Christian women in troubled marriages who have gone to their pastor or a Christian counselor seeking help are often encouraged to work on themselves and try harder to be more submissive, more caring, more attentive to their husband’s needs, more respectful, and less demanding.
In many marriages this might be wise counsel. When one person starts to try harder it often begets a reciprocal response in the other person. He begins to try harder too. Amends are made and the relationship is repaired. This is a good start and when the marriage stalls, someone needs to get some movement forward. However, in certain kinds of marriages it is not a good idea and can actually make the marriage worse.
Briefly, let me explain why, in some marriages, trying harder to accommodate one’s husband, do what he wants and needs and to be more compliant and submissive to what he says becomes destructive not only to her but also to her husband as well as their marriage.
It Feeds the Lie
Some men do not want to be married to a real woman who has her own feelings, her own needs, and her own brokenness. Instead they want a fantasy wife. A blow up doll wife that continues to bounce back with a smile even when he knocks her down. He wants a wife who always agrees, always acts nice, always smiles and thinks he’s wonderful all of the time no matter what he does or how he behaves.
He wants a wife who wants to have sex with him whenever he’s in the mood, regardless of how he treats her. He wants a wife that will never upset him, never disagree or never challenge him, and never disappoint him. He wants a wife that grants him amnesty whenever he messes up and never mentions it again.
The more a woman colludes with her husband’s idea that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife, the more firmly entrenched this lie becomes. She will never measure up to his fantasy wife because she too is a sinner. A real wife will disappoint him some times. She won’t always be able to meet every want or need. A real wife also reflects to him her pain when he hurts her and God’s wisdom when she sees him making a foolish decision.
In a healthy marriage where both individuals are allowed to be themselves, couples must learn to handle disagreements, differences and conflicts through compromise, mutual caring, and mutual submission. Sacrifice and service are mutually practiced in order to love one another in godly ways. When we fail (as we will) we see the pain in our partner’s face and with God’s help, make corrections so that damages are repaired, and love grows. In an unhealthy marriage when real wife and fantasy wife collide, it’s never pretty.
Therefore, what should wives in destructive marriages do? Start by gaining a bigger vision for God’s role as your husband’s helpmate. According to the Bible a helpmate is not an enabler, but rather a strong warrior. It means you will need to learn to fight (in God’s way) to bring about your husband’s good. You will need to think and pray about how God can use you to meet your husband’s deepest needs, not just his felt needs.
I often give women in these situations this challenge. Ask God what are your husband’s biggest or deepest needs right now. Is it to continue to prop him up, indulge his self-centeredness and self-deception or does he need something far more radical and risky from you?
I encourage her to prayerfully and humbly ask God to show her how best to biblically love her husband. It may be to stop indulging his selfish behavior and speak the truth in love. It may be to reflect back to him the impact his behaviors have on her and their children. It may be to set boundaries against his misuse of power under the guise of headship so that he doesn’t remain self-deceived. It may mean exposing some of his sins to the leadership of the church so that they too can act as a reflective mirror so that he has the best opportunity to look at himself from God’s perspective and repent.
That kind of love is indeed risky, redemptive, and sacrificial as she does not know what his response will be to this kind of love. But if he wakes up and repents of his demand for a fantasy wife that would be a positive change for her, for him, and for their marriage.