Here’s the situation:
Joe thinks he should be something he is not. He wants to be the best at everything, but he never measures up by his standards. Some would label him insecure because he has quit trying. He quit trying not because he doesn’t think highly of himself, he quit trying because he thinks TOO highly of himself, and can’t stand the reality. Anyway… Joe has become a lame husband. Because he is afraid of failure, he doesn’t work. Because he wants others to agree with his high opinion of himself, he says he doesn’t feel affirmed or respected by his wife. He claims to believe Jesus is Lord, but he shows no fruit because those attributes are not what he considers his personal best. He gives in to porn often. He has a quick temper. There are holes all over his bedroom walls to prove it. He seems satisfied with computer games, tv and beer, and his wife bringing home the bacon. As long as his wife talks quietly, doesn’t cause conflict and leaves his porn alone, he doesn’t make waves. Oh, and she can’t give him THAT look either. That will send him tantruming and squealing off for the affirming ear at a friend’s house. Both Joe and his wife are miserable.
Okay, there’s the picture of the lame husband. Now. I’ll ask you a question.
Who do you start with to change this marriage?
Many articles and books and sermons I’ve heard begin with the wife. Things are said like…
- Wife, ask your husband how you can biblically affirm and encourage him?
- Wife, repent of your bitterness toward your husband.
- Wife, cut out the nagging.
- Wife, you need to learn that he acting out of his manliness! Now, you need the change to accommodate that. More sex! Loose weight! Speak sweetly!
Honestly? Isn’t this rather backward according to male headship principles? Why must change start with the wife becoming more submissive, more respectful and more lovely? I’m sure the wife has her own issues that need to be addressed, but why start in on her? Why not with the man?
He’s a man…can’t he take it?
Submit or Avoid?
What about all the verses that can be applied to Joe’s wife outside of having a more submissive and respectful attitude? The verses that deal with not enabling, or avoiding, or resisting evil? Behavior and actions that are the opposite to submitting or giving in? Aren’t these just as applicable?
- God resists the proud. (Js 4:6) How can the wife resist Joe’s pride to mirror God’s resistance?
- Depart from the tents of the wicked. (Num 16:26)
- Don’t eat with a Christian who fornicates, covets, is a drunk, who reviles good. (1 Cor 5:11)
- Withdraw from the disorderly. Shame them. (2 Thes 3:14)
- Do not associate with an angry man. (Prov 22:24-25)
- Withdraw from the proud arguer. (1 Tim 6:4-5)
- Can two walk together unless they agree? (Amos 3:3)
- Keep away from those who cause divisions. (Rom 16:17)
- A lazy man will have money, food, knowledge and pleasures taken away. (Prov 10:4, 13:4, 20:4; Mat 13:12; 25:29)
- Doesn’t work? Doesn’t eat. (Prov 19:15; 2 Thes 3:10)
Who is responsible for Joe’s lameness?
In most cases with a lame husband, it is the wife who is seeking help. She is at her wits end with this asshole. So, the wife is the only one who will do any changing. Usually, a wife in this situation struggles with self-righteousness and that is HARD to conquer. Usually, she could be kinder with her words and more respectful; more loving. These are all good things for her to work on changing. But remember… she is not the cause of her husband’s lameness regardless of her behavior. HE IS.
And that is my point.
Instead of crucifying the wives of lame husbands; instead heaping the responsibility on them… lets go after the lame man himself.
15 thoughts on “Lame Husband?”
The above was intended to convey what the wife should not do. In case it was not clear, she should not be taking responsibility for his actions. The original question was “who is responsible for Mr. Lame’s actions?”, and you already answered that quite forcefully (he is). Her behavior is covered in 1 Pet 3. His behavior, and what others (not the wife) should do about it, is another matter entirely.
Mr. Lame claims to be a professing Christian. If he is, then his pastor and elders in the church need to confront his lifestyle as a man who will not provide for his household, and is worse than an unbeliever. This is abandonment and biblical grounds for divorce – one of only two biblical grounds, I might add. He is legitimately in need of stern words from those tasked with shepherding him. The other issues, as disappointing as they may be, might indeed result in tremendous sorrow and a lifetime of disappointment for the wife. But the instructions to her are clear already and do not constitute a nuclear option.
So, who does the church counsel first and what do they say? They approach each spouse individually, and tell them to do what the Bible says. For the wife, this is a message that encourages her to do what may be very difficult in her interactions. If husband will not listen, he is disfellowshipped. Wife’s actions may or may not win husband over, but that is not necessarily the point, as it was already established that she is not responsible for his attitudes and choices.
It would be great if the pastor and elders got involved in the husband’s life and confronted his sins. I think there is a movement that is pointing out the church’s history of focusing more on the wife’s sins and so this is changing. What I am concerned with is how quickly this process moves… I’ve seen it last years and years, and in the process the wife loses hope as she faithfully gets quieter, gentler, more obedient, etc. And the husband only gets more angry and abusive. And this has happened so often in my experience, its become stereotypical. That breaks my heart.
I’m curious then, how to integrate the OTHER passages in Scripture that reflect how to deal with anger, disobedience, disorderly and lazy people? These instructions can be done in a gentle, loving and firm manner obviously because God is the one telling us to do them.
I believe that 1 Peter 3:1-2 answers this question rather directly. The idea that the wife takes the blame/responsibility for Mr. Lame is a straw man. Might she suffer? Yes. Is that an excuse to go to plan B? No.
Let’s contrast the instructions in these verses with what you are much more likely to hear in the majority of churches and the majority of “christian family ministries.” It is best exemplified by the movie Fireproof, that most beloved of Christian “man up” messages that turns 1 Peter 3:1-2 on its ear. Here’s the Fireproof translation:
“Wives, use the nuclear option to threaten your husbands with divorce when they are lame so that if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won, when they see your strenuous insistence and realize that you have the ability to destroy their world.”
Why is it that when the Bible provides an answer we do not like, but directly addresses the question at hand — up to and including how to deal with not just a Lame Husband, but a husband that is disobedient to the word (take a moment to digest that) — that we want to start with the “yeah, buts”?
Frankly, I think it is much more likely (by a factor of about 1000X) that you are going to hear the Fireproof way to deal with Mr. Lame than the 1 Peter 3 way to deal with Mr. Lame.
I’m glad you clarified this below. I agree 1 Peter 3 is applicable with some caveats.
I have struggled with this for several years now. I have these women share their sorrow and anger over their lame husbands and I’ve been struggling to come up with a good answer for them. I am unsatisfied with the message I have been trained to give them. I understand that when women are the ones who seek help we often go to the whole “you can only change yourself and be responsible for your own actions so let’s make you as holy & blameless as possible”. I think that’s why there’s a checklist of what the ideal Christian wife should be and that’s what women are given. The husbands didn’t ask for help, so they’re off the hook.
What I’ve been surprised and disappointed by is the lack of confrontation between men. Stereotypes like to say that men can hash things out and then go have a beer and be friends, but that is not my experience. When these poor wives go to church leadership, they rarely receive validation and even among friends and family it’s hard to find someone who will step up and actually address the husband directly. I hear excuses for this form of Fear of Man like “I’m afraid it will make things worse for her”, “I’m afraid it will alienate him and he’ll just shut me out”, “He might stop coming to church and at least if he’s coming he’s hearing the Truth”, “I don’t even know how to start that conversation”, etc. I don’t know if they’re right because I’ve never witnessed anyone willing to even TRY!!! So frustrating!
Submission is a wonderful thing for women to learn and it should be taught and modelled so we can figure out it’s practical implications. However, I feel that there are large gaps in what is taught about marriage related to love, respect, and unity for both men and women in the church. Some day I really hope to see a man willing to stand up for his sister, mother, or friend and really love the lame husband enough to address the issues.
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I know you’ve been struggling with this, and I bet you came to these conclusions before I did. 🙂
What about sisters, mothers and friends standing up to the lame husbands? Do you think that is effective?
I think it depends on the lame husband probably. In the case I’ve been most directly involved with, the husband has authority issues but seems in general to respect the opinions of men over women. This is why I feel that a lame husband might brush off female confrontation easier than male. A guy might also be able to use a natural situation, like going out for a beer, to bring something up whereas a woman setting up a good time to talk might feel more like a trap? I guess I’m thinking outside of family members. I think as a mother, if I saw this behavior in my son I would absolutely find some way to confront him. Maybe it comes down to the degree of respect the lame husband has for the various females in his life and the most influencial one might have some sway? But remember, this is a guy who already blows off the person who is supposed to be #1 in his life.
Yes. Its a tough situation. Each situation has its own nuisances. I do believe women can speak up regardless if he respects them. And I’m wondering if in some cases of lameness there needs to be more revealing of his sins then covering on the wife’s part. But I don’t know to what extent.
This post is exactly what I needed to read about. Thank you so much. I have been to counseling at my church and praying for an Ephesians 5 husband for almost 2 years now. Things have actually gotten worse instead of better as I have submitted, stuck by him, worked while he didn’t. I have been at wits end and at a loss asking God what I should do or not do. I am now praying go become “ezer kenedgo”. Not easy, but with God’s help, it will happen.
God wants your husband to be godly more than you do. Take comfort and hope in that! Thank you for commenting.
Haha, I love this one. =) Probably because I’ve seen it over and over and have been very frustrated by the whining and moaning yet lack of action in just about every case. It seems submission has been replaced with: say nothing to him but complain to your friends. Maybe its just my acquaintances… And though I’ve struggled with my tendency (as an exhorter) to confront issues too much with Mike, and was I being a nagger?? I still think you’re the believer closest to him and its your/our responsibility. So I suppose that’s why it bugs me when wives don’t just face it head on..
If he doesn’t repent, then you get someone else to go with you. But that leads to another problem, a lack of men willing to speak truthfully and confront another man’s sin. ugh.
let me reword this: not submission replaced with, submission has come to mean..
Yes. Just because she his wife doesn’t mean she is not also his sister in Christ. And as such, all the Bible’s statements about how “brethren” are to relate to one another, relate to her. Such as, “speak the truth in love,” or “if your brother sins, rebuke him,” or “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” Also, the principles for confronting sin in Matthew 18:15-17 apply. The only problem is that when the wife “brings it before the church,” the church’s attitude is usually to blindly support the man!
God intended the woman to be an “ezer kenedgo,” or face-to-face strong aid, to her husband. He needs her to be strong, not a doormat. If she is strong, he will respect her, but who can respect a doormat? 1 Peter 3:7 says he’d better respect and honor her, or God might ignore his prayers. So why do churches preach this nonsense about, “she needs love, he needs respect”? If she’s going to the strong aid God designed her to be, she should stand by his side, shoulder his burdens with him and expect him to pull his own weight, or she’ll know the reason why!
Sometimes a man shrinks back because he feels the burden of being the sole leader in the family is too great to bear. He fears failure and he feels alone, because it’s lonely at the top. If she’ll come to his side and share the load, his fears will subside and he just might be able to get his feet under him. The combination of taking care of him and treating him like royalty, can be extremely toxic, enabling him to stay in his funk, hating himself for doing so but too afraid to pull out of it. The one-sided authority-submission doctrine can be the worst thing for a marriage, because she serves and resents him, and he receives her service and resents her. A lose-lose. Equal partnership can break the cycle, when she speaks the truth in love.
I don’t think the wife should be encouraged to have a “more submissive and respectful attitude” at all. Wives of husbands like this need the green light to be angry.
I think she needs to learn that her husband’s definition of “respect” (tolerance and enablement of his crapola) puts her into the position of Saphhira of Acts 5. If she continues agreeing with him to lie to the Holy Spirit (AKA “live in denial” in modern-speak), she’s going right down with him. And the marriage is doomed. Either it will be a miserable, empty marriage or it will end in divorce.
If I was talking to such a woman, I would tell her that being MEET help includes the responsibility of standing up to her husband and holding him accountable for his crapola. Much as the church TALKS about the elders stepping in and holding men accountable for abusiveness, porn use, etc, in my experience, it won’t happen-they wind up being a kind of ole boys club where they won’t “step on his toes” (Who cares what kind of wounds he’s dishing out to “the least of these”? the poor baby’s fragile ego might be bruised 😦 ) and they will be taken in by and subtly reinforce his self-justification, denial, and blameshifting.
She’s going to have to draw upon the Lord for a lot of strength, expose the darkness (Abigail was honest about her husband, Sapphira should have been), and hold him accountable herself, with the help of God, and the secular authorities if necessary.
Abigail is a good example. Others are Esther, Sarah in Gen 21:9-12, Zipporah.
Yep, that’s always what bothered me about all the ‘biblical’ advice given to women. The few verses that talk about submission completely cancelled out all the other verses that dealt with foolish men.
Women are taught that ever thinking that her husband might be a fool is disrespecting him and disrespecting him is one of the absolute worst sins a woman could ever commit in all her life. And it drives the ‘biblical womanhood’ teachers absolutely nuts that Abigail got away with it and it is recorded in the Bible. So they ignore the fact that shee called her husband a fool and strongly warn women to ‘never go there!’ In some circles it has become a salvation issue.