A wife can easily become aware of her husband’s problematic attitudes and behaviors, thinking that her input, directly or subtly, can “fix” him. Believe me, I have tried with all my might to let my husband, Greg, know that he should stop watching so much television, work a little less and put his dishes in the dishwasher. I’ve often done this indirectly or covertly. But when my subtle input didn’t work, I would become frustrated and feel like giving up because I knew I couldn’t change him.
I used to say things such as, “I can’t change Greg. He’s going to do what he’s going to do.” But then the Lord would say ever so gently to me, “No, you can’t change him … but I can. And I can also change you.” Ouch.
Honestly, talking about Greg and what he was or wasn’t doing in our relationship was much easier and more fun — and self-justifying. That definitely kept the focus off me — but ultimately it kept me from growing as a person. It kept me from having to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Many of the things I disliked about Greg pointed to things I disliked about myself. But I couldn’t see those things until I stopped and looked. Learning to focus on my own flaws and the ways God wants to change me has been an ongoing process. I’ve gradually come to realize that although I can’t change my husband or anyone else, I can focus on myself and cooperate with God as He changes my heart.
That’s really the bottom line for every married woman: A more loving relationship with her husband begins with her. As wives, we can take a penetrating look at ourselves and ask, “How can I become the best wife I can be? How can I approach my relationship with my husband differently? What can I do to nurture a more vibrant, loving relationship with him?”
Once we’ve embraced the truth that a more loving relationship with our spouse begins with us, we may find that we’re just not thrilled about taking the first steps toward change. In fact, addressing the condition of our heart is often the first change that needs to take place. Change, like love, is a matter of the will, but it also involves the heart. And heart-level change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
Disillusionment and broken dreams may cause us to wrap our hearts in a thick, self-protective layer. We may even have been closed off from our husband for years. Hurt and resentment may have grown deep roots. We may long for a more loving relationship with our husband, but before we can truly open up again, our stony heart needs to soften. For many of us, softening our heart may seem impossible. Thankfully, we belong to God — who is a heart specialist. Just as He alone can change the heart of a husband, He, too, can change the heart of a wife.
An amazing thing happens when we allow God to change our heart. He fills us with His unconditional love and enables us to reach out to our husband — wholeheartedly — without demands or preconditions. Romans 5:5 reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” As we focus on becoming more like Jesus, the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22) will grow in our heart, and His love will flow through us to influence our marriage and our spouse. God’s love has the power to transform even the most hopeless relationship. And this is the secret to becoming a wholehearted wife.
In Ephesians 6:7 (NIV), the apostle Paul tells us to “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” I believe that God is calling us to serve wholeheartedly, not only at work and in ministry, but also in marriage. Being wholehearted means giving ourselves fully in every aspect of our relationship with our spouse. We serve not out of a sense of duty, but because we’re ultimately serving the Lord. We understand that loving and serving wholeheartedly involves the whole person — all of who we are spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.
Let me clarify, however, that just as there are no perfect marriages, there are no perfectly wholehearted wives. But as we become more Christlike, we are able to love our husband more wholeheartedly. And when we fail or fall short, we can ask God to forgive us and empower us to once again devote ourselves fully to Him and to our spouse.
As wholehearted wives, we can’t invest ourselves halfheartedly in our marriage. Loving wholeheartedly means engaging fully and seeking the best for our husband. We must resist the temptation to pull away, disengage or give up. We must guard against self-protectively closing off our heart when disappointments come or promises are broken.
Ultimately, we must entrust our marriage to God’s care and trust wholeheartedly in His ability to transform both it and us. No matter what your relationship with your husband is like right now, God can mold you into the wholehearted wife He intends you to be.
Erin Smalley serves with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family. She is a co-author of The Wholehearted Wife.
This article was adapted from The Wholehearted Wife by Erin, Greg and Gary Smalley.