NLQ FAQ: The Bible & Accountability in Marriage – Part 1: Bringing Real Change to Your Relationship

by Kristen Rosser ~ aka:KR Wordgazer

I have done my best to be a submissive and supportive ‘helpmeet’ to my husband in every way possible, but though I hardly want to admit it, it doesn’t seem to be working the way I thought it would. Sometimes I feel torn between being a good wife and protecting my children from potential damage from a lack of Christian character in their father. You are saying Quiverfull teachings could be making matters worse. How, and why? And what can I do to help make things better?

If you have read the FAQ entitled “The Bible and the Nature of Woman,” you may remember that the words translated as “help meet” in the KJV are the two Hebrew words “ezer,” meaning “strong aid or rescuer” (which is most often used of God as the “help of Israel“); and “kenedgo,” which means “facing him” (or as we might put it today, “face to face”). God intended the woman to be her husband’s “face-to-face strong aid,” not his subordinate assistant. This is what a man needs. After the Fall, according to Genesis 3:16, the man began to rule over the woman; but in so doing, he was cutting himself off from what he needed most.

Christ came to bring a new kingdom, or a new Creation, spiritual rather than fleshly, in which the damaged relationships of the Fall are being healed. This is why 2 Corinthians 5:16 says, “Wherefore henceforth we know no man after the flesh,” and why Galatians 3:28 says, “there is neither. . . male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” What a husband needs is for his wife to become that face-to-face strong aid that God originally designed her to be. This means seeing yourself as his co-leader, stepping up to shoulder with him the responsibilities of leading the home and children, side by side.

This may surprise him at first, but many men, once they experience it, will gratefully welcome the co-leader relationship. Sometimes a man, feeling the burden of being the sole leader in the family, fears failure and feels alone, because as they say, “it’s lonely at the top.” He shrinks back or slacks off, coasting on his wife’s subordinate service and submission as she desperately tries to do all the work while still making him feel like “king of the home.“ The result can be a man who secretly despises himself and resents his wife. The combination of taking care of him and treating him like royalty (or a spoiled child) can be extremely unproductive– for both of you.

At other times a husband might become a micro-manager, feeling that the sole responsibility for everyone’s spiritual well-being is on his shoulders. Letting all the responsibility rest on him may seem right, but you’re not doing him any favors. He needs an “ezer kenedgo.” He needs the two of you to be adults together, facing the adult responsibilities together. And he needs to let the spiritual well-being of the family rest where it belongs– squarely on the shoulders of Christ Himself. A mere human man cannot be anyone’s savior or sanctifier. He must let God be God in the lives of his loved ones. Your husband needs to be allowed to be merely human, but also be held accountable to be a responsible adult.

It is important to remember that you are not just husband and wife. You are also brother and sister in Christ. Romans 8:29 says Christ is the “firstborn of many brethren.” and Galatians 4:5 says the rest of us (male and female alike) have all received “the adoption of sons,” with God as our Father. In the first-century Roman world, the firstborn was the only sibling with special leadership privileges over the family. All those with “adopted son” status would function as complete equals. The New Creation kingdom of God is a family with God as the sole Patriarch, Christ the firstborn Son, and the rest of us as brothers and sisters– and all of the New Testament teachings about how the “brethren” are to relate to one another, apply to husband and wife as brother-and-sister in Christ.

This means you are to “speak the truth in love” to one another. Ephesians 4:15. It means that if either of you is found to be at fault, the other is to “restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.” Galatians 6:1. It means you are to “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24. What brothers and sisters in Christ do is to hold one another accountable, lovingly confronting one another when necessary without condemning or judgmental attitudes, helping one another to become the kind of disciples Christ desires. Matthew 18:15-17. A wife is not exempted from this as far as her husband is concerned.

God requires husbands to respect and honor their wives as fellow-heirs of the gift of life, or their prayers may be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7. But if you are under his feet and not at his side, how can he respect you? We don’t respect things we walk on. If you have been his doormat, stand up and be strong! He may just discover the woman he fell in love with, all over again. He may also find new incentives to take responsibility for his own growth in Christian character, to be a better father, a better husband, and a better man.

But hasn’t God set the universe up with structures of authority? Doesn’t someone have to be in charge?

This topic will be dealt with in more depth in an upcoming FAQ, “The Bible, Authority and Hierarchy.” For now, suffice it to say that the idea that God created everything to fit within a hierarchical chain of authority, is actually a pagan concept incorporated into Christianity sometime in the early centuries after the Resurrection. If you read Genesis 1, it speaks of the man and woman having dominion over the rest of Creation, but it does not speak of the man having dominion over the woman until after the Fall. With regards to human authority structures in the New Creation kingdom of God, Jesus had this to say: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. . . But ye shall not be so; but he who is greatest among you, let him be as the youngest, and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” Luke 22:25-26.

Jesus also said, “And call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven; neither be ye called masters, for one is your master, even Christ.” Matthew 23:9-10. Similarly, when Paul or Peter spoke of leaders of the church, he never spoke in terms of one person being in charge, with everyone else under him; but rather, he spoke of groups of leaders leading with humility. 1 Peter 5:1-5, Ephesians 3:11-12.

Even in the world of human relationships, we can see that this is true. Two best friends don’t need to have one of them be in charge; if they do, it renders the friendship unequal and detracts from its mutuality. And in business, two equal partners can come together in a joint venture, each contributing equal capital, each providing leadership to the business in his or her own area of expertise. The partner with sales experience will defer to the one with accounting experience when it comes to the bookkeeping; the one with accounting experience will defer to the other when it comes to sales. A marriage easily fits into both these models and can be very successful when seen as a joint venture by two best friends to maintain a home and raise a family together. Each can yield to the other’s areas of expertise, in mutual submission according to Ephesians 5:21 (see the three-part FAQ, “The Bible and Male Headship” for more information on mutuality in marriage).

The important thing to remember is, don’t enable bad behavior in your husband. Don’t sweep his wrongdoings under the carpet. Don’t try to pretend everything is fine, when it isn’t. Communicate with him. This doesn’t mean to attack him, call him names, or heap blame upon him. But do let him know how you feel when his words or behaviors hurt you or the children.

But didn’t Jesus say to “turn the other cheek”? And didn’t Peter say that wives should win their husbands without a word, through their submission even to harsh treatment?”

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was spoken within the context of an ANE (Ancient Near East) honor-shame culture. (See “Turning the Other Cheek: What Did Jesus Really Mean?”* by Walter Wink; web address below.) Nearly every action was seen as a public event, bringing either honor or shame on the doer. In that context, Jesus spoke to His listeners about how to respond to the oppressive actions of the more powerful in society. Only a Roman soldier could force a man to walk a mile, carrying his pack. Only a wealthy lender could sue a man and take his shirt. And only a person higher on the social scale would strike someone on the cheek: this was a back-handed slap used to discipline an underling. The actions Jesus advocated in response would shame the oppressor in the eyes of the community; they were a form of non-violent protest. But Jesus was not advocating this sort of response to a “brother” who sins against you. Instead, He said, “If thy brother trespass against thee rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him.” Luke 17:3.

With regards to 1 Peter 3:1-2, the context of the wifely submission advocated in that section is the conduct of believers in Christ within a hostile culture (as is discussed in the FAQ, “The Bible and Male Headship”). “If any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation [behavior] of the wives” amounted to advice to wives to work within the constructs of the Greco-Roman culture as it existed at that time. Since husbands had the absolute right to determine what gods the entire family would worship, a wife’s attempts to convince him verbally to convert to Christianity could backfire and lead to him forbidding her to practice her new religion at all. Peter’s words were good advice for these types of situation, but could he ever have intended that his words should contradict Jesus’ own words about how His followers should relate to one another? Peter tells the followers of Christ in 1 Peter 5:5 that “all of you” should “be subject to one another and be clothed with humility.” (Emphasis added.) Clearly Peter never intended that some of Christ’s followers should expect to be allowed to treat others of His followers any way they pleased, and just to get away with it!

We are not talking about just tossing out the idea of submission to your husband. But “submission” according to Quiverfull teachings is not submission at all; it is subjection. True submission means voluntarily yielding to one another for one another’s good. It does not mean enabling others to sin against you without protest. It does not mean elevating your brother in Christ to a godlike state where he can do no wrong, just because he also happens to be your husband. Ultimately, this does your husband-brother no good at all.

But how do I do this? He’s used to my obedience. I don’t want to have a big argument with him!

This must be said first of all: If you fear violence or soul-damaging cruelty, then godly self-stewardship requires that you find a place of safety. Confrontation in this case is not a good idea! Please see the FAQ entitled “Should There Be a ‘You’ in Quivering?” for more on this issue.

But if your husband is not someone you fear might harm you, then Jesus’ advice in Matthew 18:15-17 can be very practical. Talk to him in private, using the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” principle in the way you talk to him. If you can, tell him things he is doing that you appreciate, first. Then tell him what “ezer kenegdo” actually means, and let him know you intend to be his “ezer kenegdo” from now on, and that this means you will be bringing up issues that need to be resolved when you feel you need to.

Stick to the issues without name-calling or personal attacks on his character. Speak in non-accusing terms: “When you do X, I feel Y, so I need you to stop doing X” is much better than “You always do X!” Try your best to detach yourself emotionally from the conversation before you begin, and just stick to the issues. If he begins to name-call or otherwise verbally attack you, tell him that you will not talk to him unless it can be discussed rationally and without personal attacks, and that you’d like to discuss it later, and then leave the conversation and try again later. Try not to have a “big argument” with him if you can help it; but as his ezer kenegdo who really wants to help him, take courage! Do not shrink back from a necessary conversation.

If he listens to you, and shows he has listened by beginning to make real changes, then make it very clear to him how much you appreciate it. Give him positive feedback for even a little effort to change his behavior. Give him the consideration you would want given to you if you were trying to change some behavior in your own life; be patient with him, but speak up again if he begins to revert to old patterns.

If he does not listen, and there is a person you trust that he would respect, who would go with you to speak on your behalf, ask that person to go with you. Sadly, though, your church and your church friends will sometimes take your husband’s side regardless of anything you might say, because they have misinterpreted the Scriptures so that they feel they must “uphold the husband’s authority” regardless of right or wrong. If you are unable for that reason to “take with thee one or two more” or to “tell it unto the church,” then you may have to “let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.” Remember that Jesus also taught us to “love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you (Matthew 5:44),” but Jesus never said we had to intimately trust and remain vulnerable to someone like this! To “let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican” does not mean you mistreat him in return, but it does mean you set firm boundaries for your own protection. To “do good” to someone who is “despitefully using you” does not mean allowing them to continue! Jesus permits us to withdraw ourselves from those who deliberately do us harm, to guard ourselves from further harm and to insist that they bear fruit in keeping with repentance, as John 3:8 says. Insist that your husband get counseling from a reputable counselor (not someone from your own church or type of church, however, if your church routinely sides with the “husband’s authority” without regard to his character or behavior towards his wife.)

Hold out for true repentance from your husband. This is ultimately the best way you can “do good” to him. Jesus taught us to forgive– but forgiveness and the restoration of trust are two different things. You can release your husband from his “debt” of sin against you, but hold back on full trust and emotional intimacy until he has shown you he will not hurt you again. Jesus “knew what was in a man,” and held back His trust where He knew it was not earned (John 2:24). We can imitate Him in this as in other things.

But what if my husband is completely unrepentant and refuses to change behaviors that, if I am honest with myself, I must admit are harming my children, our marriage and myself? Is there anything I can do then?

This will be addressed in Part 2: “The Marriage Covenant and Covenant-Breaking.” If you are in this very difficult place in your marriage, please keep reading.

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*“Turning the Other Cheek: What Did Jesus Really Mean?” by Walter Wink

[Note: The ideas in this article were not written by a licensed marriage counselor and are not intended to replace licensed, professional counseling.]

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum! Comments are also open below.

[This article is intended for those readers who have chosen to accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice.  If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on the assumptions on which it is based.]

Read all NLQ FAQs

Read all posts by Kristen Rosser / KR Wordgazer

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce