What trips a lot of husbands up is understanding the general decision making process surrounding marriage.
- Obey God. Biblical marital roles and responsibilities fall under this. Headship-submission, love-respect, mutual giving of sex, etc.
- Consider yourself and your spouse (e.g. Eph 5 love your wife as your own body) especially in terms of needs. This also falls under #1, but it provides more context for which to make decisions. Many Christians often get this wrong by saying put your wife and kids before yourself. That is not true.
- Happiness and other emotions of fleeting effect.
Whether we like it or not, both excellence and attraction do play some role in how both spouses understand all facets of this decision making process. A wife that watches what she eats and keeps herself in shape implicitly shows respect for you as a husband and vice versa for a husband to his wife. It also makes you both happier (and healthier).
As the nature of Christianity is an inside-out transformation that first changes you and then the change in you affects others, it must be said that if there are dysfunctional patterns in the relationship or marriage then the onus must first be on the Christian that notices these to be internally consistent with the faith. This is indeed what Jesus talks about in Matthew 7 on judging (eliminate hypocrisy), so that when you do come to your brother (or wife) and show them their fault with kindness they will be less inclined to point the finger at you and be more willing to obey God. In other words, for husbands this headship personified into leading by example. This doesn’t guarantee change, but it creates the right environment for it.
Therefore, our hierarchy might be expanded to:
- Focus on obeying God and doing your own Biblical roles and responsibilities. Bring them up to your spouse, but if they are resistant to change then don’t worry about it and keep doing yours and pray for them.
- Consider yourself and your spouse (e.g. Eph 5 love your wife as your own body) especially in terms of needs. Make sure you are meeting them as consistent with loving your wife as yourself which is also consistent with Jesus’ “love one another as I have loved you.”
- Consider their happiness and doing things to make them happy, but don’t compromise on #1 and #2 such as sin or behavior that enables.
- Once you have established a good pattern of consistent behavior (and hopefully your wife is softening up over time with her attitudes and actions), then start to bring up some faults kindly again in terms of obeying God and bettering the marriage. If they are still resistant to change, keep doing your own responsibility and pray for them.
- Search out as many blindspots as you can and work on building godly habits. It is possible that they will never change, but you also want to do as much as you can for God to create good soil that God can use to grow the seeds in their heart.
Part of breaking dysfunctional cycles of behavior is very consistent leading by example to show that God has truly changed you from the inside out. This can be hard when dysfunctional relationships or marriages last for several years or even decades as the wife (or other spouse) tends to think you’re just changing to manipulate them, especially if you were trying to do that before.
The way to combat this is to just not worry about it. It’s nothing you can change yourself so why worry? It’s more than enough to make sure you’re obeying God and focused on doing the right thing even when it’s hard. Trust God to help you do the right thing, and use that to start to plant and grow the seeds.
This is true “outcome independence” much like Jesus continually called the Pharisees to repent and continue to talk to them despite them wanting to kill him. If He didn’t want to minister to them He could have just ignored them or avoided them. And some Pharisees did come around like Nicodemus. Engaging for the sake of God and the gospel, even when you are treated harshly or poorly.