June 29, 2017

Young Husband: It Might Not be Her; It Might be Her Situation

Gary Thomas — 

Preachers and teachers on marriage (and I have been among them) often warn young moms about being moms first and wives second. It’s certainly a dangerous and ever-present temptation that deserves attention. But this post is for the young husbands who have their own temptation—expecting their wives to be more than any one woman could possibly be while raising their kids.

One August morning in Houston I waited just a little too long to go out for a run. The sun was unmerciful, and all the shade was gone. My pace slowed, and I even had to walk. I thought I could power through the run as planned but it was stupid not to shorten it before turning around, and I paid the price for my stubbornness.

About a mile and a half from home, I noticed the distinctive bounce of my wife as she pedaled her bike my way. She had a towel and a bottle of electrolyte-laced water.  “They said on the news that it was dangerously hot and humid today and I thought you should have been home by now so I figured I better go find you.”

I fell in love with my wife all over again. She is the best.

But she’s also an empty nester.

When she was a homeschooling mom of three, I don’t think, number one, she would have had time to watch the news in the morning. Number two, I don’t think it’s likely she would have noticed I had left, as she would be trying to keep child number one from ripping up her assignment, child number two from throwing a ball through the window, and child number three from having a diaper accident. Not to mention keeping our dog Amber from eating somebody’s shoe.

I suspect, fifteen years ago, had we lived in Houston and I had gone out for a run, I’d limp home, my wife would see me dripping sweat on the floor, and she might say, “You went for a run? In this? Are you crazy?”

As an empty nester, I now get all her care. There’s a lot of it, but it’s just…different when it’s not divided among four people. There’s just me now. We don’t even have a dog anymore.

Young husbands, please give your wives a break. Try to understand. She wants to be a world class wife—most women do. But when she’s got a job, kids, a pet, and a house, never forget that there’s only one of her and about ten of them (if you add everything together).

Yes, she should be a wife first. But you’ve got to do your part with understanding. I wish I had been more empathetic as a younger husband. Back then, I could occasionally be resentful. Lisa would freely admit there were seasons when she was definitely a mom first.  I thought the problem was her, but now I’d tell my younger self that the problem was really her situation. “Give it time, Gary,” I’d say. “Let her work this out. By the way, some amazing years are coming.”

If your wife really cares for your kids, she’s a caring person. When the kids are gone, all that care will be poured out on you. If you leave her now, she’s likely to end up with someone else and then her care will be poured out on that person. You’ll have endured the years in which she was stretched the most, only to miss the years when she could focus on you and love you the most.

It’s not a coincidence that I wrote Sacred Marriage about embracing the difficulties and challenges of marriage when I was in my late thirties, and now, in my fifties, I’m writing about building a marriage based on cherishing each other.

Same wife, but a different life.

So, young husband, be gentle with your wife while she figures all this out. Don’t let a very exhausting decade or two define your marriage or her.

I’ve been in a number of running groups. We meet Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings in our running gear, and leave looking sweaty and hot and tired. Every now and then there will be a “social.” And the most common comment you hear runners say to each other is “Wow, that’s what you look like all showered and clean!”

Defining your wife’s love and care by how she acts when she’s raising small children is like defining a woman’s beauty by how she looks in the middle of a marathon.

It’s not fair.

Give your wife a thankful hug. Even more, give her truckloads of understanding. And remind yourself whenever you feel neglected: it might not be her. It might just be her situation.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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59 responses to Young Husband: It Might Not be Her; It Might be Her Situation

  1. Gary, Thank you so much for writing this article. It has a lot of truth in it, and helps us young husbands to understand what our wives are going through. There still remains a big question to me. I see where a husband needs to be sensitive of his wife’s role and responsibilities, be there for her, and help her every step of the way. How does a young husband deal with this long pause in his married life with his wife. A pause that causes his real needs (and the needs of his wife) of the marriage and the relationship to be put on hold, or minimized at best. In a situation where a wife is a full time homemaker, and home-schools 5 children, and the children range from 5 months to 12 years, this pause can be very long and unbearable at times. At 36 years old, I could be close to 55 years old before this pause is complete. I submit this question with all love and sincerity, and am very appreciative of any answer that you are able to provide. Thank you.

  2. And here I was hoping after all those years of caring for the kids and teaching and cleaning, that I would be on the receiving end of some care. Didn’t realize he was just waiting for it to be his turn. 😉

  3. This is wonderful for young husbands. My husband and I read it together. Thank you for your insight.

  4. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I love the church and I notice this perspective is not shared often enough. I walk with so many young mother’s drowning in the expectations that their husbands and the church body supply.

    Please continue to talk about this season of life and the needs young moms have. This is refreshing.

    Thank you.

  5. Matthew 25:42. Christ is my life, my number one, my love, yet I demonstrate my love for Jesus when I give to “the least of these”. Why does the husband not recognize that when his wife is ministering to “the least of these”, she is ministering to him? Why doesn’t he see that when she is caring for his children, she is caring for him. When on occasion I miss church because I’m home with a sick child, God doesn’t feel like I’m putting Him second or making Him less a priority. On the contrary, as I give up the privilege of attending church for the privilege of ministering to the sick, the Lord is glorified. Why doesn’t the husband understand that the same is true for him. Wives minister to and bless their husbands when they minister to and bless their children. Maybe it’s not her, maybe it’s a wrong perspective?

    • The comment that “she should be a wife first” creates a conflict between wife and mom where there is no conflict. Wife and mom are not competing roles. She is being a great wife, when she is being a great mom. Just as loving others is not in conflict with loving God.

    • Rebecca Wilson July 4, 2017 at 6:26 am


  6. I only wish my husband could have read and understood this before Satan seared his heart with the lie that I didn’t love him and therefore his marriage was over. I was drowning in the chaos and loneliness of being a homeschooling mom of 4, suffering from unrecognized and untreated postpartum depression. I knew we were in a rough patch, but after 18 years of marriage that’s what I thought it was, a rough season. I assumed he knew that just because I HAD to make the kids the priority right then (because it literally takes every ounce of strength to give and care for them with postpartum depression), I thought he knew we would be okay. That it was something we could slog through. But my husband took that lie as justification for an affair. He said he felt divorced in his heart, and that was enough for him to fall prey to the attentions of a younger woman. I’ve forgiven him, but I don’t think he ever really got your perspective. Now married 22 years with 5 kids, we’re still in the thick of it. Please pray that he will have his heart opened to seeing the wisdom of your hindsight.

  7. Gary, thank you for your article…. Its awesome to read something like this that is encouraging and like the one comeent on how you called yourself out of how it was when you were younger is grreat…. when you can hold yourself accountable! As a wife, I juggle many hats because I choose to, my hisband is for sure a helper and always stops what he is doing to help me or ask if I need help. Most moms are micromanagers, we have the mother nurturing aspect… my husband does work out too but literally in the times he can get it. What frustrates me is that so many people will read your article and nit pick, instead of getting what you were trying to say. I am saying that I get it and I thank you for it! Because this season is hard, but I do look forward to things to come. My husband and I are learning to navigate around some of the hardness of it all, for example it was so exhausting to get a date night ever, but now my husband takes a morning off work and we go on a date breakfast! One speaker said it right stop asking what you are getting out of your marriage and start seeing what you are giving into it!! Again I thank you for your words of wisdom from your own perspective and how husbands can use your experience and words to make things better! Bless ya!!

  8. I appreciate your effort to shift young husbands’ perspectives, but I find this pretty sexist. I don’t have kids yet but if my husband was just “understanding” but still didn’t lift a finger around the house, we would not have a functional marriage. Also, I would point out as a woman who is a runner that I feel strongest and most positive about body image when I am running, so your comment about not being attractive during a run is also disappointing.

    • Amy, several have caught what you did so the fault lies with me as a communicator. I didn’t mean to imply it’s JUST about empathy. This is a short blog post meant to accomplish one thing: elicit more empathy. It would take at least a book chapter to add building what you call a “functional” marriage by helping out around the house. I guess I just sort of assumed people would understand that, but enough have responded that I recognize it was my fault as a communicator. Of course I think husbands should help out more.

      • I am thankful for so much of what you have written over the years so please receive this as a gentle observation – when you do write that chapter about the “functional” aspects of the marriage, it would be helpful not to identify the husband’s work as “helping”. This signifies that the work belongs to the wife and – isn’t he being nice by doing some things she can’t manage in her own? Better perhaps to think of his work as a “sharing of the load” and carrying his own responsibility for the work of managing a family and life together that rightfully belongs to both of them
        I recognize that if the husband works out of the home and the wife works at home, more of her time will be devoted to the Homefront, of course – but at the same time, if she is still cleaning up the dishes everyone ate from and cooking all the meals that were on those dishes and clearing up after everyone that has messed up all day long after he has returned home, something is wrong
        We can all be better partners – and examples to our children – when sharing responsibilities is done cheerfully, as a matter of course and even with laughter and fun

    • I think you’ve missed the whole point. He isn’t saying that husbands shouldn’t lift a finger. He is saying that husbands should be understanding when it comes to the affections of his wife towards him when she may have a lot to juggle on her plate. I don’t think you’ll be able to fully appreciate the beauty of this article until you have children yourself and feel the struggle of it as both a wife and mother.

      In terms of being your most attractive at running…I’m a runner as well and at mile 14, I feel amazing, but I look terrible. Sweat dripping, I’m funky, salt on my face…Please don’t miss the point of his analogy because of your personal views. It seems as if you are looking through this blog from your personal beliefs about male and female relationships. I think you risk missing the whole point of the article when you do that.

      • Mary, I’d humbly ask you to consider that your comment, especially your statement “I don’t think you’ll be able to fully appreciate the beauty of this article until you have children yourself and feel the struggle of it as both a wife and mother”, comes off as quite condescending and patronizing here. As Gary graciously acknowledged, many other commenters have pointed out the same issues as Amy did- including ones who do have children. Statements in the blog like “be gentle with your wife while *she* figures this all out” and also calling juggling family life “*her* situation” set up an idea that wives need to figure this out on their own, rather than a husband and wife working as a team of two fully equal partners. Someone with or without kids can legitimately interpret this blog post that way.

    • This is not an article about shared responsibilities of a couple….I think the author would agree that woman are not supposed to do everything around the house….he never implied that. I respect that you are a runner, but for most the thought of running a marathon is exhausting…while it may be easy for you, you should know take it personal….he was just using that to make a connection to how it may feel juggling the roles of a young mother/wife.

    • Wow. I’m sure he wasn’t referring to EVERY wife or EVERY mother in EVERY situation. This resonates with me and many others, I’m sure. He’s trying to clue these husbands in how to they should be more compassionate.
      Yes, a man should do his part around the house and with his children… but that’s an entirely different article.

  9. Juanita Williams June 30, 2017 at 11:47 am

    nicely done. Married nearly 51 years and raised a handicapped ADHD son and a daughter. We had pets and horses and I had a undetected kidney infection for about 18 of those years. Boy! Did I get judged by everybody. Nice article.

  10. Rebecca Thomas June 30, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Gary I’ve always loved your insight ever since you spoke at Winter Camp Chi Alpha years ago. 🙂 Going into marriage after reading Sacred Marriage changed everything! <3

    This was so encouraging because I feel my husband DOES understand that this is a season and situation and I'm stretched thin (even with 1 child!). I think I'm the one that doesn't have that understanding and grace for myself. I'm so grateful for the man I married. <3

  11. Gary – This is fantastic on so many levels. I really appreciate your acknowledgement of your season of life as you write this. We have seen many well intentioned empty next authors and speakers, present their marriage rhythms as normative for all marriages regardless of life stage. It becomes a high bar that can be exhausting. Thanks for the great perspective.
    Very grateful for you.

  12. As woman homeschooling 6, I appreciate the encouragement to be empathetic during that stage of life. I really wanted to love this, but you missed the mark. If a husband wants his wife to put him first, he needs to put her first. This works both ways. Why is this husband going out for a run, by himself, while his wife is home juggling all that? Stop what your doing, change that diaper, discipline your children, put them into a stroller, and take them for the run too. In that moment, what is more important – your run or your wife? The fact that the husband chose the run, no matter what the reason, is a big part of why wives struggle. We no longer have little ones, but when we did, those times when my husband stopped what he was doing, put me and our family ahead of his needs and desires, was what freed me to care for him too. Don’t expect your wife to care for you, unless you are caring for her.

    • The run he described was after the children were grown. He said that if he HAD run when the children were little, she most likely would have not noticed until he returned. But, I do agree that husbands can help wives be better wives by contributing to all of the “life” that needs to be done

    • Exactly what I was thinking! His intentions with the article were good, but the article was lacking a wife’s point of view.

    • Marilee Thank you! I was thinking the EXACT same thing! This article completely misses the HUSBAND’s responsibility for his wife and family. I too was hoping it would be an article for young husbands telling them the struggles and how hard being a wife, mom, teacher, cook and everything else that falls under her title is and that God made them the head of their home to be a support, helpmate and encouragement. This article makes it sound as though husbands can still do what they want and expect their wives to take care of everything, as long as they “empathize” with their situation.
      I hope Godly husbands realize that they have so much more of a responsibility than just “empathizing” with their wife’s “situation”.

    • Marilee, I worked at home when Lisa homeschooled, so there were many times when I watched the kids while she worked out, and she watched the kids while I worked out. This describes a slice of time, not a 24 hour pattern. Both Lisa and I believed that we were better parents when we each got some time to exercise, and because I worked at home, that was easier for us than it would be for many couples. I also made sure she got evenings to do her group Bible studies that she really enjoyed. The fancy running strollers they have now didn’t exist when our kids were young so no, I didn’t take the toddlers (though I would have if we did have the strollers), but I also started running with my kids when they were 12 or so.

      This is an 800 word blog post seeking to make one point: husbands need to have more empathy for how exhausting family life can be when they have young kids. It’s not intended to comprehensively address how to be a good husband when your kids are young. But thanks for helping me to clarify that.

      • Gary, I understand that and I agree with you, but the way this was worded gives the impression that it is “her situation” and if he just hangs in there he will eventually get what he wants. Understanding is necessary on the part of both spouses, and self-care is important for both, but both also need to see it as “our situation” nor his or hers. I just think the point would be better made with examples of the husband stepping in and parenting with love and empathy for his wife, not leaving her to do it on her own and hoping he will be taken care of later in life.

        • It is “her” situation in regards to being a wife and mother. “His” situation is being a husband and father. This short article addresses “her” situation. Young husbands can expect way more than is physically and emotionally possible for a young wife and mother, not realizing how draining it is to her. I think he is trying to make young husbands aware of this. That she is in a season of life right now that won’t last forever. Be patient with her. Be loving. Someday it will be just the two of you (Lord willing) and her time will not be divided so much. It will be worth the wait. Same goes the other way, too, but this particular article is not about that. This little piece could possibly be an eye opener for some young husbands.

    • I don’t think it is reasonable to expect husbands to stop exercising or practicing self-care, just as moms should not neglect these areas either. Gary just had unrealistic expectations of his wife/marriage during that time and he is calling himself out on it.

    • YES!!!!^^^^ Husbands can do more than just be understanding. Being understanding is a good first step but lets kick it up a notch

    • Yes! Wives need empathy not sympathy and if you really are seeking to understand her situation, there’s no better way than to roll up your sleeves and find a way to help!

  13. Thank you so much for such a well-written article. It brought tears to my eyes remembering back to those really hard years being told and believing it was me and my inability to do it all.

  14. From an empty nester mom and wife of 36 years – this is so well said. The husband gets to reap all the caring when the kids are gone – such a reward for those tough years.

  15. What a gracious and balanced view. Thank you Gary. And when husband and wife are a team it takes off a lot of the pressure that a tired mom probably puts on herself to be everything to everyone.

  16. This brought tears to my eyes. Raising children is such hard work. And I know my hubby gets stressed when he doesn’t feel like his my priority. Only, HE IS my priority. I just don’t always have the time to show him like I would like to… But, one day our little Madam will be on her own, in a great big world on her own adventures, and then it will be just the two of us. And while I will miss her terribly, I also can’t wait! Not for her to leave, but to have some time to just focus on cherishing my husband. He is an amazing human being!

  17. Understanding lo matter ( understanding is all that matters).

    Thanks for this post Gary.

  18. AMEN!

  19. Good article but it missed an important point … How about the husband being of some practical hands-on help? It’s HIS children and home too! Not only would the wife love him for it and he would come to value precious time with his family, his helping would also free up his wife so she could have more time and energy for herself and for him.

    • Absolutely! Most men need this pointed out to them because if their wife points it out to them it is considered “nagging” and then they are thrown verses at them about “dripping from the roof.” But I very much appreciate Gary addressing the situation with men. It is a lesson many have learned, but unfortunately a lesson that even more have refused to learn and it has been at the root of much destruction.

    • S.,

      That’s a good point. I guess I was assuming he was already offering some help. But keep in mind, young husbands tend to be tired, too. This can just be, overall, a tough season to keep your marriage together.

    • That is defiantly a frustration point with many men bit took me 20 years to figure that one out. Two things helped my husband “get it”
      1- praise every little thing he does to help with the same enthusiasm as you do a 2 yr old. Not in a mocking way but like he is absolutely the best guy ever cuz he put his plate away after dinner, or helped with the kids, etc
      2- no matter how bad of a job he does or how small of a job it is, he did it right and he did it well. Don’t tell him how it should have been done, you can do it your self later if you don’t like how he did it, but just don’t tell him to his face he did it wrong just thank him for the thought and effort

      Guys are in some way much like our 2 yr olds. They want to be noticed and appreciated. And no guy wants sky help his wife if she is always telling him how to do it and what he did wrong. Sounds so simple, but it works!

      • Sandy,

        This might sound manipulative to some and demeaning to men to others, but Sandy has this one right. That worked with me!

        • I think it’s a little offensive to think of a husband as a two year old, haha; I prefer to think that it just really is that simple. Words of affirmation and appreciation work NO MATTER your age! I am a words of affirmation gal here myself, and I can tell you that it is impossible to say “Thank you” too often! I would similarly love this kind of appreciation, so I guess that makes me a two-year-old too! Ha.

    • True!! 😉

    • It makes me weep just remembering those years. We still have not reconciled and we are still married. What a sorrowful waste of time. He will not let me in. All I do is make mistakes that are pointed out.

      • Is he a bad man? No. Does he hurt me? No. He financially supports me and doesn’t complain so I can’t explain why I thought we would be a team, facing the future together, in a way he understands. Perhaps it is me. I expect too much. I think too much.

        • D,

          It’s not expecting too much to want to be reconciled and operating as a team. That’s the very definition of marriage! Two of my books, A Lifelong Love and Cherish, help couples “jump start” their relationship. If money is an issue for you, email Alli@garythomas.com and we can get you a complimentary copy. If your husband will read one of them, that might provide the inspiration he needs.

          • Thank you Mr. Thomas. I appreciate your gracious offer. Money isn’t the issue. He isn’t the type who will read but I will. I do thank you for your wise counsel.

    • I agree

    • My thoughts exactly!

  20. Well done,and an excellent analogy, especially for young men (and old) who can relate to that season of life.