FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What a Man Needs from His Wife

with Gary Thomas | March 29, 2010
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Today on the broadcast, best-selling author Gary Thomas tells women what they must know to be their husband's most powerful influencer.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, best-selling author Gary Thomas tells women what they must know to be their husband's most powerful influencer.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Gary Thomas tells women what they must know to be their husband’s most powerful influencer.

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What a Man Needs from His Wife

With Gary Thomas
March 29, 2010
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Bob:  As a wife, are there things you see your husband doing that you think, "Boy, I wonder if I should say something to him about that?  It just isn't right."  Author and speaker Gary Thomas says if you're going to confront, and perhaps you should, you need to make sure you're ready; make sure you're strong.

Gary:  Spiritual strength leads to strength in other areas – the courage to speak up, for instance.  If a woman isn't spiritually strong, she's going to be afraid to rock the boat in her marriage.  And, look, most of us guys – it shouldn't be this way. 

Most guys say, you know, "If I can have my wife and this little hobby or this little addiction or this little sin on the side, we'll take both, and it takes a strong woman to say, "You can't have both.  It's me or that."

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 29th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  There is a right way and a wrong way for a woman to talk to her husband about sinful patterns she sees present in his life.  We'll talk about that today. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on Monday edition.  I'm going to ask you a hard question.  I don't know if you can answer this right off the top – well, you can, because you're pretty good at answering things right off the top of your head.  If you had not married Barbara …

Dennis:  I would have been in trouble – I can already answer the question.


Bob:  Describe for me what you would be like today.

Dennis:  Oh, Bob, seriously.  It would be ugly.  It would be really ugly. 

Bob:  What would be ugly?  How would you be different today?

Dennis:  Barbara has had such a great influence in my life – my dress would be obnoxious, my behavior would be worse …


… I'm sure I wouldn't be leading a ministry or be the father of six.

Bob:  So you're saying that your spiritual life would be different?

Dennis:  Oh, absolutely.  I mean, my wife has been used by God in my life so many times to point me back to him and to the truth just by who she is and how she lives her life.

Bob:  That's 1 Peter 3, isn't it?

Dennis:  It is.

Bob:  "She has won her husband without a word?"

Dennis:  Yeah, and on more than one occasion, and over a lifetime of 35 years now, she has done that and, I'll tell you, she has had a – well, shall I say it, Bob?  A sacred influence?

Bob:  Well, I was hoping you'd get around to that.

Dennis:  We have the author of that book, Gary Thomas, with us on FamilyLife Today.  Gary, welcome back to our broadcast.

Gary:  It's always a joy to spend time with you guys.

Dennis:  You've been on our broadcast now – I think this is the third or fourth time?

Bob:  The fourth time that Gary has been here, that's right.

Dennis:  And, of course, many of our listeners know of Gary from his bestselling book, Sacred Marriage.  Well, he's written a follow-up to that called Sacred InfluenceWhat a Man Needs From His Wife to be the Husband She Wants.  Now, that's a good subtitle.

Bob:  A wife will pick that up and buy that just on the subtitle right there.

Dennis:  Gary is an adjunct professor at Western Theological Seminary.  He lives in Bellingham, Washington, and I'm just curious – when I saw this book, why did you write this, Gary?  I mean, not that it isn't in the line with the other things you've written, but what prompted you?

Gary:  It was really e-mails and comments that I got after seminars.  Women would come up after going through Sacred Marriage or listening to me talk about it, saying, "Gary, I get that God is using my marriage to help me become a better person and to shape me, but do I really have to just sit back while my husband's anger destroys our children or where my husband's addictions make it so impossible to be intimate with him," or "He's so involved with golf or work that he's never at home.  How do I help him become the person that I think God wants him to be?"

I really began to get a feel for how women want to influence men in a godly way and so the book is really about how does a woman become a positive influence or a sacred influence in her husband's life.

Dennis:  Well, I want to give you an illustration of a wife who was not a positive, and I'm sure you're familiar with this – 1 Kings, chapter 21, "Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord because Jezebel, his wife, incited him."

I mean, she encouraged him to do evil, and he was the worst, it says.  So a wife does have a sacred influence.  She can influence her husband to do evil or, as you're promoting in your book, help him to do good.

Gary:  I don't think wives fully understand how much influence they can have in their husbands' lives.  Part of this comes from a dirty little secret that men fall in love with being loved.  We really do.  We fall in love with being loved. 

I know this because I live in a college town.  So I'll go to the Starbuck's, it's right by the college campus, and you look at a young college couple that are on a date, and that young woman is looking in that boy's eyes like – a look of just adoration, just lost in him, just fully intensely focused on him.  And, you know, I think he's falling in love with her, but part of it is he is intoxicated by feeling so important in her eyes.

Bob:  There is something about the male ego – the desire that we have as men to be respected and affirmed that that is almost narcotic.  A man will go to great lengths for that respect and that affirmation, won't he?

Gary:  That's exactly the point; that he wants to keep that happening, and so when a wife can learn to leverage that in a positive, God-honoring way, she can have a tremendous influence because ultimately her husband wants her to keep looking at him and respecting him that way.

Dennis:  You know, I was talking to a friend just recently, and he was describing his college-age son in a very similar fashion.  He said, "This young lady absolutely adores him, I mean, absolutely looks up at him and admires him, and it's just like there is an energy flowing from her to him that what guy wouldn't absolutely beam as a result of that kind of adoration?"

Bob:  Well, you know, the old joke was that a great marriage is when both the husband and wife are in love with the same person.


But there's a sense in which, you're absolutely right …

Dennis:  We're not promoting that, though, by the way.

Bob:  But a guy does long to have that sense of worth and respect from a woman, from his wife.

Dennis:  Gary, what does a woman need to know?  What's the essence of what she needs to know if she's going to be the most powerful influence in her husband's life?

Gary:  Well, part of it comes from that "men fall in love with being loved," because another thing about guys that sometimes women don't understand is that we don't play games we think we can't win.  If a guy just stinks at golf or stinks at hunting or stinks at fishing, eventually he gives it up.

So if a guy dates a young woman, and she looks at him that way, then they get married, and she begins to see those spiritual failings.  James 3:2 says, "We all stumble in many ways," which would include every husband that every woman listening to us would be married to because the word "all" is pretty non-exclusive there.

So it's natural that every wife is going to have legitimate complaints against her husband and start to lose that look and that respect.  And so what husbands often do is they see that change of light in their wife's eyes, and they say, "Look, I'm sacrificing to support the family.  I'm doing all of this for her, I'm doing all of that for her, and if that's not good enough, I'm checking out.  I'm not playing this game anymore."

Dennis:  And what happens, the wife looks at her husband and loses her respect for him, and, in a way, his life begins to define her life, and you say that shouldn't be the definition point of her life.  It's God who needs to define her life.

Gary:  Absolutely.  Really, the first step, I think, toward building an influence with your husband is to become a person of great spiritual strength and respect.  Guys are only influenced by people we respect.

Bob:  Well, now, wait – is it possible for a woman to be strong in the Lord and, by virtue of that, not be respected by her husband?  You know what I'm saying?  A woman who, her Christian life is not something her husband respects but something that annoys him.

Gary:  It might annoy him, but I still think there would be an element of respect there.  You know, I just think of myself as a guy.  I'm not particularly a fan of NASCAR, but I can respect a guy who has enormous success in NASCAR.

I think we can appreciate people who are strong in an area even where we're weak or even where we're not particularly interesting in, but even more to the point is I think spiritual strength leads to strength in other areas – the courage to speak up, for instance.  If a woman isn't spiritually strong, she's going to be afraid to rock the boat in her marriage because if her identify is wrapped up solely in her marriage, the one thing she can't afford to do emotionally or psychologically is create distance in her marriage, which means she's not going to have the strength to confront her husband.

And then when she doesn't confront her husband, her husband is thinking, "Look, I can do all this, this, this and this," and she's not going to leave me, she's not even going to make an issue out of it and, look, most of us guys – it shouldn't be this way.  We're not talking about guys as they should be.  We're really talking about as they are.  Most guys say, "You know, if I can have my wife and this little hobby or this little addiction or this little sin on the side, we'll take both."  It takes a strong woman to say, "You can't have both.  It's me or that."

Bob:  I think as you’re talking about the influence of godly behavior and godly character and how powerful that is I'm thinking about a woman who would define her spiritual life around her activities rather than around her character.  A woman who would say, "Well, my husband is annoyed by my Christian life.  He doesn't like it that I go to the Bible study, or he doesn't like it that I'm always talking about church, or he doesn't like this," but if you stop and think, "What husband is not going to like it or be influenced by a wife who exhibits love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control?" 

In other words, if a wife's character, if a wife's behavior – this is what 1 Peter is talking about, isn't it?  When it talks about your godly behavior?  That's going to be winsome and attractive.  Maybe if you're talking about the women's group and always talking about your Bible study, that annoys him, but he can't get annoyed at your love and your joy and your peace and your patience, can he?

Gary:  No, and I think that it's important not just to speak of love, joy, peace, patience, as abstract concepts but what they motivate a wife to do.  I have a lot of stories in Sacred Influence of wives who have seen their marriages restored, and one of the key things in all of them is that they became their husbands' buddies.  They really entered into their husbands' world.  Instead of fighting their husbands' love for fishing or for biking or whatnot, they decided, "How can I join it as much as possible?"

So they demonstrated their devotion saying, "I don't feel like you've entered my world, and I'm going to take the first step and enter your world and become a friend in this area."  It really began to open up their husbands' hearts and affections just because of their kindness of saying, "I want to spend time with you in the way that you want to spend time."

Bob:  Can you think of a particular example of a situation like that?

Gary:  Yes, well, there's a woman that I call "Kathy" in the book, who was married to a non-Christian for over 20 years.  He eventually became a believer, and as part of that she felt like God challenged her to share her husband's love for riding a bike. 

Now, her husband liked to do those 400-mile treks over several days, and she'd never ridden a bike before, and she said, "I can't possibly do this."

Dennis:  Man, she's courageous.

Gary:  Well, she started off small, and when she felt God telling her – I think this is very important, particularly for wives who are married to non-Christians.  The tendency of a wife is, "Look, if he's not going to share my faith, how do I share anything with him?"  And they want to just draw back. 

Kathy felt God asking her to take the step forward saying, "Appreciate what you can have."  And so she said, "You know what?  He's not a Christian, he doesn't support me in my prayers, he breaks my heart because he's not there at church on Mother's Day when the mothers get their roses from their husbands, and she broke down crying one time over that.  But she said, "But, you know, we do have good times doing this or that," so they started biking together, and she actually enjoyed it, and it got her into great shape and eventually entering her husband's world, her husband was finally willing to come to church with her and enter her world and eventually became a believer.

Dennis:  You know, we're using positive illustrations here of how a wife has entered her husband's world to ultimately win him and see him change.  That's not the usual or the natural way that women usually go about this in their marriage.  A lot of women try to change their husband's behavior with their words, with a critical spirit, thinking that that pain from their mouth is going to ultimately change his behavior.  It doesn't work, does it?

Gary:  That is probably the most ineffective thing a woman can do, and it's the best way to reinforce the negative behavior.

If we go back to James 3:2, this is the real spiritual challenge for women in marriage – James, again, says "We all stumble in many ways."  So the Bible promises women your husband is going to mess up, not occasionally, but in a lot of ways.  So you will have legitimate disagreements with your husband.

If you expect perfection out of your husband, if you hold him to this standard, "Why can you do this like this husband does?"  "Why can't you do this like this husband?"  Which every woman is going to be tempted to do to focus on those negatives because every woman is going to have a husband with those negatives.

We're going back to what we said earlier, that guys won't play a game that they feel like they can't win.  They will check out of that marriage.  "If I can't please you, I'm gone.  I'm outta here."

Now, I’m not saying they're necessarily going to seek a divorce, but they're not going to move forward toward their wives emotionally or spiritually.  They're going to check out.  Suddenly, golf is going to become their obsession, or work is going to become their obsession, or fishing, or hunting, anything they can do to escape what has become for them a very painful environment.

Bob:  And you say that men have what you call a "functional fixedness," too, right?

Gary:  Yes.

Bob:  What is that?

Gary:  Well, that goes back to – women, so often, are frustrated with their husbands, and they think it's a matter of communication, so they keep trying to find new ways to tell them how frustrated they are with them.  They think it's just – "I've got to give him a word picture, I've got to explain this hurts me."  What they don't realize is that a lot of guys – again, we shouldn't be this way.  This is what guys often are, though, however.  They're not motivated by their wife's pain they're motivated by their own pain. 

And so they like to do what they do.  If it's blowing off with their temper or not being involved at home or spending money irresponsibly or whatever.  They'll put up with their wife's occasional nagging because that's less painful to them than changing their habits.

And so for a lot of women, it's not about learning to communicate better with your husband, it's understanding that some husbands are more motivated by their pain than yours, and it's not that they don't understand you.  It's, I'm sorry to say, this sounds so harsh, is that some of them really just don't care.

Bob:  They're happy with how life is going for them.  Now, a wife is going to hear that, and she's going to go "Well, so what I need to do is make it unpleasant for him to be that way."

Gary:  That's the challenge.  What I think is a more appropriate response is to stand up in strength and to call him to what he really wants to be.  I think, at root, most men want to be more intimately involved with their wives.  They may not realize it, and they may not know how to get there, but I think God created us in such a way that we are far more satisfied in an intimate relationship with our wives.  We're far more satisfied when we have a healthy relationship with our kids and when our vocation and our recreational lives are in balance.  So instead of saying she's going to make life more miserable – here is what one wife did.  She calls it "the magic question."

She was very frustrated with her husband.  He wouldn't come home.  After work he would go hunting, and she'd complain about that, and he'd say, "Well, hunting season is almost over not telling her that it was now fishing season was following right behind.  So her mind was filled with all the things her husband wasn't doing, and she felt God asking her to ask what she calls "the magic question," which drove her crazy, but she finally gave in.  Her husband came home, she goes, "What am I not doing that you want me to do?"

She said it was so difficult for me to look at a man I was so disappointed in and say, "What could I do better?"  And his response got her angry.  He said, "I want you to be in a good mood when I come home."  She said that's the worst thing he could have asked me.  I wish he would have said, "Cook three meals a day, clean the house, walk to Africa.”  Any of those things would have been better because she was so frustrated with him.

But then she began to think in prayer, "Well, what is it like for him when I greet him at home usually with a scowl, usually with indifference, usually with frustration.  I'm wearing that all on the sleeve, why would he want to come home when that's what greets him?"

And so she began to see, and I think this is the second part of Sacred Influences, is just influencing your husband but realizing that being married to a man who stumbles in many ways is one of the ways that God shapes a woman's soul and helps her to grow in selflessness and in character and in patience and perseverance and in love.

Bob:  This is one of the things that we’ve been clued into in our marriage because for a wife who has had a full day of all kinds of activities with the kids and stuff going on when her husband gets home the first thing she wants to do is talk about those things.  She hasn’t had anybody who is an adult who she can pour all that out to.  Well, a husband who is walking in after a day of work  the last thing he wants is to get home and get all that dumped on him. 

Maryann and I have talked about the fact that she may need to express that but if she can just hold off for a little bit and have the reentry time be a little more graceful then I might be a little more ready to hear all of that stuff.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

Dennis:  I do know what you are talking about.  In fact I experienced one of those days last Saturday.  I’d been away on a trip and came home and Barbara started talking about some of the things she wanted me to fix and repair around the house.  If she would have just waited thirty minutes I might have been interested.  I might have been able to become motivated but as it was I had to sit there and listen.  I asked myself what am I thinking and feeling as a man?  I’m feeling like I just left one “to do” list at work and I’m coming home to another “to do” list here. 

Bob:  You’re thinking I’m calling the airlines to see if there is another flight out of town. 

Dennis:  No.  I was tired enough of travel.  I had some hassles in travel.  Gary one of the things I wanted to ask you is you think that some women don’t’ want to naturally rock the boat.  They are kind of people pleasers and they don’t speak the truth to their husband like we are talking about here.  They don’t ever tell them what they expect or what they want to experience from their husbands.  You believe those women need to speak up.

It’s interesting.  There is a balance here isn’t there between a woman who speaks up and a woman who doesn’t say anything.  There are those who do need to say something to their husbands around their expectations. 

Gary:  I think that has to be preceded by an attitude of encouragement and appreciation.  That’s why I have a chapter on how you do appreciate an imperfect man.  That is a spiritual art and a skill that comes down to love.  To love anybody is to learn to appreciate an imperfect person. That has to come first but if a husband is aware that his wife really does notice and appreciate his strengths then she can begin to challenge him in an effective way.

Men have the ability to really detect disappointment.  We zero in and we can see that look in our wife’s eyes and we feel the attitude.  And again we go back to if I can’t please her I’m just going to quit trying.  Dennis this is the difficulty that you talked about.  Let me try to use a math equation here.  If that is the denominator—encouragement and appreciation then the numerator occasionally will be “and I would really love it if you would do this.” 

If we know we have their appreciation and their respect now we want to maintain it.  That is the foundation then that a woman can use to challenge her husband.  So some wives need to take a step back and build that foundation of appreciation and respect so that they can challenge him to do better and he’s going to want to maintain that respect.

Bob:  Did he lose you with denominator and numerator?  I’m just checking.

Dennis:  No. 

Bob:  You got all that?

Dennis:  Absolutely.  I made good grades in math.  What do you mean?

Bob:  I’m just checking.  I wanted to make sure.

Dennis:  Why would you think I wouldn’t get that?

Bob:   Because it’s been a while since you were in algebra and I wanted to see if you could still lock in on that?

Dennis:  Hey, I’m all over the algebra. 


The thing I think Gary is all over is how to help wives, really, in their role of influence with their husbands, and I just want to make a couple of very important points. 

First of all, realize, as a wife, you are powerful.  You are powerful for good or for evil, and your respect you give you your husband, and the words you use are very, very important.

Secondly, as Gary has quoted a number of times here in this broadcast, James, chapter 3, verse 2 – we all stumble in what?  Many ways.  In other words, your man isn't going to be everything you wanted, wished and hoped he would be.  In case you wondered who that was?  That's God.  That's who you're hoping for.

Bob:  You didn't marry Jesus, is that what you're saying?


Dennis:  I know our wives out there did not need to be reminded they didn't marry Jesus, but they didn't.  He is an imperfect man, he's going to stumble.

Third, if you haven't done it, take a step back and, by faith, trusting God that He knew what He was doing when He either led you to your spouse or allowed you to marry your spouse, received your spouse as God's gift to you. 

Have you ever thanked God for your spouse and said, "Lord God, thank you for my man or maybe for my wife, in all of his imperfections and all of the ways that he stumbles.  Thank you, God, you knew what you were doing and thank you for calling us to be one.  Now, Father, would you enable me to treat this gift with respect and know how to be able to empower him and to influence him like Gary has talked about here on the broadcast."

Bob:  And I think the point we are making here is that a wife has to come at this with the right heart and the right perspective.  When you are frustrated with your husband you don’t always have the right heart and the right perspective and that can sabotage what you are trying to do in the first place.

To get a copy of the book that Gary has written and to read and to pray through it and to maybe make some adjustments in what your attitude and perspective is.  To do what you’ve talked about here Dennis in thanking God for the gift he has given you in your spouse even if you are looking and going this does not feel like a good gift to me.

That perspective adjustment is a key part of being the sacred, holy influence on a husband that God wants you to be as a wife.  We do have copies of Gary’s book available in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go online at  The book is called Sacred Influence—How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands.  Order from us online if you’d like or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That’s 1-800-358-6329.  Ask for a copy of the book Sacred Influence and we will make arrangements to have it sent to you.

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Now, tomorrow we are going to be back to talk more with Gary Thomas about how a wife can have a sacred influence in her husband’s life.  How she can help to shape his soul.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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