John Maxwell has said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Slanting that quote toward the family, “The family rises and falls on a man’s leadership.”
A marriage and family have the best possible chance of thriving in an environment where a husband is lovingly and sacrificially leading. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Everyone struggles in families where the husband doesn’t lead or, worse, where he is absent.
What’s a wife to do when her husband isn’t leading? Here are a few thoughts:
Active Vs. Absent
I know you’re tired, tried different things, and might even be tempted to give up. But, please…don’t quit. God desires you to be active in your husband’s struggle, not absent. I know it’s not your responsibility to lead, and it isn’t your fault that your husband isn’t leading. But you do have a role to play. Even if you’ve tried everything below, you can continue to persevere. You never know when your husband is about to have a breakthrough.
Accept vs. Adopt
Your husband was created to lead, but he was also designed uniquely. There are principles of leadership that apply to all men, but your husband might live out those principles in a way that doesn’t look like other men. Said another way, there are several suitable leadership styles, but only 1 set of sound leadership principles. Good leadership doesn’t necessarily look like having a type A, gregarious personality. Some very effective leaders excel with this style, but it isn’t the only style. Accept your husband’s unique leadership style, and be careful not to adopt someone else’s as “right” and expect him to lead like someone he’s not.
Pray vs. Push
I know your first response to your husband’s passive behavior might be to push him to “Step Up” or “Man Up,” but I want to suggest you start somewhere else. Don’t push him to change before you pray that God will change him. Remember, God is ultimately in charge of changing your husband. Not you. In fact, God wants your husband to grow in this area more than you and is more committed to changing him than you. Instead of starting with pushing him to lead, you should pray that God would convict him for his lack of leadership, clarify what leadership looks like, and motivate and empower him to start leading.
“Pray that your husband would follow the right Man more than become the right man.”
Ask vs. Assume
I do not doubt your husband is falling short in leadership, but have you ever considered how you might contribute to his struggles? I’m not blaming you. Please know that. But are you creating the best possible environment for him to thrive as a leader? Before confronting him, consider how you might be influencing his struggle. Don’t assume you are free and clear of fault, but ask your husband if you can do anything to create a better environment for him to lead.
Desire vs. Demand
After you accept your husband, pray for him, and ask him how you might contribute to his lack of leadership, you can start speaking the truth in love to him. He needs to hear your desire for him to lead (in general) and how his lack of leadership impacts you (insecurity, pressure, etc…). The goal is to speak the truth and say it in love. This conversation doesn’t look like putting your foot down and demanding things be different, but instead expressing your desire for your husband to grow in this area. Talk together and agree on some practical, realistic, small changes you can both take in the coming days.
Brag vs. Belittle
I know you want your husband to start leading overnight, but it likely won’t happen that way. Change (in any area) is often slow and messy. Each day isn’t necessarily better than the day before. Change doesn’t typically happen in a few big moments but in the small moments of everyday life (Paul Tripp). The goal is not for your husband to change immediately but to take the proper steps daily. If you expect change to happen any other way, it will lead to unrealistic expectations and possibly even a spirit of criticism. Criticism, in and of itself, is an enemy of change. There is a time for constructive criticism, but not before praising your husband for the steps he’s taken. Don’t belittle him for how he’s failed, but rather brag about what he’s done right. Better yet, brag to others (as appropriate). Celebrate a trajectory of good leadership steps and be careful not to demand the final destination happen right away.
“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Step down vs. Step Up
Here’s where things start to get tricky. If your husband struggles with leadership, chances are you don’t. You take care of business when you see something that needs to be done or a decision that needs to be made. But before you step up and take control, I suggest you step down and give your husband room to take action. If you and your husband have defined an area he is in charge of, let him completely own it. I know you might be tempted to bail him out, but your rescue attempts might rob him of having to take responsibility. In some cases, it is appropriate to let him fail. Failure can be a tool allowed and used by God to jump-start change in your husband.
“Don’t let your leadership rob your husband of opportunities to lead.”
Receive vs. Resist
When your husband leads, look for every way possible to receive his leadership. One of the most incredible things you can do to spur your husband on to more excellent leadership is to follow him in the areas he is starting to lead. If you resist his leadership, he will be more tempted to resist leading. When he makes decisions you disagree with or without consulting your opinion, ask if he’d be willing to consider another way. Don’t do this with a spirit of rebellion but with a heart of respect.
Wait vs. Worry
As much as you want your husband to start leading, God wants it more. God is more committed, persistent, and capable of growing your husband in the area of leadership than you will ever be. His process is perfect. He wants you to trust it. You have a role but a supporting role, not the lead. Accept your husband, pray for him, ask how you can help him, speak the truth in love, be his greatest cheerleader, don’t rob him of opportunities to lead, and maybe most importantly, TRUST that God has everything under control. Don’t worry, but wait for God to change your husband. He can do it!
Need more help?
Please reach out to one of our counselors to schedule an appointment to talk about your specific situation.
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.