This past February, my husband and I started planning the family trip to Las Vegas that will commemorate our 20-year wedding anniversary in two years. We spent a week in Sin City for our honeymoon, and think it’s only fitting that we return two decades later with our kids, having “beaten the odds” when it comes to staying married.
As we’ve approached that milestone, I’ve started thinking more and more about why our marriage has survived for so long while so many of our friends’ have crumbled. The most obvious reason we’ve survived is grace, of course; we’ve only been able to weather a failed adoption, the death of a child, chronic illness, bedridden pregnancies, four moves, seven job changes, and bouts of depression because God sustained us with His own divine life.
But there’s another factor, too, that has helped us not only stay together, but grow as a couple. When we converted together to the faith 15 years ago, our first priest emphasized that our primary job as a spouse is to help each other get to heaven.
It’s amazing how that one piece of advice completely reframed marriage in our minds. Suddenly, our marriage wasn’t just supposed to make us happier, but holier, too.
Too many women, however, were raised to believe that their primary job in marriage is to make their husband happy. No, above all, you must help him become HOLY. And sometimes, growing in holiness requires a lot of very unpleasant sacrifices and suffering, that feel anything BUT happy to us. This means that everything we do for and with (and even to) our husbands is supposed to lead him away from sin and closer to God. For that to happen though, we may be called to do things that are hard, uncomfortable, or stressful. For the good of our husband’s soul, we may be called to:
- Set appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are necessary in any relationship, including marriage. It’s saying, “I have a right to be treated with respect and there will be consequences if you don’t.”
If your husband denigrates your appearance, belittles your contribution to the household, or ignores your wishes when it comes to family decisions, then maybe it’s time to start drawing that line in the sand for the good of his soul. If you’ve requested that the disrespectful behaviors stop to no avail, then it’s time for the line to go deeper: “The next time this happens, I will be making an appointment for us with Father Smith to talk about it.” Or, “The next time this happens, I will be making an appointment for us with a marriage counselor.” Then follow through, going to the meeting alone if necessary. If your husband has developed the sinful habit of treating you disrespectfully, then love demands that you address it and try to help him stop.
It should go without saying that abuse of any kind shouldn’t be tolerated in a marriage, but I’ve met far too many women who allow it to continue under the justification that it would “hurt the children if I leave.” During one of the rough patches in our marriage, I was seeing a marriage counselor. She asked me what I’d do if my husband became physically or even emotionally abusive to me or our children. She was genuinely surprised when I told her I wouldn’t hesitate to leave him. “In my entire career, you’re the first wife I’ve ever met who didn’t have to be convinced she has the right to leave an abusive situation,” she said. (For the record, separating for safety doesn’t have to lead to divorce.)
- Deny him what he wants. Show of hands–how many wives find it difficult to tell their husband the family can’t afford that new cell phone or gun? Say no to sex? Ask him to stay home instead of going golfing or fishing with the guys (even when you’re sick?) I’m willing to bet most of us do. But being a permissive wife isn’t going to help your husband grow in holiness any more than being a permissive parent will help your child grow in self-control and selflessness.
For the first few years of our marriage, my husband and I got into many fights about money, because even after agreeing to a budget, he would ignore our goals and spend freely. One day, I informed him I was done with stressing over finances because he wouldn’t honor his commitment to our budget. I gave him our online banking passwords and copies of our bills, and told him he was solely responsible for how our money was spent. I promised to respect whatever decisions he made (and did). I was prepared to go to the bitter end…even if he’d bankrupted us, I knew that he needed to experience the reality for himself that you can’t have everything you want in life (especially on a civil servant’s salary).
A year later, he begged me to take over the finances again. He agreed to discuss any purchases with me over $25, and never again to blatantly disregard our agreed-upon financial goals. And he hasn’t. Today, he works and I spend the money and there is no more conflict.
There are many times when our husbands are called to sacrifice for us and we mustn’t be afraid to ask them to do that. I try to be as generous as I can with my husband, but sometimes I ask him to sacrifice that camping trip with his buddies because our children are sick and I need him…I ask him to drive the kids to their activities because I’m just exhausted tonight…I ask him to abstain from sex more often because I need to recover from that last difficult pregnancy. I do this not just for my benefit, but for HIS. Many husbands are willing to give up what they want for the good of their wives and children, if we’ll just ask for what we need. We do them no favors by shouldering burdens alone that are rightfully theirs to share.
- Assert your own dignity. About 10 years ago, I was a trained natural family planning (NFP) instructor through Northwest Family Services. I talked to dozens of women about the most intimate aspects of their marriages–their sex lives–and I was constantly stunned by the number of women who told me they would love to use NFP, but couldn’t because “My husband doesn’t want to abstain.” These women hated the side effects of hormonal contraception and feared its long-term health risks, but they truly believed it was their duty to be sexually available to their husband at all times. Even if it meant losing their libido, gaining weight, and risking deadly stroke and blood clots. Or going against their conscience.
As Catholic women, we talk a good talk about “the inherent dignity of every human person,” but how many of us demand that others–including our husbands–treat us like the incomparably valuable person that we are? I’m not talking about roaring feminism here, but about the simple recognition that as a child of God, you are too precious to be used, abused, or disregarded by anyone.
Loving your husband means teaching him to respect not just your inherent dignity, but that of every woman. This may mean throwing away your Pill pack, trashing his porn collection, or refusing to participate in degrading sexual practices. Will that cause tension in your marriage? Probably. But if you really love him, you’ll want what’s best for his soul above all else. Sometimes, sisters, we must be willing to die to our own desire for marital harmony if it will help our husband take a step closer to heaven.
“You get the respect you demand,” I tell my four daughters. Especially in marriage.
14 Replies to “Your Number One Job as a Wife (It’s Not What You Think)”
I admit it. I almost didn’t read this one, but I’m so glad I did. We have a good marriage, but it’s far from perfect. And we both need to grow in holiness. I know that there are times when I compromise that to make him happy, and I’m tired of saying “no”. It’s so important to understand why saying no in certain situations is a good thing, and I think there are a lot of women who need that permission. I love that you give clear examples of what that looks like. Thank you, and may God bless you, and your marriage.
You will be taking *the family* to Las Vegas/Sin City? I’m confused. Aren’t practicing Catholics desiring to live in a state of grace suppose avoid people & occasions of sin?
Good news, Dorothy! A thorough review of the Catechism reveals that it’s not objectively sinful to travel to Las Vegas! I suppose that’s why there are 17 Catholic churches there.
Best. Reply. Ever.
The place has no impact on our “state of grace” only our choices do. You could be in Rome at St Petersburg Basilica and commit a grave sin, the location makes no difference. I think Misty taking her kids to Vegas is a great idea, their is so much to do and see there, alot of family friendly places.
Oh my goodness, I so wish someone had told me these things before I got married! I certainly knew my number one job as a wife is to help my husband to heaven–that’s what I was taught in pre-Cana and lots of other places–but HOW to do that I was totally misled. Just sacrifice for each other, they said! No one ever told me to set boundaries and tell him no and assert my dignity when he was unloving to me. But this is so true: he went from being a really caring and polite guy to a selfish jerk after we got married–that’s certainly not helping him to heaven!
Why have we been misled so much by pre-Cana and pastors and Catholic writers? I’m guessing you didn’t do pre-Cana, Misty, because you converted after you got married? And obviously that was a blessing because you figured out the “how” of helping your spouse get to heaven without being encumbered by all the wrong notions of assuming self-sacrifice alone is going to lead your spouse away from sin. (Why would it? Isn’t the nature of sin that it uses others and takes advantage of them?) This is why we need a Synod to change the way pastors o marriage preparation and counsel struggling couples!
I hope you write a book or a pre-Cana curriculum about this, because no one else in the Catholic community is saying this to soon-to-be-married couples. So much of the advice out there doesn’t work and is counter-productive and causes problems to fester when one spouse is being selfish and the other one doesn’t know how to respond.
I didn’t get this in Pre-cana, but I did get this advice from my mom before I got married. She had me read ‘Boundaries in marriage’ by Cloud\Townsend, really good book that fleshes out what’s talked about here. I’m glad I read the article, I needed a reminder though. It’s funny how hard this can be to live out.
Oh gosh–this is almost as bad as the post I read over in the manosphere yesterday, that men are failing women by failing to tell them what’s wrong with them! Our job is to love–1 Corinthians 13, with the priority on patience, kindness, not rejoining in wrong, but in the right, keeping no record of wrongs, etc. Tough love is the exception, folks.
Las Vegas has a thriving Catholic community. We moved here for job reasons and were very pleasantly surprised at the family -friendly community .We are members of a wonderful parish and catholic school.
I’m so happy to see a rather gritty piece about the tension of living with another sinner ~ necessary guidance that doesn’t compromise morals or charity is always needed. this blog has that cute tag line about “the neck” … And here is a beautiful spine.
My husband and I were just out walking tonight discussing this very thing. So many people abandon their marriages (through divorce or emotional abandonment) rather than working through the hard stuff and letting marriage make them holier. So sad. GREAT ARTICLE.
I respectfully disagree. The Bible says our number one job is to respect our husbands. This does not come across as respect to me. It comes across as controlling, scolding, mothering your husband. I’ve been married for 23 years, many of which were frustrating to me until I learned to let go, to totally surrender, to trust the Lord and give my husband the respect he deserves. And he has responded in kind doing what the Bible asks of him by loving me as Christ loves the church. Those are the God given commands for marriage. It is not my responsibility to make my husband holy. That kind of controlling, mothering behavior does not belong in a marriage. If he is doing something I don’t agree with, I pray for him and allow the Lord to work it out in His time. I am only responsible for myself, my actions and reactions. The husband should be leading the home but he can’t do that if we are constantly trying to guide him as we guide our children. Just my thoughts on this subject. 🙂
Helping each other get into Heaven- I never thought of my marriage this way. I suppose this could be a mantra for any relationship we have with others. I think setting boundaries are important; it doesn’t mean you don’t respect your spouse or the other person, I see it as respecting yourself more.
Thank you. I will keep these words close to my heart.
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