Question & Answer Forum: Marriage

How does a husband function as a spiritual head in his family?

God gives the husband and father the responsibility as the “head” to take leadership in every sphere of his marriage and home (Eph 5:25-29; 6:1-4). Spiritual leadership is vital to the well-being of the Christian marriage. It raises the marriage above the best that natural affection and commitment can accomplish, to become “the grace of life” (1 Pet 3:7).

His leadership in spiritual areas can perhaps be divided into four categories, of which the first is to establish spiritual convictionsfor the family. This means that he will determine the right and wrong for his family. What happens in the home, what is brought into the home, what children are allowed to engage in – these and other decisions become his responsibility They must be made in harmony with his wife and after prayerful consideration and in light of the Word of God. While it is difficult to prioritize one area above another, it may well be that this is the most essential – and perhaps difficult – area for him. This would also embrace standards for disciplining his children in keeping with Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.

He models spiritual commitment to his family. Attending meetings, prioritizing spiritual concerns before personal and material issues, showing interest in others, and serving them selflessly all communicate valuable and vital lessons to his children. Young minds quickly detect inconsistency and hypocrisy. They will notice when more is spent on “toys” than on the Lord’s things. They will notice enthusiasm in approaching hobbies and leisure time in contrast to apparent apathy for getting out to meetings.

Spiritual communication between a husband and wife is essential for the spiritual growth of his wife. This does not mean a steady stream of sermonizing to her or to their children. But it does imply sharing his own spiritual food with his family and determining a time to read the Word of God with the children and to teach them divine truths. Each family has differing commitments, yet the hectic pace of life cannot preempt time for being together as a family and for communicating spiritual values to another generation. Reading letters of acknowledgment from missionaries, following the work in a new area, and taking a child to visit a sick believer or one going through a trial can also be effective ways of communicating indirectly to our children.

Lastly, spiritual conversation is necessary in the home. This does not suggest a verse-quoting lifestyle. There are a myriad of routine and day-to-day things which must be addressed, discussed, and decided which, while not outside the realm of control by the Word of God, do not require a family Bible reading. Pay your bills! Feed your family! No need to pray for the Lord’s will about these matters. The Word of God is already clear.

But spiritual conversation will prevent gossip and criticism of believers, elders, Sunday school teachers, and preachers. It will remind us that our speech should always be edifying and leave others better than we found them (Eph 4:29).

A. J. Higgins MD

How can married partners improve communication in marriage?

James says, “Let every person be swift to hear, slow to speak” (1:19, ESV). Rather than advocating silence, this passage emphasizes the priority of listening skills. Talking and communicating are not necessarily synonymous. Hearing words and listening are not necessarily synonymous either. This may be an extreme case, but when Ephron told Abraham, “Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee” (Gen 23:11), Abraham heard more than the words. He put them through “a cultural filter” and understood that the land was available, but not as a gift. He may have had other reasons for insisting on purchasing the land for a “fair” price, but at the least he heard more than the exact words expressed.

The tone of voice, the circumstances, or the ability to think from the other person’s viewpoint will help in hearing what a person actually means. A person may say what he (or she) knows we want to hear in a sincere attempt to please us. Add to that the fact that we often hear what we want to hear in what another may be saying to us. When our thought life is like Christ’s, we will be more sensitive to the interests of others: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phi 2:4 ESV).

“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer” (Pro 15:28). Rather than responding impulsively, we can more carefully “study” what we hear to know how best to meet the need of the other person. If our response communicates our impatience with others’ requests or a rejection of their feelings or concerns, we can assure ourselves they will hesitate to communicate with us freely in the future. On the other hand, by “studying to answer” we can encourage more open communication in the future. Responding with questions that express acceptance of what we hear or respect for the feelings of the speaker or encouragement to express more details will enhance communication.

To think as a servant thinks, and therefore esteem others better than ourselves (Phi 2:3), we will be more concerned about understanding others than we will that others understand us. This is a powerful truth! It places the responsibility of communication on our shoulders and not on the shoulders of others. A husband, as head of the relationship (Eph 5:23), is responsible to lead in this area of communication. Rather than allowing periods of stony silence, he is responsible to make an environment in which his wife feels safe to disagree with him or to advise him or to express her feelings. When she feels safe in expressing her thinking, she may learn the value of safe communication and extend it to her husband. If she doesn’t, he may be able to help her by gently, thoughtfully, and unselfishly encouraging her to extend her listening skills. If her husband can do this so she becomes more like Christ, rather than for his own benefit, the outcome will be God-glorifying.

Good communication in marriage will obviously enrich the marriage. But good communication is a result of greater likeness to Christ. This is the ultimate goal. Becoming more like Him is a responsibility that each must assume before the Lord, whether or not the other partner assumes it. Prayer, personal reading of the Scriptures, and yielding to the working of the Spirit of God in our lives are prerequisites for greater godliness and therefore for better communication in marriage.

D. Oliver