Written by Ron Hutchison

(See also, What Every Wife Should Know About The Marriage Relationship)

Anyone who closely observes the marriage scene today knows that many marriages are in trouble.  This is true not only of marriage between non-Christians, but between Christians as well. Divorce takes place all too often even among Christians.  This indicates that there is still a lot of teaching that needs to be done concerning what God's word teaches about marriage.

There are many contributing factors to this problem. It would be impossible to look at all of them, but one of the principle causes is that when couples start having problems in their marriages, the only way they see to get away from those problems is divorce. They turn to this as a solution with little or no attempt to examine any possible alternatives.  But the Bible teaches that divorce is a last resort and something that must only take place under the circumstances set forth in passages like Matthew 19:3-9.

I would like to point out in this study that an alternative to divorce does exist, and it will be our purpose to examine together this alternative to divorce from the Scriptures. Simply stated, the alternative is to learn what makes a marriage work and apply that to our marriages.

Marriage involves both a husband and a wife, and each of these partners must play his/her part in making that marriage work.  Of course there is a third party that is a part of every legitimate marriage, and that is God.  God has done His part in making our marriages work by giving us instructions concerning marriage in the Bible.  The Bible, in its great wisdom and practicality, deals with this subject honestly and plainly. It's the most helpful book on family problems ever printed, and we must turn to it and learn to accept what it says.

Let us begin our study by looking at Peter's inspired summary of a husband's duties in marriage, found in First Peter three, verse seven:

"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."


In this verse, the Apostle Peter puts his finger squarely on the primary role of the husband in marriage -- that of knowledgeable leadership. "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding." This emphasizes the responsibility of the husband in giving understanding leadership in his home.  Every man is ultimately responsible to God for what his home becomes.  This is what the Scriptures consistently teach.

In writing to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul says, "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3). Here the Holy Spirit through Paul puts the responsibility of the husband to exercise leadership in the home within the framework of total leadership in the universe. The head of the woman is the man, and that means that the man must take his responsibility as head seriously.

This is a role for which woman was not made, and essentially a role that she does not want.  I know it is popular to make jokes about henpecked husbands (and certainly there is evidence that such exists), but having observed married couples for a long time, and having personal involvement in marriage for over 30 years, it seems to me that the problem is not so much due to the wife seeking leadership, as it is the refusal of the husband to assume his responsibility of leadership.

It is difficult to understand how men can give themselves to responsible and knowledgeable leadership in work and other areas of life,  but when they get home they expect everything to go along all right and turn out well in the end -- without any thought, direction, or leadership on their part. We call the wives the homemakers, but it is usually the husband who chooses the values that go into his home.  It is the father who ought to take the leadership in deciding what is to be important in the home.  True, it's often the mother who implements this choice and upon her falls the responsibility for carrying out much of it, but by and large, it is the man who makes the choice of what the home will be, whether he does it consciously or unconsciously.  There is built into the man's nature, by divine mandate, not only a responsibility but a desire to do this.

It is the man who determines whether the family will be sports-fanatics or book lovers or both;  whether they are travelers or stay-at-homers; whether it is a family that emphasizes personal integrity in their relationships, or who are manipulators;  whether they are spiritually minded or materially minded.  Almost always the values of the family are determined by the husband/father. This is also, therefore, where men most frequently fail in marriage. We do not exert leadership and give understanding direction to the home.  Even if we do give some kind of leadership, it is not thoughtful or intelligent -- it is not "according to understanding," as Peter says.  We simply drift along, making the best of things according to the way we feel at the moment. Thus there is no leadership at all, or at best unbalanced leadership.

Many marriage counselors dealing in this area have pointed out that in our American life, we don't teach men to be men.  Therefore, many men grow up and get married who are nothing more than grown-up little boys, still looking for mothers rather than wives.  They want someone to serve their physical needs, keep them well fed and happy, and soothe their egos when they get hurt.  They want someone to wait on them,  to be there to fulfill whatever demand they may make. But that is not the proper role of a wife, and that is why Peter's first word to men is: Understand what a marriage ought to be, what the rules are, what is expected of you according to the Word of God.  Because what a home will be is determined primarily by the husband.

If the man does not fulfill his responsibility of leadership in the home, then the wife has to take that responsibility, thereby forcing her to assume a role for which she is not made, and as I have already suggested, she does not basically and essentially desire. 

One way men fail in this is by unbalanced leadership.  They think that their major concern is to make a living, and it is the wife's job to run the home.  They give their whole attention to the business of making money so they can provide the comforts of modern life for their family.  Most American men do a commendable job along this line by the way.  They take this responsibility (which is properly part of their responsibility in marriage) very seriously, but then they leave the rest of it to their wives.  They take no active part in teaching their children the Bible.  They take no active part in helping their wives teach and practice sound moral values. They take little or no part in disciplining their children.  The husband makes a small part of life his primary concern while the rest of life, with the greatest and most important values within it, is left wholly for the wife.  But this is a denial of what Peter suggests that man's first responsibility is. To exercise understanding leadership.  Men must act with understanding, he says, and choose intelligently what comes into their homes.  This is the number one responsibility of the husband in the home.


Then Peter says that the husband must be "...giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel." What does this mean?

Someone once said, "That means helping her with the dishes when she has a headache."  I'm sure that is a part of what Peter had in mind when he said this, but what Peter says here reflects the wife's deepest emotional need. First, when Peter says that the husband must dwell with his wife with understanding, he shows that it is possible for men to understand their wives.  One of the first and most important things  that we husbands must understand about our wives is reflected in what God said to Eve in the Garden of Eden after she sinned as recorded in Genesis 3:16, "your desire shall be for your husband."   Another translation says, "You shall long for your husband."   That is, for his love, his protection, his leadership. It is imperative to a woman that she feel secure in her husband's love. That she be secure in the protection he can provide for her, both physical and emotional. Therefore, it is the husband's  job to make her feel highly regarded, to honor her, to value her, to protect her.  It is as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5, to love her as his own body, to show honor to her under all conditions, to honor and love her "just as Christ also loved the church," (Ephesians 5:25). Not because she is always lovable, but simply because he has determined to love her.  This, according to Peter,  is man's second great responsibility in marriage.

The husband must show courtesy and thoughtful consideration to his wife under every conceivable circumstance.  This means that one of the most devastating things that can occur in marriage is for the husband to become critical toward his wife, treating her with scorn, or being sarcastic toward her.  This is one of the major causes of unhappiness in marriage, for such an attitude threatens the basic nature of woman.  It is the man's job to make his wife feel that she is important to him and never to let his love turn into taking her for granted.

Husbands, think about when you were first married.  Do you still value your wife as much as you did then? It is interesting to note that this is the most common complaint of wives to marriage counselors.  They say, "My husband just takes me for granted.  To him I'm another piece of furniture around the house. I'm only important to him for what I do for him, not for who I am."  This means that a wife is being threatened at the very deepest level of her life.  She no longer feels secure in her husband's love, and she reacts in a negative way.

Her reaction is often viewed as unreasonable by her husband. Perhaps a man comes home with no idea that anything is wrong, and he makes some routine statement  and to his surprise his wife gets angry and runs out of the room crying,  and the poor man is left there in his bewilderment, saying to himself, "What did I do? What did I say?"  But something has threatened his wife's feeling of security in his love (perhaps unconsciously) and thus this "strange" reaction. If he gets angry himself it only confirms her suspicions and increases the viciousness of the circle, for then she is sure that she is not secure in his love any longer.  But the understanding husband soon learns that what he needs to do is to be considerate and thoughtful, and above all, not to raise his voice and react in a way that will confirm her suspicions. Therefore the wise husband learns that in times like this it is necessary to be quiet, loving, and considerate,  and thus he will restore her trust in him.

Another way a threatened wife may react is by self-protection. If her insecurity goes on long enough a wife will try to build a life for herself apart from her husband.  She will try to erect barriers to protect her from getting hurt.  This is such a sensitive area of a woman's nature that she tries to build barricades around herself. Every understanding husband must learn to avoid any unconscious threat to his wife's feeling of being loved.  When he sees this happening he must show love all the more.  That is why the Bible speaks so powerfully and simply, "Husbands, love your wives."  This is the husband's great responsibility in the home.


The third area that Peter speaks of is that the husband understand the need for unlimited sharing of his own life with his wife in the most important part of his life - his spiritual life. You are "heirs together of the grace of life."

 This means that a husband must recognize his wife's right to share in this most important aspect of his life. Too many husbands have the idea that the religious part of their families' life is to be led by their wives. They think it is unmanly to be religious or spiritually minded. Men, there is nothing more important to your family and to your wife than your spiritual leadership. It was Paul who wrote in Ephesians 6:4, "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." Certainly the wife has a great responsibility in this area, but the husband must be the leader in bringing up his children in the training (instruction) and admonition (warning) of the Lord.

The husband must also share every other aspect of his life with his wife. All the barriers must come down between them, all the channels of communication must be open.  There are no off-limit areas that he keeps separate from his wife.  One of the greatest complaints that wives have in regard to their husbands is that they don't listen to them. The communication is "one way." Husbands, listen to your wife. Listen to her concerns. Listen to her complaints. Listen to her desires. Listen to her when she tells you about her day.

If there is one thing I've come to appreciate after all these years of married life, it is that your wife needs for you to listen to her and be concerned about her thoughts and feelings -- about those things that are important to her. Those things that are important to her ought to be of extreme importance to you, if you truly love her. Husbands, most of the time, your wife is not looking for you to solve all her problems, she just wants you to listen to her problems and concerns.  Here is the way we men are.  We think our wives tell us all these things because they want us to solve the problems, so we start to give solutions to her problems, telling her what to do and what to say in different circumstances. That is not why they tell us these things. They tell us because they need for us to listen to them -- to support them -- to make them feel that they can trust us.

This does not mean that the husband and wife must always participate in everything together. It does not mean that the wife will always want to do everything the husband does or the husband will always want to do everything the wife does, or that they have to. It does mean that he does not try to hide anything from her, nor her from him. There is to be no outside activity or person that he would love more than her other than God. The wife should never have to worry that she has to compete with something in her husbands life or that he considers something to be more important than her.  This relates again to that central need of a woman to have first place in her husband's love.  He must understand that women were made to be helpmeets, partners (Genesis 2:18).  What good is a partner if she is excluded from some particular area of your life?  Husbands, you have to open the doors of communication with your wife.


It is the observing of these three primary forces on the part of the man that makes it possible for a woman to be a woman!  This is what every husband should know --  that he creates the atmosphere that makes it possible for her to supply those womanly qualities that complement his manly ones and make a home what God intended a home to be. It is only as he exerts his leadership in this three-fold area that she finds it fully possible to manifest those qualities which God has placed within her.  Therefore, a happy marriage begins with the man.

Peter has one final point to make.  It is a word of warning.  Failure by the husband to observe these things, he says, means spiritual poverty in that home. "Your prayers will be hindered."  Prayer represents our whole spiritual relationship with God. If you can not pray to God, your spiritual relationship to Him is in trouble. It is only God that can make human life worth living, and a man is a fool who tries to find a worthy life apart from God.  That is the whole thrust of the Gospel message.  It is only in a restoration to God through Jesus Christ that man can find the intended worth and glory of life. And prayer, that sense of dependence, that expression of faith that makes possible all of God's giving unto men, is hindered when man fails to fulfill his role and responsibility within the home.

So this is what every husband should know about the marriage relationship.  Men, some of us have a lot of work to do in this area. We have not been the kind of husbands that we ought to be. We have taken our wives for granted. We have not valued them as we should. We have shut down the lines of communication. We have not taken our place as understanding leaders in the home. Why not determine right now that you will put Peter's teaching into practice in your life.  Love your wife as much as you love yourself.  Treat her as you would treat yourself. It will certainly pay dividends now in your life, and in the life that is to come. (See also, What Every Wife Should Know About The Marriage Relationship).

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