Searching for Marriage “Rules”?
On a recent flight, I noticed the woman across the aisle from me was reading a book titled The Rules for Marriage. The subtitle promised timeless secrets to make a marriage last. As soon as I had Internet access, I had to check out these timeless secrets. After all, as a married woman, if there are rules that I needed to follow for a successful marriage, by all means, I want to know what they are! After reading through the list of 30+ rules that ended with what to do when your marriage ends in divorce, I was overwhelmed. How can anyone obey all of these “rules” with no guarantee of success?
Most of the conversations I have with women these days occur with women who know what Scripture says to wives, yet, they struggle with what that really looks like in today’s time and culture. As a woman who is strong-willed, driven, and opinionated, many questions come my way. How do I, as a woman in full-time ministry and married to a business owner, be a submitted, respectful helper? Many ask how I am able to let my husband be the spiritual leader of our family when I am the one in ministry. Others want to know how I fulfill the role of helper even though I work outside the home in a job that requires quite a bit of travel.
The short answer is that it isn’t easy.
Being the wife God calls me to be starts with daily taking up my cross, following Christ, and seeking holiness every minute of the day. And sometimes, it is purely an act of the will. Over the past twenty-one years of marriage, I continually sought to be the wife God intended in order to fight for a marriage that lasts until “death do we part.” What I have learned is that there are really only four “rules” to a successful marriage and they all have to do with my perspective:
- Be his helper
- Submit to his leadership
- Always display respect
- Pray for him daily
The secret to a successful marriage truly starts with a growing relationship with Christ.
But, I know that there are still questions of what does it look like to be a godly wife? Here are some practical ways that I have learned to live out these “rules” of marriage.
Be His Helper (Gen. 2:18)
God created Eve as a helper for Adam. In the simplest of terms, a helper gives assistance or support. In marriage, this means doing anything that assists, supports, or enables a husband to fulfill his God-given role as a man. How do we practically live this out in our marriages?
- Provide Unwavering Support – Today, men are in a daily fight to maintain integrity, respect, success, provision for their families, and to handle challenges of everyday life. The last thing they need is to face the same thing at home. Every day, I try to find one thing that I can tell my husband that he is doing well, has helped me with, or has accomplished. And when the storms are really tough, I listen more than I speak (difficult for women!), offering a quiet presence that he knows is standing with him.
- Create a safe haven at home – Yes, I am talking about the art of making a home. The growing popularity of “man caves” may signal that men really do not feel like their homes are safe havens. They need a place that is comfortable, warm, inviting, and safe. Even as a professional, working woman, most nights we have a home-cooked meal. I make sure the house is clean and comfortable. And, I protect our evening time together. Because I work outside the home this takes commitment and planning, but I have learned to look at my responsibility for the home as my first job and my job outside the home as my second job. I actually had to get a second cell phone for my evening hours so that I wasn’t constantly looking at the latest email or update on my work phone during my time at home.
Submit to His Leadership (Eph. 5:22)
God has called women to submit to their husbands. That means willingly placing herself under the authority of her husband. Focus on that word “willingly”. We voluntarily choose to be under his leadership and, I would add, happily choose to submit. What does this look like, you ask?
- Trust him, and let him, make decisions – Whether it is a big decision or a little one, I need to trust him and let him make the decision. It is so hard sometimes to sit back and let him decide when I feel like I can see the obvious answer right in front of our faces. While I give him my insight and opinion, it is often a true exercise in patience, waiting for him to make the decision without me jumping the gun. Even when I may have my doubts about the decision he makes, 99% of the time it was absolutely the right decision. The few times that it was not, he bears the responsibility for the consequences…and I keep my mouth shut. My trust in my husband enables him to continue to take the lead without hesitation.
- Include him in your world – I include my husband in as much of my world as possible. When my travels include the weekend, he almost always joins me for the days that he does not have to work. This allows him to meet those with whom I minister. He also gets a glimpse into what I do. I share with him my concerns, praises, and struggles within my ministry and work. He knows those with whom I work and they know him. I share everything with him. Including him in my world allows him to give me guidance, support, advice, and encouragement for the tasks God has given me.
- Let him protect and take care of you – As an independent woman, I feel like I can take care of myself and fight my own battles. But as I submit to the leadership of my husband, I need to let him do those things for me that he does well, and thank him for it. And yes, there are times that I need to let him take a lead in my battles, even though I think I can fight them myself and win.
- Let him be the spiritual leader – I get more questions in this area than any other. I spend my day advising, counseling, and praying with a variety of women. I am viewed as a spiritual leader. How do I let someone else lead me? It goes back to including him in my world. I constantly ask him to pray for me. I seek his advice, and usually follow it. When it comes to areas of church involvement and ministries we do together, I consciously let him take the lead. I have to be intentional here, since it would be easy to take over. But, at the end of the day, I choose to let him lead me as we seek to serve the Lord together.
Always Display Respect (Eph. 5:33)
The passage on marriage in Ephesians 5 ends with admonishing women to respect or revere their husbands. Even our unbelieving world recognizes the importance of this. Over and over, studies show that the one thing husbands desire from their wives is respect. Therefore, as a wife, I must always display respect for him.
- Never say (or write) anything that makes fun of, or reveals a weakness of your husband – Whether he hears it himself or not, I take serious the responsibility that I say nothing to anyone that taints the picture of my husband in their eyes and in my heart. This includes what I write on social media. On the contrary, I am intentional in bragging about my husband. It is one thing to seek counsel from a godly woman on how to deal with particular struggles my husband and I might have. But, if I just want to have a gripe session, I gripe to God about it and usually God ends up changing my own attitude and view of the situation.
- Do not talk down to him – A wife is not her husband’s mother. Never ever, no not ever, talk down to your husband as if he is below you or just doesn’t get it. Speak to him as the man that God created him to be.
- Never do anything that brings shame to him or your family – Because he is the head of the family, anything I do that brings shame to him, our family, or me is multiplied on him. This includes how I dress, what I do, and the conversations I have; they should not only all be done to the glory of God, but, in turn to continually show respect to my husband.
Pray for Him Daily.
I pray for my husband, Jay, every day. And while I include specifics of what is going on in his life and our life together, I always include this simple request: “Lord, I pray today that you will enable Jay to be the leader he was created to be. Give him the wisdom to make the decisions he needs to make and the courage to take the actions he needs to take. May he do everything for your glory.”
Do not discount intercessory prayer. Each and every day, pray for your husband to be the leader, provider and protector he is meant to be. And in the process, you will find yourself wanting to help him get there, wanting to submit to his godly leadership, and respecting him like never before!
I’m blessed with a godly husband, but I know that there is at least one woman reading this who cannot relate, who wants to be able to submit to her husband’s leadership but finds that her husband unwilling to take that burden. Let me encourage you to put into practice what you can out of submission to Christ and to come back as we walk through the challenges of godly submission to an ungodly man.
Terri Stovall serves as the Dean of Women’s Programs at Southwestern Seminary. She co-authored the book Women Leading Women. Terri and her husband Jay enjoy riding motorcycles and roller coasters. Connect with Terri on Facebook or Follow her on Twitter!