Confession: I have not always respected my husband, treated him in a respectful way, or even thought he was someone who I ought to respect.
I'm going to assume that my husband and I are not the only ones who have ever struggled in their marriage, had deep valleys to drudge through, or huge learning curves to overcome when it comes to pursuing Biblical marriage? I'm going to assume we aren't the only one who've hit rock bottom, maybe signed some divorce papers (and then burned them in the fire)? If you have walked through some seriously rocky times in your marriage, I hope that some of the lessons we've learned together can be an encouragement to you.
We are celebrating 15 years of marital perfection this year. Hahaha. Not really. But we will have our 15th anniversary and MOST of those years have been absolutely splendid. But a few of those years, especially in the beginning: yep, not so much. Marriage is HARD, y'all. We had A LOT of learning to do.
And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you. Genesis 3:16 (partial)
Both my husband and I grew up in families where, generally speaking, Mom was the shot-caller. Now, both of our parents are currently still married, but they've had their own trials as well. And if this type of relationship works for them, then so be it.
But once we got to know Jesus (and he changed EVERYTHING), He showed us that His way would always have a much happier outcome than our way, and HE says that my sweet husband is the head of our home. Which... well- let's just say that this was a really hard pill to swallow for me and kind of a hard role for him to see himself in initially. We knew in our hearts it was the right thing, we knew God's Word said it was the right thing, but we had never really watched that LIVED OUT properly.
Long, long story short: I did NOT respect my husband. Up front: He never did anything to cause me to NOT respect him, but also... I never thought he did anything to MAKE me respect him (key words here). I'd always viewed respect as something he had to earn. And I didn't see him doing anything that made him someone who commanded my respect. I *thought* respect was something he ought to assertively demand of me. I thought that someone who commanded respect would be willing raise his voice more loudly than mine, assert his authority, and let me know, in no uncertain terms, it was HIS WAY. THAT was the script in the back of my mind filed under RESPECT.
But that's absolutely NOT who he is. My husband is a servant leader, who will give literally the cells of his body to someone he will never know, who lowers his voice when he's upset, who quietly considers his words before he speaks and always, always puts the needs and wants of others before his own.
He's protective, strong, and courageous. But he is NOT confrontational unless he is left with absolutely NO choice.
He has incredible wisdom, but in the first few years of our marriage, I viewed his self-control as a weakness: that he did not insist on his own way, yell over me, or fight back meant he didn't even respect his self enough to insist I do. Because of my un-Biblical view of marriage and respect, I was waiting for him to change who he was- to become "worthy" of my respect.
But the fact of the matter is I'm called to respect my husband as the head of our family regardless of his personality, preferences, or even past decision making abilities. Period. (Book recommendation at the end to help you with the WHY.) Once I understood WHY I should respect him more clearly and what GOD has to say about the matter, I was left with the overwhelming question of HOW?
How do I grow to respect him, and how do I show that? We had no experiences with this kind of marriage and no exemplary couple in our life to look to.
How could I en-courage him to make decisions for our family, en-courage him into leadership, but not have him be overly concerned with stepping on my toes when so early on in our marriage I had stepped into this decision-making role (and never gave it a second thought)? We needed a full 180. And the combination of our collective marital role models alongside my initial assertiveness created a difficult situation to overcome. I was going to have to get creative.
So here are some practical tips- from MY experience- for A) showing your husband the respect he needs and deserves and B) influencing him into the leadership of your family that he's called to.
1. Start small. If you're in a relationship where you have been ruling over your husband, disregarding his leadership and generally calling the shots: baby steps. Start with something small. Date plans, small purchase decisions... anything where you normally make a decision without giving a thought to consulting him. Then, DO NOT QUESTION HIM. I repeat, do not make him regret having made this decision by uttering even a remotely negative word. Do this with many little decisions in life, without being obnoxious. Which decisions SHOULD he be helping you to make that you've been making alone? Ask him! Ask him where he wants more influence and more leadership. Then do what he says and hold each other accountable. This would also be an excellent time to seek out a Christian counselor.
2. Step it up. Now that you are encouraging your sweet husband to make excellent small decisions (and now that he sees you respecting him by being positive and not criticizing these), it's time to move ahead. Only you know what decisions need to be made in your family. If it's financial stuff, maybe begin to ask his opinion on any purchases other than groceries (and again, honor whatever he decides). Maybe you need to rearrange the furniture in the living room, buy new curriculum, get the kids some clothes, plan the next vacation, give a friend advice, choose extracurriculars for the kids... WHATEVER IT IS, encourage him to play a part in the decision making process. Ask his thoughts, give him time to think about it, then talk about it.
All of these conversations and decisions have much bigger implications than simply making that one little decision. Over time he will feel appreciated, trusted, and respected. Over time, YOU will grow in humility and begin to see a new strength, confidence, and intimacy in your husband.
Every single time you do this, you're planting seeds for a harvest of respect. And the more you urge him toward making these decisions, the more confident he will become in them, and... Important: the more you will genuinely begin to respect his leadership of your family and his decision-making abilities. You will begin to see him through the eyes that God created you to have for your husband.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-23
3. Let it go. Now, all the while that you're working to encourage your husband toward taking the reigns and having ownership over his leadership, you'll likely be struggling. You may want to make different decisions than he does, at times. You may even strongly disagree with his decisions at times. And, it's very possible, at some point he will make a poor decision against your judgement.
He's going to fail. But, so have you.
I'm going to guess that up until this point in your marriage, all of your decisions have not been perfect. I'm going to assume you've dropped the ball a time or two as well. He may have been kind to you about that, or he may have been a jerk. Regardless, at this point, we are looking forward.
No matter how much you disagree with his decisions or how poorly they go, RESPECT your husband. You can express your disagreement and your disappointments. I'm not encouraging you to silence yourself and never have a thought to share about anything. But it is possible to disagree with RESPECT just like it's possible to be angry and not sin. Pray about these conversations first: is it truly necessary to express your disappointment if you BOTH know he bombed? Over time he will make better choices just like over time, YOU are making better choices. We live and learn. Please don't nag, argue, belittle, or say "I told you so."
Try this instead: "I'm so sorry that it didn't go like you thought it would. I know you're doing you're very best for our family. You always have my full support, even when we don't agree, and I fully trust you to make decisions for our family."
4. He gets a 51% vote. So obviously, despite submitting to my husband's authority (how many of you physically just shuttered at that statement?), I still have a brain, an opinion, and feelings. How do we handle that? Well, just as he is called to leadership, he is also called to love me like he loves himself... Not to selfishly rule over me without any consideration for my wants and thoughts. So in our home, our votes are 49/51%.
What does that look like? Essentially, when we don't immediately agree on something, we try to sell each other on our side, and we take the time to pray about it together and separately. For the most part, whatever it is, is more important to one of us than the other and so the other says, "Ok- let's do what it your way." OR, we've been very grateful when the Holy Spirit has humbled one of us or shown us a better, third option.
But sometimes, we truly disagree and we both see "peril" in the other person's choice. Given this situation, he always makes the final call. Usually, these are big, hard decisions and it's ultimately a blessing to me to allow him to shoulder the ultimate responsibility of it (God designed him to be capable of that better so than I). Knowing there were multiple sides and that we can't know the future, I can graciously defer to him (and his 51%) and pray for God to bless whatever it is we've struggled with.
5. Pray. Pray for your husband to see and appreciate your desire to show him respect and defer to him, even when it's challenging for you. Pray that your heart would be humbled and the idea of submission would not be so distasteful to your heart (as it can truly be, I know). Pray for Godly wisdom for yourself and your sweet husband. Pray for the Holy Spirit to counsel you in the way you verbally (and nonverbally) respond to your husband... Especially when he commits a "button push". Pray to always see the BEST in your husband rather than focusing on the worst. And please pray against Satan's deep desires to tear your husband down through your words and actions.
My husband is not perfect, neither am I, and neither is our marriage. But we are each uniquely designed to fulfill certain roles in life- in our marriage. We will succeed and we will fail, but Lord willing, as far as we are concerned, we will do it together. He doesn't always love me well (we have love language challenges ;) and I certainly don't always respect him well, but there are many more good days than bad... And we think that's a good fit for us.
Recommendation: There are many books out there that discuss how men need respect and women need love, but I have a favorite that changed my life, the way I saw my husband, and our entire marriage:
Sacred Influence by Gary Thomas. Just read it. Really.
I also love and recommend Finding the Hero in Your Husband by Julianna Slattery
To grow your OWN understanding of Biblical Marriage more deeply, I highly encourage the skills taught by Jen Wilkin in Women in the Word.
Lastly, if you are a believer, but your husband is not, I HIGHLY recommend this book- Happy Wife to an Unsaved Husband by Linda Davis.