy again.

    In some ways it’s a relief to not be in that house anymore, but the road ahead seems very cloudy.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 12, 2024 at 12:44 am

      Betty, glad you are here and of course he blames you. That’s what unhealthy people do. I hope you registered for our free workshop this Tuesday. If not, go to http://www.leslievernick.com/joinwebinar to sign up. It will help you with your next steps forward. Meanwhile, please contact your local Domestic Violence shelter for some free support and counseling, 1800 799 SAFE is the national line and they can connect you with someone in your country. You do have some work to do to unravel from the gaslighting and confusion as well as trauma. Please dear do your work to get healthy and safe. Your children need a healthy momma.

  9. ava adams on February 29, 2024 at 5:33 pm

    I hear the depth of your struggle and your unwavering commitment to honoring God amidst the turmoil. Your courage to confront these challenges head-on and seek guidance is truly admirable.

    In your journey, you’ve encountered immense pain and disappointment, grappling with the weight of expectations and the toll it has taken on your health and well-being. Your honesty about the impact on your children and your own sense of self is both heartbreaking and profound.

    Your question about what God requires of a wife resonates deeply. It’s a question that many have grappled with, often navigating through layers of tradition, expectation, and genuine faith. It’s clear that you’ve wrestled with this question earnestly, seeking to align your actions with God’s will.

    The insights shared here about the distinction between sacrificial love and enabling destructive behavior offer a perspective that challenges conventional notions of marital duty. It’s a reminder that God’s love encompasses both grace and truth, and sometimes, love means setting boundaries to protect oneself and others from harm.

    Your journey is marked by moments of strength and vulnerability, resilience and weariness. Yet, through it all, your desire to honor God and seek His guidance shines through. I commend you for your courage and resolve, and I pray that you find the strength and clarity you need to navigate this season with grace and wisdom.

    As you continue on this journey, may you find solace in the support of your counselor and the community around you. And may you find renewed strength and hope in the knowledge that God walks beside you, guiding you with His unfailing love.

    In sharing your story, you offer a beacon of light to others who may be facing similar struggles, reminding them that they are not alone and that there is hope even in the darkest of times.

    On a personal note, I’ve found solace and guidance in https://www.youtube.com/@treasureineveryverse69/videos, which has been instrumental in my own spiritual growth and understanding of God’s purpose for my life. Their teachings may offer you additional insights and support as you navigate this challenging season.

    Thank you for your vulnerability and courage in sharing your story. May you find peace and strength in the days ahead.

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