When Christian marriage advice goes wrong, we can end up following it to the letter–and failing our spouses.
In the summer, when Rebecca and I were talking about this, one long-time reader sent me in her story, which illustrates this well, and I saved it to run during our marriage misdiagnosis series.
This month, we’re looking at how marriage advice all too often goes awry in the church because we focus on the wrong goal–commitment over intimacy, or hierarchy over Jesus-centeredness–and in so doing we give the wrong advice.
This story shows that. She did what she was supposed to do as a Christian wife, waiting for him to lead, changing her dynamic personality to one that was quiet and subservient.
And it was exactly the opposite of what her husband needed.
Listen to her story:
I heard the message of submit and follow so much before and after I was married that I didn’t know anything else.
My problem was unique though. My husband didn’t want to be the center, but because of these teachings he tried to be (tried to take charge and make decisions and such). We didn’t know how to make a decision together which caused problems especially when we were first married. Lots of financial choices that I followed along with and felt helpless to change.
If people knew how hungry I was back then, literally because we hardly had money for food and yet, why didn’t I just get a job? Well, because of what I believed at the time.
I was unconsciously keeping myself lower than him.
I did do odd jobs at home and earned bits here and there. What I earned went to food and presents and such, fun things for us. He was really resentful for being the one in “leadership” back then, but didn’t say, so I just felt the resentment and didn’t know what I had done, so then I tried harder to be a good submissive wife.
Our finances got worse.. we had kids.. when he broke down and couldn’t even open the mail anymore I stepped into the role of paying bills and such. That was 3 or 4 years into our marriage that I finally became aware of our finances and took some responsibility for that. I wasn’t working though since by then we had littles. Still, stepping into that helped.
Then a few years later we moved far away from my support system and it was all on him again. Until he cracked again.. at which point I found out that he had depression (with suicidal ideations) from trauma as a child and that he always had this, but never told me (partly because he thought it was normal since he had always been depressed).
I would see something was wrong over the years, and he would lie and say he was fine.. but I could still see something was wrong.
My pattern was to try and submit more and serve him more. Turns out, what he needed was for me to actually lead and take charge in certain things.
When I was realizing this, after he came out of a mental hospital a few years ago, I finally knew. And I knew that I needed to be fully an adult and lead when God wanted me to.
We had an issue with his car a few months later, and in his depressed state he really was not able to make good decisions about getting it fixed or getting another one. It was the most difficult week of my life when I helped him get another car after he took it to a mechanic that ruined his old one (and took it back again and cost us a bunch of money and me trying to get the refund, blah blah)
But each step of the way that week I had to follow God’s leading at each moment. And I knew that his leading was exactly opposite of what I had been taught and what I had practiced for almost 4 decades of my life by then—
Taking charge even when my husband seemed to not want help, taking charge then even when my husband blamed me for causing problems with the bad mechanic (because I confronted him and wouldn’t let it go till we got our money back), and I wouldn’t let my husband just buy some crap car to have it over with. I wanted him to finally get a nice one that he LIKED that was all the things and affordable. And I wouldn’t let him go alone to the dealership (like he tried to) when we finally found the car. Like, I was just all in it!
And my usual mode, my submissive/obey habits were honestly screaming at me especially since he kept trying to push me away. But I knew that I couldn’t step back and be small again even though it felt like that is what my husband wanted me to do. To get out of the way so he could just make his own choice and be done with the process (part of depression is not feeling like you deserve or can accept good things, and a car he actually likes would be a good thing.)
All the way through the process of buying the car too was a whole internal and couple struggle.
If I hadn’t been so involved in the process and if I hadn’t known about his depression at that point I would have thought he didn’t want the car and that we shouldn’t get it. Because following a depressed person is NOT the way to go.. but this time I knew and I also knew that I was following Jesus, not the leading of my husband who’s decision making abilities were not functioning.
Anyway, long story longer, we got the car and he said that when he drove it back (as I drove our other one) tears were streaming down his face. He said he felt the goodness of God and the gift of me as God worked through me to bless him.
I had always been taught or heard that putting your husband first and following him was the way to go. That never helped my husband or me.
And maybe people think that by putting Jesus first we won’t be loving our husbands well and of course we want to love our husbands and children well! But the truth is that if we are following God’s leading we might be called to step into places we wouldn’t naturally step into, and by doing so might actually be loving our people in ways that we didn’t know they needed to be loved.
I am still learning how to step into this new place of not just following men, but making my own choices and following God into who he has made me to be.
I now have a part time job even, that was a huge change for me! But it is nice to finally contribute financially since that has always been dicey for us. Depression makes it difficult for a person to feel confident enough to ask for a raise or look for a better paying job.. or to reign in spending sometimes too. I keep track of the finances as best as I can and we are still learning to make decisions together.
It isn’t easy to change after years of messages like the “Love/Respect” books and others!
But I am commited to dumping out all the dirty water and keeping the baby Jesus in this metaphorical bath. There is so much dirty water! It has been 4 years since I learned of my husbands depression and began adjusting my view of our entire marriage and my life. Been a difficult road honestly, but things are so much better for me (and him) now than it used to be. Following someone who is depressed (even if you don’t know it) isn’t healthy for my mental health either!
Even if someone else’s husband doesn’t have depression or another mental illness, our husbands could have ADHD or undiagnosed autism or possibly just bad habits, just being human! Seeking to follow Jesus first, and be a grown up adult mature christian is more valuable to everyone around us than the striving to be slightly lower in maturity than our husbands so that we can follow his “lead”
What if we become more mature or wise than our husbands?
If he is a good man than he will be challenged to be more mature in Christ as well! As iron sharpens iron!
If he turns out to be abusive or evil, then our maturity in Christ might be his excuse to act worse and break his marriage vows in some way. If so, that is on him.
We are all responsible for our own actions and our own emotions. I would want to call women into a mature grown up place in Christ. Not idolising our husbands and submitting to their whims, but submitting to Jesus and stepping into Christ’s leading for our lives. Even if that means stepping into a place at times where we are called to lead our own husbands for his good and God’s glory. ❤
I love her story, and I wanted to let us sit with it and think about it today.
Can you see how her understanding of how she had to cater to him as the leader actually made her husband weaker? And how when she stepped in as she felt God calling her, her husband grew in stature too? How he was able to function better now as well?
We are meant to help each other.
But how many women have held back, thinking that by taking initiative they are being ungodly and undermining their husbands?
How many families have been driven into debt because the wives knew something seemed off, but they didn’t say anything because they felt it wasn’t their place? How many families could have been so much healthier if the wives spoke up in the areas of their strengths?
We are all strong in different ways. But when strength in women is seen as a threat to men, then we’re turning off part of ourselves and we’ll all end up suffering.
It’s another case of Marriage Misdiagnosis, and it’s hurting real people. Let’s put the emphasis back where it belongs–on serving Jesus. And then we’ll end up serving each other better too!
What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the messages that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these toxic teachings?
It’s time for a Great Sex Rescue.
What do you think? Have you ever followed traditional advice, and seen it all backfire? Let’s talk in the comments!