Published in Arizona Family News--November 2007
Published at Townhall.com--November 14, 2007
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord,” and he who nourishes a wife preserves a good thing and maintains the favor of the Lord.
God allowed you to find your wife because He believed you would take good care of His precious daughter. This is why you obtain the dual blessings of having her and pleasing Him. But what happens when you don’t take good care of your wife? A man who neglects his wife makes her miserable and then she makes him miserable. As the saying goes, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” But she isn’t the only unhappy one. I believe you also anger God by betraying His confidence in trusting you with her. After all, what father is happy when his son-in-law fails to keep his darling content?
I’ve been to many weddings, and I have yet to see a woman stand at the altar promising to “love, honor, and obey so long as you both shall live” while thinking to herself, “I despise this man, and I expect this marriage to make me miserable.” Not likely. She stand there with hope, anticipation, love, admiration, and the expectation of great joy in her heart. Unfortunately, if you fail to meet her needs and fulfill her hopes, she will not stay that way. The best way to ruin a good woman is to marry her and then fail to give her what she expected to receive.
Oh, sure, perhaps she exerts a tremendous effort and manages to stay sweet and wonderful in spite of you neglecting her. Even the Bible teaches her to love you into being a better man. But to expect or demand this from her is naively optimistic and, quite frankly, unfair. There is a much better way: the Biblical way.
When we quote Ephesians 5, men often emphasize the wife’s duty to submit. Okay, fine. But the husband’s duty is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, His Bride. In thinking about the relationship between Christ and the Church, who has the greater challenge? Who does more? Who is primarily responsible for the ultimate success of the Relationship? Your obligation to represent the love of Jesus in your marriage is a monumentally greater task than your wife’s obligation to represent the submission of the Church.
So, what does it take to have a great wife? Simple. Be a great lord. And what does it take to be a great lord? Equally simple. Know the needs and desires of your wife and meet them. If you don’t, she will become just the sort of wife you don’t want: nagging, withholding, bitter, and frustrated. God gave you a beautiful flower. He does not expect a dead thorn bush in return. You’d have done better to remain single than to so ruin the beautiful human rose He entrusted to you.
That’s the simple part. It may be unpleasant to ponder, but it’s simple. Your job is to nurture, cherish, love, honor, serve, provide for, lead, impress, and protect your wife. And if you never stop doing this, the chance that she will be a great wife is very good. Yes, she retains free will and may fail on her part, but, when you do your part, it becomes much easier for her to do hers.
So how is this to be accomplished? This is where things get dicey. Willard Harley wrote a very helpful book called “His Needs, Her Needs,” in which he outlines the top needs of women. They include affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. This is all true. Gary Chapman wrote another helpful book called “The Five Love Languages,” in which he talks about giving love through gifts, quality time, words of encouragement, physical touch, and acts of service. This is also true. Gary Smalley has written books. James Dobson has written books. Ellen Kreidman has written books. And all the books in the world are helpful and at the same time not. Here’s why.
Women aren’t a formula.
Every woman is different. Every woman is complex. Every woman is mysterious. And just about the worst thing you can do is think that she can be solved like some math equation. Men, by contrast, are not all that complex. This is why men and women don’t understand each other. Women often refuse to believe men are so simple. Men often can’t grasp that women are so complicated.
Yet God is represented in both of these. He is at once both absurdly simple and astoundingly complex. He is straightforward and mysterious. In other words, God made it so that women could learn about Him by understanding men and that men could learn about Him by understanding women. That’s why marriage is such a rich theological gift.
And your part, husbands, is the harder one. Though the task is simple (to make her feel loved and precious beyond comparison), the method is not simple. Although I can confidently tell her what to do in general to make you happy (see my previous article), I cannot tell you the same about your wife. You have to figure that out for yourself, and, even if you figure her out today, it may be a new puzzle tomorrow or the next day.
That’s okay. That’s one side of God’s Nature you’re experiencing. If it frustrates you, you’re really just admitting you’re frustrated with God. But if you take it as the greatest challenge with the neatest reward, then you’ve suddenly discovered something far more interesting than fantasy football ever can be.
But if I can’t give you a formula, why did I bother writing this? Because if I can merely get you to recognize the nature of the challenge and stop thinking that there is a four-step plan you can follow to nurture a great wife, I’ve already helped you immensely.
Let me conclude with a personal example. Most women like surprises. My wife hates them. Most women like to be given sweets such as chocolate. My wife likes it once but then gets angry because she worries it will make her fat. Most women like to be given lavish gifts that show their value. My wife considers that a waste of our carefully managed budget. Most women like to celebrate anniversaries. My wife couldn’t care less. So what do I do?
Well, I could ignore everything I know about her by surprising her with an expensive chocolate extravaganza on our anniversary. Then I could pride myself for having followed a set of rules that would apply for most women as I sit back to enjoy the fruits of my stupidity. Or I could let her purchase season 10 of Little House on the Prairie on DVD for herself at Target on sale two months before our anniversary. Guess which one I did? And she was quite satisfied with that. We must give our wives what they truly want, not what we think they want…just like God.
So, what’s the lesson? Learn what YOUR wife needs from you to feel loved, and then give it to her. Pay attention. Really pay attention. Try some experiments, and see how it turns out. If you find something that works, try it some more. Never stop trying to impress her with the things you will do to make her feel loved. But also never forget that she’s a woman, not a formula…just like God.
And if you follow this simple (and completely unsimple) advice, I suspect you’ll find yourself married to a great wife. At the very least, she’ll appreciate you trying so hard to understand and satisfy her…just like God.