Leadership And Submission: When One Spouse Won’t Do Their Part

Conflict Resolution | Marriage | Personal Growth

What’s a spouse to do when her marriage is flying on one wing?  

Two weeks ago I wrote about submission in marriage, specifically what it’s not.

Last week we looked at the husband’s role in marriage. And today I want us to look at what to do when your spouse isn’t doing their part.

What to do when your spouse won't change

God truly intended for submission and leadership to work together.

He created marriage to be a place of unity, where two people work and pull together in the same direction, giving 101% to the relationship. 

However, not all spouses have embraced their God-assigned responsibilities. So many marriages are flying on one wing.

If you have embraced your role in marriage and are desperate for your spouse to embrace theirs, a few thoughts to help you move forward;

1. Understand you cannot change your spouse.

I used to think that if I tried hard enough, I could change my husband.

One day God clued me in on something; how He loved me so much that sent His Son to die on my behalf.

But even after such a big sacrifice, He could not force the free gift of salvation on me.

Salvation is something I have to accept; in other word’s I have to use my will and say “yes”.

In the same way, your spouse will have to make the changes they need themselves.

You can’t guilt them, intimidate or manipulate them to change.

You can (should) communicate your heart and discuss areas you’d like to see growth and change.

But you can’t make them be what you desire them to be, even if it’s for their own good.

 2. Be honest with yourself

In the past I’ve struggled with being a workaholic and a people-pleaser.

And  when I got married, I wanted my husband to be like me. I was terrified when it became apparent he was nothing like me  and did not care for my people pleasing “ethics”.

He’s a laid back man who doesn’t lose sleep over what people think or what work didn’t get finished.

Over time God began to help me to turn inward first before trying to rain fires of judgement on him.

When you think or it appears as if your spouse is not doing their part, you must pull up on your own driveway first, before you pull up your husband’s and try to call him out.

Ask yourself hard questions, “Is something really wrong with them or am I just looking at things using the wrong lenses?”

Am I just reacting based off my own fears?”

“Am I trying to dictate the kind of relationship they should have with the Lord? What have I done/not done that may have influenced their behavior?”

Now that latter part, it’s not meant to shift blame & responsibility. But to help you see areas you need to work on yourself.

3. Pray and release your spouse to God.

This should really be #1 but I thought it’s important to have clarity on the first two areas to avoid sliding into “change-him/her-for-me” prayer.

When praying for a spouse who’s abandoned their responsibility in marriage, the tendency is to stick to a self-centered script.

We feel the pain, inconvenience and frustration of their “irresponsibility” and we want it to stop.

So we pray to God to change them so that we can be comfortable.

I’ve found that the most effective prayer originates from a place of sincerity and security in God.

A place devoid of expectations, where I’ve released my spouse from a long list of  “to-be” or “to-do”. A place filled with agape love and repentance of my own sin (fear, lack of faith, anger).

Check out these posts for more thoughts on this. Praying for your husband , When your husband irritates you, Hearing God for your marriage  , Is your marriage broken? 2 ways to fix it

4. Go the extra mile

God’s grace is sufficient to help us become what He’s called us to be, even when we are living through imperfect moments.

In going the extra mile in marriage, we are acknowledging Who we are ultimately submitting to; God, not man.

God does not necessarily give us time-frames when we pray for something. He may answer today or in 22 years time. 

Our greatest aspiration, no matter what we go through in life must be to please God and to do His will.

We must come to that place where we trust Him completely, and stop looking out for #1 (us). For God is faithful.

5. Even with outside help, remember you still have to work it out.

Early in marriage, I would get really upset when a situation we’d received counseling on ended up taking longer to resolve.

In my mind, getting counseling equaled immediate solution. It took a while to understand that counseling marked the beginning of actual work.

Counseling gave us a fresh perspective but we still had to go home and work out the issues.

As work through your challenges, keep the right perspective and attitude. You can’t sit back, you can’t make demands.

You can’t hurry up the process. You have to stay engaged, humble, pliable and willing to learn.

6. Continue to do your part.

You can’t stop leading because she won’t submit. You can’t stop submitting because he won’t lead.

Continue to do your part even when your spouse is not doing theirs.

Keep in mind that imperfect situations do not excuse you from taking up our responsibilities.

Your faithfulness in difficult times can win the heart of your spouse. It’s actually one of the ways through which God might reach out and change the situation.

Sure it will be harder to follow when you feel you are getting the short end of the stick.

That’s why you have God. As you trust Him and lean on Him, He will give you the grace, ability and wisdom to do your part and build your marriage.

What to do when your spouse won't change

7. Appreciate the little steps

As you work through the challenges, be swift to notice growth and improvement and quick to let go of slights and setbacks.

Feelings eventually follow our mind and will. So lead your feelings, don’t allow them to lead you.

Don’t skimp on appreciation simply because you don’t feel like it.

Appreciating your spouse’s efforts encourages them to try again.

Also work on noticing and celebrating other areas of marriage that are working.

Building up your friendship, do things together, enjoy each other and celebrate and notice what is working!

Focus on the positive things in your marriage, not just the negative.

As you enjoy life and yourselves, it becomes easier to resolve issues and challenges.

8. Don’t quit.

Someone has to be rooting for the health of your marriage! Don’t give up!

And don’t shove things under the carpet either!

Continue to ask God to give you the right words, the right time, the right place to share your heart. Keep the issue alive, don’t let it slip away.

There’s no neutral place in marriage. You are either moving forward  – working on issues, growing, enjoying each other – or drifting backward/apart – “letting go” and “letting things be”.

My friend Floyd Samons says “Passion is king and perseverance is queen

You have to be persistent and not easily give up. Cos the Creator of marriage is on your side! He hasn’t given up on you!

I know there are no easy solutions

I know that there are no easy solutions to complex marital challenges.

My prayer and hope, in writing this 3-part series is to help you think outside the box and find some nuggets to help and strengthen your marriage. (Don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series)

Further reading

Boundaries in marriage: 5 guidelines for setting boundaries with a difficult spouse


Learn how wrestle through early marriage challenges when you pick up my book “Blues to Bliss: Creating Your Happily Ever After in the Early Years. Learn to positively influence your marriage and create the marriage of your dreams, one intentional choice at a time. Buy the book Amazon Paperback I Kindle I Barnes & Noble I PDF I UK/Europe PDF . Or Click here to go to the book page.


Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash


Linking with Happy Wives Club, Matrimonial Monday, Titus 2sday, We are That Family, Messy Marriage, To Love Honor & Vacuum, Thriving Thursdays,


  1. Also, I forgot to comment on the part about looking within first. What do “I” have to do to change myself, to tolerate the situation while also communicating what I feel needs to be addressed. Tricky.

  2. Good post. I’m not very religious but I find the advice to be spot on in many ways. Especially about not being able to change other people. I have always tried to change my spouse and it is like trying to drag a sleeping elephant across a field. Impossible and frustrating and you feel trapped … you can’t live with them like that. It’s tough.

  3. It might not be a popular belief but I think it’s selfish of a person to tie down his or her spouse when the person won’t uphold their role in the relationship. IMHO if you can’t be the husband or wife then you should release your spouse from the relationship and wish them well and ask them to go on and live their life. If you are forced to stay in a loveless and sexless relationship then you will end up resenting your spouse.
    I’m not saying that you should not fight for and work on your relationship. I just think it’s selfish to tie town your spouse if you can’t uphold your part.

  4. I like your article. I find it very challenging to appreciate my husband when he only does his part once I have reached a high level of stress and frustration. When he does this it only frustrates me more.

    1. Elvia, i hear you 🙂 i wish there was easier way/answer to some of these challenges. I’ve learned that sometimes we will just have to keep our eyes on who we are doing it for (doing things as unto God) and doing what we can, trusting God with the entire situation and it’s outcome. Not easy but God supplies the grace and a way.

  5. You CANNOT lead where no one will follow and you CANNOT submit to someone who won’t lead, so this statement is nothing short of false.

    1. Jeanette, i hope you read through the entire post. it’s possible to submit when a husband isn’t leading and it’s possible to lead even when she won’t submit to leadership. Not easy but possible and needed. This is also part 3 of a 3-part series (links above) so reading in context might help understand the post in context.

      1. I did read the entire post. I read from the top down. Maybe you should provide real life examples to make sense of what you’re saying. Honestly, I don’t agree with most of what you say in this and other articles concerning marriage. Many “Christians” make up their own rules in marriage and then claim “this is what the Bible says”. Thank God I have two parents who have been modeling what a marriage should look like for over 40 years and I don’t have to look for answer in parts l, ll, or lll of any article. I read because I find it interesting what people will tell you these days and I especially am interested in their followers and what they have to say. Thanks for responding.

        1. Jeanette, I am so glad for your parents who’ve been a great role model for you. What specific things have they taught you about marriage, what do you admire the most?

          1. I’m not Jeanette, but may I offer something? My parents have had a stable, loving marriage for 56 years and counting. That alone is a rarity in today’s world. They demonstrated unconditional love, and a unified front. I can’t remember them ever yelling at each other, or even arguing in front of us. I saw two people who were absolutely committed to each other, a foundation that made me and my siblings feel stable and secure against a world that can be mean and sinful. I remember my father told me, “Every day you need to put your maximum effort into your marriage.” My mother once told me, “Always do your best to put your spouse before yourself. When I go to the store, I hardly ever see things that I even want. When I look around I only notice the things that my husband or children might need to build a better home for us. And your father has always done the same for me. Selflessness is one of the best qualities a marriage can have.” They both loved Christ, each other, and us, in that order. But here’s the kicker. My mother was pretty much the leader of their marriage. When I was 18 or so I asked her about it. And she said, “Someone has to lead in marriage. 50/50 doesn’t work. You can’t have a democracy of two. The votes cancel each other out, and nothing gets accomplished. Some people will say different, but it doesn’t matter who leads. Could be the husband, could be the wife. But someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. The Lord blesses us with different gifts. I am a better leader than your Dad, and he has gifts in other areas that far surpass mine. We complement each other. Going with your strengths is just good stewardship.” I have a brother and two sisters and we have all been married happily for 20+ years. That being said, if you go by the Bible, the way my parents ordered their marriage was wrong and sinful. But if I look at the results of their union, it seems they could have done a lot worse. Divorce is so rampant these days. And it can be so devastating for children. To be honest, anytime I see a marriage endure with happiness, respect, and love, I wonder if Christ would have an issue with who calls the shots. I know I’m 4 years late to comment here, but I enjoyed your article. Very well written. Thanks!

            1. John, thank you for sharing your perspective and adding to the conversation 🙂

  6. I loved this article. It was on of the best marriage articles, I’ve ever read!! It would be great if you had a class or a book? I’d buy it right away… You really got to get this information out, people including me need it. Thank you so much

    1. Hi Bobby, so glad you enjoyed the article, that it helped! I am actually writing a book right now and this is one of the topics I am covering! Stay tuned! 🙂

  7. I love your emphasis on doing your part. So often people only want to do their part if their spouse also comes along for the ride – but you can only change your own actions. I think the key is remembering that what you’re doing is ultimately obeying God. It’s not first about having a good marriage or being a good spouse – it’s about obedience to God. That will give you the motivation to keep going forward.

    1. I love this Loren “It’s not first about having a good marriage or being a good spouse – it’s about obedience to God” That’s the bottom line. When we understand Who we are obeying and who must come first, it helps us become more intentional. thanks so much for sharing.

  8. I struggle with this like most married couples. I have found it best to remember to keep praising and recognizing my husband when he does things that are helpful/appreciated. There was a period of time when I was so upset about things I was never able to recognize when he did something”good.” I added this as a way to acknowledge him and it has really helped him to do more and me to recognize what he does. The one thing I would change are the words I chose, “I love you for.” It doesn’t exactly say whay I mean, more like, “I love you and appreciate when…”. Any suggestions?


    1. Thanks for sharing Kristin!

      “I love you and appreciate when” is a great way to be specific with our spouses. it always goes further and deeper.
      thanks so much for sharing your insights

  9. Linda Stoll says:

    When we finally get that we aren’t the Holy Spirit, we begin to release our spouse to the only One who can really make the big changes! Thank you for these super pointers, Ngina …

    1. Amen Linda! It’s amazing the change that happens within us and without, when we leave the scene let God be God!

  10. Great quote by Floyd!

    Appreciating the small steps isn’t always easy for me, but as I focus less on self and more on God it becomes easier to appreciate the small things. Prayer really helps realign my priorities and shift my attitude.

    1. yes, that’s a great one!
      i hear you TC, we love giant leaps and improvements. but change happens in small steps. Life is often in the details, not necessarily the big things.

      Great perspective and thank God for His ability to change US.

  11. #1 really hit me like a ton of bricks. I find myself guilty of leveraging manipulations and guilty tactics to influence the behavior and thought processes to my girlfriend sometimes. However, as you said, Nothing was happening. Only my frustation was getting worse. It was like pulling teeth. I realized however that I was comitting a big sin to God by trying to play God in this person’s life. I was reminded by God to be just myself and express yourself in a loving way. I need to let go and have God take over our relationship. Thanks for such an edifying post Ngina.

    1. “It was like pulling out teeth” Ouch 🙂 I feel you Paul. I’ve tried it
      myself and it hurts and messes up the relationship more. We really can’t
      change others, we can only change ourselves. Only God changes people.

      am so so glad you are learning these lessons early. Learning to let go
      and let God take over in our relationship is foundational for a great

  12. That’s true DS, it’s a commitment, a process. But one that will yield much if we don’t give up.

  13. Betty Draper says:

    You have done it again my sister…written something that goes straight to my heart. Almost 49 years and I have not changed one thing in my husband. Acceptance is a wonderful thing, take us off the “control” stick. I think all the points you gave is something every new married couple should tack on their mirror where they shave and put make up on. Reading them everyday would be a good start to break the control cycle. Hey it would be good to put it on the mirror of a couple older folks I know, married almost 49 years. Great post..

    1. I love and always learn so much from your sharing Betty, you encourage me. I love this “Almost 49 years and I have not changed one thing in my husband.” that’s so profound and such a needed revelation in many marriages (mine included!). it’s true, we need these reminders every single day..our human nature sneaks up on us all the time 🙂

      1. Rick Rickman says:

        am not being a smart A but when u say u have not changed one thing ABOUT YOUR HUSBAND ? I FIND THAT VERY HARD TO SWALLO,.

        1. Rick, you misunderstand Betty’s comment. I believe she means she may have tried but it’s her husband’s choice to change or not to change. Please note: I have edited your comment for language, I do not allow language in this website and expect everyone to be civil when responding in comments. What is considered language or civil is solely up to me. If behavior persists I will block you. Thanks.

  14. Love that Floyd Samons quote. And this, “you can’t guilt them, intimidate or manipulate them to change, is so important. Another great post, Ngina!

  15. Amen Beth, I am so glad these have worked for you as well. We don’t have to “force” things; we can leave the scene and allow God to work the situation. His faithfulness is amazing.

    1. pamela chase says:

      These last few posts remind me of Deborah and Barak of the Bible . Deborah wanted Barak to be the general, leading Israel’s army. But, since he wouldn’t lead, Deborah went with him. It seems to me that God’s design is for the husband to lead, but it is better to have a woman lead that no leadership at all! There was also mutual agreement between the two … and they went together into battle … and they sang the victory song together in the end!

  16. Ngina, all these are great points. My favorite was #1. I remember praying over and over that God would change my wife. Until one day, I actually looked in the mirror before I prayed and He said that it is not her that needs to change, it is you. Not only did I have to release her to Him, I had to release my will for His will.

    1. wow, that must have quite the revelation! and shocker! I know it was for me! It’s so freeing to let go and let God (and spouse 🙂 ). Perspective makes a huge difference.

  17. Wow, Ngina, we are so much alike – except for the fact that you wised up way earlier than I did. It came as a great shocker to me – 20 years into my marriage – that I couldn’t change my husband. And he is also an awesome man.

    I would also add for women who have husbands who don’t lead, the thing they may need to submit to is the fact that he doesn’t ask them to submit to anything!

    Great post full of wisdom, as usual!

    1. Lol! The real challenge is with the application. am still learning to follow the revelation I’ve received! 🙂
      That’s a great addition. Reminds me the thought in Submission post where I noted that submission will not always be asked of us.

  18. I so appreciate how you always look within before you finish passing judgment on others. That is the trait of a wise person and reminder to all of us that live in glass houses. Common sense isn’t so common anymore. Excellent post, Ngina and I’m honored that you shared some of my two cents.

    1. I am still in the marriage journey myself and am learning a ton of things. i am just blessed to be able to share with others and receive the same. I love that quote, it’s huge. certainly worth more than .2cts! more like a bucks! I think grasping that passion and perseverance work together to bring forth a desired goal will impact our lives greatly and make a huge difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.