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A Wife Asks, “Why Is It That It Seems Like the Wife Always Has to Change First?”

ADMIN NOTE – IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO SIGN UP FOR THE PEACEFUL WIFE CONFERENCE IN COLUMBIA, SC THIS WEEKEND!

Here is an interesting discussion that took place in the comment section last week between two of my readers. I love to hear what God is showing other women and how He makes His truth real to them. Sometimes hearing multiple people describe and explain the same concepts just helps make things click. May this be a blessing to you, my precious sisters:

FROM A WIFE:

Update: Hubby and I are in counseling! It’s really cool because the pastor is a John Piper “fan” so he’s totally on board with the whole biblical manhood and womanhood ordeal. So, naturally, headship and submission is brought up and good thing I’ve been wrestling with the topic and following your posts for a while because it’s not so foreign or offensive when we talk about it.

Though the topic is much easier to talk about, the journey is still “trenchy” and hard as ever! In fact 2-3 weeks ago we threatened the relationship and nearly divorced! IT IS ONLY BY THE GRACE AND INCOMPREHENSIBLE PEACE OF GOD THAT WE ARE STILL HERE! I’ve had to repent lately because I was going through the stage of, “Nothing I’m doing is working,” and I found myself just lingering and frustrated. But God always uses April and the posts here to jolt me out of my spiritual pity party and get back to fighting to trust and put my eyes on Him.

My current wrestle is feeling like its actually the wife who has to lay down her life for the man to be a man. Maybe that’s a fleshly perspective but that’s how it feels.

FROM FLOWER:

Yes, we all (men and women alike) called to die to self. But in addition to the things that people in general are supposed to do, there is also something a marriage is supposed to do – to portray the mystery of Christ and the church to the world (Eph. 5:22-33). The husband is supposed to love his wife and the wife is supposed to respect her husband. The husband is also supposed to lead and the wife is supposed to follow.

  • How does the wife’s effectiveness at following depend on her husband? It doesn’t, really. She can follow him (provided he is not asking her to sin or condone sin) even if he doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere “special.”
  • How does the husband’s effectiveness at leading depend on his wife? It does. A lot. You can’t lead effectively if no one will follow you. A husband could be the most godly, Christ-like man ever, with the best leadership talents, but if his wife refuses to follow, he can’t SHOW that he’s an effective leader.

So from that perspective, I would say that the wife’s willingness to follow EMPOWERS her husband’s leadership. (But both are called to die to self for Christ, and both are responsible to God for their own actions.)

WIFE:

Flower,

Thank you for giving me a better perspective about my current wrestle. I guess it just seems topsy-turvy to me. The concept that his leadership depends on my willingness to follow. Christ was already a great leader before He called anyone to follow. He was secure in his purpose, personhood, and knew God before He led.

Ephesians 5 says the husband is to love the wife as he loves himself. Does the husband learning to love himself, know God, grow up as a man, heal up as broken man depend on my willingness to follow? I get me following in certain respects empowers him but it just seems a bit weighty especially with my specific marital situation in mind.

FLOWER:

I would say that his leadership’s EXISTENCE does not depend at all on you. The ability of his leadership to be SEEN (by you and by others) depends on you and how you respond to him.

Love your example about Christ! Yes, so true, He was already a great leader before He called anyone to follow.

The thing is, no one else could SEE that He was a great leader UNTIL people started to follow Him.

Similarly, if you don’t follow your husband, no one else will look at your marriage and SEE the Christ-and-the-church-he-leads-she-follows part. But when you do follow, people will look at your marriage and SEE that. 🙂

Does the husband learning to love himself, know God, grow up as a man, and heal as a broken man depend on your willingness to follow? NO. He is responsible for that on his own. But your respect will make it easier for him. And your disrespect will make it harder. You are not responsible for making him grow in Christ; you are responsible for being the best wife to him that you can be, according to God’s Word and with God’s help. <3

WIFE:

I see. Maybe I’m a bit petty, I just feel like it could go both ways then. I could easily say that my husband knowing God, learning to love himself, growing up as man and healing up as broken would make it so much easier for me to follow because it would!

  • In the same respect, when following Christ we have to learn that He is good and He wins our trust. According to the gospel we know Christ died because He first loved us but it isn’t until we come into a revelation of that love and who He is that we began to trust him as Lord to LEAD our lives. Why is it not so for a husband if parallelism is the goal?

I do not struggle with feeling like I’m not loved by my husband. I know my husband loves me and can be very loving to me. It’s his own personal issues that prevent him from being the best version of himself and this inevitably effects me too and whole of the relationship and love. Just like any unaddressed issue of mine would take effect on him and the relationship. Yet and still I guess this logic gets trumped by a command and the logic of reverting back to curse Christ freed us from that still is somehow relevant as though we are still tied….??…??
Sigh….maybe I’m overthinking.

FLOWER:

Yep, it does go both ways – him trying to be a good leader will make it easier for you to follow as well. But you can only control your actions, so the only part that you really have influence over is how easy you make it for him to lead.

“Why is it not so for a husband if parallelism is the goal?” This is a great question and I had to think really hard about it! I think it’s mainly because of two reasons:

1. If a wife thinks she only has to submit “if her husband is a good leader,” she will probably think things like, “No, I really think he could do better. In situation X the other day, he did Y when Z was a much better choice. Also, he still needs to get more spiritually mature.” This causes her to have a critical spirit. She is not her husband’s judge. God is. (And her husband is not her judge.) So if she thinks that she is only supposed to follow her husband if he is a “good leader,” then she has to come up with the idea of what she thinks a good leader is and make sure he conforms to what she wants in a leader before she follows. This puts her in position of judge rather than follower.

** See notes below from April about this. 🙂

2. Christ loved and led us before we submitted because there was no other option. Christ’s relationship with us is between one who is sinless (Him) and one who is sinful (us). If we were sinless, we would have respected and followed him immediately. And if we were sinless, His sacrifice, atoning death, and resurrection would not even have been necessary for us to have a restored relationship with Him. Christ had to love and lead us before we submitted because that was the only way that He could bring us back to Himself. Ideally, we would have submitted to Him immediately.

Because the relationship between a husband and wife is a relationship between two people who are sinful, God calls each of them to change ASAP. But each of them can only change themself, they can’t change each other.

April’s “Why Do I Have to Change First” post is a great read. But to clarify something, it is not that you have to change first because the wife has to change first and that all wives have to change first. You have to change first because if God opened your eyes to your sin, you have no right to sit there and refuse to change until God opens your husband’s eyes to his sin as well.

Ultimately our change is about our obedience to God, not about whether our husbands deserve it. (Similarly, if a husband’s eyes are opened first, he also would have no right to sit there and refuse to change until God opened his wife’s eyes to her sin. I have seen situations where God opens a husband’s eyes first.)

So the changing first thing is not, “You must change first because you’re a woman,” it’s, “You must change now because your eyes have been opened.”

 

FROM THE WIFE

The last part especially has officially disarmed the petty! It makes sense! You have brought another piece of clarification that blessed me.

 

FROM APRIL (to add a bit to point number 1 made by Flower):

If a wife has the authority to decide when her husband is a “good leader and when she will follow,” then it is really the wife who has the authority, not the husband. There are limits to a believer’s submission to any human delegated authority, but apart from those limits, we are to honor the authority’s leadership, trusting that God will lead us through that person. Not because of the person. But in spite of that person – because God is sovereign and this is His design to lead us through human God-given authority.

When we honor a person in a position of God-given authority, we honor God’s authority. When we rebel against a person in a position of God-given authority, we rebel against God and bring judgment on ourselves. Rom. 13:1-2 And we malign the Gospel of Christ when we rebel against our husband’s leadership. Titus 2:5 It is also important to remember that wives may not have positional authority, but we do have influential authority, which can be even more powerful than positional authority, at times. Although, the ultimate goal is to please and glorify the Lord, not to have “the most power” for ourselves or for our own agenda.

RELATED:

Spiritual Authority – a General Overview

What Is Biblical Submission?

Does Being a Biblically Submissive Wife Mean I Can’t Say How I Feel and What I Need?

Biblical Submission Is Not Passivity

Biblical Submission, Respect, and Sexual Attraction

Do I Condone BDSM or CDD?

Biblical Submission Does Not = the Husband Is Always Right

When Would I Not Submit to My Husband?

Should a Christian Wife Ever Consider Separation?

Oneness in Marriage Not Too Close but Not Too Far Away

Closeness in Marriage Looks Different from What I Expected 

How to Make Your Husband an Idol

Respecting Your Husband VS. Idolizing Him

Dying to Self
Dying to Self Can Be Dangerously Misunderstood
25 Ways to Respect Myself
Is It Possible to Disrespect Myself?
25 Ways to Reverence God

15 thoughts on “A Wife Asks, “Why Is It That It Seems Like the Wife Always Has to Change First?”

  1. This is so excellent, such a huge blessing! Thank you so much!
    May we let God bless us and continue to lead us on this journey. 🌸

  2. Thank you to “Wife” and “Flower” for this vivid insight into submission. I was hanging on every word!

    I too struggle with “why do I have to go first?” After a lot of prayer ( and I could be wrong) I believe wives going first is often a consequence of the fall. I do not believe it is the natural order of things.

    This has helped me tremendously in asking “What does it mean to do my husband good all the days of his life?” (Proverbs 31) If we simply submit to husbands who aren’t following Jesus there’s a good chance we are not doing them good. Yes, I believe submission is a good thing in general. God created us to be respecters and responders.

    But I also believe the church has failed woman (and men) by not holding men accountable as leaders of the home and just letting us be the relational restorers, seekers etc. In situations where the wife is not respectful and needs to adjust then respect and submission obedience is key.

    However, I’ve met too many wives (myself included) who are codependent…meaning we are constantly trying to please our husbands, live up to his expectations, find the “switch” that will finally make him change and end our pain.

    But the problem is we have abandoned the innate gifts and talents God has given us to be the wife He has called us to be for our particular husband and instead we are trying to be who our husbands want us to be (even though its not good for them or the family) and calling it submission.

    Sometimes the answer to their requests has to be “no.” A respectful, loving but firm “no.” God can help us discern.

    I don’t know anyone’s situation here and so am not trying to advise – just share my experience. In my own situation when it seems like “nothing I do is working” its because God is holding up His hand and not allowing my efforts to bring change. He wants me to be the wife He created me to be and let Him do the changing. Dying to self means dying to selfishness, sin etc. It doesnt not mean dying to the beautiful, unique woman/wife God created us to be.

    1. Nicolemannwatt,

      Codependency is definitely NOT God’s design. If we are making our husbands into an idol, seeking their approval above God’s, that is a destructive approach that will hurt us and our husbands.

      I hope any wife who thinks she may be struggling with codependency might check out these posts:

      – oneness in marriage
      – closeness in marriage
      – difference between respecting husband and idolizing him
      – people pleasing
      – respect motives count
      – when would I not submit to my husband
      – submission does not = the husband is always right
      – submission is not passivity
      – the pendulum effect

      Yes, the church should be holding husbands and wives accountable. But most don’t, unfortunately.

      If we didn’t have the fall, we would all be doing our part and there wouldn’t be a problem. Thankfully, in Christ, He can restore our relationships to more and more what they would have been without sin.

      There are times a wife may have to say, “no,” to certain things. Yes. Particularly if a husband is asking his wife to clearly sin or condone clear sin. We will need to use God’s wisdom and discretion about that. Absolutely.

      We also want to be sure our motives are right. If we are trying to be submissive and respectful to manipulate our husbands into changing. That won’t work. Our motives must be to please God and bless our husbands. Our husbands may change, they may not. The goal is that we be faithful and obedient to the Lord and empowered by His Spirit.

      Much love!

        1. Absolutely love your posts! You clear up the fog surrounding the dying to self and submitting to our husband topics. It helps to read your thoughts to keep from venturing into either extremes, Im constantly printing them out and reading them whenever I need to question my motives! Thank You April!

    1. Lady Jay,

      The amazing thing is, when we are walking in God’s ways, He heals and grows us, too. And our husbands and children, so many times. 🙂

  3. Dear Sisters in Christ,

    as a husband, living with a non believer, I feel like I am the one needing to make the first move. I am certainly not speaking to those of you living in abusive relationships, where the husband is enthralled by the enemy in some way. However,it may be that the husband is working in his own way, to make changes.

    Since I allowed Jesus Christ back into my heart, I have striven to be, through Christ’s grace a better, more loving husband. I do still fail, I raise my voice, letting anger and frustration get the better of me, but I am not sure that my wife sees any change from the old me.

    It is not easy when even simply the name of Jesus, is scorned.

    Please pray for my wife, I am so afraid she will not come to accept that she will not come to know the Lord.

    Thank you for your ministry Peaceful Wife, it means a tremendous amount to me,
    Jesuscentreoflife

  4. Jesuscentreoflife, I’m so sorry to hear of your wife. Continue to preach the light of Christ, and, if necessary, use words. (I forgot where I heard that from but thought it was lovely). I strive as well every day to be that light. Just today I had to run away from my desk at work, a strange cloud was over me since this morning. Such a battlefield, this life.

  5. “You have to change first because if God opened your eyes to your sin, you have no right to sit there and refuse to change until God opens your husband’s eyes to his sin as well.”

    I needed to hear this today!!! I know this truth but the way it was worded was what my stubborn self needed today. It removed every excuse i was clinging to in a particular situation.
    Thank you

  6. Absolutely!! I make it a point to pray at work (ensuring no one in the room will be offended just because of work policies), at home with my children..I have even created a War Room where I pray as I get ready in the morning..I have even found my husband using my War Room when he thinks I’m not paying attention. Bring God with you everywhere you go! Don’t get frustrated by the way people do or do not react, or do not comment on the changes they don’t see, for that is not the ultimate goal and as I have learned you cannot measure success simply by the outcome! Stay focused on God, enjoy his blessings and the revelations in your heart! Stay encouraged my brothers and sisters!

  7. If we wait for our husbands to “deserve” our respect, we’ll be waiting for a very long time, especially if a pattern of disrespect has already been in place for many years. I was in that place when God pointed out the errors in my thinking and allowed me to see what *I* needed to change.

    We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means loving others (including our husbands) not because they deserve it, but because it’s what we’re supposed to do. Jesus demonstrates perfect love by loving each of us despite the fact that we could never deserve it. We will never do it perfectly as He does, but it sure gives us a standard to strive toward.

    When we draw nearer to God and realize that we should respect our husbands (1) because the Bible says so and (2) because it’s the most loving thing we can do for our husbands, it becomes easier to stop keeping score. We can only control our own behavior! I tried to control my husband for YEARS and I could never make him do anything I wanted him to do. When I started focusing on my own thought life and behaviors (because I’m accountable for myself, not my husband), I realized I had more than enough work to do without worrying about what he was doing.

    When I married him, I made a lot of promises. Love is a choice, and I can choose to love my husband no matter how he acts or responds. Since he was designed by God to feel love via respect, I can choose to show him respect regardless of how I think or feel. It’s been about 3.5 years since I figured this out and my marriage is one I didn’t think was possible in real life – I’m grateful to God every day for opening my eyes.

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