Christian wives with passive husbands are hurting and need counsel in order to choose thoughts, words, and actions that are honoring to Christ. In part one, we looked at two counseling sketches and defined passivity in a husband.
This article, which appeared first here at Biblical Counseling Coalition, has been updated and edited for length. It is the second part of a two-part series on counseling the wife of a passive husband. Read the first part now. –LAM
The wife needs hope. A counterintuitive way to give hope is helping her understand and apply Matthew 7:3-5 to her own life.
The counselor might draw a circle on a whiteboard and say, “If this circle represents 100 percent of the problems in your marriage, how much would you say is your fault?” And if she answers, “30 percent is my fault, and 70 percent is his fault,” then the counselor might respond, “All right. God wants you to be 100 percent responsible for your 30 percent.”
Often in counseling the wife of a passive husband, three main counseling scenarios arise. One is the the domineering wife who refuses her husband’s leadership, and in time he gives up leading. A second is the submissive wife truly desires to follow her husband, but he fails to provide biblical leadership. And a third is the confused wife. She sometimes submits to her passive husband’s leadership (which is commonly inconsistent) and at times balks.
Counseling the Domineering Wife
The domineering wife may complain that her husband fails to make decisions or to lead, so she “had” to take charge. It’s quite possible he attempted to lead in the past, but she was critical and he withdrew.
In the case of 40-year-old Debra, this attack-withdraw pattern worsened around the time their teenage son got into serious trouble at school. The husband wanted to severely discipline the son, but the wife insisted on a softer approach.
When tried to stand his ground, she retaliated. She criticized her husband at home and at church and felt justified in doing so, figuring this would make him agree with her.
The counselor confronted Debra and helped her examine her own heart (2 Cor. 13:5), repent of sin, and trust God to change her husband’s passivity in the marriage. Debra also reviewed Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, and Proverbs 31 to gain a clearer understanding of godly submission.
Counseling the Submissive Wife
In contrast, the submissive wife of a passive husband truly wants to follow her husband’s leadership but often feels hurt and fearful, and seeks counseling for her suffering.
She needs instruction of what biblical submission looks like as well as encouragement to draw near to the Lord and guard her heart and mind (Phil. 4:7). In some ways, she is like the wife described in 1 Peter 3:1-6 who is married to an unbeliever won over without words by her pure and reverent behavior.
Counseling the Confused Wife
This wife desires change yet holds grudges, so the counselor needs to help her see her own sins of self-pity and anger. Rather than focusing on her husband’s failings, she needs to pray for him and ask God to help her be a suitable helper. In so doing, she’ll not only encourage her husband to be a godly leader but also minister to him.
Another great help is for a spiritually mature male mentor to come alongside her husband and teach him biblical leadership skills. In fact, this made all the difference in the heart of one of my counselees. As her husband’s mentor invested in him, he learned how to lead his wife and family—something that was sorely lacking in the example from his abusive childhood home.
Meanwhile, I admonished her to submit to her husband and bless him rather than insulting him (1 Pet. 3:9). She learned that even if her husband is passive, she can still put her hope in the Lord and be kind and compassionate.
She can remember her identity in Christand all that Jesus accomplished on the cross for her sins and refuse to entertain self-loathing or despairing thoughts. Indeed, she can choose what is better (Luke 10:42) and listen deeply to the Word, knowing true contentment.
Questions for Reflection
When counseling a wife who complains about her husband, do you tend to assume his passivity is in reaction to her domineering spirit? How do you guard against quick judgments?