Your Number One Job as a Wife: It’s Not What You Think

couple holding handsThis 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.

Reprinted with permission from CatholicSistas.com.

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.

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 13 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 20 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her five children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.
  • TK

    This is so GREAT. My hubby and I have been married for over twenty years and we had to learn the same hard lessons. We are happily married, have wonderful kids and a great, faithfully-Catholic sex life. We had to go through hell to get here, though, including my learning how to set boundaries and keep them.

  • Struble

    Why is a trip to “sin city” solicitous of God’s graces?

    • TK

      There is a lot of fun family things to do there. I’ve read a lot of Misty’s columns and she’s tongue-in-cheek with fair regularity. My assumption is that mild sarcasm was her intent.

  • Lisa Marie Kipp

    My husband is Lutheran. A couple of years ago we went to a World Marriage Day dinner and the priest said the same thing. A few days later, my husband made the comment that he had never heard that before and it made sense to him! I was amazed that he got it! He usually poo poo’s anything Catholic. In real life however, it is SO very hard. I can’t make him do anything and any talk about changing for the better is met with him ignoring me and doing what he wants. Boundaries? They mean absolutely nothing to my husband. Counseling? Yeah, we tried that too. He just lies to the counselor. Basically he doesn’t want any help at all and isn’t willing to change. At this point all I have is prayer!!! I hope that is enough.

    • Sheila C.

      The point of boundaries is that they are about you, not the other person. So, “You can be late for dinner if you like, but I’m not going to put aside food for you.” Or, “I can’t stop you from yelling, but I’m not staying in the room to listen. I’ll be at my mom’s.” Or whatever. They don’t require the other person to respect them, because you acknowledge that your behavior is the only thing you can control.

      This helped so much with my own marriage, I just wish I’d figured it out sooner.

  • KarenJo12

    You are being really unfair here and blaming the victim. Most husband I’ve known would happily let their wives leave rather than give up their bad habits. Don’t make the wife responsible for her behavior and his as well.

    • FreemenRtrue

      uh… the requirement is mutual..yes?

    • FreemenRtrue

      have you been drinking hemlock?

  • Ronk

    “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.”
    Maybe not literally at ALL times (e.g. when she is sick or exhausted or has to be at Mass in 5 minutes). But God’s inerrant Word does say “Do not refuse each other, except for a short while by mutual agreement”.
    NFP would be useless, ineffective and counterproductive if a wife tried to force it on her husband against his will, and she would be wrong to do so. Equally of course, he would be wrong to force her to take contraceptives against her will. So no it does not mean these women have to go against their conscience. It does mean saying to their husbands, “well Ok if you refuse to abstain during my fertile times, then you must be prepared to accept lovingly, rear and educate however many children we conceive as a result, because there is no way I am going to contracept.”

    • guest

      Ronk, this attitude will not work in the long run. You will not want to just keep getting pregnant again and again. Neither will he want you to, eventually. Both of you will become miserable doing your children no good in the process. You will need to agree on a method, or you will not be able to function as a couple. Resentment and becoming overwhelmed will set in to the destruction of your marriage. I have seen it happen. By the way, do you have any children now? You sound very young and inexperienced. However, I could be wrong.

      • Aldo Elmnight

        ” You will not want to just keep getting pregnant again and again. ”
        This is not a Catholic attitude. NFP can only be used for a grave reason, e.g. cannot feed another kid, not because you are tired of kids.

      • Ronk

        I’m afraid you most definitely are wrong about everything you said here.

        Contracepting and “just keep getting pregnant again and again” are not the only two options!
        Having children does not make parents miserable. In fact old people frequently wish that they had had more children.
        You DON’T “need to agree on a method”. Sorry but I find this phrase a disgusting perversion of the divine gift of sexuality. DO NOT fall for the lie that every couple HAS to be either “trying for a baby” or “trying to avoid or even prevent a baby”.
        I have four children and have seen many other marriages over many years. I have never seen or heard of a marriage that was “destroyed” because of having “unwanted” children.

  • FreemenRtrue

    My wife is hip to this…she goes to confession and tells the padre everything I’ve done wrong. She has a much more exhaustive list than I could keep. 40 years and still going. p.s. Marriage gets a lot better once the kids are launched and a whole lot better again when you both retire and the next stop is…heaven.

    • Ronk

      She should be telling him only what SHE has done wrong. Other people’s sins have no place in the confessional.

      • FreemenRtrue

        joking here – seriously, c’mon.

        • KarenJo12

          It’s not at all funny.

          • FreemenRtrue

            Sanctimony is unbecoming.

          • Aldo Elmnight

            So is mocking the sacraments and your wife.

          • FreemenRtrue

            and what may one call being a self-righteous humorless and judgmental prig?

        • Ronk

          My apologies. I have seen someone say something similar quite seriously. And two others who thought that the confessional was a good place for them to tell the priest what HIS (the priest’s) sins are and to demand that he repent of them.

    • KarenJo12

      You show a great deal of contempt for your wife with this comment. You have just said “she’s a vindictive shrew who complains about me constantly but I stil love the old harridan.” Please, don’t do this.

      • FreemenRtrue

        you are completely full of bovine excrement and likely a bit shrewish yourself judging from your self-righteous disdain.

        • KarenJo12

          And you haven’t answered or responded to my point. I feel sorry for your wife; she has a very heavy cross to bear, being married to a man who insults her in public.

          • FreemenRtrue

            I feel sorry for you – you seem to be a miserable, humorless and judgmental ogre.

  • guest

    Misty, Wow! I do admire your commitment and vigor in working out a good relationship with your husband. Moreover, your candor is courageous and refreshing. However, It sounds like you married the wrong kind of person in the first place. Ideally, no one should have to demand respect from a spouse. Evidence of that should be a part of the courtship in attitude and in deed, as it was for my spouse and me. I could not love anyone who did not show unfailing respect for me right from the start of marriage. God bless you, and may you always have the respect from your spouse you deserve.

  • Raylan Alleman

    This may be the worst article I’ve ever read. Terrible advice. I wonder why the lady married the guy is he was so bad and why she needed counseling. This is basically telling wives to treat their husbands as children–always on their guard, always watching. Setting boundaries!! Really? That’s what you do with children, not your spouse, especially not your husband. This is in no way shape or form Catholic. This is a pagan feminist perspective.

    • Margarett Cahill Zavodny

      Boundaries are necessary in any relationship. Sometimes, there is a learning curve, if one person has never learned about boundaries.

      • steve5656546346

        And why would that person be the husband?

        • Sheila C.

          It isn’t always the husband! Who said it was? This article is directed toward women, though, because it’s from a women’s blog.

    • Jack MacTamas

      ROTFLMAO. I love that you are actually saying that seriously. Made my day. Still chuckling. “Pagan feminist” is my favorite, though the the classic straw man argument was almost as funny.

      • Raylan Alleman

        So are you telling me this is the proper ordering of a Catholic marriage. What limits has you wife set on you?

  • steve5656546346

    So, generally, the number 1 job of a wife appears to be self-righteousness and self-centeredness?

    Set boundaries: he is a child? Deny him what he wants? Now THAT’S real Christian! Asserting your own dignity? It’s all about you, no?

    Now, the rationalization appears to be that men are barely human generally–and more specifically her husband.

    Just wondering: would it EVER be appropriate for a wife to do an examination of conscience? Her own I mean. In this view…

  • Elizabeth Schmeidler

    Methinks that those who are protesting too much to this commentary must be very, very guilty of being lousy husbands and marginal Catholics. Praise God I am married to a man who “loves me as himself”. It’s too bad the devil has convinced so many, and obviously some who have posted here, that compassion and love do not equal truth. True love and compassion can only be found through honesty and the laying down of our lives. If this was written by a man, would there be such accusations of self-righteousness? There was nothing self-righteous about this article at all–and truly devout and loving husbands would agree. After reading some of the comments, I now know, I am married to a saint, and I am going to tell him that again tonight.

  • Sheila C.

    This article is great. I spent several years of my marriage trying to be more “submissive” and taking more and more upon myself in the hopes of fixing various problems. It was my husband who finally said, “Your job is to help me be holy, and you’re not doing it because you’re afraid of ever appearing to criticize me.” Hoo boy! He had a real point and I’ve tried to be a more equal partner ever since. It isn’t easy because I’m naturally very passive, but he appreciates it and we’ve had much less conflict in our marriage ever since.

    • donttouchme

      That’s a nice revision to your original story, which was that you and your husband agreed prior to marriage that he would be the leader and you would submit to his decisions, but then after you were married you discovered that you couldn’t in conscience do that after all. Then after some years of henpecking he gave up and became submissive and now you run the show, just like the author of this piece.

      • Sheila C.

        Wow, this is a level of stalking that’s really surprising. The conversation you’re referring to was YEARS ago!

        But you are the one revising my story, not me. When you first heard it, you read your own interpretation into it; and in addition, you didn’t get the whole story because you don’t get ANYONE’s whole story in an internet comment! Submission was always my idea. Being more independent was always his. And my husband would think it utterly ridiculous that he is supposedly “henpecked.” He still makes most of the decisions.

        But you’re not capable of understanding what a relationship of equals even looks like, so it’s really a waste of energy to reply to you.

        • donttouchme

          You should probably have pretended not to remember the conversation if you wanted to frame the situation in that completely unsurprising way.

          I like the rhetorical changes I’m seeing in feminists everywhere. Even in this article she has a disclaimer about it, so I honestly don’t mind your revisionism in that same vein.

          Equality doesn’t exist, so yes you are wasting your energy.

  • donttouchme

    On the other hand, if your wife dresses like a slob and stuffs her face, doesn’t do any housework, and whines incessantly unless she gets her way, and a man points that out, for the good of her own soul she should listen to his instruction, not “set appropriate boundaries”. The second point is good, because it showed actual respect and he decided to delegate the budgeting to his wife. It was at least kind of respectful until “he begged me to take over the finances again”) Saying he “begged” her is pathetic and so is saying that he was too much a baby to follow a budget, when it was the wife who was too much of a coward to obey him. When she decided to actually obey him, he delegated the budget, i.e. he showed that he wasn’t a baby but that she was controlling and obsessive. Overall this piece is pejorative and disrespectful to all men and constitutes a big red flag in my opinion. I would never go for a girl who held these views. She’s going to be an unsubmissive, disrespectful, sex-denying, pedantic, feminist, no matter how she postures before the vows.