Q: “I am in a very difficult marriage.  The Bible and my church leaders tell me I’m supposed to Ephesians 5:33  How do I do this even though he…?”

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit when Senior Pastor Bill Hybels interviewed former President Bill Clinton in-person.  There was a ton of controversy over Willow’s decision to invite President Clinton and I even had my share of internal conflicts.  His infidelities had not yet faded from our collective memories and I didn’t know what the point would be of parading him in front of an audience of mainly conservative church leaders (except that he is known for his stellar leadership abilities and, you know, it was a leadership conference).  Though I didn’t vote for him and though I couldn’t bring myself to fully respect him as a man for the dishonor he brought to the office and to his family, when he entered the room, I found myself standing and applauding, along with pretty much every other conservative church leader in that packed-out auditorium (I was even interviewed for NBC News and said something very, very blonde…awesome).

Why did I stand and applaud?  Because he used to be the President of the United States.  That’s huge.  I was compelled to stand to my feet and show reverence for the role, if not for the man.

The role of husband as head of the household is also huge.  The weight on the shoulders of men to gently lead their families to serve and honor God is heavy, and I believe they will be held to a higher standard before God for the successes or failures of their families.  Totally scary.  The role, if not always the man, deserves respect.

But what do you do if the man you are supposed to respect is unfaithful to you, is abusing you in any manner of ways, is addicted to something, or has emotionally checked out? 

I used to say to myself that I would respect my husband when he earned it, when he loved me.  But somewhere along the line, I realized that it’s not a conditional statement.  God doesn’t say, “Wives, respect your husbands when they love you the way you want to be loved.”  He says, “Wives, respect your husbands.”

I didn’t do this well.  Like, at all.  This was hands-down one of my biggest failures over the past eighteen+ years.  I justified my words and actions way too often, letting myself off a hook that God hadn’t taken me off of.  So, here’s what I can tell you as you grapple with living within the small spaces of a difficult marriage and trying to obey God: respect the role.

Acknowledge that being a husband is an honored role in Scripture.  God isn’t up there scratching his head looking at these hard marriages of ours and thinking, “Wait…I didn’t see any of that coming when I told wives to submit…”  He knew it would be difficult.  In fact, if you think about it, he pretty much predicted it in Genesis 3:16  “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” 

Pray. Ask God how he wants you to do this within the context of your situation.  What would honoring God look like for you?  It might not look like anybody else’s marriage.  And do not compare yourself to women in solid and godly marriages…that will only serve to make you feel worse about yourself and your marriage.

Show common courtesy.  Sometimes, things are so broken between a husband and a wife that the best way you can respect your husband is to be kind to him.  We’ve talked about this before, but show him the courtesy you would show a stranger.  Use gentle words.  Use fewer words.  Challenge yourself to perform one act of kindness per day.  For a while there, I was making a salad every night for dinner for my husband to eat whenever he came home.  It was a small act but it showed me and him (and God) that I was still trying.