BCC Staff: In Sam’s previous post, he described the struggles often reported by the wives of spiritually apathetic husbands and the unhelpful responses that tempt them. Then he began to describe how pastoral counselors might steer them toward more God-honoring responses. In this post he continues with these suggestions:
Ways to Help: Show Her Better Ways to Respond to Her Husband
Humility: Wives in this situation also need to be reminded of their own faults. This has to be done in a gentle way, without coming across as accusing. Perhaps asking, “What are some of the things that your husband would like you to change? How much progress have you made in those areas?” Exploring these areas of weakness and sin in her life—particularly the length of time that she has battled in these areas—may help her to put her husband’s weakness in perspective. It may even cause her to have more mercy on him. In most situations it would be wise to wait to use this approach until you’ve met with the woman a few times. Otherwise she may feel as if her concerns are being minimized or dismissed.
Another point to help her realize is that Christ loves an imperfect church. This is important because our love for each other is to model the love that Christ has for us. So if God loves us when we are imperfect, how much more so should we as imperfect creatures love—with great affection—those whom we find imperfect.
Forgiveness: Another skill for her to develop, if she hasn’t already, is the ability to share the truth in love with her husband about his behavior. In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller describes it this way:
One of the most basic skills in marriage is the ability to tell the straight, unvarnished truth about what your spouse has done—and then, completely, unself-righteously, and joyously express forgiveness without a shred of superiority, without making the other person feel small. This does not mean you cannot express anger. In fact, if you never express anger, your truth-telling probably won’t sink in. But forgiving grace must always be present, and if it is, it will, like salt in meat, keep the anger from going bad. Then truth and love can live together because, beneath them both, you have forgiven your spouse as Christ forgave you.1
If a wife can learn to share her disappointment and anger and still accept her husband, it will be a powerful testimony of the gospel to him.
Calm Her Fears
In our last post, we looked at 1 Peter, which instructs wives not to give in to fear. One way the church can help her is to make her aware of how the church is willing to help her should her fears be realized. To do this, you’ll need to:
- Know what her fears are
- Identify people in your church or resources that can be used to help her address those concerns
- Explain the provisions that you’ve made for her
For example, say the wife fears that her young son won’t have anyone to teach him how to be a godly man. If that’s the case, identify a few men in the church who’d be willing to disciple her son should he need that when the time comes. Then let her know about these men’s willingness to help.
Talk to the Husband
If an apathetic husband is a professing believer, it may be appropriate to speak with him about his lack of spiritual zeal. Following the instructions for dealing with the sin of a believer listed in Matthew 18, the wife should express her concerns to her husband first. If he is unwilling to listen to her concerns, she and other men from the church can get involved to assess the situation and decide whether the man needs encouragement, teaching, training, rebuke, etc.
Here are a few questions to think through before anyone meets with a man who has been accused of being spiritually apathetic:
- Are these men wise, gentle, and Spirit-filled ( 6:1)?
- Have the men agreed upon what they want to communicate to the husband?
- Do the men understand why it’s better to ask probing questions of the husband, as opposed to making accusations?
- Are the men prepared to help the husband understand the consequences of his behavior?
- Do the men have concrete ideas in mind for how to help the man grow in zeal for the things of God?
- Are the men conscious of the fact that they have only the wife’s perspective on his behavior? (The possibility exists that they may not be dealing with an apathetic husband. Perhaps it is an overly demanding wife.)
- Who will take the lead in the conversation with the husband?
- Are the men prepared to explain what happens if the husband refuses to change?
- Are the men prepared to be patient with the husband, not demanding immediate repentance, but being willing to allow the man to grow in this area?
- Are the men prepared to explain the gospel to this man should they conclude that the reason for his apathy is that he is not a Christian?
There are many other practical issues to think through before a conversation like this. You’ll surely come up with a list that fits the circumstances you are dealing with. The key is having a game plan for such a conversation.
Wives of apathetic husbands need your help. Consider using some of the suggestions in this article to help women in this difficult situation.
Join the Conversation
What other strategies might you suggest to counselors helping 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).