“…but if you try sometimes… you get what you need.”
In part I, we discussed why encouraging men to just say “Yes, Dear,” to keep peace is horrible advice. In this second installment, I’d like to offer some thoughts on how and why a man is called by God to lead his wife. The following will make more sense if you read the first installment. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Overcoming Newton’s first law
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to leading is the inertia of not leading. It’s easier to leave things as they are. The problem with this thinking is, as I have pointed out, if your wife doesn’t respect you, she won’t desire you. If she doesn’t desire you, she might divorce you.
We’ve noted before that over 70% of divorces in the US are initiated by the wife. Lead or lose — your choice.
But my wife won’t go along with my leading
And this is why she thinks you’re weak. A true leader will do what’s right in the face of opposition — even if that means rocking the boat. If you have not been leading and you step up, you can expect three things from your wife, right from the jump:
1) She will doubt you mean it until you prove that you do.
2) She will test your commitment via fitness tests.
3) She will be pleased, but by force of habit, she will try to take the reins.
How do I pass the tests?
Be confident. Be consistent. You must not waver and you must not capitulate. Be loving and be firm. You do not have to be unkind. You don’t have to be cruel. You do have to be strong.
You will not do this perfectly, and you may fail at times, reverting to your old ways. As with anything else, if you fall down, get back up. Even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time, your wife is rooting for you. Strive to be the man she needs and you will be the man she wants.
As part of this new you, you may have to take on some tasks you’ve “delegated” through passivity — such as managing your family’s finances, leading devotions or disciplining your children. If you really are the leader, you don’t have to say so. Just lead.
Learning how to lead
God designed us for and redeemed us for liberty. This means that you have to read your Bible with your heart and your mind. This is especially true in learning to be the spiritual head of your family. There are some wonderfully instructive Bible verses concerning the marital hierarchy. Reading and understanding them is easy, but putting them to work is more difficult. This requires a man to practice, to fail and to try again.
Some of the hardest and loneliest moments of leadership are the ones where a leader has to make the decision — even against the wishes of those he leads. And yet these occasions often prove to be the most consequential.
I make no claim to being the perfect husband or the perfect leader but I am willing to offer what I have learned in nearly 30 years of marriage. I welcome your questions.
Learning why to lead
The Bible explains the why of spiritual headship. Men and women are equally fallen, and God has prescribed headship for men. This is not a reward for being slightly less wrong. It is a sacred responsibility to love our wives the way Christ loved the church. Protection and provision are two of the main space/time ways this shows up, but there is an even greater burden that falls to the husband as spiritual head.
The goal of loving your wife sacrificially is to present her to Jesus holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27 explains that this involves a process of helping her to become more like Jesus — “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”
If you’ve tried to learn golf or guitar on your own you know that there is often a gap between what we say we want and what we will do. This is where we submit to a coach or a teacher. In your marriage, that’s your role. Even if your wife is a spiritual giant, she wants and needs you to lead her to Jesus in your daily life. You have a God-appointed role — and a God-sized task. But take heart, God promises to help you.
Learning to listen
Note that leading does not mean you are have to make all the decisions by yourself. As John Eldredge says, God intends for your wife to be your ezer kenegdo — your life saver — so as you lead your family you pay attention to your wife’s counsel. It took me several years of marriage to understand that my wife rarely offered an unsolicited opinion, and to appreciate that when she did, her purpose was to help me be my best. She didn’t marry me to thwart me or to see me fail — quite the opposite.
I am the spiritual head of my home, and my wife is my most valuable and trusted advisor — a gift from God. I hope you can see how this differs from simply turning off my brain and following the “Yes, Dear” plan.
Don’t be a dictator
Be a king instead — noble, strong and virtuous. And recognize that your wife is your queen. We have established that leaders sometimes have to say no. It does not follow that they must always do so. One of Dr. Louis Rader’s leadership axioms was, “As long as you remain in neutral, you can only go where you’re pushed.” If you’re going to fulfill your destiny as a man, a husband and a father, you’ve got to put it in gear.