It’s been a long day. Like, the milk soaked into the wooden frame of the couch and your second child ate a caterpillar kind of a day. In the middle of trying to decide what you can make for dinner out of the only three ingredients left in the fridge, you hear your husband pull up from work. As he walks into the house your first thought is an angry vent of pent-up stress: “He never helps around here!”
I describe this situation because every wife can relate to it. We’ve all felt like our husbands aren’t pulling their weight. Unfortunately, for many women this is a painful fact of life. Their husbands are never available and are not interested in family life. These women are tired and lonely. They function as single parents but with the added frustration of knowing there is someone there who could help – and chooses not to. On the other end of the spectrum are women who have godly, helpful husbands – and yet they still complain against them. Satan knows just how to unravel the peace by tempting these wives to compare their husbands to other Christian husbands. He quietly points out that you do more work in the home yet your husband seems to have more free time.
How do you know if your frustrations are legitimate and what can you do about them? There are three categories to consider. Which one describes your husband? The answer will determine how you respond.
1. Your husband is an unbeliever.
A woman married to an unbeliever experiences a unique kind of loneliness. Her husband is a constant reminder that her partner in child-rearing does not share her fundamental values. If you are married to an unbeliever you do not go unseen by your heavenly Father. He is your ultimate teammate in child rearing.
One of the greatest challenges for these women is balancing respect for their husbands while carrying out God’s command to train their children in the truth of His Word. Jen Wilkin reminds us that Christian moms are to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of their children, regardless of their husbands’ participation:
“A mom who can’t count on her husband to partner in fulfilling it [the Great Commission] will need courage and humility to move ahead in obedience to Christ. As His disciple, she can and must spend her efforts to make disciples of her children, teaching them to obey His commands.”
Is it possible to do this and keep peace with your husband? Growing up I had a friend who was raised by her Christian mom. Her dad was an unbeliever. While non-Christian fathers can still take an active role in family life, he did not. He came home every night and sat in his recliner in front of the TV and didn’t move until bedtime. Rather than fight him on it, the wife took on the role of raising the kids with quiet strength. She brought him his dinner, did his laundry, and cared for the kids.
Moms, this is painful. This is a life of sacrifice. I saw in my friend’s mom something of a martyr. She gave up her need to be nurtured and cared for by her husband because she carried in her heart a secret goal: the salvation of her husband and kids.
1 Peter 3:1-2 says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”
If my friend’s mom had insisted that her husband helped her, became bitter, and turned every evening into a stand off, she would have done so at the cost of a gospel witness. Her sights were set on something eternal.
Rather than spend precious emotional energy on the painful fact that your husband doesn’t help you, pour your energy into living out the gospel to him and to your kids. Yours is a unique cross to bear and your Father knows it.
2. Your husband is a Christian, but he is sinfully abandoning his responsibilities.
Unfortunately, Christian husbands are not immune to neglecting the role of shepherding their families. In some ways this provides an even greater challenge to the wife. She cannot put him in the category of an unbeliever, but cannot look to him for spiritual support and leadership either. It also complicates the gospel witness she tries to set before the kids as they see Daddy living differently from the Christian life Mommy describes. This is not just painful – it’s frustrating. If you are married to a Christian he is not just your husband – he is your brother in Christ. But before you start beating him over the head with a Bible remember your biblical roles. He is the head of the family even when hasn’t earned it (Ephesians 5:23). You are to be respectful to him when he doesn’t deserve it (Ephesians 5:24). This does not mean you or your kids have to suffer in silence. God is an advocate for the oppressed and you have options.
First, pray for him. If he has the Holy Spirit in his heart God is constantly working on him. Also, pray for someone to come into his life who will talk to him about it. It’s possible that your husband has become immune to your constant requests and needs to hear a fresh perspective from someone else.
Second, it’s helpful to remember that as Christians you are both ultimately accountable to God, which means you are also both accountable to your local church. Take advantage of the leadership and council of your church. You don’t have to face this difficulty alone.
Matthew 18:15-17 says, ”If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
This is a delicate situation. While seeking council you also have to protect your husband from gossip. Carefully choose who you confide in and let it be for the purpose of restoring your husband rather than letting off steam.
And finally – shepherd your children. Press on. Your husband’s disobedience complicates your job, but it doesn’t change it.
3. Your husband is not the problem.
This is the category I fall into. My husband works hard for his family and is devoted to me and the kids, but I can still find myself grumbling against him. Why?
As a pastor my dad has counseled couples for almost 30 years. One of the single most life-changing pieces of advice he has given is: adjust your expectations. What do you expect from your husband? Are your expectations shaped by the gifts God has already given him, or by an unrealistic ideal?
A practical example is family devotions. “What do you do for family devotions?” I hear this question often from readers and I always hesitate to answer. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great question. But if we’re not careful we will start to adopt a cookie-cutter ideal of what family devotions should look. All of a sudden Dad isn’t “doing it right” and we are disappointed. Moms, don’t adjust your expectations around the “Pinterest perfect devotions,” but around your husband’s personality. What strengths has God equipped him with? How can you support his gifts?
Our expectations can also be our own worst enemy when we start to worship the “fairness” idol. We want the work to be divided 50/50. If we see our husbands relaxing while we’re still working, our perspective shifts dramatically in our favor: “I do all the work. He never helps out around here!” As we’ve seen from the other two examples above, this is painfully true for many women. But if your husband falls into the third category of a loving, godly man, catch yourself when you feel this way. Remind yourself of all the things you appreciate about him. Is he a godly man? Yes. Will he mess up sometimes? Of course. Does he deserve some grace? Finish your first cup of coffee before you answer that.