Our children and I once watched a new shopping center go up near our home. Initially, workmen cleared the lot and poured the concrete pads. Then the walls went up, quickly followed by the framing for the roof.

But one day, we turned the corner and slowed our van in disbelief. The entire structure had collapsed! The wooden roof trusses lay flat in neat rows, surrounded by the remains of the crumbled brick walls.

Puzzled, we asked what had happened and learned that the carpenters had failed to secure and brace the new structure properly. The building’s roof, held in place by only two boards, collapsed under the weight of two carpenters.

As I reflected with amazement on the need for support in the building’s structure, I saw a parallel in marriage. The roof is like my husband’s self-esteem.

He needs me to believe in him

Ephesians 5:23 teaches that the husband is “the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” When we first married, I committed to being under the roof of Dennis’ protection. He had all the structural basics, but he was brand-new at being my protector. Like that roof, he appeared to be solidly in place, but he needed me to help secure him—to brace him by believing in him.

Fortunately, I did come alongside him. Through the years, the weight of life’s pressures sometimes shake him, but he remains solidly over me as my roof, my protector. Today, although still not perfectly secure, my husband’s structural integrity is much more stable. He tells me that I have had a major part in helping him to feel more sure of himself as a man and as a husband.

Likewise, you can strengthen your husband’s self-esteem. But first you must recognize where he needs bolstering. Many women today are so caught up in finding their own identity that they, like the carpenters who were building the shopping center, make assumptions about their husband’s self-confidence and security. Your spouse may be fully-grown on the outside, but inside he undoubtedly feels some insecurity. He’s not so sure how to be a man in this world where women have growing independence and society is changing the traditional rules of relationships.

Practical wisdom

The book of Proverbs is probably my favorite in the Bible because it contains such practical wisdom about everyday life. One of its main themes is the value of developing understanding. Consider each of these verses on understanding:

  • Incline your heart to understanding (2:2).
  • Understanding will watch over you (2:11).
  • Call understanding your intimate friend (7:4).
  • A man [or woman] of understanding walks straight (15:21).
  • Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it (16:22).

While speaking at a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, I talked to more than a dozen women who were experiencing problems in their marriages. One woman resented her husband’s schedule. Another disagreed with her husband regarding how to discipline their children. A third was a young woman whose spouse was jealous of the time she spent with her sister.

I gave these women the same advice: Seek to understand why your husband is feeling or acting this way. Focus on him, not on the negative circumstances and how you are affected. Are his actions communicating some deep needs for affirmation, commitment, or loyalty?

Also, give him your complete acceptance, even if you don’t totally understand him. It may be necessary to ask God to help you accept your husband, for it may not be easy to live with your situation.

Why is acceptance so important to a man? Because without it, he will feel that you are pressuring him to become something he’s not. With it, he will sense that you love him for who he is today and not for what you hope he will become.

1. Understand his need for work.

One area of struggle for many wives is her husband’s job and the pressures it imposes on him and everyone around him.

God gave man the responsibility to toil, sweat, and gain from the labor of his hands. His work gives him a sense of significance and importance in the world as he sees his efforts affecting life for good in the present and the future.

But this drive for significance sometimes pushes a man to extremes. In his effort to gain a sense of well-being and significance, he often becomes enslaved to his job. Attempting to gain importance through wealth or position, he makes his work his god.

On the other hand, a man who is out of work lacks true self-respect. In this age of workaholism, losing a job is a traumatic blow to a man’s esteem. It strikes at the core of his dignity. A man who doesn’t work can’t enjoy the satisfaction of a solid day’s productivity.

Your husband needs you to help him keep these two extremes in balance. He needs you to praise him for his work, but not to push him to gain too much too quickly. When a man loses or quits his job, his self-esteem can sink. During these times, he needs you to stand beside him and encourage his efforts at finding employment. Men need to work.

2. Understand his sexual needs.

Another sphere in which we wives, for the most part, do not really understand our husbands is in how his self-image is vitally linked to his sexuality. Sometimes we women judge our husbands’ sexual needs by our own.

Many wives express that they are offended because their husbands are such sexual creatures. This attitude communicates rejection to a man. To ignore his sexual needs, to resist his initiation of sex, or merely to tolerate his advances is to tear at the heart of his self-esteem.

Jill Renich points this out in her book, To Have and to Hold. She states that for a man, “Sex is the most meaningful demonstration of love and self-worth. It is a part of his own deepest person.”

The truth is, the typical man worries about his sexual performance, his wife’s enjoyment, and his ability to satisfy her. He worries about the future and all those tales he has heard about losing his ability to make love. These worries are signs of a low self-confidence. Thus, a man who feels like a failure in the marriage bed will seldom have the deep, abiding self-respect for which he longs.

But, as Jill Renich writes, “To receive him with joy, and to share sexual pleasure, builds into him a sense of being worthy, desirable, and acceptable.”

What if, on the other hand, your husband expresses little sexual need? Are you naively content because that means less risk for you? Or are you accepting or even resentful of his indifference without seeking to understand why?

Your husband may lack interest in his sexual relationship with you for one of several reasons:

  • He may be too busy. Many workaholics have nothing left over for home.
  • He may be burying his sex drive, along with many other emotions. (You or a good Christian counselor need to begin to help him open up.)
  • He may be experiencing depression, which takes away other basic drives as well.
  • He may be deeply afraid of further rejection if you have in any way communicated rejection in the past.
  • Unfortunately, he may be involved with another woman.

Women are generally security-minded, but too often a woman’s need for security leads her into a sexual rut. Her husband may not say much, so she assumes that he is satisfied too. But he may not be. Beware of complacency. Be willing to make some personal sacrifices to protect your marriage.

Great sacrifice communicates great love. Freely giving of yourself to your spouse will make you a magnet to him, drawing him home, keeping him safe. The wife who really loves her husband will choose to take risks to please her man.

As you spend time together physically, be sure to reassure your husband verbally of your unconditional acceptance of him, especially if he is insecure in this area. Tell him that you like his body and that his imperfections and mistakes don’t matter to you. His confidence will grow if you allow him the freedom to be himself and to be imperfect.

3. Understand his need for respect.

Part of God’s specific instruction to wives is found in Ephesians 5:33: “Let the wife see to it that she respects her husband.” In the Amplified Bible, this verse reads, “And let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband—that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly.”

Why does God focus on this quality of respect? Why didn’t He select other positive and necessary traits, such as kindness, sympathy, and forgiveness? And why didn’t He emphasize love?

I believe that God, as the designer of men, knew that they would be built up as they are respected by their wives. When a wife respects her husband, he feels it, is supported by it, and is strengthened from it. A man needs respect like a woman needs love.

Your husband wants and needs to make a contribution in life that is worthy of another’s respect. He needs to know that you feel he is important. Without your respect, he can’t respect himself. You are his mirror. When you express your respect, he feels valuable and esteemed.

Perhaps you are thinking, But I see little, if anything, to respect. Perhaps you are like the young mother I know whose husband drank heavily and spent little time with the children. She had a difficult time viewing him with respect and honor. A deliberate change of focus from his weaknesses to his few strengths enabled her to begin to see her spouse in a positive light. Gaining a better perspective may aid you in esteeming your husband too.

Philippians 4:8 tells us: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Pay attention to your husband’s admirable qualities rather than the negative ones. You can then offer him the respect that will build his self-esteem.

It takes years for him to become a man

In the months after that small shopping center near our home collapsed, the builders made changes and structural modifications. Some were external, obvious to us as we passed by, while others were internal and couldn’t be seen.

Your husband, like that shopping center, is still under construction. His self-esteem will take time, modifications, and improvements. Internally, your attitude of acceptance, respect, and adaptation are all essential to his structural integrity. Your external behavior matters, too, because your words and actions can help to construct a secure man.

Remember, it takes years for a man to become a strong husband. Be patient with him. Put aside your high expectations of how a perfect husband would lead his family spiritually, or behave socially, or perform intellectually. Keep your hope in God, not in your man. Then you will not be disappointed.

Adapted from Building Your Mate’s Self Esteem by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Copyright © 1995 by Dennis Rainey. Used with permission.