Marriage to a Difficult Man

How Knowing God Makes a Difference in our Marriages.

Marriage to a Difficult Man is the title of the biography of Sarah Edwards, the wife of the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. I am stuck on that title (I never finished the book itself) because I think of Jonathan Edwards as a great man of God, not a particularly difficult man. My husband once joked with me that would be a good title for my life, though he suggested that the emphasis should be placed on marriage rather than the man, as in Difficult Marriage to a Man. We laughed, but honestly, it was kind of true. I’m married to a complicated man. The funny thing is that I had an elder’s wife joke with me that it could be the title of her biography as well. And I started noting a trend. I am married to a wise and loving man. My friend, the elder’s wife, has a wise, faithful, loving husband. And from reading Jonathan Edwards’ writings, I surmise that he was a man of great wisdom who loved God deeply. And, yet, we have all experienced difficult, complicated relationships with our spouse. But maybe it is not that these are particularly difficult men—though they certainly seem difficult to us. Maybe there is something deeper going on that makes it all so difficult.

For me, marriage was the first place I came to recognize that every reasonable person in the world doesn’t think exactly like I do. It was a great, humbling revelation. Applying myself to understand how my husband approaches issues without condemning him for thinking differently than me has been a 10-year battle. Until I got married and my husband rejected (very politely) my favorite seafood casserole, it never occurred to me that every reasonable person doesn’t necessarily like casseroles. I was threatened that he didn’t find my favorite meals particularly appetizing. Who would have thought it would be so hard to readjust how I thought about cooking? There is no place we tend to be more egocentric than our homes, no place where we are more threatened as women by someone who thinks differently than us.

Marriage threatened things in which I found a false sense of security. And when I was threatened, my reaction was to label my husband “difficult”. He is definitely a sinner. But so am I. The easy road is to blame him. The better road is to examine myself. What has God called me to be in my home? Am I reflecting God’s image in my responses toward my husband? Or have I replaced security in God’s plan for me with false sources of security that inevitably fail?

I know from Genesis 2:18 that God has called me to be a HELPER to my husband. Okay. Fine. But I’m egocentric in even how I define the term “help”. I want to help him the way I THINK HE NEEDS HELP. I want to make him the dinners I want to make him. I want to buy him clothes that I want to buy him. I want to decorate our house the way I want to decorate it. I want to give unsolicited advice that I think he needs. And then I make him feel guilty if he doesn’t respond in flowing gratitude for the “help” I gave him. But that kind of help is so self-centered, it is worthless to the person I think I am helping. I wouldn’t take a roast dinner to a family of vegetarians or buy a Barbie doll for the new parents of a baby boy. But that’s kind of how my egocentric view of helping my husband comes across at times. Instead, I have had to learn to help my husband in the ways HE truly finds helpful. And there is a BIG difference in the two. Here’s a practical piece of advice that may seem obvious: ASK YOUR HUSBAND WHAT HE WOULD FIND HELPFUL. Then ask him an even tougher question—WHAT DO I DO IN OUR HOUSE THAT IS NOT HELPFUL? And instead of pouting because he hurt your feelings, really listen to his answer and give him the freedom to be honest.

I’ve been studying how we as women are made in the image of God, and how understanding the image of God prepares us to embrace our role in marriage. Consider the first mention of the first woman in Scripture.

Genesis 2 18The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

If you don’t know God, His Names, and His character, then hearing that woman was created to be some man’s helper is going to sound incredibly condescending and substandard to you. “I’m called to be Help?! That sounds like some 18th century plantation snob referring to their servants. I’m not the Help.” But before we adopt that attitude, we need to let Scripture and not preconceived notions from our culture guide our thinking on this. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer, meaning to help, nourish, sustain, or strengthen. It’s used often in the Old Testament of GOD HIMSELF. Consider Deuteronomy 33:29.

Deuteronomy 33

29 Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.”

God Himself here is called our helper, our ezer, the same word used of the first woman in Gen. 2. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper (depending on which translation of the Bible you use, this is the translation of the Greek word “paraklete” or one who comes alongside in aid.) God is our Help. The Holy Spirit is our Helper. When we understand God’s role on this issue, it puts this in perspective. God, Almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe, is our helper and we, as women, are created in His image. If we hold on to the attitude that being created as a helper is condescending and substandard, we mock the Name of God and His character, for the role of Helper is one God willingly embraces. Christ says in Matthew 10:25 that it is enough for the disciple to be as his master and the servant as his Lord. There is no greater glory for a woman than to be conformed to God’s image on this issue.

So let’s consider God’s example as our Help. Do you see yourself exhibiting God’s characteristics or the contrasting ones? In Exodus 18:4, God our help defends (in contrast to attacking or ignoring the fight altogether). In Psalm 10:14 God our help sees and cares for the oppressed (rather than being indifferent and unconcerned). In Psalm 20:2 and 33:20, God our Help supports, shields and protects (rather than leaving unprotected and defenseless). In Psalms 70:5, God our Help delivers from distress (rather than being the cause of the distress). In Psalm 72:12-14, God our Help rescues the poor, weak, and needy (rather than ignoring the poor and needy). And in Psalm 86:17, God our Help comforts (rather than causing discomfort or avoiding altogether). God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for wives as “helpers suitable to their husbands”. We are called to show compassion, to support, defend and protect those in our care, to deliver from distress and to comfort. We are called to be like God Himself.

Often, instead of following God’s example on this, I become the very person from whom my husband feels he needs to protect himself. Rather than expecting compassion and support, he tenses as he enters my presence expecting condemnation and criticism. It’s been painful to see this about myself, but self-delusion is even worse.

Proverbs 21 9 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

I have found there is a very fine line between being the “Helper Suitable” for the needs of the man as God intended and being the Contentious/Quarrelsome wife of Proverbs 21. Consider our spiritual heritage, beginning with Eve. In Genesis 3, Eve, created to be the helper who complemented her husband, believed Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth, and instead of being the help to her husband God intended, she “helped” Adam right into the fall of man.

Later, in Genesis 15, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. In the next chapter, his wife Sarah is barren and manipulates Abraham into getting her servant pregnant. Then, after giving her servant to Abraham and talking him into sleeping with her, Sarah gets bitter at Abraham for the whole situation. Sarah didn’t trust God’s promises, took matters into her own hands, nagged her husband into doing her will, and then was bitter with him over the consequences.

We see this pattern throughout the women of Genesis. In Genesis 27, Rebekah manipulates circumstances in her home, getting her son to trick her husband into giving his blessing to her favorite of their children. In Genesis 30, Rachel and Leah have a fertility war. Rather than looking to the ways they could help, nourish, and protect in their homes, they manipulate every factor they can to see who can have the most sons. They have no trust in God’s Hand to provide for them. And just in case we aren’t yet convinced of the pattern, Genesis 38 gives us the story of Tamar, who manipulates her father-in-law into thinking she’s a prostitute and sleeping with her so that she will have an heir. These women weren’t helps–they were nagging manipulators intent on taking matters into their own hands because they didn’t trust God with their husbands or their situation.

Now, nothing I have said to this point should be mistaken as placing the sole blame for these circumstances upon the women in these stories. Each of the men seriously abdicated their responsibilities. Judah, in particular, certainly set Tamar up for failure, and even commends her after the fact for being more righteous than he. But for our purposes right now, the errors of the men are NOT our focus. God has called husbands to serious responsibility and accountability, and I’m always tempted to focus on others’ responsibilities. It’s easier to hear in a message what my husband needs to do and then watch like an Olympic judge to see if he does it by a specified time. But that’s a destructive mental path that I should not follow. Whether my husband is meeting his obligations or not, that does not excuse me from meeting mine.

So, our spiritual heritage is made up of women who twisted their role as helpers suitable for their husbands and became manipulators who sought to control circumstances out of their distrust of God. The word “manipulate” comes from the Latin for hand. It means to influence, manage, or control to one’s advantage by artful, subtle, or indirect means, i. e. taking things into our own hands. Contrast this with faith. Faith is confidence in a person or plan, a confident belief in the truth, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. The question we must ask ourselves as Christian wives is do we TRUST GOD in our marriages? Do we have confidence in God’s plan and His trustworthiness? Or do we believe, that to protect our interests in marriage, we have to manipulate circumstances, taking things into OUR OWN HANDS?

When I am fearful of accepting my God-given role of helper, I really need to deal with what I think about God, not what I think about my husband. Do I believe God’s Word is trustworthy? Do I trust Him to protect me? Do I trust that His plan for my life is the best? Do I fear that my circumstances have spiraled out of His control? Do I believe He is sovereign? Bottom line–what do I believe about the character, trustworthiness and effectiveness of God and His plan for my life?

Despite our fallen spiritual heritage as women, I find great hope in God’s ability to redeem sinners. Consider the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1.

Matthew 1

2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar…
Tamar, who tricked Judah into sleeping with her in Genesis, is greatly honored by being one of only 3 women mentioned in the lineage of Christ. And Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, says of Sarah, that “11By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” The last we heard of Sarah and Tamar in Genesis was pretty negative. And yet, in the New Testament, we see God honoring them as a result of His transforming power in their lives. In particular, Sarah goes from being the woman known for manipulating her husband into sleeping with her maid to being commended for her faith in God to fulfill His promises. That is redemption! And we too have the hope of God’s power to transform us from women who take matters into our own hands out of distrust of God’s plan into women who, in the image of God, help, strengthen, and support our husbands, trusting God in the role He has given us.

19 Responses to Marriage to a Difficult Man

  1. Karla April 23, 2008 at 3:30 am #

    Wendy,My heart is so touched by today’s post. You are describing me as well; and I think it was the first meal I made for my husband that he didn’t like where I had the same painful revelation.I’m struggling for words that can fully convey the deepness your words have penetrated and pricked my heart – please know they are exactly what I need to hear. The question is do I trust God to do what He has promised to do – in my marriage and in my life, even when and especially, if they are not the way I would have them.

  2. Wendy April 23, 2008 at 3:46 am #

    Karla, thank you for sharing yourself here.

  3. jen April 23, 2008 at 2:42 pm #

    Ha! I have this book on my list of books to read because of a similar conversation I had with a an elder’s wife. “…I came to recognize that every reasonable person in the world doesn’t think exactly like I do. “I laughed out loud when I read this, because it really struck me as true in our marriage. Bryan and I think/process/view things so differently, that 80% of our arguing escalates because I’m too busy trying to get him to “understand” me (read: do it my way).I find when I let go of my own stubbornness and truly listen to Bryan, that’s when I fully understand *him* and am able to help him the way he needs help.Great post.

  4. Bina April 23, 2008 at 6:54 pm #

    Thanks for your honesty and scripture references in this! It spoke to me on many levels. To be honest, I cried for most of my first week of marriage- the “honeymoon stage”!:) I used to think I was alone in thinking marriage was hard, especially as I (sinfully) compared myself to others who were better wives or to couples who seemed to have an easier time of it (which seemed to be every couple I saw!). I still stumble in this sin of comparing/coveting/discontentment. But in my life, God has used (and is using) marriage as the biggest tool along side His Word to show me how sinful I am, how sinful my sin is, and consequently how good He is to die for me and sanctify me daily! I also realize that my expectations of marriage beforehand were not just idealistic, but “idol-istic”. I love the book, “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas, as he talks about marriage as a tool for sanctification. I also so completely identify with the struggle of wanting to help my husband in the ways that I think he needs help, rather than the ways in which God calls me to and my husband specifically asks me to help! I’m so thankful for God’s grace as I learn to walk in this everyday! (Part of this grace has been to show me the often unfortunate consequences of “helping” my husband in my way rather than His and his). One book that has been hugely helpful to me lately in understanding the significance of biblical roles/authority structure in marriage is Bruce Ware’s “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance”.God’s Word, these books, your post… it all reminds me that marriage is a gift on many levels- joy and pleasure, trial and pain, the death of sin in us, glimpses into the character of God through biblical roles of marriage- and all of these things point me to the kindness of God and the lovingness of His sanctifying work! It really makes me love God and my husband more. So anyway, THANK YOU for humbly sharing from your life and heart in this post, as your walking in the light is such an encouragement to me and likely to many others like me who find marriage to be challenging and not just “warm and fuzzy”! 🙂

  5. Trisha Wilkerson April 24, 2008 at 10:17 pm #

    Great post, Wendy! I love the “ezer” teaching, your humor, and your honest reflections. I read that book 7 years ago in the San Juan Islands with Mike and we found it very encouraging and I felt as if Sarah and I were having a conversation about our husbands who by what I have read about Jonathan- Mike is very similar to him. I am grateful that you took time to reflect, share, teach, and honor God’s design for marriage…

  6. Mer April 25, 2008 at 3:55 pm #

    Thank you Wendy for being so vulnerable and candid in your relationship with your husband. The book you mention is one of my favorites not because of the Edward’s and their marriage but because it made me realize she was not perfect and God used her greatly! As a side note, I once loaned this book to a friend. I handed it to her in front of her husband. The husband was very curious as to why I was loaning his wife a book called “Marriage to a Difficult Man.” Was I implying something about their relationship? It was a funny moment!

  7. Chris & Linda August 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm #

    Wendy, I just read this post and I too have used the words “difficult husband”. However, over the past ten years of our 31 year marriage God showed me the very truths you so gently layout in your words. When God did show me through his word that I had a responsibility to God first to be the wife he intended me to be and not focus on what my husband was or wasn’t doing… well that changed my heart and saved my marriage from the brink of disaster.It wasn’t what I did, it was what Christ did through me. As I grew in trust and knowledge of Jesus Christ I began to respond to my husband differently. I continually have to check my heart attitude and remember my trust is in Christ first and always.I am going to ask my husband today the two questions in your post.

  8. Amanda August 11, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    “It’s easier to hear in a message what my husband needs to do and then watch like an Olympic judge to see if he does it by a specified time. But that’s a destructive mental path that I should not follow. Whether my husband is meeting his obligations or not, that does not excuse me from meeting mine.”

    I just stumbled across your blog and wanted to thank you for the many laughs I enjoyed while reading this post: laughing at how uncannily similar your thinking is to mine….laughing in amazement at God's patience and my husband's patience with me, though I am so often the Olympic judge!

    Thank you for openly sharing. It was something I really needed to read today.

  9. Amanda August 11, 2009 at 7:52 pm #

    I would like to link to this post on my blog, also, for other's encouragement, if that's okay! I will credit you fully 🙂

  10. Wendy August 11, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

    Amanda, you are quite welcome to link to it. I am so glad it encouraged you!

  11. Abbey April 8, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Thank you so much(almost two years after you wrote this post!)… As an “Expressive” married to a “Technical” this post reminded me of the conversation that I had with my husband the other night. I was completely baffled as to why he wasn't “feeling” [reacting as intensely as I was] as strongly about a discipline issue concerning our daughter… He kindly pointed out that he DID in fact feel very strongly, but just wasn't as affected emotionally as I was… Oh and there's the cooking dilemma/”helping my husband” commonalities too… I am so thankful that God did have me marry just who He chose for me for His purposes even though I don't always see it/appreciate it at the time. I've learned so much about God's grace from my husband working it out faithfully in our marriage… I will look forward to reading the “Married to a Difficult Man” biography…

  12. Anonymous May 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    But what if the man you are married to IS actually difficult? What if he says one thing one day and something the opposite the next? What if you ask him what you should do to help and when you do it, he then says that he never asked you to do it in the first place? What if you cannot even get a straight answer from him half of the time? How is it possible to serve such a man when one has no idea of what he may expect from one day to the next? It is all well to point to scripture that says how a WOMAN should behave and what HER attitude should be, but this only makes such a man feel justified in his difficult behavior and gives him excuse to blame his wife all the more. What should a wife in such a situation do? No one has been able to tell me. I am more concerned with pleasing the Lord than anyone seems to realize, but living daily with a difficult man who not only makes me miserable, but has repeatedly broken the hearts of his daughters (all the while insisting that we keep a patriarchial model), is unbearable. I cannot believe that I am continuously told to submit and help, and yet no word is given to HIS behavior. It is mind-boggling to me, and I certainly have gained an understanding of why feminism has flourished.

  13. Wendy May 18, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    Anonymous, I hear you. I really do. It sounds like he believes more in the authority structure than he does in his obligation to love his wife as I Corinthians 13 defines it. One thing I think you ought to continually repeat to your husband is a desire for Christian counseling. If he believes in a patriarchal authority structure, then he ought to believe in authority over himself as well. Maybe then someone he'll hear will confront him to love his wife as I Cor. 13 defines it.

    You are right that the instructions to wives are hard and constraining. But I still believe they have value. I hope you will stay engaged with God, wrestling with Him in honest pleading to show you how His instructions work for you.

    Also, I recommend Sacred Influence. I reviewed it in another post. Gary Thomas writes an honest helpful book on living with a truly difficult man. Sometimes, the difficulties are because of misunderstandings between men and women. He also helps distinguish what is and is not acceptable from a man, gives hope for the value of grace in the face of sin, and gives ammunition for what to do next when your husband crosses a line. I felt it was a very balanced, biblical perspective.

    I wish I could give you a hug. I wish I could assure you face to face that God has not abandoned you in the very real struggle you face. I will pray today that God would show Himself very good to you as you figure out how to walk in obedience to Him with a truly difficult man.

  14. Anonymous May 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I just found your blog as I was looking for the book Marriage to a Difficult Man. I am married to a man who lives against the current in so many areas and I enjoy the adventure! I get weary at times when I forget that my job is to HELP him no matter how radical it seems. Thank you for your great and thorough reminder!

  15. Joy Eggerichs June 16, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

    Thank you for this post…someone sent it to me and I appreciate your explanation of helper and how many women have become manipulators out of a resistance to what culture defines helper as. There can actually be so much power in being a helper.

    My heart is saddened by the anonymous writer and her situation with the difficult husband. As my father says, we are called to respect husbands unconditionally…this doesn't mean that we respect and condone sinful behavior, but we can respectfully confront when they are sinning. Her husbands irrationality should never be justified, but a husband's disobedience never constitutes our contempt or disobedience. (I am not saying she is doing this, I am saying it would be a natural response to a frustrating husband!) I hope she has a good support network and was able to take your advice and go to counseling together…

  16. amy niole January 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Years later, I want to add another thanks for posting this!!

    I happened to come across your post when searching reviews on “Marriage to a Difficult Man.” Though I am not yet married myself, I am a longstanding fan of Jonathan Edwards. I am also thankful for resources – like your blog post – that the Lord is using as groundwork for my future marriage. Thanks for reminding me, with ample Biblical truth, that our role as women is to trust the Lord and help, respond, submit, wait, and serve the leaders God places in our life… oh for grace to trust Him more!

    I'm currently in the not-so-ideal stage of dating/courtship with a wonderful, godly man, yet it's a never-ending discovery of how to honor the Lord therein: seeing more and more the tension that dating brings. I greatly desire to be a woman who patiently waits on his leadership with submission, but… he is not yet my husband! If you have any words of advice (and/or warnings), I would welcome them with open ears (err… eyes in this case)!

  17. Anonymous May 27, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    Thank you. That's all I should say right now because I am not having a good evening. I'm fighting against so many angry thoughts right now. Tomorrow my emotions will probably be calmed I hope but this article has helped me to refocus on Jesus in the midst of difficulty.

  18. melanie May 27, 2013 at 6:11 am #

    I wanted to thank you as well. We have gone through another rough patch and I believe God led me to this post. I feel more hopeful that the Spirit can help me to be more gracious and HELPful to my husband, who struggles with selfishness and pride.

    One thing I am also learning and applying is how to pray for the strongholds my husband struggles with. I am trying to take captive every thought that he has that is contrary to what God desires of him and giving it to Jesus. I am also praying that God would break off any chains that have been placed on him by the enemy or throughout his past.

    Grateful for your heart for Christian marriage and feeling more hopeful than usual…

  19. Anonymous August 7, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    All I can say is Thank You Lord! Although this was posted years ago, it was brought to my attention this week (Aug 2013) and boy is it timely!

    I've only been married a few months but I recognize SO many of the patterns/tendencies described in this blog. It brought tears to my eyes as I was reading. I'm thankful the Holy Spirit led me here to gently and politely call my attention to specific areas in my heart that certainly need to be surrendered.

    Thanks Mrs. Wendy for sharing this!