Most Christian men I know are not combing the internet for articles about becoming better husbands. Despite the fact that I’m a counselor and pastor, I can’t remember when I last asked a friend how his marriage was doing, or, how he might be doing as a husband. We mostly talk about work, church politics (or actual politics if we’re on the same side of the aisle), our kids, or of course, sports.
Why do we men have an easier time talking about our favorite teams than our marriages? Is it because we don’t care? No. Is it because we care more about sports or politics than our marriages? Definitely not.
I suspect that for most of us, there’s insecurity and uncertainty. Reflecting upon our performance as husbands feels threatening. Our first thought might be: What am I doing wrong? And who wants to talk about that? (I realize there may be exceptions, and I ask those self-assured husbands to intercede for the rest of us.)
I might venture to say that we keep up with our marriages in similar fashion as those of us who live in New England—but who aren’t football fans—keep up with the Patriots: just enough to nod intelligently while the true fan goes on and on about Brady and Belichick. This strategy works when Christian men talk to other Christian men. The trouble comes when the truest fan of marriage, your wife, asks, “How do you think you’re doing as a Christian husband?”
After 26 years of marriage and hundreds of hours sitting with other men as we process our relational failures and occasional successes, we might want to consider how our reluctance to engage with our friends on this topic might end up blocking us from our desired goal. In the hope of fostering dialogue, here are seven starters to ask each other.
1. How’s your prayer life? Do you pray when no one is looking? When our interchanges with the Lord are self-initiated rather than dependent upon our wives, pastors, or small group leaders, we have more objectivity in the face of our failures. We don’t have to be perennially ashamed and generically guilty. We can build on the foundation of the Lord’s forgiveness and make better choices that are likely to stick. We can pray for our wife to be blessed beyond measure, even through us.
2. How well are you listening to your wife? When she asks you to put down your phone or close your computer for the tenth time, does her disappointment register or do you simply feel annoyed? She didn’t just want to talk: she wanted you to listen. And to care. Did you remember to ask her about the concerns she voiced during your conversation the night before? We serve our wives through listening and following up on what was said.
3. Are you aware of your mistakes? If you’re not saying “I’m sorry” on a regular basis, you’re probably not paying attention. (And yes, this goes both ways.) This includes apologizing for obvious infractions (like when you spilled your work frustration onto her and the kids) as well as the more mundane ones (forgetting to change the light bulb she can’t reach). Owning our mistakes helps our wives to trust us and keeps us in reality.
4. Are you doing the things you promise to do? Early in our marriage, I would attempt to jettison out of conflict by promising that I would never do it again. (It being any number of indiscretions such as being late for dinner or over-reacting during a conflict.) I had no idea what I was talking about and this only led to disappointment when I did the exact same thing two months later. A sincere apology is undercut by an unfounded promise and a bad track record. The truth is, I may continue to be late, to overreact, or forget to replace the light bulbs. Instead of overpromising, I’ve learned to let her know that I’m aware of my specific shortcomings and to keep her posted on how I am addressing them.
5. Are you serving your home other than through your income? Yes, she may be more perceptive about what the children need and more efficient at running the home, but that doesn’t mean you can defer. For me, deferring usually comes to a screaming halt when I happen upon something that isn’t performed to my specifications (a missing check in the register or another unmatched sock). All of my previous blithe indifference becomes a dictatorship about how things should be done. It goes much better for me if I help a little at a time, and keep my overwrought master schemes to myself.
6. Are you digging into Scripture so that you understand what God is asking of you? Far too many of us think we know what Scripture says about marital relationships but really only vaguely remember what serves our best interests. Do your own work. Spend time going through the entire arc of Scripture so that you can truly understand what sacrificial love and godly submission look like. (Hint: The latter does not mean you can play the submission card when you want sex.) Give God the opportunity to correct you so your wife doesn’t have to. (See #3 above.)
7. Are you pursuing sobriety—in thought and deed? Jesus tells us to pluck out our eyes, cut off our hands and feet, and cauterize our hearts rather than continue to sin. That seems to imply that what we do with our eyes, our minds, and our sexuality deeply impacts those who are closest to us. Software safeguards are the least we can do and maybe it’s time to take it to the next level and talk about your areas of sin and struggle with other men instead of avoiding it and pontificating about how magnificently the QB did in the second half. When you go first and say the obvious, you are likely to be met with support, camaraderie, and relief. And my guess is you’ll discover that talking about your marriage with other men will actually help you become a better husband.