There are a constellation of marriage-promoting behaviors packed into the Biblical instruction for husbands to honor their wives. Today, we’re launching from a simple phrase in the Bible that instructs husbands to show honor to their wives to demonstrate how a host of research-backed findings are encapsulated in this truth.

Our podcasts are not sermons — I am a professional marriage counselor, but in serving my church community and affiliation I do get involved in a fair bit of preaching. Today, we’re going to be looking at how one Bible verse — actually, just a phrase or part of one Bible verse — can be unpacked into a host of marriage-promoting behaviors.

It’s another example of how the Bible holds some practical, life-changing truth. In this case, the phrase is an instruction to husbands to give or “Show honor to your wife” and is found in 1 Peter 3:7.

Honoring Your Wife

Within marriage, honoring your wife is meant to be an unconditional act of showing value to her because of the place she has in your life. While respect is earned, honor is given. And in this case given because of her role, not because of what she does.

The challenge then is to give her honor even when it is difficult and even when you do not feel she deserves it. I am not asking you to accept your wife’s misbehavior or to condone or support things she may do that are hurtful or destructive, but part of how marriage is sustained through commitment and loyalty is by this principle of honor.

This means that even in difficult times and even with marriage difficulties that you interact with and treat your wife in a respectful, honorable way.

Ways to Show Honor

What does that look like? Let’s unpack this idea of showing honor a little more and look at how research supports this truth.

Faithfulness

Being faithful and loyal to your wife is an important part of honoring her. Obviously, this means not cheating on her: that would certainly not be honoring!

But there’s much more to faithfulness than just avoiding infidelity[i]. Husbands also honor their wives by:

    1. Avoiding “emotional affairs”: too much reliance on emotional intimacy with a woman other than your spouse[ii].
    2. Not ogling other women: in real life, on TV, using porn etc. is likewise not honoring or being faithful to your wife, and will have very negative consequences for your marriage[iii].

Genuine faithfulness is about not placing anyone (or anything) else above your spouse (emotionally or sexually) and making sure your spouse gets “the best of you”[iv]. So one way to show honor is through faithfulness.

Public and Private Praise

Another way to show honor to your wife is through praising her: both praising her when you are alone and when you are in public.

Private Praise is Honoring

Giving praise and compliments to your wife, and expressing gratitude for what she does, are great ways to show honor. This should be a mix of specific compliments and recognition of what she does, and also praising and admiring who she is[v].

When giving praise, it is helpful to try to keep thinking of new things, rather than expressing the same things over and over, and express it in a way that is genuine rather than forced or rote[vi]. Expressions of gratitude and admiration are strongly linked to higher marital satisfaction, commitment, and overall happiness for both spouses[vii].

Public Praise is Honoring As Well

Husbands should also talk about their wives to other people in a way that is honoring: both when the wife is present and when she is not. This not only is a blessing to your marriage and reinforces your positive perspective of your wife, but can also be helpful in preventing extra-marital affairs.

Praising your wife in this way includes things like[viii]:

    1. Praising and speaking well of her to others
    2. Siding with her, not friends or family
    3. Siding with her in parenting issues, especially in front of the kids

It also means there are certain things you are going to take up in private rather than public, in order to maintain your public honoring of her:

    1. Not complaining about her to friends/family
    2. Raising issues and concerns in private, not in front of other people. (This is reflecting in the Bible too, in Matthew 18:15)

I got thinking about this “not complaining” part. It is an interesting one because it happens a lot and it is easy to do. I think the core issue with complaining about your wife to someone else is that, really, you are most likely just looking for validation of your perspective and someone to commiserate with you.

Basically, that’s just throwing your wife under the bus because it doesn’t solve anything. If you guys are stuck on something, a far more productive approach would be to find a friend who you think can help, and both of you go to that person together and explain the situation as a problem between you, not just a flaw your wife has. If you do not have someone like that in your lives, seek them out. It needs to be someone who is on the side of your marriage, not just on your side. A qualified marriage therapist is a good option if you feel it is a deeper issue you need to address: certainly feel free to reach out to us at only you forever dot com too.

When you offer public praise, it strengthens the relationship and also improves other people’s perception of your relationship, which is beneficial for your marriage too.

 

Honoring Your Wife

If you’re feeling like you’ve been married a while and, honestly, you know you are taking your wife for granted and not sure where to start some genuine, heartfelt thoughts of praise and honor, we can help you with that. We have created a five page meditation based on the poem in Proverbs 31 about the virtuous wife. Going through this will help you to find new and healthy ways of expressing honor towards your wife. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.

Understand and Seek to Meet Her Needs

Just before the phrase instructing husbands to honor their wives is the phrase “dwell with her according to knowledge”. This is also very helpful towards this goal of honoring your wife because part of how your honor her is by really getting to know her and understand what her needs are. And then seeking to meet those needs. You’ll do this by:

    1. Listening to and taking an interest in her passions, worries, interests etc
    2. Being able to show empathy and validating what she feels even if you don’t feel the same way
    3. Learning how to respond to her in a way that makes her feel supported and loved

As you might expect, understanding and showing attentiveness to needs is strongly linked to marital happiness and is the strongest predictor of couples finding joy in their relationship[ix].

Serving Her is Honoring Her

Finally, we have a parallel instruction in Ephesians 5:26, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Just as the Lord Jesus was a servant-hearted leader, husbands can lead their marriage by putting their wife’s needs before their own. Part of this is putting her practical needs before your own. But it can also involve what you say: for example, choosing not to respond angrily if she upsets you, and choosing to prioritize the marriage and her needs over your own in conflict situations. In that case, you’re emphasizing “us” before “me”.

As well, in reference to how you respond: choosing to see the need behind the angry comments during conflict and putting those needs above your desire to retaliate is well documented as an effective way to resolve conflict and create intimacy[x]. This is another way that you can honor her and bless your marriage as a result.

So, hopefully we have given you a lot to think about. As always, if you need help from one of our professional Christian marriage therapists, feel free to reach out to us!

References

[i] George P. Fletcher, Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships (Oxford University Press, 1995).

[ii] Ronald T. Potter-Efron and Patricia S. Potter-Efron, The Emotional Affair: How to Recognize Emotional Infidelity and What to Do about It (New Harbinger  Publications, 2009).

[iii] Tracy L. Tylka and Ashley M. Kroon Van Diest, “You Looking at Her ‘Hot’ Body May Not Be ‘Cool’ for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 39, no. 1 (March 1, 2015): 67–84, https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784.

[iv] Fletcher, Loyalty.

[v] Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, “Is It Possible to Become Happier?(And If so, How?),” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 1, no. 1 (2007): 129–45.

[vi] Sheldon and Lyubomirsky.

[vii] Nathaniel M. Lambert and Frank D. Fincham, “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior,” Emotion (Washington, D.C.) 11, no. 1 (February 2011): 52–60, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021557.

[viii] Christopher R. Agnew, Social Influences on Romantic Relationships: Beyond the Dyad (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[ix] Alyson Fearnley Shapiro, John M. Gottman, and Sybil Carrere, “The Baby and the Marriage: Identifying Factors That Buffer against Decline in Marital Satisfaction after the First Baby Arrives,” Journal of Family Psychology 14, no. 1 (March 2000): 59–70.

[x] Shelley Dean Kilpatrick, Victor L. Bissonnette, and Caryl E. Rusbult, “Empathic Accuracy and Accommodative Behavior among Newly Married Couples,” Personal Relationships 9, no. 4 (n.d.): 369–93, https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6811.09402.