You Don’t Have to Make Your Husband Happy, Your Kids Happy, or Your Family Happy this Christmas

by | Dec 4, 2019 | Uncategorized | 24 comments

Is it your job to make your husband happy?
Merchandise is Here!

Are you responsible for making your husband happy–or for making your wife happy?

What about your kids? Do you owe them a happy life? Do you owe your parents a happy Christmas?

I gave a speech at my daughter’s Katie wedding where I was trying to express a big truth, and I still don’t feel like I did a good job (the speech was short; but that’s not really an excuse. Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address in just a few minutes; i could have figured it out better).

Sheila's Wedding Speech Husband Happy

(Incidentally, if you want to hear another part of my speech, and Keith’s speech, and Rebecca’s speech, watch Katie’s wedding video!).

Anyway, what I was trying to say was something like this:

Many people will give you advice about how to have a good marriage, how to be a good wife, how to make your husband happy. But what those people think doesn’t matter. What your husband thinks isn’t even the main goal. It’s what God thinks that matters. When you run after God and let Him become bigger in your life, you’ll love David well and have a great marriage. But when you’re focused on what other people think you should do, or how other people feel, you can miss the boat. Pursue God; and everything else falls into place as it should.

It didn’t come out well, though, and I’d like to elaborate on it today, because in the Focus on the Family broadcast I shared yesterday, that was actually the focus: how a wife can make a husband happy. And this time of year, we’re often focused on how to make our kids happy, or how to keep peace in the extended family.

That’s simply the wrong focus. So let’s start from first principles:

God does not tell us we are responsible for making other people happy.

We are not responsible for other people’s feelings. We are only responsible for our own attitudes and actions.

God never tells us to make others happy. He tells us to be kind, loving, peaceable, giving, good, trustworthy, faithful. He tells us to treat others as we would have them treat us; He tells us to act as someone’s neighbor (easier said than done in marriage–that’s why “my husband is my neighbor” is thought #1 in 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage!).

But then there’s something deeper (as C.S. Lewis would say, there’s a deeper magic! Higher up and further in!).

The goal is not just to be kind, loving, peaceable, giving, good, trustworthy, his neighbor, etc. etc. The goal is to grow to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), that we may show people God, and point others to Him.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 

Matthew 5:16 (NRSV)

The goal is to point others to Jesus.

Those are the goals of your life: To be transformed into His likeness, and to point others to Him.

Your ultimate purpose, then, is not that your husband is happy, or that your kids are happy and have an easy life, or that your mom is happy with you. Your goal should be that God is glorified.

To me, that’s a big relief. I’m not responsible for my kids being happy or for Keith being happy. I’m just responsible for acting as Jesus would, and for growing in my relationship with Him. And that’s something I can control!

Paul even wrote:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

Romans 12:18

Paul knew that sometimes whether or not someone is happy with us actually does NOT depend on us. We are not ultimately responsible.

That’s really what I was trying to say to Katie: When we serve God and run after Him, then we’ll end up treating our spouse well, and the marriage will usually grow.

Pursue God, not just making your husband happy

When our aim, though, is our spouse’s happiness, sometimes that will cause us to enable sin; paper over problems that need to be dealt with so we don’t upset him (or her); or ignore our own needs and feel more emotionally distant.

 

Those are the goals of your life: To be transformed into His likeness, and to point others to Him.

A happy marriage is not built on one spouse trying to make the other happy; a happy marriage is built on two spouses trying to love each other and caring for each other’s needs. Having a happy husband (or a happy wife) is not the measuring stick for your success in life. Pleasing God is the measuring stick for your success in life.

Sometimes pleasing God does not result in a happy husband.

Do the things that make us happy automatically bring God’s best in our lives?

Let’s say that what makes your husband happy is getting to play video games all day, everyday. If you made him happy by never making any demands on him, is this the right thing to do? You’re now enabling a video game addiction. If you have kids, you’re making it easy for him to ignore the kids. You’re also encouraging him to have a very self-focused life, where he doesn’t contribute to the betterment of this world.

Or what if the thing that makes him happy is something else that is bad for him–like eating a ton of baked goods and drinking pop? If  you constantly bake unhealthy food because it makes him happy, are you helping him? What is it that God wants for him? God wants him to be healthy and energetic, because God has works specifically planned for your husband to do (Ephesians 2:10). Treating our health cavalierly does not contribute to bringing the kingdom of God on this earth.

And you can think of many other examples, I’m sure. I know for myself I LOVE spending a whole weekend watching Netflix and knitting. But that’s not ultimately good for me, and there are other things that God has for me to do. I know that it makes me really happy to to phone a friend and gossip a ton about someone who is being ridiculous, but that doesn’t please God, either. The point is not our happiness; the point is who God wants us to be.

And as we grow closer to God, soon the things that make us happy actually line up with what God wants for us, because our hearts are transformed to be like Jesus. So a video game binge weekend loses its appeal, and we stick to a few hours with friends but then do meaningful things with our lives.

When our aim is our spouse’s happiness, sometimes that will cause us to enable sin.

Sometimes pleasing God makes your marriage rocky.

We find the story of Abigail, Nabal, and David in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail was married to Nabal, who was a bully and likely an abusive scumbag (he really was a scumbag, if you read Scripture). Nabal offended David and his band of warriors, and Abigail deliberately went against Nabal to do the right thing and protect her household.

Sometimes doing the right thing upsets your husband.

Saying no to porn, putting filters on the computer, or having his brothers in for an intervention into his porn habit may upset your husband, but you know that God’s ultimate good for your husband is that the porn use stops.

Drawing boundaries around what yelling or calling names may upset your husband, but it is pleasing to God (if your husband is physically abusive, please take care before confronting him, and get to safety).

Seriously, sometimes Keith has had to sit me down and say, “Sheila, you may not think this is an issue, but it is an issue that is affecting us. And it matters. And so we are going to deal with it, even if you don’t like it, because our marriage matters.”

That’s called being a peaceMAKER, not just a peaceKEEPER (and that’s Thought 6 in 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage!).

Are you GOOD or are you NICE?

Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

Sometimes pleasing God makes your kids upset at you.

As parents, we want to smooth the road for our kids. We want them to have happy lives. But it is far more important to God, and for our kids’ well-being in the long run, that our kids develop good character, not just that they are happy now.

So if you honestly can’t afford the presents they want at Christmas, it’s okay to say to them, “We need to be responsible with the money that God has given us, and so we can’t buy that right now. But we can do this as a family instead!” And then plan an awesome board game day or puzzle day or family hike. Christmas doesn’t need to be about kids getting everything they want; it’s better that they grow up understanding responsibility.

Sometimes pleasing God means displeasing your family of origin.

If your goal is to make everyone happy, you’re going to fail miserably, because not everyone can be happy at the same time. If you feel like this Christmas season, you have to cater to your mom and do what your mom wants, you’ll be miserable if what your mom wants conflicts with what your husband and your kids want.

Extended family can make unreasonable demands on us, and one of the hardest things for adult children to realize, especially around the Christmas season, is that we are not responsible for how our siblings or parents treat us or think of us. The measurement of your success is not that your parents approve of you, but that God approves of you.


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The concept of boundaries teaches us that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings; we are only responsible for our own.

So, please, can we stop talking about how to make your husband (or your wife) happy? It really becomes idolatry at some point. Certainly show your husband love! Certainly be kind to one another. But keep the focus where it sholud be: Love Jesus well, and you’ll end up loving your husband well. And as you do that, your marriage will grow and your husband will likely be happier.

But if you’re loving Jesus well and you’re being kind and gracious and your spouse isn’t happier–that’s not on you. And it’s important that we get this language right. If you feel as if you’ve never been taught this in the right balance, please pick up 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage! I wrote it to clarify so much Christian teaching which gives the wrong emphasis, especially for women. In everything, put God first, and the rest takes care of itself.

It's Not Your Job to Make Your Husband Happy

What do you think? Do we feel too responsible for other people’s feelings? What should be our goal in marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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24 Comments

  1. Ina

    Yes! Do what makes you holy, not happy!

    Also, as someone who struggles with seasonal mood swings, my husband can be the most amazing man in the world, but if I’m not taking vitamin D this time of year and speaking truth he won’t make me happy. That’s on me.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! That’s so true. I was going to talk about mental health struggles, as well, but I ran out of room. But that’s a whole other issue, and we can’t feel responsible for someone else’s mood. All we can do is love, practice patience, be kind, etc.

      Reply
    • M

      When we got married the pastor who counseled us advised, “Please Jesus in the way you please each other.” That directed us both to our relationship with Christ. It is Jesus who is our Lord and savior not our spouse.

      Reply
  2. Andrea

    Is anyone familiar with the term “emotional labor”? It’s a fancy sociological term for the task of making everyone happy, which falls disproportionately on women.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, absolutely. I’m actually thinking of using that topic as one of our blog series in the new year for Wednesdays in a month–just look at how to share the emotional load of the family.

      Reply
  3. Lydia purple

    Happiness to me feels like a really superficial goal for life in general. Sometimes people (or my husband) will ask if I am happy with my life and my answer usually is something like „it doesn’t matter if I am happy,“
    what matters is that I am after God in whatever is going on in my life.Do have struggles? Yes, but i have a God who is my helper. Do I find joy in him ? Sure!

    Life is way to complex to just answer with a general „i am (not) happy“

    In any given day, there is usually good mix of a struggle, a victory, something beautiful, some mess, good interactions, controversy, fun, good food… so honestly I don’t know if I am happy, what I do know is that I am content and discontent at the same time, rejoicing in the good God is doing in my life and yearning to overcome the struggle I face. Thankful for what I have yet yearning for more always. Satisfied yet hungry…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Perfect, Lydia! And isn’t the “hungry” part of the point of life? If we were completely happy, then would we be motivated to try to make the world a better place? To bring Jesus to people? To yearn for God even more in our lives?

      Reply
    • Greg Gliszczynski

      I’m the other way. I broke off my first engagement a long time ago because she became ridiculously religious and I wasn’t having it. Sometimes finding god or jesus is not the best way.

      Reply
  4. Jane Eyre

    Just as a side note: while I don’t think we are responsible for other people’s feelings, we do have a duty to not try to hurt other people unnecessarily.

    It was a rough Thanksgiving for me. My mother says fewer hurtful and condescending things than she used to, but, ya know, being 7 months pregnant and hearing about how fat you are really sucks. And I firmly believe that my first duty is to God, and He says that my first duty on earth is to my husband and then my unborn child. Being frayed and spending two days crying my eyes out after visits isn’t good for my new family.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Jane, that’s awful! And, yes, we still certainly have to be kind! That’s part of loving God. The fruits of the Spirit should be evidenced in us. I’m so sorry that she said those things to you!

      Reply
  5. Nathan

    Jane, I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. On the plus side, congratulations on your soon to be new baby!

    > > He says that my first duty on earth is to my husband and then my unborn child.

    Good point.

    Reply
  6. Nathan

    > > > > He says that my first duty on earth is to my husband and then my unborn child.
    > > Good point.

    Let me expand on that. The first earthly duty of a married couple should be to each other. Yes, the wife should attend to her husband, but so should the husband attend to his wife. AKA, “submit to each other”. Then to your children, and your community and the world as a whole.

    But when submission in a marriage goes one way only, that’s not a good thing.

    Reply
    • Becky

      Thank you for this reminder, and also for the links to review the articles about boundaries with family. We’ve been having an ongoing situation on my in-laws’ side that has forced us to widen the boundaries around our little family multiple times. The short version, my husband has the misfortune of having a sister who married the guy who bullied him the most as a teen, the bully never grew up, and we keep having to limit contact with him more and more. Everything came to a breaking point over the summer at last, and the only reason we attended Thanksgiving/ plan to attend Christmas with my husband’s side this year is because of his grandparents’ health declining and not being sure how much more time we have with them. It’s good to have the reminder that it’s ok to go in with an exit strategy in place if the problem person starts making the situation deteriorate. My MiL in particular might raise a fuss, but I refuse to feel guilty about her feelings in this, especially over a man-child whose actions she’s consistently defended in spite of how he’s hurt her own son over the years.

      Jane, I love how you said it, and I’m sorry that your mother treats you this way. I hope the rest of the holiday season and your pregnancy goes better!

      Reply
  7. Nathan

    Becky, I’m sorry that this is happening. I remember you posting this before, how your husband’s sister married his school bully. Not a good situation to begin with. I remember you saying that he was starting to bully your children as well. And the fact that his own mother is siding with the bully against him (and against her grandchildren) is very, very sad.

    You’re right. Do NOT feel guilty about setting a boundary if you have to. The safety of your family comes before any sense of protocol felt by others

    Reply
  8. Blessed Wife

    Months of therapy, boiled down into a single article. Love it!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Glad it helped!

      Reply
  9. Arwen

    I agree Sheila, your whole point can be summarized in one of my favorite Bible verse, “In everything you do, do unto the Lord and not unto man.” – Colossians 3:23 or “Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God.”

    You know how the Bible talks about the sin of man pleasing. I think many people get in trouble because they are FIRST seeking the will of mankind rather than the will of God. In everyday things like, marriage, work, friendships, clothing style, neighborhoods, politics, culture, etc. The effects humans have on us is so powerful that’s why Jesus demanded we forsake EVERYTHING to follow Him.

    I haven’t celebrated the Holidays with my family in 6 years, i have gone no contact with my parents for 6 years also. You can’t began to image how bizarre that looks in my culture to cut off your parents like that. But i had to stop and ask myself, am i doing it for my culture or for God? What does Jesus think about my actions, does it bring HIM glory? Am i ready to accept the fallout that comes from my people. And what is about my people that believe parents are sinless beings who can do no wrong. The culture itself has toxic elements that i don’t need to partake in because it would be enabling sin!

    And you know whats funny about seeking and doing the will of God FIRST, He will always reward you greatly for it. It might not be the reward you’re looking for but it’s still a reward for your obedience to Him first and foremost. This Thanksgiving, like previous thanksgivings, i volunteered at a homeless shelter, they were short on staff and needed help. I spoke with many of the men/women while they were eating. They shared their life i shared mine. That was far more edifying to my soul and to God than to be with family where dissension and strife would have been present. I always return home rejuvenated!

    When Colossians says, in EVERYTHING you do, it means in EVERYTHING. When you wake up in the morning and put on cloths ask yourself, am wearing this particular outfit so that i can get the attention of the single ladies or single men. Do you live in a particular neighborhood because you hate others who are created in the image of God. Did you take that job to show off your wealth to family, friends, culture. Did you choose a particular candidate because someone else told you to vote for them or because God told you to vote for them. Who’s image you seek first, God’s or mans, will determines ALL the decisions you make in life. ALL of them!

    Reply
  10. Jm

    I love how you keep turning the focus back to JESUS. I desperately tried for years and years to “make my husband happy”. What I didn’t know was that he had a porn addiction and had been hiding an affair for years. Proverbs 31 talks about a Godly woman bringing her husband good and not harm. God showed me that sometimes the “good” we bring our husband will not be seen as good by them or others. The hardest thing I had to do was set a boundary that we get help from people who truly understood Sex Addiction, or I would pursue separation. At this point, we’d spent over $10,000 on therapists who kept treating this as a couples issue.

    We’ve been married for 28 years and It’s been a long, long hard journey, but one of the things I’ve had to come to terms with is NOT taking responsibility for my husbands happiness. That’s what got me into trouble for so many years. I need to follow after Jesus with everyone in me and do what HE is calling me to do. Today my husband is in recovery and even co-facilitates a group for men who struggle with sexual integrity issues. And God has redeemed my pain and anguish, as I became a certified life coach and APSATS (Barb Steffens) trained and run partner support groups on line. This happened because I stopped taking responsibility for my husband’s happiness and focused on following JESUS. As a caveat, my heart goes out to the women who set these hard boundaries and their husbands don’t choose recovery. Unfortunately that happens all too often.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, thank you for sharing your story! That’s so hopeful.

      And, yes, sometimes being “good” is hard. Good and nice are not the same thing. We think God has called women to be nice, but He hasn’t. He’s called us to be good, and that’s so much better.

      Reply
    • Srimati

      Christmas in July! Just read this and it is perfectly relevant to my relationship right now, even in the middle of July. Thanks for this. Excited to be a new reader and I just ordered your book. Blessings!

      Reply
  11. AspenP

    Oh Sheila I wish I had read this post ten years ago as a new bride! Well said…all of it. It’s funny how I clung to certain submission scriptures then to justify enabling behavior because I didn’t know what tough love looked like and I’d never heard of Boundaries. This is all so good. The Lord has been peeling back these layers in my heart over the last several years showing me some deep wounds of emotional dependency and a deep belief that I had value only if I helped others. I didn’t even know that about myself. Like the pastor Jimmy Evans has said, “my definition of normal was ME.” I didn’t even know my thinking was unhealthy and untrue!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad God is showing you now!

      Reply
  12. Just a regular guy

    When I here sound bytes like “its not my job to make you happy!”, or “you are so needy” or whatever the case may be. Those sound bytes alone encourage isolation in marriage and quite frankly – selfishness. When we, as good will spouses, tell each other “Hey, this would make me happy”, or “This is what I need”, articles like this tend to leave a taste in our mind that “Happy” and “Need” *should* evoke a negative response in us as we here from them what their need is or what makes them happy.

    In Corinthians, the idea is expressed that we are to serve each others needs whether in bed or out. When we serve the others needs, we make them happy, and that is NOT un-biblical. The key is that what makes us happy *should be* holy (pleasing to God)! And our needs should be driven by Gods design. So when I serve my spouse to make them happy, or to fulfill there need, it is not wrapped in a drudgery, but a joy. When my spouse expresses what makes them happy or what their needs are, I am driven to enable that happiness and fulfill those needs! — not out of idolatry of the person, but out of trying to be more like Christ.

    So, lets all be careful and not distort expressions of what makes us “happy” or what we “need” into something negative, when indeed, our marriages and relationship are filled with making people happy and fulfilling their needs. Again the key is that happiness we are trying to invoke should be bases on what is holy, or good with God, and when we seek to fulfill a need, that need should be based on Gods design.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear what you’re saying, but actually, I think this is quite fundamental and important, and so I’m going to push back on this.

      Yes, if your spouse says, “this would make me happy”, and it’s a perfectly reasonable and godly thing to do, then by all means, pursue it. We should be kind, loving, patient, giving, treating others as we would others treat us, etc. etc. These are all good things. Yes.

      But it’s also very important to remember that we are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions. Of course we’re to love and be giving, but this distinction is actually quite crucial, because it’s the root of a lot of family dysfunction. Our emotions are your own. You cannot control anyone else’s emotions, and you are not responsible for them. You are only responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

      So while we should love, be kind, do all we can to serve our spouse, etc., and those things are all GOOD (not drudgery, and I was never implying that they were), we need to remember that how our spouse acts is outside of our control and we are not responsible for it.

      Women especially tend to feel responsible for other people’s emotions. If someone is sad, we think it’s our fault. If someone is mad, we wonder what we did to cause it. Paul says that, as much as it is up to us, we should live at peace with each other, recognizing that it isn’t always up to us. You should pursue your spouse’s best and love them, but it’s very important to remember that we do not bear the responsibility for others’ emotions.

      Reply

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