Hi Dr. Lawyer,
My husband is an angry man. When we hear his car in the driveway, after work, the whole home goes into combat mode. Everyone does everything they can to avoid contact with Dad because he is going to be in a “mood” and it isn’t a good thing to get in his way when he’s in a “mood.”
I’ve tried to talk with him about his anger issues, but he just tells me he isn’t angry and to stop provoking him. He thinks that if everyone would just do what they are supposed to do, everything would be fine. In fact, he thinks everything is fine. But it isn’t. Our home is a disaster.
The children are beginning to imitate him in how he deals with things he doesn’t like. Everyone, including me, is angry all the time. We yell, we shout, we hit one another and our oldest even punches holes in the walls. How do I tell the kids that their father is in sin without dishonoring him? How do I fix things?
I’ve heard that Christian wives are supposed to submit to our husbands, even when they are in sin. 1 Peter 3 is trotted out and given as a proof text for how to live in this kind of situation. Well, I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. Nothing seems to work.
Nearly crushed wife
I’m glad to hear that you are nearly crushed and not completely crushed. I’m also glad to hear that you’re still concerned and haven’t simply left your husband and tried to make it on your own.
If you were sitting here with me, one of the things I would be asking you about is, What have you tried so far? You have been married for several years and obviously, nothing you have done has had any effect. In addition, you are contacting me, my guess is that things have gotten worse rather than better.
Because you aren’t here, I’ll just proceed.
One of our house rules is, No sin is allowed. We don’t get to sin. Sin isn’t normal for a Christian (1 Jn. 5:18) and so it isn’t assumed to be normal in our home. If someone does sin, we are careful to handle it the way the Bible tells us to handle sin (Mt. 5:23; 18:18; Gal. 6:1; Col. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 Jn. 1:9) and we go on in love, joy, and fellowship.
Why did I bring this up with you? Because you are in a situation where your own walk with God needs to be highly coveted. You need to view yourself and your situation like you are in a combination of war and suffering. Satan is standing at your door and he wants to sift you and destroy you, and the only way you can combat that is to realize that you need Jesus more now than at any other time in your life. You need to go to him, give him your load, take his and follow him with every fiber of your being (Mt. 11:28ff).
Here’s a quick guide to how this should look. First, pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Pray all the time. Pray for everything. Lift up your heart to the Lord for everything and in every circumstance. If you are sad, tell him. If you are happy, tell him. If you are hurting, tell him. If you are angry, tell him. There are examples of all these kinds of prayers in the Bible. It is Biblical and right to pray this way.
Second, read your Bible—a lot. But read it in a particular way. Read it with an eye to knowing God. Ask the question: who are you? What are you doing in the lives of the people you’re reading about? What are you doing with your people? Do you have a plan? What is the plan? Notice things in context. Remember that “a text out of context is a pretext for a proof text.” Many people have gone off the rails because they don’t read the text in the context it comes to them in in the Bible. Also, read it a lot. Pray through it, pray as you’re reading. If you need something to help you pray as you read, get a copy of Handbook to Prayer: Praying Scripture Back to God, by Kenneth Boa. It can be very helpful.
As you read, notice who Jesus is. Notice that some people loved him and others hated him. Ask God to help you figure out why this was and ask him to make you into the kind of person who has that effect on others. Ask God to make you into a clone of Jesus, as you read. So, know God, become like Jesus.
Remember, you don’t get to sin. So do that by becoming like the one who never sinned. And if you do sin, confess it right away and ask for forgiveness.
What does all this have to do with your letter?
I think you need to apply the text of Scripture to you own life in the context of your own life. In Matthew 18 Jesus said, ““Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15–17).
This means that if your husband is sinning against you by becoming angry and you cannot cover it with love (1 Pet. 4:8), you should go to your husband and ask him about what he is doing. The Bible tells us that the one who is spiritual should go to someone caught in a sin and restore them gently. You are walking with God (as I’ve described above and are therefore “spiritual”) and need to go to your husband in a kind, sweet, respectful way and ask him about his sin. If he collapses and confesses his sin and asks you to forgive him, you’ve won your brother. If he denies that he has sinned, and blows up in your face, you need to ask yourself again, if he has actually sinned. If you still think he has sinned, you should move to the next level.
The next level is for you to should find someone, or two (these can be elders of your church or some other men who are godly and who your husband will listen to), to come and visit with you and your husband, ask a bunch of questions. If after hearing his answers, they agree with you that he is in sin, they need to tell him to repent. If he won’t listen to these witnesses, you should take the sin to the church leaders. If he won’t listen to them, they should kick him out of the church and you should divorce him. You can do this because you will be living with a non-Christian who is not happy to live with you (1 Cor. 7:12-16).
Now let me add a number of things to slow you down a little bit. First, the sin needs to be something that he is immersed in, is habitual with, and is in rebellion with. If he is confessing it each time he does it, asks to be forgiven each time, is working on the problem, and has shown some fruit, you should probably forgive him and go slowly.
Second, when you go to him to talk about his sin, be sure that there is no unconfessed sin in your own life. You don’t want your log, whacking him in the head (Mt. 7:1ff). This also means that you need to have a pretty clean track record in terms of not giving him something he can blame his anger on in your life. You can’t be a nag, burn his toast as a way to get back at him, etc. Of course, if he is trying to live in sin, he will want to justify his sin and blame it on you and the kids, but as far as it depends on you, be at peace with him (Rom 12:18).
Third, your overall goal should be restoration and fellowship. In Galatians 6, Paul tells us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). What you should want to do in this event is not simply to protect yourself, but to restore your husband to fellowship.
Does this mean you need to be perfect before you can confront your husband with his sin? I don’t think so, but Peter tells us that a quiet and humble spirit will go a long way in helping a husband who is in sin come to his senses (1 Pet 3:1ff). And keep in mind that unless you are humble, the discussion will go quickly from one of wanting to help to one of who is in control here. It becomes a matter of power. And your husband may not be man enough to do what he is supposed to do, but he is definitely man enough not to let you run his life; which is what he will think you are trying to do if you approach him on your high horse.
One other word needs to be said about timing. I would advise you to be careful to bring this topic up with your husband when there is nothing else going on. Don’t try to have the chat while he is watching Monday Night Football, for example. But it’s a time-out, you might think. But no, there isn’t enough time to talk about things. I suggest asking to talk with him when he’s out watching the grass grow, or he’s trying not to do something around the house he knows he ought to be dong. Most men are always looking for an excuse not to do whatever it is. It’s a guy thing.
How to approach your children who are learning how to handle difficult people in their lives? I think you need to teach them how to live the right way in front of the face of God. This means you don’t get to sin and certainly not in the same way your husband is sinning. And no one else gets to sin either. So continue to keep the banner high for your children. Second, the Bible says that wives are supposed to respect their husbands (Eph. 5:33) and this includes when they are in sin. Whatever you do, you need to do respectfully. Third, you can take each child aside and teach them about anger and how to avoid it. Third, if they ask, you can tell them something like, “Daddy is having a difficult time with his anger and we need to let love cover his sin until God convicts him of it and things get better.”
Earlier, I mentioned letting love cover sins. What in the world is that? We find reference to that in 1 Peter 4:8 where Peter says, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” “Covers a multitude of sins” is in quotes because it is a quote from Proverbs 10:12, which says, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins” (Pro. 10:12). It is important to know that not all sin needs to be confronted. The Bible is pretty clear that God does not hold all our sins against us (Ps. 130:3). Sometimes, he just lets us run our lives on our own until things fall all apart and then he helps us pick things up and start over again. As we imitate God, sometimes it is better if we pour on love instead of pretending that we are the holy spirit and “fixing” everyone around us. This is why Peter tells wives whose husbands aren’t necessarily doing a great job of loving them, or God, that they should react “without a word.”
Here there is another thing to remember, God gives us commands for things we need to do, not for things we’re already doing well. He tells wives to be submissive to their husband several times in the Bible (Eph. 5:22; Col 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1) because wives need to be told to submit to their husbands. I’m not going to tell you why I think wives need to hear this, but in my limited experience (I’m only 61 so far), there aren’t very many wives who enjoy being told to submit to their husbands.
But Peter went further, he said wives ought not only to submit to their husbands, but also to bow down and call them lord. Are you kidding me? Can you believe he would do such a crazy thing? But I’ll tell you what, my wife had the most effect on me when she was being sweet toward me, and serving me, and loving me than she did any other time in our lives. When she was sweet to me and I was sinful toward her, when God got ahold of me, I was crushed, smashed, and squashed. The problem for me was that she was always sweet toward me. She always acted like I was one notch below God and it made me want to serve her with more than my whole life. It made me want to love her more than anything, or anyone else in the whole world. And when she brought up something that needed to be brought up about my tone, attitude, or behavior, I was eager to listen and fix it.
I hope this helps.