As a busy mom of preschoolers, Jennifer felt like she was dangling by a thread. And like most damsels in distress, she wanted her husband to swoop in and rescue her. She wanted him to look deeply into her soul over a candle-lit dinner for two, and satisfy her craving for affection and adult conversation. But the more she pointed out how negligent he was—demanding that he take her out or help with the kids–the more he retreated to the basement to tinker with his hobbies. And this only infuriated her more!
When I asked about their relationship’s history, Jennifer said that her husband had been the one, at first, to pursue her and initiate the various stages for their relationship. But over time, she had developed a pattern of pushing her agenda(s), and he had responded by becoming more passive. By the time they started a family, Jennifer had completely taken control. And now, with the third baby on the way, she was deeply dissatisfied with what their relationship had become.
What she was craving, I told her, was not a guy in a cape to swoop in and help with her plans. What her heart longed for was a leader. But if she wanted him to lead, she’d need to stop controlling him.
I knew this would be hard advice for Jennifer to hear. But I also knew that Jennifer has a deep love for the Lord and wants to walk in His ways. So I tried to give this input as winsomely as possible, and then I prayed like crazy that her heart would be open and receptive, as she thought things through.
Months later, I checked in with Jennifer and asked about her marriage. She gave me a huge, warm smile and said that everything had completely changed–for the better. Jennifer had responded, after our conversation, by choosing to make her husband the leader. Instead of being critical or demanding, she spoke to him as if he were the leader. She was careful to be respectful. She invited his input, even on little things, and then responded accordingly–just as she would with any other leader.
At one point, their two-year-old wasn’t gaining weight, so Jennifer asked her husband, “What do you think we should try?” He suggested giving her milk. Their older child hadn’t been able to digest milk well, so ordinarily Jennifer would have dismissed this suggestion. But responding to him as the leader, Jennifer said, “OK, I’ll start giving her milk.”
Well guess who loved milk? Their baby girl drank it up with no problems and started gaining weight! Jennifer told her husband, “That was a really good idea!”–which built his confidence and invited more input.
As Jennifer’s husband got more involved in leading their family—even on little things like what to put in the sippy cup—he was investing more. He suddenly wanted to help more. He felt needed! And since he was around more to notice all of the ways Jennifer was serving, it naturally made him want to lean over and give her a romantic kiss. (Which pretty much felt like him swooping in and rescuing her from the ledge of a tall building.)
Jennifer realized, in hindsight, that by always taking the lead–in large matters and small ones, she had caused her husband to feel irrelevant. No wonder he wasn’t seeing and noticing her needs. He didn’t think she needed him! But by aligning herself to God’s design for marriage (Eph. 5:22-23), and treating her husband as the leader, she had activated the hero inside of him! His willingness to swoop in heroically came as a byproduct of her inviting him to lead.
Now, please note: I’m not saying that a husband must oversee any and all details of life to be the leader. (Mine sure doesn’t!) Each marriage is different and unique and special. But here’s the principal to consider:
Wives who consistently take control will invite passivity in their husbands. And wives who defer to, and respectfully submit to their husbands, will draw out the leader in him.
Have you activated the hero in your husband lately?