[This is an excerpt adapted from my book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. Accordingly, it’s focused on wives, but most husbands could figure out the opposite application. Let me also state that this chapter was written for women in satisfying or perhaps disappointing but not abusive relationships.]
No woman gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity, because that person doesn’t exist. If you are married, you have joined yourself with a fallible human being. In fact, James 3:2 promises you that your husband will find new and creative ways to disappoint you when he states, “We all stumble in many ways.”
Notice the words “all” and “many.” No spouse avoids this reality. We all — including your husband — stumble in many ways.
Since every wife is married to an imperfect man, every wife will have legitimate disappointments in her marriage. How can you learn to appreciate an imperfect man? Acceptance and encouragement are actually biblical requirements:
• “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
• “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
For your own spiritual health, you need to learn how to love an imperfect man. When I urge you to affirm your husband’s strengths, I’m not minimizing his weaknesses; I’m just encouraging you to make the daily spiritual choice of focusing on qualities for which you feel thankful. The time will come when you can address the weaknesses — after you’ve established a firm foundation of love and encouragement. For now, you must make a conscious choice to give thanks for his strengths.
I have found Philippians 4:8 as relevant for marriage as it is for life: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
Guys rise to praise. When someone compliments us, we want to keep that person’s positive opinion intact. We get a rush like nothing else when we hear her praise or see that look of awe in her eyes — and we will all but travel the ends of the earth to keep it coming.
Isn’t this approach, based in God’s Word, at least worth a try?
I fully understand it can be a monumental spiritual challenge to appreciate a man who disappoints you in many ways. But here are a few tried and true spiritual practices to point you in the right direction.
- 1. Give Your Husband the Benefit of the Doubt
Some wives can literally stew in their disappointment about their husbands’ relational shortcomings: “Why won’t he help me?” “Why doesn’t he seem to care?” What they don’t understand is that it is very possible their husbands may not know what to do. Many women accuse their husbands of being uncaring or unloving when, in fact, they may just be clueless. It’s possible that he’s not trying to be callous or uncaring; he just honestly doesn’t know what you need or what he’s supposed to do. And there are few things most guys hate more than not knowing what to do.
This is key: it’s easier and less painful for us to ignore the problem than to admit incompetence.
One wife told me that when she and her husband began traveling together, she’d ask him, “Are you hungry yet?” He’d say “No” and she’d sit and stew because obviously he didn’t care about her. When she learned to say, “Hey, I’m hungry, let’s stop for lunch,” her husband was always accommodating. She eventually realized that her husband wasn’t trying to be thoughtless; he just wasn’t catching the hint.
- 2. Share a Slice of the Grace That God Gives You
Counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick once told her small group about how God had moved her from a legalistic, works-oriented faith to a “grace-filled, peaceful existence with my merciful heavenly Father.”
“The pressure is off me,” she told them. “Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m not pursuing holiness. It’s just that I know that my Father will get me where He wants me to be and that even my failures serve, in some way, to glorify Him. My relationship with God is growing to be all about His grace, His mercy, His power.”
Then Elyse’s friend “astounded” her by responding, “That must be such a blessing for your husband, Elyse. To be walking in that kind of grace must enable you to be so patient and so grace-filled with Phil. To know that God is working in him just as He’s working in you must make your marriage so sweet and your husband so pleased. It must be great for him to know that the pressure is off for him too.”
The reason this friend “astounded” Elyse is because Elyse didn’t initially make the connection her friend made. “I scarcely ever extended to Phil the grace I enjoyed with the Lord. Instead, I was frequently more like the man in Jesus’ parable, who, after he was forgiven a great debt, went out and beat his fellow slave because he owed him some paltry sum.”
There was a gap in Elyse’s mind about receiving grace and giving grace. To her credit, she responded to the truth as it was presented and her marriage was blessed accordingly. It takes great spiritual maturity to love mercy, to offer grace, and to give someone the same spiritual benefits we ourselves have received from our heavenly Father. Get in touch with how much God has done for you — how he has seen every wicked act you’ve ever committed; heard every syllable of gossip; noticed every malicious, ugly, and hateful thought — and still, he loves you. Even more, he adores you. And he’s forgiven you.
Now comes the hard part: will you give your husband at least a slice of what God has given you?
- 3. Form Your Heart through Prayer
Practice praying positive prayers for your husband. Find the five or six things he does really well, or even just one or two, and try to tire God out by thanking him for giving you a husband with these qualities. Follow up your prayers with comments or even greeting cards that thank your husband personally for who he is.
Prayers of thankfulness form our soul and groom our affections. Counselor Leslie Vernick explains, “Cognitive therapists know that what we think about directly affects our emotions. If we think on negative things, nursing bad attitudes or critical spirits, our emotions take a downward spiral. Conversely, if we think on things that are good, true, right, things that we are thankful for, then our emotions can be uplifted.”
One session of thankfulness will not soften a rock-hard heart. But over time, thankfulness makes a steady and persistent friend of affection.
- 4. Go to the Cross
Some desires are never going to be fulfilled and need to be “crucified.” In fact, I’ve seen various studies that suggest over fifty percent of marital “issues” will never be resolved. This requires the brilliant but severe remedy of the cross. We need to constantly remember that our life isn’t defined by our marital happiness, but by seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). That pursuit will, in the end, produce happiness, but we have to keep first things first.
So here’s the spiritual “trick.” Transform the focus of your expectations from what you expect of your husband to what your God expects of you. We can’t make any one person do what we think they should do. But we can surrender to what God would have us do in light of that.
If you don’t die to unrealistic expectations and if you refuse the cross, you’ll find yourself at constant war with your husband instead of at peace. You’ll feel frustrated instead of contented, and disappointed instead of satisfied. Why? We often forget that both partners in a marriage have their expectations, and sometimes these expectations conflict.
Ruth Bell Graham offered these words:
“I pity the married couple who expect too much from one another. It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her what only Jesus Christ can be: always ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain.”
- 5. Ask God to Change You
As soon as you begin offering prayers of thankfulness for your husband, be sure of this: the enemy of your soul and the would-be destroyer of your marriage will remind you of where your husband falls short. You can count on it.
You’ll find yourself growing resentful: “Why should I thank God that my husband works hard during the day but when he comes home he won’t even talk to me?” “Why should I thank God that my husband has always been faithful to me — when he doesn’t earn enough money for us to buy a house and I have to work overtime?”
You need to respond to this temptation with a healthy spiritual exercise: as soon as you recall your husband’s weaknesses, start asking God to help you with specific weaknesses of your own. That’s right — as backward as it may sound, respond to temptations to judge your husband by praying for God to change you. Go into prayer armed with two lists: your husband’s strengths and your weaknesses.
Lest you think I’m blaming women for everything, let me say that I do the same thing: I go into prayer armed with my wife’s strengths and my weaknesses. I think both husbands and wives should do this.
A husband married to a disappointed wife loses most of his motivation to improve his bad habits. Why do you think your husband worked so hard before you got married? Because he loved the way you adored him. He wanted to catch your attention, to impress you. And when he saw that you did notice and did appreciate him, it made him want to please you even more. He felt motivated to move by the way you adored him.
The relational cancer of blatant disappointment will eat away motivation for further change. Before you try to influence your husband, sit back, enjoy him, appreciate him, and thank God for him. Before you begin to think about what he needs to change, make an exhaustive inventory about what you want to stay the same. Then thank God for that — and thank your husband too.
Let me end by telling you a marital secret that startled me: the more thankful I become about my wife, the happier I became in my everyday life. It makes sense, if you think about it. Regularly thinking positive thoughts about your spouse cultivates an overall sense of well-being.
Thankfulness is a learned skill, urged on us by Scripture, but like so much of the Christian life, we are radically blessed by obedience when we step out and do what Scripture calls us to do. If you can learn how to appreciate an imperfect man, your husband will feel blessed indeed—but you will feel blessed even more.
For more like this, check out Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband