BCC Staff: In this post and the next post, Sam Hodges offers guidance to biblical counselors as they face the wife of a man who does not care about “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:32).
A spiritually apathetic husband demonstrates little or no interest in his faith and the application of it. Scripture forbids spiritual apathy (Rom. 12:11; Rev. 2:4–5; 3:15–19). This is in part because the apathetic person is resisting God’s work in his life. In other words, the Christian must harden himself to the Lord’s powerful work (Col. 1:29) and His will (Titus 2:14) in order to be apathetic.
Marriage to a spiritually apathetic husband is challenging and tempting. Women in this situation don’t always respond well to their spiritually dispassionate partners. And that causes even more problems. Here’s what you need to know about how women of spiritually apathetic husbands suffer, common mistakes these wives make, and practical steps you can take to help.
Challenges that Wives of Spiritually Apathetic Husbands Face
Lack of Contentment/Coveting
Women whose husbands aren’t spiritually engaged can be tempted to be discontent about their marriages and family life. They may reason, “If my husband were more involved as a spiritual leader, our kids would respect me more. Or, if he taught our kids the Bible, maybe our kids wouldn’t fight as much. Or, if he led us in prayer sometimes, maybe we wouldn’t be in this financial mess.”
It’s easy to see how a wife in this situation could easily blame her husband for any problems the family has. A related temptation is to covet other women’s husbands she perceives to be spiritually engaged. This, coupled with discontentment about her own family life, can put her in a position to be tempted by someone she perceives to be the kind of godly man she needs or deserves.
Some women will be tempted to fear. Why? They know that the Bible places a strong emphasis on the role of the father in the home as it relates to the spiritual development of his wife and children. So when a husband isn’t engaged, she wonders what the effects will be on the children. “Will the children follow after their father and be indifferent to their faith? Who will teach my sons how to be godly men?” If his apathy extends to their marriage, she may fear whether her husband will leave her or if he is involved with another woman.
Sometimes spiritual apathy manifests itself in other areas. If a husband isn’t responsive to the Lord’s commands to be a spiritual leader in the home, then it shouldn’t be surprising if he neglects other responsibilities in the home as well. This can leave the wife of an apathetic husband with an overwhelming number of responsibilities—managing the family finances, getting the children to events, cooking, cleaning the home, providing spiritual leadership to the children—and often these responsibilities are layered on top of her own job responsibilities. As a result, wives of spiritually apathetic husbands are often tired and feel overwhelmed.
Potential Unhelpful Responses by Wives
When a husband is spiritually apathetic, it has a tangible effect upon his wife. Out of anger and desperation some wives resort to nagging their husbands or complaining to their friends about their spouses. Some wives speak negatively about or berate their spouse in front of their children, comparing him to other men and pointing out his failures. Others fantasize about or pursue relationships with other men they are attracted to. Obviously, none of those responses are helpful. Those reactions can tempt a man to check out completely from a marriage.
Ways to Help: Show Her Better Ways to Respond to Her Husband
Gentleness and respect: First Peter 3:1–6 is a great passage to help wives understand how to respond to husbands who show little or no interest in the things of God. This passage can help a wife see how God wants her to behave in the home—with respect and high moral character, coupled with a spirit of submissiveness.
A wife in this situation needs to understand that fear (fear that a husband’s apathy will produce bad outcomes for her children; fear that she’ll never joyfully minister with her husband; fear that her husband’s apathy will lead them into a financial hole that they can’t get out of; etc.) can tempt her to disrespect her husband. While on one level this is understandable, a woman in this situation needs to be encouraged to see that God is calling her to respond in faith, trusting that His way of responding is better than nagging, complaining, or coveting someone else’s husband or family life. Helping wives renew their minds about their fears and God’s faithfulness can be a huge benefit.
If a husband is apathetic, there may not be any practical issues with submission. But at a conceptual level, the wife may be put off by the idea that if her apathetic husband were to suddenly get his act together, she should submit to him. If that’s the case, it may be beneficial to help her understand that Peter’s letter was written during a time in which women had varying levels of opportunities and rights depending on where they lived. So Peter’s point is not imposing a particular form of submission, but one that is consistent with Scripture and informed by cultural expectations of the time. She may also need to be encouraged to see that submitting to her husband brings glory to God as it mirrors the way the church relates to Christ (Eph. 5:22–24).
If a wife says that she is struggling with the idea of submission, it is important to understand what she envisions or fears submitting to. This will help you to clarify any misconceptions about submission that she may have. Make sure you listen to and understand her concerns. Responding to objections that she doesn’t raise helps no one. It destroys trust and undermines your credibility. You’ll come off as insensitive, or as someone who just doesn’t get it. She may never say it, but she’ll think twice about coming to you with other issues.
Join the Conversation
What struggles have you observed among the wives of spiritually apathetic husbands?
Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared at http://www.careleader.org/help-wife-spiritually-apathetic-husband (June 15, 2016).