Are you responsible for making your husband happy–or for making your wife happy?
What about your kids? Do you owe them a happy life? Do you owe your parents a happy Christmas?
I gave a speech at my daughter’s Katie wedding where I was trying to express a big truth, and I still don’t feel like I did a good job (the speech was short; but that’s not really an excuse. Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address in just a few minutes; i could have figured it out better).
(Incidentally, if you want to hear another part of my speech, and Keith’s speech, and Rebecca’s speech, watch Katie’s wedding video!).
Anyway, what I was trying to say was something like this:
Many people will give you advice about how to have a good marriage, how to be a good wife, how to make your husband happy. But what those people think doesn’t matter. What your husband thinks isn’t even the main goal. It’s what God thinks that matters. When you run after God and let Him become bigger in your life, you’ll love David well and have a great marriage. But when you’re focused on what other people think you should do, or how other people feel, you can miss the boat. Pursue God; and everything else falls into place as it should.
It didn’t come out well, though, and I’d like to elaborate on it today, because in the Focus on the Family broadcast I shared yesterday, that was actually the focus: how a wife can make a husband happy. And this time of year, we’re often focused on how to make our kids happy, or how to keep peace in the extended family.
That’s simply the wrong focus. So let’s start from first principles:
God does not tell us we are responsible for making other people happy.
We are not responsible for other people’s feelings. We are only responsible for our own attitudes and actions.
God never tells us to make others happy. He tells us to be kind, loving, peaceable, giving, good, trustworthy, faithful. He tells us to treat others as we would have them treat us; He tells us to act as someone’s neighbor (easier said than done in marriage–that’s why “my husband is my neighbor” is thought #1 in 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage!).
But then there’s something deeper (as C.S. Lewis would say, there’s a deeper magic! Higher up and further in!).
The goal is not just to be kind, loving, peaceable, giving, good, trustworthy, his neighbor, etc. etc. The goal is to grow to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), that we may show people God, and point others to Him.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The goal is to point others to Jesus.
Those are the goals of your life: To be transformed into His likeness, and to point others to Him.
Your ultimate purpose, then, is not that your husband is happy, or that your kids are happy and have an easy life, or that your mom is happy with you. Your goal should be that God is glorified.
To me, that’s a big relief. I’m not responsible for my kids being happy or for Keith being happy. I’m just responsible for acting as Jesus would, and for growing in my relationship with Him. And that’s something I can control!
Paul even wrote:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Paul knew that sometimes whether or not someone is happy with us actually does NOT depend on us. We are not ultimately responsible.
That’s really what I was trying to say to Katie: When we serve God and run after Him, then we’ll end up treating our spouse well, and the marriage will usually grow.
When our aim, though, is our spouse’s happiness, sometimes that will cause us to enable sin; paper over problems that need to be dealt with so we don’t upset him (or her); or ignore our own needs and feel more emotionally distant.
Those are the goals of your life: To be transformed into His likeness, and to point others to Him.
A happy marriage is not built on one spouse trying to make the other happy; a happy marriage is built on two spouses trying to love each other and caring for each other’s needs. Having a happy husband (or a happy wife) is not the measuring stick for your success in life. Pleasing God is the measuring stick for your success in life.
Sometimes pleasing God does not result in a happy husband.
Do the things that make us happy automatically bring God’s best in our lives?
Let’s say that what makes your husband happy is getting to play video games all day, everyday. If you made him happy by never making any demands on him, is this the right thing to do? You’re now enabling a video game addiction. If you have kids, you’re making it easy for him to ignore the kids. You’re also encouraging him to have a very self-focused life, where he doesn’t contribute to the betterment of this world.
Or what if the thing that makes him happy is something else that is bad for him–like eating a ton of baked goods and drinking pop? If you constantly bake unhealthy food because it makes him happy, are you helping him? What is it that God wants for him? God wants him to be healthy and energetic, because God has works specifically planned for your husband to do (Ephesians 2:10). Treating our health cavalierly does not contribute to bringing the kingdom of God on this earth.
And you can think of many other examples, I’m sure. I know for myself I LOVE spending a whole weekend watching Netflix and knitting. But that’s not ultimately good for me, and there are other things that God has for me to do. I know that it makes me really happy to to phone a friend and gossip a ton about someone who is being ridiculous, but that doesn’t please God, either. The point is not our happiness; the point is who God wants us to be.
And as we grow closer to God, soon the things that make us happy actually line up with what God wants for us, because our hearts are transformed to be like Jesus. So a video game binge weekend loses its appeal, and we stick to a few hours with friends but then do meaningful things with our lives.
When our aim is our spouse’s happiness, sometimes that will cause us to enable sin.
Sometimes pleasing God makes your marriage rocky.
We find the story of Abigail, Nabal, and David in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail was married to Nabal, who was a bully and likely an abusive scumbag (he really was a scumbag, if you read Scripture). Nabal offended David and his band of warriors, and Abigail deliberately went against Nabal to do the right thing and protect her household.
Sometimes doing the right thing upsets your husband.
Saying no to porn, putting filters on the computer, or having his brothers in for an intervention into his porn habit may upset your husband, but you know that God’s ultimate good for your husband is that the porn use stops.
Drawing boundaries around what yelling or calling names may upset your husband, but it is pleasing to God (if your husband is physically abusive, please take care before confronting him, and get to safety).
Seriously, sometimes Keith has had to sit me down and say, “Sheila, you may not think this is an issue, but it is an issue that is affecting us. And it matters. And so we are going to deal with it, even if you don’t like it, because our marriage matters.”
That’s called being a peaceMAKER, not just a peaceKEEPER (and that’s Thought 6 in 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage!).
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
Sometimes pleasing God makes your kids upset at you.
As parents, we want to smooth the road for our kids. We want them to have happy lives. But it is far more important to God, and for our kids’ well-being in the long run, that our kids develop good character, not just that they are happy now.
So if you honestly can’t afford the presents they want at Christmas, it’s okay to say to them, “We need to be responsible with the money that God has given us, and so we can’t buy that right now. But we can do this as a family instead!” And then plan an awesome board game day or puzzle day or family hike. Christmas doesn’t need to be about kids getting everything they want; it’s better that they grow up understanding responsibility.
Sometimes pleasing God means displeasing your family of origin.
If your goal is to make everyone happy, you’re going to fail miserably, because not everyone can be happy at the same time. If you feel like this Christmas season, you have to cater to your mom and do what your mom wants, you’ll be miserable if what your mom wants conflicts with what your husband and your kids want.
Extended family can make unreasonable demands on us, and one of the hardest things for adult children to realize, especially around the Christmas season, is that we are not responsible for how our siblings or parents treat us or think of us. The measurement of your success is not that your parents approve of you, but that God approves of you.
You may also enjoy:
- How do I handle Christmas when some family members won’t talk to me?
- How do we deal with difficult in-laws at Christmas?
- 10 tips for making Christmas dinners more meaningful, even when families are difficult
The concept of boundaries teaches us that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings; we are only responsible for our own.
So, please, can we stop talking about how to make your husband (or your wife) happy? It really becomes idolatry at some point. Certainly show your husband love! Certainly be kind to one another. But keep the focus where it sholud be: Love Jesus well, and you’ll end up loving your husband well. And as you do that, your marriage will grow and your husband will likely be happier.
But if you’re loving Jesus well and you’re being kind and gracious and your spouse isn’t happier–that’s not on you. And it’s important that we get this language right. If you feel as if you’ve never been taught this in the right balance, please pick up 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage! I wrote it to clarify so much Christian teaching which gives the wrong emphasis, especially for women. In everything, put God first, and the rest takes care of itself.
What do you think? Do we feel too responsible for other people’s feelings? What should be our goal in marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!