Editor’s Note: As her daughters began their married lives, Barbara Rainey wanted to share some of the lessons she learned throughout her own marriage as well as those gleaned from years of ministry to couples. In these heartfelt, insightful letters that eventually evolved into the book Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife, she answers the tough questions and addresses the realities of marriage. Enjoy this excerpt from the book and visit TheArtofBeingaWife.com for more information.
You’ve always been such a good helper for Dad, and I know he’s always appreciated that in you. But I’m finding that when I try to help the Hubs, all I get is push back. What am I doing wrong?
One winter evening early in our marriage, we went to a church where my new husband had been asked to speak. I remember sitting near the front, feeling proud of him, because I genuinely thought he did a great job. But I also noticed a few mistakes, mostly grammatical errors that I’d never noticed in everyday conversation. On the drive home he asked what I thought about this speaking, and I told him I was impressed, that I felt he communicated clearly and effectively.
Then it was quiet for a few minutes as we continued driving home. In the silence I rehearsed what I wanted to say, took a deep breath, and said, “Do you mind if I mention something I think you could correct?”
He said he’d be grateful if I did. I was immensely relieved. I had taken a risk with my young husband and had no idea if he would feel attacked or put down. My motive was to help him improve. I wanted to be his ally, his helper in a practical sense. By asking permission to be heard, he understood my motives and intentions were for his good.
Each of you has strengths your husband doesn’t have. He needs what you bring to the relationship, but the key is in how you use your strengths to help. It takes a bit of wisdom and skill to help in a harmonious, nonthreatening way. Don’t bail on trying to figure it out if you run into some trouble up front.
A life-and-death crisis
I know you all remember the story of Esther. One of our favorite bedtime storybooks was a beautifully illustrated version about the orphan girl who won a beauty pageant and became queen of Persia. This woman, who lived millennia ago, married a man who did not know her God, which makes her story even more instructive. Esther lived out Paul’s later instruction to wives to “be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the work, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1, NASB).
Early in their marriage, Esther’s husband, the king, had some cabinet members who manipulated him with some very bad advice. Unbeknownst to him, the result was going to send Esther to her death, along with every other Jewish person in Persia.
This piece of the story is a reminder that our husbands can make decisions that bring us unintentional harm. No man, even a king who has abundant resources and advisors, will avoid making some bad decisions. Marriage is risky business.
The crescendo of the story is Esther’s response. Upon the wise and godly advice of her cousin, who adopted her and raised her, Esther began praying. She also fasted and called on her friends to join with her. The situation was a life-and-death crisis, and it demanded an equally dramatic and serious approach.
When I think about what Esther must have felt, considering her own imminent death along with the entire Jewish race, I’m amazed that she did not panic and dash off to the throne room crying and screaming. Many of us wives, had we been in her shoes, would have panicked and screamed, “How could you have done this? What stupidity! Do you not see what is about to happen because of your edict?”
Don’t most of us feel like doing that when our husbands make decisions that hurt us? When your dad announces to me that he just booked another trip that I must attend only because I’m “the wife,” I have felt angry, not valued, as though his agenda is always more important than mine. I have not always handled this well, and Dennis would heartily agree.
The struggle of responding well
Every wife knows those flash points in her marriage where her husband has created a situation that feels like a crisis or is in fact a stressful circumstance—whether it is intentional or unintentional. It could be a small thing that feels huge, like perpetual tardiness; or a truly big thing, like consistently missing the deadline for paying bills, leading to the electricity being cut off. Every marriage struggle is unique, but the struggle of responding well is common to all wives.
Esther was far wiser than I. Instead of overreacting, she invited her husband to a very nice dinner she’d prepared. On the following day, again over food (don’t we all feel more ready to tackle hard stuff when we’ve been well fed?), she asked permission to inform the king that he had made a big mistake. She was asking to correct him.
Let’s be clear: It was very risky to challenge the king of Persia. As in, he could’ve immediately had her beheaded. But her cautious and calm attitude and actions demonstrated to her husband that she was not a threat, she was not against him; instead, she honored him. She showed wisdom and a heart that trusted God’s sovereignty over all when she said, “If I perish, I perish.”
When Esther asked her husband for the privilege of being heard, she communicated respect for him as a man and as a leader. I learned that myself in that first year of marriage when I asked my husband if I could offer corrections that would help him be a better communicator. He felt my respect, from all the kudos I gave him for the great job he did. He saw my offer to help as an asset, not a condemnation.
Again, the heart of the matter was, and still is, my attitude. He will know if you are for him or if you are against him in how you approach him. And it has to be real, dear daughters, not an act. It has to be something we’ve gotten straight in our own hearts.
Remember in the crises that will come:
- Don’t panic or overreact.
- Ask, “Can I talk to you about something?” before bringing something difficult or potentially threatening to him.
- Pray for wisdom to speak in words he can hear and absorb.
May you each be like my friend Esther, with hearts that trust the sovereignty of God and not the fears that threaten to overwhelm. It will be music to your husband’s ears.