I am noticing a concerning trend among friends and acquaintances in Christian marriages far and near. It’s what I call the Withering Wife.
1 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
It’s the opposite of the beautiful vision of Psalm 128. At first it was one friend, then two, then four, and now it seems daily my attention is drawn to yet another wife in this condition. Instead of being a fruitful, flourishing vine, I can see her withering under the hot sun. No water comes her way, and instead there is cracking dry ground at her roots. Her leaves start to furl into themselves, and her vibrant color fades. She goes through the motions. She starts to shut down. Why stay engaged when she receives no encouragement or emotional support?
There are two things that contribute to this withering – active scorn and passive neglect by a husband. Some husbands freely communicate to their wives that they despise them. One friend shared with me how in the middle of a conversation in which her husband talked to her with scorn, he picked up the phone and completely changed his tone of voice to one of kindness and respect with the other party on the phone, and even in conflict at work on the phone, she heard a patient tone that he never used with her. She longed to hear him engage with her that way, but he felt free instead to despise and dismiss her with his tone of voice as well as his words. He talked to her in a way he would never use with anyone else.
There is also passive neglect. This is when a wife’s needs are simply ignored. The wife may share tearfully that she is struggling, and the husband shuts her down with his lack of response. Or he says they will talk later but never does. He communicates passively that her emotional struggles are not worth him engaging. He sees her struggling with the children, but he doesn’t actively step in. I ache watching loved ones demoralized by being in partnership with someone who sees them struggling day after day, but the only way to get them to engage is to have a near melt down.
On the flip side, I also note strong marriages among loved ones. I note particularly in these marriages that husbands NOTICE. They are proactive. Notice what, you may ask. What are they proactive about? Well, that depends on the marriage. That depends on their wife. Peter exhorts husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. In other words, understand your wife. Know her loves. Know her gifts. Know her needs. And your wife’s needs aren’t necessarily going to be the same as whatever illustration your pastor just gave in his sermon about his wife. The gospel is so needed here, because a wife’s needs can quickly feel threatening to a husband. A husband can’t find his identity in his wife any more than she can her husband. But if a husband is secure in Christ so that he does not feel threatened by his wife’s concerns, there is great room to know his wife even when her needs and gifts don’t at first fit a husband’s desires or expectations.
If you are at this crossroads, husbands, I wrote before on praying with your wives. This is such an easy, hopeful, helpful first step. Even if it’s just once a week on a Saturday or Sunday morning, ask your wife, “What’s burdening you right now? What can I be praying for you?” Then right there with her, pray about it. That is an incredible ministry of grace to her in that moment. It’s water for her withering vine. If it’s something about you that’s stressing her, well, pray honestly with her about it. If you as a couple have any kind of faith, you must believe that you access supernatural help in that moment.
I could give a second step (because there will very likely be some second step that needs to take place once you get up from prayer), but I think it’s better if I leave the second step to the Spirit who works after the first step in a couple’s heart according to their needs for their specific relationship.
This dynamic of course does not characterize all relationships. As I said, I know many great husbands of flourishing wives, and it is perhaps that I get to watch those healthy relationships that also helps me notice dysfunction in others. And there are wives who likely need to notice their husbands. But today, in case you haven’t considered this lately, husbands, I encourage you to look over at your wife and notice her. If she is withering, take the steps you need to stir up your own love and concern for her and then be a conduit of God’s grace to her that will revive her.