Encouraging Your Husband to Lead
About the Guest
Barbara Rainey invites young women to encourage their husbands to lead, and follow when they do. She recalls the disappointment she experienced early in her marriage as she discovered that Dennis Rainey led differently than she expected. What she thought was failure was just a different way to lead.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Barbara Rainey invites young women to encourage their husbands to lead, and follow when they do.
Encouraging Your Husband to Lead
Bob: There are a lot of young wives who wish their husbands would take more initiative—lead more effectively. Barbara Rainey says, “Be patient.”
Barbara: The challenge for young wives, like my daughters and their friends in this generation, is for them to encourage their young husbands to lead and then sit back and wait for them to do it. That’s the hard part—is the sitting back and waiting for them to do it—because we hope they’ll pick up the ball / we hope they’ll pick up the task, or the suggestion, or the hint and run with it. Chances are they’re not going to as quickly as you would like.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk to Barbara Rainey today about what a wife can do to encourage and motivate her husband to be the man God wants him to be. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you think—men can go one of two ways, as husbands—they can either be harsh, and authoritarian, and abusive; or they can be weak, and passive, and not engaged. Do you think more guys are the first or the second?
Dennis: Well, I don’t have any research other than my own experience. I would say more of us are lazy rather than too dominant. I think there are a lot more passive men today. In fact, I think there’s a lot that is occurring in our culture that is seeking to discourage a man from being a man and from attempting to lead, even if he does it wrong.
Dennis: That’d be my guess. Let me see what my wife thinks. This would be an interesting question for her. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, Sweetheart.
Barbara: Thank you.
Dennis: What do you think?
Barbara: I would agree with you. I think that there are a lot of women who would like for their husbands to lead. I don’t think they exactly know what that looks like / I don’t know that they could define it; but they sense, intuitively, that that’s what he’s supposed to do. They want him to be more involved with the kids, or they want him to be more involved in what is going on around the house, or—and that’s leadership. So, they’re looking for more from their husbands; and they don’t know what it looks like. They’re not getting it, and they’re frustrated.
Dennis: I like the definition of leadership—I’m not sure who said it—but someone said, “A leader is a person who will take others someplace they wouldn’t go by themselves.”
You know, that takes energy, Bob—
Dennis: —to convince people to follow and then to keep on following and to go where they wouldn’t go by themselves. That’s why I would say the easiest thing to do for a man is nothing. It’s just to pack it in and let somebody else lead / let somebody else attempt to overcome resistance.
Bob: I’minterested in your response that you think that wives today desire having a husband who leads because, “Wives have come a long way, baby.” I mean—
Barbara: We have come a long way.
Bob: —this is a new era. I think there are a lot of young wives, who are saying: “I don’t want some guy who thinks he’s supposed to be in charge. I want this thing to be more equal / more shared. Honestly, when it comes right down to it, I’m a better natural leader than my husband is—so things work better at our house when I’m in charge.”
Barbara: I think that, in their heart of hearts, if they were honest with themselves, I think they want him to lead.
Our daughter just recently got married. One of the things that I personally am so encouraged about for her is that she has always had this fearful tendency. She would wake up when she would hear things in the middle of the night. Not too long ago—six months ago—she thought she heard something outside her bedroom window. She was awake for two or three hours in the night.
Well, now, if she hears something outside the bedroom window, she’s going to go: “Josh! Did you hear that? What was that?” and he’s going to go, “Huh? Huh? I have no idea.” [Laughter] She’ll shake him some more and she’ll say, “Did you hear that?!” Josh will do something about it, because that’s what she wants him to do. She doesn’t want to say: “Oh, stay asleep. I’m going to go see what’s happening in the backyard.”
I think, intuitively, as women, we want that leadership—we want that man that we have married to take care of us—at our core. Yes, we struggle with leadership; and yes, sometimes we think we could do it better; but I think it’s the way God made us, as women.
God made us, in the very beginning, to pair with a man—to partner with a man / to fit together with a man—for him to provide what I was lacking. I, as a woman, provide what my husband, as a man, is lacking.
Dennis: Help a husband understand, Sweetheart, why—when he tries to lead—his wife will battle him for control.
Barbara: You’ve never experienced that.
Bob: Now, you’re just saying this hypothetically.
Dennis: This is just theoretical.
Bob: This is just hypothetical; right?
Barbara: Of course! You’ve never experienced that; have you? [Laughter]
Dennis: No; are you kidding me? [Laughter] I had no idea what I was getting—I mean, seriously.
Barbara: Well, neither did I. [Laughter]
Dennis: I out-married—I out-married myself. I mean, honestly, she has challenged me, in her strength, to become a stronger man. Now, I could have caved into that; but there were times when you challenged me in my leadership, early on in our marriage, and I could have just caved in and given up.
Explain what a woman should do though, if her husband is—is doing that—he’s just giving up / caving in.
Barbara: I think, first, she has to start and look at it and say: “Okay; what—what am I looking for that I’m not getting? Is it his style? Is he not leading the way I want him to? Is he not doing it the way I wish he would do it? Is he not doing it the way I would do it?”
Barbara: Or “Is he just not leading at all?” Those are two very distinct questions.
I remember early in our marriage, I had this idea—because I’d read all these books about what a Christian marriage was supposed to look like—and one of the things I picked up in my reading was—was that a husband was supposed to lead his wife spiritually. I concluded that what that meant was that Dennis was going to lead me in having quiet times, or in Bible study, or—I don’t know what it all was, because that was a long time ago—but I had these impressions in my head of what I thought he was supposed to do.
Dennis: A spiritual checklist.
Barbara: It was a checklist! And he didn’t do it the way I thought he should do it. Therefore, I became critical—but it was because I had this idea in my head of the way it was supposed to be, and he wasn’t measuring up; so therefore, he was failing rather than looking at him—which I was finally able to do—and recognizing that he’s just going to do it differently than I am. The way I would do it, as a more structured person, is going to be very different than the way he would do it, as a more spontaneous person.
That’s the kind of give and take / that’s the kind of learning that needs to happen in a marriage so that, as a wife—and I understand he is going to lead—he does want to lead me spiritually / he does want to lead our family spiritually—but it’s not going to look like what I thought it should look like.
Bob: We’ve had the running joke at our house, where Mary Ann and I have looked at each other and I’ve said, “Mary Ann wants me to lead as long as I do exactly what she wants me to do!” She wants me to make the same choices she would make.
Bob: She just wants me to be out in front doing what she would do if she was out in front. Well, that’s not leadership. [Laughter] In fact, Russell Moore says this—he says, “For a wife to submit,”—we haven’t brought up the submit word here, but it’s a biblical word—
Bob: —“For a wife to submit to her husband—that only begins when she disagrees with his leadership. It’s not submission to go along with your husband if he’s doing what you want him to do—
Barbara: That is true.
Bob: —“that’s just—that’s just agreement.” He says—
Bob: “It’s submission that begins when you go, ‘That is not what I think you ought to do, but I’ll back off and let you lead.’”
Now, that’s a—that’s a scary proposition for a wife that—as we’ve said, I think more wives today are facing the dilemma of a husband, who says, “You know, whatever—
Bob: —“what do you want us to do?”
Bob: And that can be equally maddening for a wife than a husband, who is saying, “We’re doing this, and I don’t care what you think.”
Barbara: Right; exactly.
I think the challenge for women in this generation—for young wives, like my daughters and their friends in this generation—is for them to encourage their young husbands to lead and then sit back and wait for them to do it. That’s the hard part—it’s the sitting back and waiting for them to do it—because we hope they’ll pick up the ball / we hope they’ll pick up the task, or the suggestion, or the hint and run with it. Chances are they’re not going to as quickly as you would like.
He has to fail; he has to fall; he has to make some mistakes. You may have to have the conversation—what feels to you like hundreds of times—before it finally dawns on him that this is really important to you, and this would really be helpful to you, and this would really be better for your family if he would do this.
It’s a challenge for young women today to encourage her husband to lead—to believe in him and say, “I know you can do this, and I trust you that you will,”—
—however she wants to phrase it so that it speaks to him—and then for her to wait for him to try, realizing that he may fail. We, as wives, have to give grace for the times—when he fails, when he makes mistakes, when he doesn’t do it the right way—and be willing to find the good / be willing to find what was right—to thank him for it, praise him for it, and encourage him so that he’ll go: “Oh! That worked. Okay; I can do that again.”
When a man feels like he’s being criticized, when he feels like his wife is scowling at him and communicating failure, he’s just—I can understand! He’s going to go: “Well, heck—shoot! Why should I try again?”
Bob: Yes. Here’s how I’ve said that: “If a guy is out playing a game—and he realizes, after two or three times—‘I’m just not very good at this game,’—
Barbara: [Laughter] Yes!
Bob: —“he doesn’t say: ‘Well, I’m going to go play that again. That’s really fun to go play a game that I’m no good at!’ [Laughter]
Bob: “You know, you try two or three times on the golf course and you go, ‘I’m just not all this good at golf.’
“He’ll just say, ‘I’m going to try a different hobby.’”
Well, if a husband is trying to lead, and his wife says: “You know what? You’re just no good at this.” He goes: “Okay; well, I’m going to go do something else. I’m good at watching ESPN. [Laughter] I’ll just watch that.”
Dennis: Or if he—or if he tries, and she’s battling him for it. That’s really why Barbara has written this book we’re talking about—it’s Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife. It’s a unique book because the book is actually—how many letters that are kind of manufactured from a daughter back to you?
Barbara: I don’t know how many total; but each chapter has between three and five letters—from either conversations I’ve had with my daughters or conversations with other young women—and questions that they’ve asked me through the years.
Dennis: Here’s one on this subject—it says [reading from the book]:
Look, I know it’s worked for you and Dad. I’m happy for you.
Honestly, I smile thinking about the two of you; but in today’s society and in my own contemporary marriage, I’m really having a hard time with this idea of submitting to the hubs [Laughter / H-U-B-S] as if I’m lower than he is! I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t fly with me. I think we can make it work, just differently than you and Dad did. Can you still bless that?
And then I love—I love how Barbara begins, Bob, to answer the letter from—not one of our daughters or daughters-in-law—but here’s what she says:“
Dear daughter and her sisters,
Like fingernails on a chalkboard, submission has grated women for centuries. You’re not the first to question its legitimacy. It really does grate women, but it is what men need today from their wives. Ultimately, they need to know that their wife will follow if they lead.
Barbara: I think the reason that it’s such a hard word for us is because we so misunderstand what it means.
We think of it as being a place that we are put into by our husband. We think of submission in such negative, distressing terms that the whole idea of even doing it therefore is just abhorrent! And yet, we have to go back to what God intends for submission to be.
When we look at the big picture of God’s plan for us, as people, God has designed a submission relationship for us with Him. My relationship with Christ—my personal one-on-one relationship with Christ—is where I am following Christ. I have chosen to give my life to Him / I have chosen to surrender my life to Him—that means I’ve chosen to follow Him. That means that I need to submit to Him—so that means, when I read a verse and there’s something in there that catches my attention, my responsibility is to obey it, to follow it, to submit to that instruction that I’m finding in the Bible.
That’s a picture of what marriage is supposed to be—that God has designed this relationship—where my husband is going to lead me where He wants to lead me and where I want Him to lead me—but my responsibility is to follow. Now, if he’s leading me somewhere that I think is wrong or that I don’t understand—and believe me—I do not follow without asking a million questions most of the time.
Dennis: Amen! Amen! [Laughter]
Barbara: I think that’s a part of the relationship. A relationship is a communication between two people. I ask questions. We talk about everything and, as Bob just said a minute ago, most of the time, we agree on the direction that we’re going. Most of the time, it’s not an issue of me choosing to submit and follow when it’s not something that I agree with.
We have thought, through the years, there are probably only a handful of times over the 40-some years of our marriage when I have chosen to follow Dennis and to submit to him when I didn’t agree with the direction he was taking us.
Dennis: And we’re talking about total disagreement, Bob.
Bob: Oh, I understand.
Dennis: You’ve never seen that, I know, in your marriage.
Bob: I know exactly what you’re talking about. [Laughter] Mary Ann and I would have the same kind of testimony—that most of the time, after a lot of communication—
Bob: —and after discussing priorities, and praying, and looking at what the Scriptures have to say—we would / we would say, “Okay; I think we’ll go this way.” Mary Ann might feel, “Well, I’d have a slight preference to go the other way; but it’s not that big of a deal—
Bob: —“to prefer one thing over another.”
But there have been those few times—
Bob: —when I’ve said, “I really think this is what God would have us do,”—and Mary Ann has said, “I really think that’s a big mistake.” We got to an impasse; and she said, “Okay.” Boy, I tell you what—when that weight is on your shoulders, as a husband—Dennis, all of a sudden, it’s like, “I sure hope I’m right about this!”
Barbara: How did that feel, by the way? I think we, wives, would like to know; because we sit on our side and we go, “Oh, this is so hard to follow,” “This is so hard to—I don’t want to submit—I think he’s wrong!” and we’re grappling with how that feels. What does it feel like when we say, “Okay, I’m following”?
Dennis: “I sure hope—I sure hope I’m right!”—that’s what I’m thinking—
Bob: I’m thinking—
Dennis: —because you’re entrusting yourself to me in those moments to be able to go forward.
Bob: Yes; and I’m thinking, “If I’m not right, and if there are consequences—
Dennis: “Have I really heard her?”
Dennis: “Have I really listened to what her objections were?”
Bob: Then I’m thinking, “Lord, have I really heard You? Or am I just pulling the way I want to pull because—
Bob: —“it benefits me? Or am I really trying to do what I think God’s calling us to do here?”
Dennis: Here’s where I wish I could just reach through the radio and give young ladies, who are in marriages today, a hug and encouragement to get Barbara’s book, Letters to My Daughters —because the culture—
—the culture wants to convince you that this is death!—that to submit to your husband represents becoming some kind of non-person / that you become less or sub-human.
No! If you read the passage that Barbara was referring to earlier, Ephesians 5:24, it’s very clear—it says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Now, let me ask you a question: “When the church submits to Christ, is there life as a result of that? Do we experience blessing, and fruit, and peace, and enjoyment, and contentment, as we become what Christ made us to be?” Of course! But now, when we pull the parallel out—and there are those hard situations, where a wife has to come alongside her husband and submit to him—
—all of a sudden, it’s like this is going to be death! It really is an issue of faith.
I just want to encourage you: Don’t believe the culture! The culture is lying to you! The culture wants to destroy your marriage—it wants to destroy your husband! The culture—led by / by forces that are not on God’s side—the culture wants to convince you your husband is the enemy and to destroy your marriage in front of your kids, so they have a generational impact of a broken marriage!
Barbara: The thing that I would add to that—if I were sitting face to face, with some of these young women, who are listening, and just going: “I / I don’t buy this. I don’t buy this,”—is I want to encourage you to say:
If you will choose to believe what the Bible says / if you will choose to trust God’s plan—His pattern for marriage—don’t you think that perhaps God might come through and you might witness—you might be a part of / you might experience His hand?—
—might you experience a miracle that only He can do? Can you believe that God can work through that situation, when you do choose to submit to your husband, when everything in you doesn’t want to?
The answer is—I think you can, and I think you will; because the Scripture is clear that, when we obey it, and when we follow it, and when we submit—there’s that word again—to God’s plan and His design, He will bless us / He will come through.
I think there miracles waiting to happen in marriages, and we don’t see them because we’re not trusting God to provide them. We’re not trusting God to do the work that only He can do. We only do what we think we can do on our own. When we do that, we’re not going to see God at work in our lives and in our marriages.
Bob: Can we just say, here, that it’s probably not a good strategy for a young wife to go to her husband and say: “I wish you would lead more. [Laughter]
“I wish you’d just take better charge, and do a better job as a leader. I’d be willing to follow if you would just do a better job of leading”? [Laughter] That’s probably not going to motivate him; right?
Barbara: No—and it is way too generic. I mean, how would you feel if the same statement were made of you, “I just wish you’d cook better,” [Laughter] or something that’s very broad and vague.
That’s why I say, over and over again, it’s so important to have conversations so, as we talked about earlier, if you’re having problems with him not coming home when he says he’s going to, or not getting what he said he would get—whatever it is—it really doesn’t matter—if you have those conversations, and you seek to understand one another, then there are going to be less—less conflict, because you will understand why this happened and then you can make a specific plan about a specific circumstance or situation.
Dennis: I have this question for husbands: “Are you loving your wife in a way that makes it easier”—
Dennis: —I didn’t say it’d make it easy—“that makes it easier for her to live out God’s responsibility for her, as a wife? What have you done in the last 24 hours to love, honor, cherish, nourish?—give up your own life for your wife and get up out of your easy chair, from watching your games or playing video games—or whatever—and get in the game of life: Put the kids to bed, clean the kitchen, run the vacuum cleaner, and find a way to show her: ‘I want you to know, Honey, I did that on behalf of you. I love you. I really do want to be your man.’”
Bob: I think it’d be good for young husbands to get a copy of your [Dennis’] book, Stepping Up, and young wives to get a copy of Barbara’s book, Letters to My Daughters. They can read them at the same time. I think there will be some benefit for both husband and wife in that process.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to find out more about the book Barbara has written that has been out less than a year—it’s called Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife. Then Dennis’ book, Stepping Up, is also available from us, here at FamilyLife—it’s for guys. Again, you can order from FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to spend time talking to a man whose job it is to hear some of the most heartbreaking news anyone can hear, day in and day out. We will have a family court judge joining us tomorrow to tell us what life is like in his part of the world. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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