Dear Pastor Lawyer,
We’ve been married for 15 years and my wife hates me. Before we were married, I led her into some ugly sin. I abused her, beat her, slept with her, got her drunk and we used a lot of drugs. I’m not saying that for most of this she didn’t enjoy herself, she did. What I’m saying is that I was the leader and I led her into some terrible sin.
Since then, we’ve become Christians. Both our conversion stories are the kind we could write a book about. But we aren’t proud of how we lived before coming to Christ and so we keep our stories to ourselves.
Four years ago, when I was out on a business trip, I went out for dinner with one of my clients—a woman. At first, it was just about dinner, but then, as the evening wore on, dinner became dessert, and then we just hung out and talked for two or three hours longer. Nothing else happened. But my wife called while we were talking and I didn’t notice it vibrating. When she heard about why I hadn’t answered the phone, the world caved in, nothing has been the same since.
At first, she was only antagonistic to me at home. She stopped washing my cloths, cleaning the house, doing any shopping at all. She began gaining weight and even blames me for it. Now, she is openly hostile to me, even in public. All our friends wonder what is going on, and many won’t spend time with us anymore. She calls me names, gives me looks, and is just mean.
In this context, helping you is difficult. You aren’t sitting in front of me and I can’t ask you all the questions that occurred to me as I read your letter. Consequently, I’ll assume you haven’t done anything to fix this other than to try to live through it.
Call It What It Is
Here’s what I suggest: First, as you may have noticed from my previous posts, I’m very into calling things what they are. You need to begin by identifying what you did that started all this. What did you do wrong? Was it sin? Was it simply bad form? Was it an insult to your wife? What? You need to know.
Here’s what I think do did wrong and I’m guessing it isn’t very far from what your wife thinks. In 1 Timothy 3, it says that men who are qualified to be elders must be “husbands of one wife.” Literally, it says to be a “one woman man.” This means that men who are godly (qualified to be elders) should be men who are devoted to and focused on only one woman. With regard to your relationships with women, your wife is to be your world (this includes your mother). What you did that night on your business trip, was to forget that principle. You shared your attention with another woman. You might say that you aren’t trying to become an elder, but keep in mind that those standards are the things that characterize godly men. Godly men lay down their lives for their wives (Eph. 5:25). So, let’s call it what it was – sin. You sinned against your wife by not keeping her first in your life.
Next, if you haven’t, ask you wife what you did wrong. I’m guessing that she thinks she has told you, over and over. And maybe she has, but you need to get a definitive and clear answer.
Confess Your Sin
The next step is to confess your sin. We know what you sinned by not keeping your wife first in your affections. Confess that. Whatever your wife tells you, if it is sin, confess that as well. Who to confess to? Start by confessing your sin to God. John tells us that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). So, start there. Confess means to say that same thing that God says about your sin. You sinned against God by not obeying him when he said to keep your wife first in your life. You also sinned by leading the woman at dinner on. And whatever your wife thinks is sin, you did. So, tell God about it. Admit it to him. Ask him to forgive you.
If you haven’t, you need to confess all the sin you did with your wife before you were married, and any other sins you haven’t dealt with. I have a video on YouTube that you should watch. You can find it here.
Next, the Bible tells us that if anyone has anything against us we need to go to them and make things right (Mt. 5:23). Now you need to crawl up to your wife and confess your sin to her and ask her to forgive you (all of your sin). Do this when there is nothing else going on. Don’t try to talk to her when she is in the middle of watching her favorite show on TV or when she is washing her hair. You might even schedule a talk with her to be sure there isn’t anything else going on with her. Tell her what you did. Tell her that it was sinful. Say all that it was without getting into particulars. She doesn’t need to be dragged through the muck of your sin.
Ask For Forgiveness
Be sure to ask her to forgive you. You need to make this whole transaction as Biblical and right as you can. Often, people are too proud to humble themselves and do what is required. As a result, their relationships aren’t reconciled. Everyone is still in their sin. They have put a band aid on their relationship, but there is still a gaping wound between them. You’ll notice I said ‘crawl’ above. This is because you need to be as abject and humble as you can be. You don’t need to actually crawl (probably), but you need to be as contrite as you know how to be. If crawling does it, then crawl. You sinned against the most important person in your life and you need to be sure to know that. Your wife needs to know that you know that. She also needs to know that you feel her pain when you tell her how sorry you are. This whole process is about her and loving her.
If you have some kind of ongoing relationship with the woman you had dinner with, apologize to her for going past the bounds of propriety and move on. If she is a Christian, you might add that you didn’t love her very well (love your neighbor) and you certainly didn’t love your wife well. If she isn’t a Christian, she probably won’t understand any of this, but do it anyway. Apologize for what is appropriate to apologize for and ask her to forgive you. Then move on and don’t do that with her (or anyone else) ever again.
Now you have patched up the relationships are much as you can. If your wife forgives you, great. If she doesn’t, you have more work to do. But either way, you have a lot of work to do and it will look the same from your perspective. Part of confessing sin entails repenting from the sin. Normally, folks think that repenting means to stop doing the sin. That’s only half of what it means. The other half is to start doing what you should have been doing in the first place. In your case, you didn’t love your wife well. To repent means to stop not loving her well, by not having dinner with other women, and it means to start loving her well by pouring yourself into her life.
From here on, I’m going to assume that you have done everything I’ve suggested, but nothing has changed with your wife. She still is nasty to you. Still burns your toast. Still calls you names. And does it in public and to all your friends.
You need to rise above your situation. Remember that you started your confession of sin by confessing to God. Well, now you need to live your life in front of God. This means that while your wife is the most important person in your life, she isn’t the most important being in your life. You aren’t living to please her. Paul told us that “whether we live or die, we live to please the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:9). This means that you serve God, not your wife. You submit to God, not your wife. You care about pleasing him, not about pleasing your wife.
In difficult situations, we need to remember this last paragraph. We aren’t people pleasers, we are God pleasers. If people are pleased, that is icing on the cake, but it isn’t the most important thing.
Okay, you have that, how do you apply that information in your particular context? Read 1 Peter 2. Notice how similar Jesus situation was to your situation.
… Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21–24)
Are you suffering? Are you suffering at the hands of someone you are loving? Are you being cursed by the one you have been commanded to love? Notice that the major difference between Jesus and you is that you haven’t died at your wife’s hand. Jesus loved those soldiers to the death.
This is what God tells you to do. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,” (Eph. 5:25). You are supposed to imitate Jesus in laying down your life for your wife, even when she’s being mean to you. To do this you need to rise above your situation, and like Christ, commit yourself to the one who judges justly. Trust God for your life. Love your wife because God tells you to, because God loves her more than you ever can, because Jesus died for her too, and because it pleases God that you love her like Christ loved you.
Actually Doing It
What does this look like from a practical, day to day stand point? Peter said, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). The first thing is to live with her with understanding. What does it take to understand someone? First it takes careful study. Study your wife. Learn about her. Learn all about her. What makes her happy? Sad? What is her favorite color? Is she right handed or left? Does she like dark furniture, or light? Does she like long walks at the beach? Does she like the mountains? And if she does, what does she like about them? Does she like to hike for weeks? Or take a short drive and his happy with that? Does she like flowers on her birthday or potted plants? Does she like romantic dinners in nice restaurants, or is she just as happy with McDonalds? What are her views on politics? Christianity? Is she an introvert? Study her so that you can love her in ways that she feels loved. That is the goal.
When you are studying her, you are not after information. She is not a project. You are working to care for her, to love her, to make her beautiful by your behavior toward her. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that by loving the church, Jesus is making his bride more beautiful. Make your bride beautiful by loving her. The only way you can do this is to begin by living with her in an understanding way. This means study her.
Second, Peter tells husbands to give honor to your wife. This goes along with living with her in an understanding way, but it ratchets it up another notch. You don’t just understand your wife, you also need to elevate her in your eyes and life. When you honor something or someone, you elevate them to higher levels in how you treat them and represent them. When you honor a great man, you let him sit in the seat of honor, usually right in the middle, up front. When you honor something in your home, you put it in the place where everyone entering will be sure to see it. When you honor your wife, you commend her, you praise her, you respect her, you talk her up when you talk to her and you talk her up when you talk to others. If you have children, you take her load off so she gets some rest. You take her responsibilities for her for times because she is special. You don’t give her all the grunt, nasty jobs. You take it on the chin for her. You help her make decisions. You take responsibility for her. You take any criticism she garners on your shoulders. You protect her from everyone outside your family and you protect her from you.
Finally, you do all of this regardless of whether your wife ever changes. There are two things to this: first, your goal is to please God. Whether your wife is pleased by what you do or not isn’t your primary concern. Serving God in the power of the Spirit, in Jesus’ name will give you the ability to do it without waiting for kudos from her. If you are working for the glory of God and in his power, then it won’t matter what your wife’s response is.
Second, God is in this. He will be working through your love for your wife. When Jesus was killed he was actively loving those who killed him. And that love, changed them and continues to change them, your love will change your wife. It might get worse for a while, especially if she is really trying hard to not forgive you. But God will not let this go on for very long. Love is efficacious.
So, rejoice in the Lord. Rise above your situation and love your wife because you love your Savior. Love Jesus, praise God, give him all glory, and strive to please him.
I hope this helps.