After dinner one evening, I noticed my wife wasn’t her usual cheerful self. "Is something wrong?" I asked.

"I could’ve really used your prayers last night."

"Sorry. It slipped my mind. I was tired."

"You aren’t giving me what I need! This just isn’t what I thought marriage would be."

After several of these painful discussions, I slowly came to understand my wife held certain expectations for our marriage that were not being met. Even before we were married, she longed for a husband who would fulfill the role of spiritual head of the household.

She wanted someone who would lead daily Bible readings, initiate family prayer times and help cultivate her spiritual growth. She even had an idea of how these devotional times would be structured.

All these ideals were part of a bigger desire for a marriage that would be Christ-centred, strong, joyful and alive. So how could such praiseworthy expectations lead to so much conflict?

Great expectations

Many Christian women have hopes for their married life that are similar to those held by my wife. These ideals are mostly based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which he states that the husband is to be to his wife what Christ is to the church, emphasizing Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice in both love and headship (5:22-33). These themes, along with the commands for deacons and elders in First Timothy and Titus, have been taken to mean that the responsibility for the family’s spiritual health lies on the husband’s shoulders.

Naturally, young women who have grown up reading these Scripture passages often aspire to a marriage that reflects these teachings. These desires are often accompanied, however, by the expectation that such a marriage will happen immediately and effortlessly. Unfortunately, such an unrealistic standard will lead to frustration and can hinder the greater goal of a Christ-centred marriage.

A word for wives

This is not to say that wives should lower their expectations. Instead, couples can work to develop a positive – and realistic – plan to obtain such a spiritual relationship.

Ladies, remember that filling a new role takes time, and it may take your man a few years to learn the basics of being a good husband. Patiently encourage and pray for him as he figures out the spiritual side of having a family. Keep in mind that he is called to be a godly husband, not the family pastor.

It is also helpful to differentiate between needs and goals. Decide as a couple what spiritual practices need to be immediately present in the marriage. Once those things are securely in place, work together to establish goals for your marriage that will be accomplished over time.

A word for husbands

While many Christian women sometimes hold unrealistic expectations, their husbands often have no expectations at all. Men, the first step in becoming a spiritual leader is to develop some idea of what it is you are striving to become.

Read over Paul’s instructions to husbands, as well as his lists of qualifications for elders and deacons. Though you may not be considering a leadership role in the church, these verses provide good guidelines for any family man.

Talk and pray with your wife about what your personal spiritual goals should be. Once these are established, see that you are continually and prayerfully moving toward them.

Pay attention to your wife’s spiritual and emotional needs. Being the spiritual leader in your home does not require that you become a full-time pastor, but rather that you nurture and protect the spiritual well-being of your family.

Learn to initiate times for prayer and Bible discussion. Each marriage is unique, so be creative in your approach; find times, places and events in which you and your wife are best able to experience God together.

Time to grow

The husband’s role of spiritual leader takes time to grow into. Remember to be patient with each other during this process. Don’t give up on your desires for a godly marriage. Instead, prayerfully set reasonable expectations and, with God’s help, work together to make them a reality.

Daniel Guy and his wife, Esther, work together in ministry in Makati City, Philippines at the time of publication.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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