“Happy wife, happy life.” This is the common wisdom given to husbands, sometimes by other husbands, and sometime by their wives. We’ve said it. Joked about it. And maybe even tried to live by it.
On the surface, this would seem like good conventional wisdom. When husbands live to please their wives, their lives will go better due to lower amounts of conflict and having a wife who is “happier.” Yet when thinking about this more closely, we can find holes in this common wisdom. If a wife’s happiness is solely decided by her husband’s actions, then there is trouble brewing. Hearts are never satisfied and selfishness often reigns.
Thankfully, Scripture adds some clarity to the “Happy Wife. Happy Life” counsel. As a matter of fact, Paul’s instruction to husbands is not to make their wives happy, only to love them well. Let me give two passages in Ephesians 5 that can help shed some light and direction.
Ephesians 5:25 – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This passage by Paul gives specific instructions for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Easy peasy (right!). We can read more about what it means to love our wives this way here, but for now, let’s look at what love is not. Love is not about the other person’s happiness, but love is what is in the best interest of the other person. As Jesus loves us (the bride), I think we can all agree that Jesus’ purpose is not to make us happy, but often the result of His love for us is joy. He does not exist to make us happy and give us all that we want, but Jesus loves us by giving us all we truly need, himself. If you are caught up on giving your wife everything she wants, you are spoiling her, raising her expectations, and setting yourself up for failure. Love her well by helping to provide for her, understanding her heart, treating her well, encouraging her, and serving when you are able. Certainly it is loving to give her things she may want, but her heart is like ours: Never satisfied unless it’s satisfied in Christ. If you can’t say “no” to her, then there is an issue in your marriage (in her end, your end, or both) which needs to be addressed.
Ephesians 5:28 – “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” On the surface, this passage may seem like it’s saying “Happy Wife. Happy Life.” Yet happiness is never mentioned. Love is. Paul, the author, is not stating that the goal for husbands is to love himself (or make himself happy). He is saying that we ought to love our spouses like we love ourselves (which we automatically do when we take care of our own interests and physical needs). When we love our spouses in this way, we are taking care of, or loving ourselves, because we are one flesh with our spouses. A mutuality and oneness exists between a husband and wife. Her body belongs to you and yours to her. In other words, because you are one, when you love her the result (not the goal) is that you are also loving yourself.
I think most men who live by the common wisdom, “Happy Wife. Happy Life” are good-natured, everyday husbands who are reminding themselves to pay attention and love their wives better. This is good. However it is better to remember Paul’s words to love our spouses as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her. This is a better picture to follow and leads us to becoming like Christ. Making our wives happy is too shallow a goal for godly men because happiness is temporary and fleeting. Loving them as Christ, however, reaches to the innermost needs of our spouses, bringing greater intimacy by reflecting the love of Christ and yourself. The result of this kind of love can last longer and feel better than happiness. It will also save a marriage…
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