What’s a wife to do when her husband doesn’t lead?
Generally, when we talk about submission in marriage, we operate on the premise that
– a husband will want to lead; the wife just needs to follow.
– a husband will lead his wife towards Jesus.
But generalities are just that; fitting in many situations but not in all.
In some marriages, the wife is ready to partner and support her man but the man is passive. In other cases, he “leads” but his aspirations, goals, and values are not exactly Christlike.
If you are in the early years of marriage (or older but need to refresh your understanding) and trying to wrap your head around Biblical leadership and Biblical submission I encourage you to pick my book Blues to Bliss Creating Your Happily Ever After in the Early Years.
In the book, I get into the details (two chapters long) of how leadership and submission in marriage look like. We discuss what godly submission is and is not because it’s important to kick out myths so your relationship can thrive.
I share my struggles, how as a strong-willed woman, I learned to partner with my gentler husband. So make sure to pick the book for a more holistic view. >> Amazon I Barnes & Noble I PDF I PDF UK/Europe
But let’s talk about these two instances.
Biblical leadership can be defined as “a divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home” (Source)
(Also make sure to check out this fabulous post Does my Husband’s Headship Make Me Second Class?)
But how can a wife submit when a husband doesn’t lead Biblicaly? Is it possible to inspire his leadership? And is it okay to submit to a man who is leading you away from God and His principles?
Let’s start with #1, what to do when your husband doesn’t lead.
1. Acquaint yourself with God’s plan
If your husband is passive, it becomes even more important to go back and understand God’s original plan for him.
You see, you can’t pray for what you don’t know. Faith staggers and fails when you don’t have the word of God as an anchor.
But here’s the problem, when a husband fails to lead his home, the last thing a wife wants to do is think about his role in the Biblical sense.
Sure, you want him to lead, but a lot of times the desire is drenched with more hurt, disappointment, and anger than spiritual awareness.
“Why bother understanding his role when he’s not bothered at all?” is a logical question but let me propose something else: our faith does not follow logic.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Plus you are not studying his role to beat him over the head with it or to make yourself feel more wretched. No, you familiarize yourself with God’s plan for him so your faith can be stirred and you can pray according to God’s will.
If your guy is struggling to set the tone in his home, chances are he’s struggling in other areas of his life and spirituality. Pray with understanding.
In your pain and despair, don’t forget that God has a high purpose for him, one that is bigger than your personal ambition.
2. Inspire his leadership
When your husband doesn’t lead, you might feel like you have no option but to take over everything. And that is understandable, even necessary, sometimes.
However, you must tread carefully. Because instead of encouraging your husband to take the lead, your taking charge everywhere might do the exact opposite.
Because why lead if there’s a leader already? When you close the gap, you remove the aspiration.
Now, you can’t make your husband lead; you can’t force your expectations on him. But you can create room for him to take the lead. For example , you can
Pick his brain on something
In this article, Byron Davies says, “A super simple way to (empower your husband) is to ask him a question about something he knows a lot about. When you do this and connect it directly to a problem you want solved, your man will feel appreciated and validated for the little things he brings to the relationship.”
The more validated he feels, the more confident he feels about his place in the relationship.
When your husband doesn’t respond to your encouragement as you expected, don’t throw in the towel. Think of this as a marathon, not a sprint.
Ecclesiastes 11:1 KJV says “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”
Keep casting out those opportunities because you don’t know which one will turn the tide. Even when he doesn’t respond as you thought, let that leadership space be clear.
Refuse to mother him
Remember to respect his manhood. See this post 2 Ways To Clip Mothering Tendencies in Marriage.
3. Stay Biblical
Sometimes we misinterpret a husbands mandate to lead. There are different ways to interpret Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV which says
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
One way I do not interpret this portion of Scripture is that the husband is the head of the wife’s relationship with Christ.
Indeed, he’s charged to love and lead, but it’s not the same as being in charge of her relationship with Christ; that if he fails to lead her, she’s lost access to God or spiritual covering in Christ.
The Bible tells us “there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” 1 Timothy 2:5
We all have equal and direct access to Christ. A husband’s failure, while it affects his wife considerably, doesn’t bring as much destruction as we think it does.
Individually, we have everything we need in Christ Jesus. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself.. ” 2 Peter 1:3
Indeed, it hurts to be in a marriage that flies on one wing. But the painful situation gives you a more significant opportunity to rely on God.
The Bible is filled with examples of people who found strength in God in desperate, dire circumstances; David encouraged himself in the Lord when his army turned against him. 1 Samuel 30:6
Abigail, who was married to Naboth, whose name means fool, made a godly decision, in spite of her husband’s lack of leadership and her courageous act saved her entire household. 1 Samuel 25
Your husband’s lack of leadership does not mean you should lower your own standards. Get up and go to church. Serve where you can. Pray and read your own Bible. Encourage him but don’t let his passivity drag you down.
4. Don’t feel like you have to shield your husband
Don’t shout about your husband’s lack of leadership from the rooftops. But in the same breath, don’t feel like you have to cover it up with everyone especially with a mentor or a good friend.
Sometimes we don’t change until the pain of not changing is worse than the pain of staying the same. If he’s doesn’t go to church, his friends might notice that; don’t feel bad if they come by and ask where he’s been.
That’s the power of community at work.
But when we make up stories in the name of protecting the image of a good Christian marriage, we close that door. See this post When Your Spouse Behaves Immaturely.
5. When your husband doesn’t lead, love him greatly
Sometimes, people who need our love the most are the most difficult to love. It’s easy to start withholding in other areas when you feel like the scale is imbalanced.
But I want to remind you thus: we love one another because Christ first loved us. 1 John 4:19 Not because we are getting everything we want.
In my book, Blues to Bliss, I walk you through how to still give when you are not getting back (plus the boundaries and limit of love). Check out the book here.
6. Understand his leadership style
A lot of times when we think about leadership, we are actually thinking about a leadership style. Leadership is often associated with extroverts; determined, decisive, talkative, resolute e.t.c
But what if your husband is a gentle, soft-spoken like-to-hang-in-the-back-of-the room type of person? Does that mean he doesn’t or can’t lead? Not at all.
It means he will lead differently, most likely in his quiet, gentle introverted ways. You need to re-adjust to his style.
Check out this post where I explore this point My Husband is Not a Spiritual Leader
#2 What to do when your husband is leading away from Christ
If you are in this unpredictable situation, you most likely desire a straight cut answer, as we all do when wrestling with crises.
I love what Jesus told His disciples when preparing them about their upcoming trials. He said,
“And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” Luke 12:11-12
When our faith is put to the test, God promises to be right there with us, showing us what to do in that moment.
But instead of comfort, His words can churn more anxiety because we like to have all our bases covered in advance. We want to know exactly what to do prior to the situation.
But God invites us to intimacy – a familiarity and confidence that can walk into mind-numbing situations in full confidence that God is in charge and will show us what to do.
Indeed, God’s word is clear on many matters (just look at the ten commandments.) However, the clarity doesn’t always offer an escape for us who are joined together.
For example, your husband making dicey business decisions doesn’t mean you can use that as an excuse to check out of your marriage.
So here are general suggestions to keep in mind (alongside the ones above) if you are married to a man who says he loves God but most of his life doesn’t quite line up to that confession.
1. Remember that Jesus is enough
You must grow in your understanding about the enough-ness of God. Your husband’s failure doesn’t mean God is failing.
..the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. Genesis 15:1 KJV
Learn to lean on God.
2. Determine in advance to honor God
Indeed, as a wife, you have a responsibility to engage and discuss aspirations, goals with your husband. The Bible says a godly wife can influence a husband through her godly behavior.
But if your husband decides to go ahead and do things that dishonor God, determine in advance who you will stand up for.
Perhaps your husband has decided to stop going to church for multiple reasons, and he thinks you should stop too. Talk about it, look for other options (e.g, finding another church) wrestle with it together.
But settle in your heart, in advance that you’ll still go to church because God has asked us not to forsake the gathering of believers. Hebrews 10:25
Or maybe your husband is involved in a shady business deal and is waving the “but I am your husband aren’t you supposed to follow me” line. (Or he’s hiding it). You must decide to stand for what is right because God calls you to love Him, first above all else. Deuteronomy 6:5
3. Tone it down
If your husband barely makes it to church once a week, trying to attend the Wednesday service and Thursday Bible study and lead a women’s group in your home might not be a great idea.
Not saying you cannot do things for God but understand your season. Be wise. Don’t overcomit or rub his failures on his face.
By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; Proverbs 24:3
4. Involve trusted help
There’s no substitute for the community of other believers. Don’t do this alone. Talk to your small group leader, your mentor, a counselor or your pastor. Let them in and allow them to speak to your life and marriage.
A lot can be said on these two areas but I hope these points are helpful.
I leave you with these words by Sheila Gregoire.
The world thinks that if you’re not happy, the marriage isn’t legitimate. But if the vow meant, “we’ll stay married as long as we’re happy”, there would be no need for a vow! The vow is what will hold you together, and God asked you to make that vow. God asked you to commit, because in committing to someone for life, we’re also creating a situation where we need to lean on God. When marriage is hard, you need God more. For marriages to improve, you need to emphasize God more, and yourself less.
I pray these thoughts are helpful! Let me know in Comments – what else would you add? How else can a wife inspire her husband to lead? How can she nurture her relationship with God?
Please Note – If your spouse has addictions, is involved in illegal dealings, or if your lives are in danger, seek help immediately. What I am saying here is meant to help you dig a little deeper into the challenge to help you figure out how to persevere and inspire change. Please talk to a mentor, pastor or counselor for insights into your exact situation.