My wife and I met with a couple for pre-marriage counseling. The man asked, “How can I be an expert on women?” I said, “Only God can do that. Just be an expert on your wife.” My wife added, “Even your one wife will change at times!”
Adding to this challenge are the inherent differences between men and women. “Men and women are created differently in every cell of their bodies” (Dobson, Love for a Lifetime). It doesn’t take long to realize this truth. In 1 Peter 3, Peter gives women six verses of instruction. The man gets only one. Some would say this is because women are just deeper than men. Many husbands feel lost in trying to apply 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV) which states:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
This verse is an excellent summary of God’s instruction to husbands about marriage. Live with understanding! Many husbands feel they want to and try to understand their wives but often fail. Why is this?
Part of it is simply pride.
Peter says men have been made with more physical strength than women in general. Men on average have 30% more upper body strength than women. But any strength can lead to an arrogance that tends to look down on those weaker or different. Peter is instructing men to be patient and gentle with any and all differences that show up between them and their wives. This applies to all areas of life.
Because we tend to think that everyone thinks the way we do, a husband must take an extra step to understand the different ways his wife might think or feel. For example, once when my wife and I had an argument, I later vented to a friend about our misunderstanding feeling frustrated with her style of communication. He asked, “Basically you want your wife to communicate like you?” “Yes!” I answered emphatically. “So you want to be married to a man?” he asked.
I understood the point made through the friendly jab.
I had chosen to marry this woman specifically because she was so different than me in many ways. I should enjoy all the differences rather than trying to conform her to my image. Proverbs 20:5 (ESV) notes:
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Because my wife is made in the image of God and is worthy of respect, it is my duty to take the time to understand her.
1 Peter 3:7 also speaks of a husband’s prayer life. Does this mainly refer to a husband praying for his wife or with his wife? Maybe it means both.
Maybe the one most important thing any husband can do is pray with and for his wife.
I am shocked at how many godly couples do not regularly pray with one another. The burden lies with the husband to make this happen as the head of the marriage.
My wife and I tried to do this from day one in marriage but ran into problems–mainly, my stubbornness and abrasiveness and her insecurity. It took us 4 years to find a way that worked well. Now it is one of the consistent highlights of our week.
We gave up on the practice of daily prayer together. My wife often goes to bed before me, so we often found ourselves rushed, offering a five-second prayer before she dozed off. Instead, we decided to aim for quality over quantity.
Our practice is to meet for breakfast one morning a week.
This works for our schedule, but it may not for others. Find your best time. Over coffee, we catch up at a heart level. It’s a spiritual date. The goal is to be open and honest with each other about the deepest things going on in our lives, especially where we feel the weakest. We ask each other questions such as “How’s your walk with God? How are you feeling about our kids? Are you mad at me about anything etc…?”
When we are done we go outside and sit in the car and pray together for about ten minutes. It is nothing supernatural, but I often feel like I’m getting a deep glimpse into my wife’s soul. I’m not aware of anything that has contributed more to a healthy marriage than this weekly prayer time. It is not the only way that I pursue my wife. It may be the main way.
I was counseling another couple whose marriage was in crisis. I asked both what was the one main thing they could do to help fix their marriage. The wife responded quickly, “I need to pray out loud in front of my husband more, I rarely do. In most ways I seem like I have it all together, but when I pray I fall apart. I question God. I cry and scream. It’s the real me. I don’t want my husband to see me like that.” Praying together with raw honesty is the most intimate thing we can do, in some ways, more intimate than sex.
I often feel like my wife has layers of her heart that go deeper than mine.
The only way that I can begin to truly understand her is to pray to God to give me insight but then also to pray with her. Listening to her pray has been life-changing for our marriage and my understanding.
In praying together, I am reminded at once how alike we are and how different we are. We are so different in the ways we think, feel and process. But we are so similar in that we are both desperate sinners with no hope if we are left to ourselves. We have no strength except that given to us. Our only hope in this life and the next is, ultimately, that Christ has chosen to live with us in an understanding, compassionate, patient and gentle way. The more that I see and experience that grace afresh side by side with my wife, the more I am able to practice that same grace towards her, even when I don’t fully understand her. Understand her by pursuing her regularly in prayer.
Olan Stubbs is the Director of Campus Outreach Birmingham and a Pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian. He is married and has four kids. You can read more of his blogs here.