Husbands: Be Careful with Female Friendships

Couple Dining

We all have friends and colleagues of the opposite sex, and it is important that we learn to interact with them in a healthy way — especially once we marry.

If you’re newlywed, then you have likely spent a good portion of your life trying to “find” the right girl to marry. Now that you’ve found her, you must get out of “search” mode. The charm and flirtatiousness that served you so well when you were single is now a liability, not an asset.

If you have been married awhile, then you’ve probably already figured out a lot of the things I’m about to discuss. Nonetheless, the occasional reminder can be helpful, since many of us tend to forget or neglect the basics as the years go by.

To begin, let me state that being married doesn’t make you a monk. You don’t get to live in a monastery somewhere, shielded from any association with females outside your family. You still have to live in the real world, work a job, and interact with living, breathing human beings, roughly half of which are women.

For this reason, a few basic rules of engagement are in order. Four basic principles should guide a husband’s interaction with women other than his wife:

  1. Protect Your Reputation
  2. Reputations, as they say, take a lifetime to build but only an instant to destroy. This is even truer in the modern era where people thirst for negative news and are quick to believe the worst. Superimpose the lightening speed of modern communications, and you have a recipe for disaster. Don’t let it happen to you.

    There are several simple ways to avoid this problem:

    • First, do not be alone with any woman who is not your wife.It may sound a little old-fashioned, but this sound advice may someday save your reputation and very likely your marriage if only you will follow it. Why risk ever becoming embroiled in a “he said/she said” misunderstanding when it can so easily be avoided?

      Life is too full of traps and temptations as it is, why set snares for your own feet unnecessarily? Once there is an asterisk by your reputation, it never goes away.

    • The second principle is a corollary to the first: Don’t spend an excessive amount of time with a woman who is not your wife, even in public.
      When your co-workers or friends notice the two of you together all the time, either laughing and joking or engaged in deep, serious conversation, they begin to wonder why? Their imaginations will quickly answer that question for them, regardless of how innocent your relationship may be. It’s no longer a “he said/she said” situation, but becomes instead a matter of what “they said” — behind your back.

      Steer clear of clandestine rendezvous with friends or acquaintances of the opposite gender. Always be honest and forthcoming with your wife concerning what you do when you’re apart from her, and with whom. Keeping secrets spells trouble no matter how you slice it.

    • Furthermore, some subjects should be off limits for discussion between you and someone of the opposite sex.
      Bawdy humor is an obvious example. Another is the discussion of marital discord, either yours or hers. Such discussion, if necessary, should always be redirected to a trusted friend or counselor of the same sex. Expressing dissatisfaction with a spouse very commonly becomes a pretext to finding solace in someone else’s arms. Don’t take that chance.

    I don’t mean to imply you cannot have female friends, nor am I advocating making such relationships weird and awkward. I’ve known people who refuse to even look members of the opposite sex in the eye, lest they come across as being too familiar. In my opinion, they’ve let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, making it hard to have even the simplest of exchanges.

    Interacting with other women is both possible and necessary, but you must be careful how and where you invest the bulk of your time and energy. It’s more a question of degree — if your dearest and best friend is a woman who isn’t your wife, then it’s clearly time to reassess.

  3. Guard Your Heart
  4. Tread cautiously when relating to female friends and acquaintances. Affairs don’t happen in a vacuum, they develop over time. Don’t let them.

    Remember, also, that not all affairs are physical ones. Honoring your marriage vows means remaining faithful in thought and word, as well as in deed.

    It’s understandable that we would become close with our coworkers. After all, we spend forty hours or more together every week. In some cases, this may mean we actually spend more waking hours together with them than we do with our spouses.

    Some of those coworkers may be single. Some may be happily married. Some unhappily married. Many of them will be smart, attractive, kind, filled with many admirable qualities that your spouse may or may not share. But at the end of the day, no matter how wonderful your female colleagues may be, none of those women are your wife, nor should they be treated as such.

    Your wife is the only woman with whom you should cultivate physical, spiritual, and emotional intimacy. She’s the one you should live with, confide in, depend on, and bare your soul to. The harsh reality is that the woman at work or the gym who seems to get you only does so because she doesn’t have to live with you. She’s only observed the “fitness” version of you or the “dressed up and working hard” version of you.

    She has never seen the “flatulent, half-dressed, hair a mess, haven’t bathed in two days, sports-watching, short-tempered, forgot to pick up the milk, bring in the mail, or pay the bills on time” version of you. And that version of you isn’t nearly so attractive.

    Your wife sees and knows all of you, not just the cherry-picked, carefully polished facets of your personality. She knows you as a real and complete person, not some smoke and mirrors illusion. That other woman doesn’t.

    In similar fashion, the notion that you’ve found a “soul mate” other than your wife is pure fantasy. That woman at work or the gym only seems amazing because you don’t have to live with her annoying idiosyncrasies, her inexplicable mood swings, her spitefulness when upset, or any of a myriad other things that can so quickly extinguish the hottest flames of passion.

    Men who stray eventually come to realize the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t as green as they initially thought. Unfortunately, that realization often comes after it’s too late. Don’t destroy the hope you have for happiness in your present marriage by seeking happiness elsewhere. All meaningful, lasting relationships take work. They demand intentionality.

    To know and be known requires an investment of time and energy. Invest in your wife.

  5. Consider Your Wife’s Feelings
  6. The third rule is to be considerate of your wife’s feelings in how you relate to other women. Sounds simple, but it can be more complicated than it seems. How men view certain words or actions and how their wives view them can vary significantly. Beware the landmines!

    Such consideration comes in two varieties: how you interact with other women and how you speak about other women. The short version is: don’t be too positive or negative in either situation. Relative neutrality is key.

    Let’s start with how you interact with other women. When your wife is present, assume her radar is up. You shouldn’t eyeball the gorgeous woman in the skimpy outfit who just walked into the room, even in your wife’s absence, but when your spouse is sitting right beside you, you certainly better refrain from gawking.

    The same goes for such women in the movies or on television. Your wife needs your assurance that you have eyes only for her.

    Likewise, don’t get enmeshed in a two-hour conversation off in the corner at a party with that cute new girl from work, as steam slowly pours from your spouse’s ears. And, most importantly of all, never ever ever flirt with anybody but your wife!

    Of course, you can be kind and hospitable without being flirtatious, and I recommend you do so, especially when relating to your wife’s friends. Her friends are constantly judging you and providing feedback, solicited or otherwise, and it would serve you well to be in their good graces. This really isn’t that hard. Common courtesy and small talk can go a long way. While you don’t want your wife’s girlfriends to think you’re coming on to them, neither do you want them to think you are rude. Learn to walk the line. Be friendly, not flirty.

    But how you behave toward other women is only half the equation, and the more straightforward half, at that. The really tricky part hinges on how you speak about other women.

    You obviously can’t be too complimentary — especially about looks. However, if you are too dismissive of unusual beauty or talent, your wife will become suspicious and question your judgment, including your judgment of her.

    A good rule of thumb is to compliment talent without gushing, but say nothing regarding looks, unless she specifically asks. If she does ask, be careful — she is testing you. The correct answer is to mildly acknowledge beauty, so as not to appear dense, but to include a modifying caveat, so as to reaffirm your loyalty.

    You might answer, for example, “Yes, she is tall and thin, but it makes her seem frail. I have always preferred a more athletic build, like yours. It just seems healthier and more robust.”

    Again, you must also be cautious with the flip side. You should not be overly critical of other women, especially of their appearance. The most serious and stoic of women are highly self-conscious about their looks. In their minds, criticism of one woman translates into criticism of all women.

    This is especially true regarding weight. If you casually mention some other woman has gained weight, your wife will immediately assume that you are insinuating she, herself, has packed on a few too many pounds, as well. Just don’t do it. That discussion is a tar baby made with extra sticky tar.

  7. Be Considerate of Significant Others
  8. All humans are territorial, and men particularly so. It doesn’t take much to instigate jealousy or even anger in their partner if you aren’t careful. You don’t want the spouse/fiancé/boyfriend of your female friend or co-worker to view you as a threat or a competitor. You should be neither, and your behavior should reflect that fact.

    A moment of cuteness or flirtatiousness on your end can translate into a lot of heartache and misery on hers. Don’t do that to a friend.

    Just as you should avoid flirting with other women, you should also take appropriate measures to keep them from flirting with you. Neither engage in it yourself nor encourage it from them.

    That’s why it’s so important — not only for your own marriage, but also for others’ — that clear boundaries are set. Rarely if ever do these boundaries have to be explicitly stated. Usually just talking about your children and your spouse in glowing terms early on and repeatedly thereafter will clarify the situation for everyone involved without things becoming unnecessarily uncomfortable or awkward.

    The same principle holds true in social settings — especially whenever alcohol is served. I remember attending an out-of-town, obligatory social event several years ago at which a woman who’d obviously had too much to drink came over to me, draped her arms around my neck, and asked what I’d be doing later that night.

    When I politely explained that I would be talking on the phone to my lovely wife and our eight kids, she dropped her arms in stunned surprise and quickly moved on in search of a more receptive companion.

    A couple months later, the woman was divorced. She evidently found somebody who shared her lack of concern for maintaining proper boundaries or showing appropriate consideration of her spouse.

    If you want your marriage to last and your wife to feel loved, you’ll have to do better than that.

25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife -- by Doug Flanders, MDThe above post was adapted from a chapter in my marriage book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife. Each chapter is followed by action points that makes it easy to apply what you are learning. My wife has written a companion volume, 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband. These books make a great couple-study for husbands and wives wishing to strengthen their marriage and improve communication skills.

What to Do When Your Wife Won’t Sleep with You

I received the following question through my blog last week. Since it deals with a problem nearly all husbands face at one time or another, I decided to share my response here, in hopes of helping others.

Help! My wife won't sleep with me.


My wife and I love you guys. We are reading your books, and they are helping us. She is reading 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband, while I am reading 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife. They have really helped our marriage — we were almost breaking up.

My wife has been disinterested in sex for over a year. We only have it once every two weeks. She says she doesn’t feel like it.

I’m deeply stressed and don’t want to cheat on her. I have talked to her a lot of times about it, but nothing changes. I can’t talk to her about it anymore.

We have even seen a marriage counselor, but she is still not interested. I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. Kindly help.


Let me start by saying you are not alone in your frustration.

If I had to pick a single issue that challenges married men who love God and want to honor Him in their lives and marriages, this would be it — wives who have lost interest in sex. I would not be exaggerating to say that it is something every marriage faces at one point or another.

  • Sometimes it is a new bride who finds sex terrifying or painful.
  • Sometimes it is a new mother who feels embarrassed about her post-baby body or is simply exhausted from being up all night nursing.
  • Sometimes there are trust issues if the husband has been unfaithful or is addicted to porn.
  • Sometimes there are trust issues that have nothing to do with the husband at all, such as a wife with sexual abuse in her past, which is alarmingly common.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a husband trapped in a marriage where his need for intimacy is not being met.

The default solution to this dilemma usually involves looking for intimacy elsewhere. Affairs, mistresses, prostitutes, and, in the last few decades, online porn are all variations on the theme of finding intimacy outside of marriage. I could give a laundry list of why this is a bad idea, including sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and further deterioration of trust issues, but the bottom line for the Christian is that the Biblical standard is complete and lifelong faithfulness in marriage.

It seems a cruel trick, that God commands a man to have sex only with his wife, knowing full well that at some point, the woman he married will refuse to have sex with him! Why would God put virtually every Christian couple into this horrible conundrum?

The answer is this: God wants us to be fully dependent on Him and also to learn to put our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.

Trusting God and serving others are recurring ideas throughout Scripture. In this particular area, they are precisely what He is asking husbands to do, because He has given us no other option. We cannot change a spouse’s heart, only He can. We can’t even change our own heart. We must therefore turn to Him in prayer.

I have actually prayed with men about their wives and seen such sudden and dramatic changes that the men quickly forgot that there was ever a problem in the first place. Sometimes the change is slower and more progressive. Whatever the timetable, always start with prayer and continue in prayer. It is the real secret. God loves to show Himself strong, to lift us up when we are weak, and to answer when we call out to Him.

The second thing is to pray that God would open your eyes to your wife’s needs.

  • Is she too tired for sex? Maybe you can arrange for her to have some help around the house or to take a relaxing vacation.
  • Is she insecure about her appearance? Maybe you need to reassure her that you still find her attractive.
  • Does she have unresolved trust issues? Then dig deep, seeking to understand the source of her fears and lovingly address them.

On some fundamental level, a wife’s denying sex is a cry for help. Through God’s enabling Grace, you can be the help your spouse so desperately needs.

Immunize Your Marriage/ Energize Your Life

Immunize Your Marriage

We have all heard that the divorce rate amongst Christians and non-Christians alike is around fifty percent. There is some evidence that this number may be falling — not because more people are staying married, but because fewer people are bothering to get married in the first place. If you include couples who live together for a few years and then separate, the numbers go right back to that unfortunate baseline.

The one thing that has been shown to protect marriages better than anything else is prayer. Couples who pray together regularly have a divorce rate of less than one percent. Sadly, only about four percent of Christian couples actually do this (pray together regularly). If you happen to be a pastor, then that number goes up to six percent!

It seems that if we want to protect marriages, we need to teach couples to pray together. We read books, attend seminars, go to counseling, and do a myriad of other things of unknown benefit to those trying to stay married. Yet,we don’t do the one thing that is virtually guaranteed to work.

If you contracted Ebola and had a fifty-fifty chance of dying, but your doctor offered you a vaccine that would give you a greater than ninety-nine percent chance of surviving, would you take the vaccine? Your marriage has a fifty-fifty chance of survival, but a vaccine exists called prayer. Only a small percentage of married couples have actually taken this vaccine. Are you one of them? Should you be? Is today the day to start?

Of course, marriage is just one facet of the Christian experience. Perhaps the reason we lack spiritual power in other areas of our lives is because we aren’t plugging into the spiritual power Source through prayer. Churches aren’t lacking in plans or programs — just in prayer.

In Colossians 4:2, Paul urges Christians to “devote yourselves to prayer.” In fact, he encourages prayer over and over throughout all of his letters to the churches. If someone is sick, pray. If someone is in jail, pray. If someone is suffering persecution, pray. His answer to virtually every problem is the same: prayer. Even in the Old Testament, people would “call upon the name of the Lord” or “cry out to God” in times of trouble.

Prayer is a central theme of Scripture, yet it seems to be less central with modern believers and modern churches. Perhaps that is why today’s Church appears so anemic. We’re trying to do things in our own limited power, when what we need — now as desperately as ever — is God’s supernatural power.

Could it be that modern affluence and technology has tricked us into believing we can do things on our own that we actually cannot? Maybe we have all been busy building a gigantic spiritual supercomputer, but no one has bothered to plug it in.

  • Is prayer a central component of your personal life?
  • Is prayer a central component of your family life (spouse and children)?
  • Is prayer a central component of your church’s life?
  • If you are not relying on God’s power through prayer, what are you relying on? At work? At home? At church? Can you change?
  • Consider your ability to lead the lost to Christ. Has God used you to lead anyone to Christ recently? Ever?
  • Is it a lack of knowledge that is limiting your witness — or a lack of power?
  • Is it a lack of opportunity or a lack of perception that is holding you back?
  • Are you willing to pray that God opens your eyes to the needs around you and that He gives you the power to meet those needs?

Power and perception are only a part of the equation. Wisdom, in both conduct and speech, is the other part of the equation. Paul addresses them both in the second portion of this passage.

  • If a nation has empowered someone to be an ambassador to a foreign country, how is that person expected to behave while serving abroad?
  • When that person speaks on behalf of his home country, should he be rude or diplomatic?
  • Whom are we representing in our conduct and speech? Are we representing Him well, as good ambassadors?
  • Paul uses the phrase “seasoned with salt” concerning our speech. Is salt sugary sweet? Is it bitter and offensive?
  • In addition to adding flavor, salt also acts as a preservative. Could Paul be communicating the idea that we are trying to preserve relationships in the way we speak?
  • Is this always possible? (See John 15:18 or Matthew 10:22)
  • Should we try anyway? (See Romans 12:18)

Those who name the name of Christ are ambassadors for Jesus wherever we are. We don’t get to take off the uniform and just “be ourselves.” We have been purchased with His blood and we are no longer our own.

Our goal is to represent Him well in all that we do or say. This is a daunting task, one for which we have not the strength. God, however, does have such strength and is willing to give it to us, if only we will ask. Isn’t it time to stop trying to do so much in your own power?

When it comes to your marriage, your chances of success on your own are the same as the flip of a coin. When it comes to leading others to faith, your chance of success apart from God’s empowering grace drops to zero.

Isn’t it time to stop treating life-like a Vegas casino with the odds so heavily stacked against you and to call out to the only One Who is a sure thing?

Life's Big Questions: Colossians Study Guide. Great for families!This post was excerpted from my book, Life’s Big Questions: Colossians, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through fine booksellers everywhere.

Loving Your Wife in Word and Deed

There are countless ways to demonstrate your love, but women still like to hear it spoken. Open and continuing communication is key.

My father-in-law used to brag (presumably tongue-in-cheek), “I told my wife I love her on our wedding day and promised to let her know if that ever changes.”

His implication was clear: Once should be enough.

But it isn’t.

Tell Your Wife Your Love Her...Not for most women. Not by a long shot.

Once a day would be a closer approximation, and even that may still fall a little short of how often your wife would like to hear verbal assurances of your love.

Of course, words not backed with action are meaningless: Remember Christ’s parable of a father who asked his two sons to come work in the field with him?

The first son said, “Sure. I’ll be right there,” but never showed up.

The other son initially refused, but later regretted it, sought out his father, and worked alongside him for the rest of the day.

The question Jesus then posed to his listeners is this: Which son actually obeyed? The same principle applies to love as applies to obedience.

If forced to choose between the two, your wife would probably rather have you demonstrate your love for her through your actions without expressing it in so many words than to have you repeatedly declare, “I love you,” then behave in a way that contradicts what you’ve said.

Hollow affirmations don’t carry a lot of clout.

But why make her choose, when it’s within your power to do both?

Show her you love her. Yes, by all means. But then speak your love, as well.

Tell her you love her. Tell her how much you love her. Tell her what you love most about her.

Tell her clearly. Tell her sincerely. Tell her often. Then back it all up in the way you treat her.

This post is adapted from my new book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife: A Handbook for Husbands, on sale now. Pick up your copy today and give your wife the gift of LOVE — in both word and deed.

Special offer for Valentine's Day: Discover God's Design for Love, Sex & Marriage

Never Pray for Patience Unless You Want It Tested

Praying for patience is a little like asking some one to tape a “Kick Me” sign on your back. There’s no easy way to learn it, except to endure countless events that drive you crazy.

Never pray for patience unless you want it tested...
[photo source]

Opportunities to practice patience fall into two broad categories, and I’d be hard-pressed to say which is most important.

The first category is acute circumstances that call for patience: You’re stuck in traffic. You’re waiting for a reply to an important text or phone call. Somebody is doing something that drives you absolutely nuts.

What’s your instinctive response? If it involves angry words, exasperated sighs, long-winded lectures, or skyrocketing blood pressures, then it’s time to change your habits. Take a deep breath and focus on being kind, remaining calm, and not overreacting.

Of course, exercising patience does not mean you don’t deal with the problems that arise; it only dictates that you deal with them in a logical, loving way, rather than in a cycle of rage and regret.

Scripture implores us to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13-14, NASB)

Do your family and friends see you exercising patience and living in peace?

The second (and more difficult) category of patience-trying opportunities involves chronic or long-term problems.

These would include major life changes: You go bankrupt. You lose a loved one. You’re diagnosed with an incurable, debilitating illness.

But it can also include comparatively minor stuff: Nobody is actively getting on your nerves in a dramatic sort of way, but nonetheless, you must still draw deeply and repeatedly from your reserves of patience as they slowly mature over time.

Your spouse, your children, your friends — and, indeed, you yourself — are all works in progress. We emerge from the womb knowing nothing, and go to our graves knowing little more. In every area of life, we are in a continual process of acquiring knowledge and experience, of progressing from nothing to little of nothing.

By definition, every person we know is either behind us, ahead of us, or right there beside us on this continuum of growth. If ahead, we call them a teacher. Behind us, we call them a student. With us, we call them a companion.

You will find that your wife is a combination of all three of these roles. She will be ahead of you in some areas and behind in others: Sometimes, your teacher. Sometimes, your student. Always, your companion.

God designed each of you to complement the other. Accordingly, you both have different strengths and different weaknesses.

When we fall short in the area of acute patience — snapping at people because they didn’t do things precisely the way we like them — the underlying issue is usually one of pride.

It is a forgetfulness of where we once were on the learning continuum or an exaggeration of where we are now on that same continuum.

Patience recognizes that proficiency grows over time — we have not always been as skilled as we are now. Patience is also mindful of the fact that, even at our present skill-level, we can still make mistakes.

When we fail in the area of long-term patience, it is often due to a lack of vision. We fail to see what the other person could become; we see them only as they are now.

Goethe once said, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

This goes for your wife, too. God has charged you to live with her in an understanding way, to treat her with patience and gentleness, as a weaker vessel. So bear with her. Don’t expect perfection from her. Be patient with her. Love her.

This is what the Word of God requires of us, not only in the way we relate to our wives, but to our children and to the other people He places in our path, as well:

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15, emphasis added)

The peace of Christ, ruling in your heart. Is that what your wife and children witness when you are irritated? Is it what your friends and family see when you face frustration? When somebody’s pushing your buttons, do you respond with humility, kindness, and gentleness?

As a Christian, that is what we are called to do. It’s a tall order, and I’ll be the first to admit that I often fail the test.

I’ve never cheated on my wife or beaten her or abandoned her, and in light of that stellar track record, it’s tempting to excuse the fact that I sometimes lose patience or say things I shouldn’t say using tones I shouldn’t use.

But God has been convicting me lately that, in His eyes, there are no “small” sins. My impatience is grievous to Him, and they should be grievous to me — just as yours should be to you.

My impatience is grievous to God...

God isn’t interested in excuses or explanations or justifications for why we let our patience lapse. Nor is He impressed by half-hearted apologies or requests for forgiveness that aren’t accompanied by genuine repentance.

It isn’t enough to admit impatience is sin if we then persist in our bad habits.

God is calling us to turn away from our sin. To give up our irritated, impatient, prideful ways and allow Him to remake us in the image of Christ.

Are you willing to let Him do that?

This post is excerpted from my new book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife: A Handbook for Husbands, on sale now. Pick up your copy today and shower your wife with patience, humility, and understanding.

Special offer for Valentine's Day: Discover God's Design for Love, Sex & Marriage

Loving AND Respecting Your Wife

Back when my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, she published a post on her blog called 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband, and I published a post on mine called 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife.

Surprisingly, I drew criticism for making LOVE the focus of my list, rather than RESPECT. This offended some of my readers, who (rightly) felt that women are every bit as entitled to respect as men.

But while I agree that women deserve respect, I do not believe they crave it. Certainly not in the same way most men do.

The thing women crave most is love.

Women DESERVE RESPECT, no question, but what they CRAVE is LOVE...

I’ve been around smart, powerful women my whole life. Usually, they are awash in respect. They find respect wherever they go.

Their talent, intelligence, and wisdom command it.

Their employers respect their hard work and dedication; their colleagues respect their insights and integrity; their church and charitable organization leaders respect their contributions of time and resources to the various causes; their children’s teachers and coaches respect their involvement and commitment; even their neighbors respect their polite disposition and manicured yards.

Respect is all around them.

But love? That is something else entirely.

Love is not so easy to find and often even harder to keep.

For a woman to be loved by a man — deeply, passionately, unconditionally, with all that he is towards all that she is — that is a rare thing indeed.

It’s an ephemeral thing that cannot be earned the way respect can.

But it’s a gift a husband can give to his wife every day of her life. And when he does, it is both beautiful and magical.

This post is excerpted from my new book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife: A Handbook for Husbands, on sale now. Pick up your copy today and give your wife the LOVE she craves, as well as the RESPECT she deserves.

Special offer for Valentine's Day: Discover God's Design for Love, Sex & Marriage

What Is a Servant-Leader at Home?

3 Indispensable Characteristics of a Servant-Leader | All Truth is God's TruthAll organizations have a hierarchy. It’s impossible to function well without one. But being a leader isn’t the same as being a dictator. The best role model is Jesus Christ, not Joseph Stalin.

Although it’s a challenge to exercise authority while maintaining a spirit of humility, that is what being a godly leader entails. Jesus washed his disciples feet, then died on their behalf. Husbands are called to love their wives in the same self-sacrificing way:

  • “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
  • “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
  • “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant….” (Philippians 2:5-7)

The best leaders exhibit several qualities: They are transparent; they expect as much or more of themselves as of those they’re attempting to lead; and they put the good of the organization (or, in the case of a husband-leader, the good of the family) ahead of their own interests or any personal gain.

Let’s look at each of these three qualities in closer detail:

  1. First and foremost, a servant-leader is transparent.
  2. Transparency implies there are no hidden agendas. Everyone is on the same team, working toward the same goals, and those goals are clearly defined and understood. Transparency means honesty, fairness, forthrightness, and above all, accountability.

    Transparency with a spouse can be difficult. Some things are hard to talk about with anybody, let alone with someone we care about, someone of the opposite gender, someone whose admiration and respect we so deeply crave.

    A good rule of thumb is, if you’d be uncomfortable discussing it afterward with your wife, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

    Of course, personality differences can make even innocent discussions more difficult than they should be — I dreaded telling my sentimental wife when I recently traded in an old Ford truck she loved for two small economy cars, even though it made good financial sense to do so — but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

    When it comes to being transparent with our children, that can be hard, too, but it is important that they know our weaknesses as well as our strengths, our failures as well as our victories. Because our kids share our humanity as well as our genes, their weaknesses will often mirror our own, and they’ll benefit from hearing how we’ve overcome various struggles. There is no need to go into great detail about your failings, but don’t pretend you are without faults.

    A servant-leader is quick to accept blame, apologize, and ask forgiveness whenever the situation warrants it. And he understands the importance of maintaining a clear conscience and therefore strives to behave in a way—both publicly and privately—that is honorable, dependable, and above reproach.

  3. Second, a servant-leader is not above the law.
  4. Nor does he consider himself above the law. The US Congress provides a classic example of the opposite of this principle, routinely passing bad legislation from which the lawmakers themselves are exempt.

    With a true servant-leader there is no such hypocrisy. The rules are applied equally to all. He expects as much or more of himself as of the people he leads, for he knows that as their leader, he will incur a stricter judgment.

    The father who smokes two packs a day, but warns his kids to never take up the habit? He isn’t doing himself, his children, or his health any favors.

    I may not struggle with hypocrisy in such an obvious way as this, yet I sometimes expect things of my wife and children that I am unwilling or unable to do myself:

    • I want them to hear me out, although I often interrupt.
    • I expect them to be patient and thoughtful and self-controlled, even when I haven’t been.
    • I would like for them to look their best, even if I skip shaving or look a little shabby myself.
    • I want them to control their emotions and refrain from pouting, crying, or acting moody in any way, yet sometimes I fail to control the temper that provokes such moodiness, sulkiness, and tears.

    And I do these things, despite the fact that Scripture repeatedly warns against such behavior:

    • “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)
    • “[Love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth….” (1 Corinthians 13:5-6)
    • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

    The take-home message? We need to be and do the things we want our wives and children to be and do. We should expect as much or more of ourselves as we do of them. We must lead by example.

  5. Third, a servant-leader thinks of others first.
  6. He puts the good of the organization ahead of his own needs or personal advantage. He leads selflessly and sacrificially. He considers the interests of others as more important than his own. (Philippians 2:3-4)

    I’ve known both styles of leaders: Those who use the organization to serve themselves, and those who use themselves to serve the organization.

    Although I’ve crossed paths with a few embezzlers over the years, embezzlement is not the only way to steal from a company. It’s just the most obvious way. Many people manipulate vacation schedules, work assignments, and tax credits to their own benefit. They are always watching out for number one, always looking for loopholes. Whatever will garner the best perks or put the most money in their pocket with the least amount of effort is what they will do, every time — whether it’s ethical or not.

    A servant-leader is the opposite. He does what is best for those he serves, even when it requires great personal sacrifice to do so. For the family man, this may mean driving mini-vans instead of sports cars, going on family vacations instead of golfing excursions, living in a modest home in suburbia instead of a high-rise apartment in the city, or getting braces for Junior instead of that new flat-screen TV.

The term “servant-leader” is what Buddhists would call a koan — a seemingly contradictory statement that forces a person to stop and think more deeply about a subject, so as to bring about an even greater enlightenment.

Yet leaders should serve those they lead. The only reason servant-leadership seems like a koan or an oxymoron to our society today is because we have grown so accustomed to leaders who abuse their power and use it to benefit themselves, often to the detriment of the people they are supposed to represent.

Plato felt that those who most desire to rule are least suited to do so, because they invariably have ulterior motives. His solution was that leaders be conscripted into service the way soldiers are drafted into the military.

In a sense, the Biblical command for husbands to be leaders in their homes is exactly that — men being conscripted by God to serve their wives and children.

Unfortunately, most men are not natural leaders, nor do they naturally love their wives in the self-sacrificing, Christ-like way God commands. If these things came naturally, there’d be no need for the associated directives in Scripture. Commands in Scripture almost always run counter to our natural inclinations and underscore our need for the supernatural intervention of a loving Savior!

Do you long for your wife to shower you with respect and admiration? Do you wish she would follow your lead without arguing or questioning your every decision?

You will never get the results you are looking for by being harsh and demanding. Even if you were to gain her cooperation, it would be given begrudgingly. That isn’t what godly servant-leadership looks like.

If you want your wife to follow your lead, then you must walk in a way that is worthy of respect. Lead in a way that inspires your family to follow.

Lead prayerfully. Lead gently. Guide them with humility, understanding, patience, faithfulness, temperance, and love.

As a husband, the responsibility falls to you for taking the lead in improving your marriage. Don’t blame your wife for your own failures in this area. You must work to earn her trust and confidence.

Prove yourself to be a man of integrity, a person who thinks things through — not a man who is shortsighted or rash or vindictive.

It is a sobering proposition to be the spiritual head of one’s home, to be held accountable before God for the spiritual health and welfare of one’s family.

We should shoulder this responsibility with an attitude of meekness. Inwardly, our focus should not be, “Alright!! I get to call the shots!” Rather, we should be thinking, “God has entrusted this responsibility to me, and I don’t want to flub it up.”

Such a heavy responsibility calls for a posture of prayer. Pray that God will enable you to relate to your wife and children as a wise servant-leader should: Love wholeheartedly. Love sacrificially. Love unconditionally. Love extravagantly. Consistently shower your wife with that brand of love, and chances are, it will eventually win her over. She’ll then happily follow you to the ends of the earth.

But what if it doesn’t? What if she won’t?

Then you’ve got to keep loving.

Love her, because God has commanded you to love her — not because of what you stand to gain from doing so. Love her and keep loving her, because you want to be obedient to Him.

He will receive the glory from your doing so. And that is the only success that will matter in the end.

This post first appeared on All Truth is God’s Truth. To read more, check out my novel:
The Prodigy Project by Doug Flanders, MD