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“What if my husband won’t lead?” 5 recommendations for a wife in this situation!

What if my husband won't lead?

“My husband won’t lead!”

The command for wives to submit to their husbands is criticized by many non-Christians and even some liberal or egalitarian churches. As a result, you’d think as a pastor I’d regularly hear women saying, “My husband wants me to submit and I hate it.” Instead, the most common complaint I hear from wives is, “My husband won’t lead.”

Here’s part of a message I received recently:

I’m really struggling trying to get my husband to lead. I have tried to encourage him to do so, but I’m at a loss! Taking the initiative is what I want him to do, but he won’t. I have your workbook, but he won’t go over the questions with me. Short of reminding him again and again and feeling like I’m nagging him – which I hate doing and have tried really hard not to do – how do I get him to step up?

Watch the short video of Katie and I discussing the answer and/or read the transcript below…

Unfortunately, there’s no answer that guarantees a husband will grow in this area. Although I provide the following recommendations, I can’t assure a wife that her husband will be different in the future. For any single ladies, this is one thing to keep in mind before saying, “I do.”

Here are the recommendations I’d give a wife whose husband won’t lead…

1. If your husband won’t lead, keep reminding him.

I’ll be the first to say that as husbands we can be oblivious and forgetful at times. God has called you to be your husband’s helper, and this is one of the best ways for you to fulfill that role. The obvious danger is that your reminders turn in to nagging. The woman who sent me the above question said she makes an effort to prevent that from happening. That’s wonderful!

2. If your husband won’t lead, keep inviting him.

Ask him to lead and let him know how much you would appreciate it if he would pray with you, read the Word with you, work on the questions with you, etc.  If he accepts your invitation, make sure you let him know how much you appreciate him doing so.

3. If your husband won’t lead, accountability and/or a mentor could help. 

I haven’t met any husbands who say they want to be bad spiritual leaders. Although, I have met many men who say they want to be godly spiritual leaders…but they don’t know how. I believe them! Your husband might be in this category. Maybe he could benefit from another man’s example or accountability. Is there a man in your church (perhaps an elder?) or in your lives who is strong in this area and could come alongside your husband to help him grow in this area?

Brief note to any husbands reading this: when husbands tell me, “I don’t know if I can read the Word with my family!” My response is, “If you can read, you can read the Word with your family.”

4. If your husband won’t lead, keep praying for him. 

I say “keep,” because I’m sure you’re already praying for him. Luke 18:1 says:

[Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

It’s easy to become discouraged while praying. Don’t lose heart! Keep praying! One of the benefits of praying is even if God doesn’t answer your specific prayer and make your husband the spiritual giant you want him to be, He will give you the grace you need to endure the situation you’re in. When we pray, sometimes God answers our prayers. Other times He simply gives us the strength to handle the situation without Him answering the way we want.

5. If your husband won’t lead, keep 1 Peter 3:1-2 in mind.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

God says your behavior will win over your husband. Make sure you’re reading the Word, praying, and doing Bible studies with your children. Rare is the man who will not be convicted if he is not doing these things, but he sees his wife doing them! Jesus said, “[The Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8b).  Let the Holy Spirit rebuke your husband that his wife has to carry much of the load that belongs to him.


  • If you’re a woman, what encouragement would you give to a wife in this situation?
  • If you’re a man, how would you want your wife to encourage you in your spiritual leadership?

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22 thoughts on ““What if my husband won’t lead?” 5 recommendations for a wife in this situation!

  1. […] God’s Word he will become convicted of his sin and repent. He will become a more patient and loving leader. I do not have the power to change a husband’s heart (and apparently neither does a wife or there […]

  2. […] men of their dignity, makes them passive, and destroys initiative and motivation. It stops men from being the leaders they should be in the home and the church. When men look at pornography they won’t feel comfortable praying, reading the Word, or leading […]

  3. Hey Scott, thanks for a good, solid post. One additional thought, perhaps addressed in other comments. If a husband won’t lead, it may be helpful for his wife to simply (and sincerely) ask him why. In my experience, the answers can vary quite a bit, and, are sometimes even unknown to the husband himself. Asking can open up a conversation between a couple and invite the husband to reflect more deeply so that lasting change can occur. Thanks again for tackling an important issue most marriages face to one degree or another.

    1. Hi Bryan,
      Good to hear from you. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      This is a good contribution. I hope people who read the post scroll down to your comment. I’m thinking one of the honest responses from a husband could be something along the lines of, “I’m intimidated by you” or “I’m afraid you’re going to argue with me about what the Word says.”

  4. Hi Scott… I didn’t read all the comments, so maybe this has been stated already – but I disagree that the first point is for a godly wife to “keep reminding” her husband to lead. The nagging wife is not looked upon kindly in Proverbs. Time spent in prayer and finding strong Christian mentors for each spouse would be better time spent – at least from my understanding of scripture both NT and OT.


    1. Hi Marissa,
      If you don’t mind me asking, did you read the whole post? If you did, what did you think about these parts. In the woman’s question at the top she said:

      Short of reminding him again and again and feeling like I’m nagging him – which I hate doing and have tried really hard not to do – how do I get him to step up?

      So it seems very clear from her question that she’s trying not to nag him. I had a link to this post, Nagging your husband can kill him?, to reinforce the problems with nagging. Under the first point I wrote:

      The obvious danger is that your reminders turn in to nagging. The woman who sent me the above question said she makes an effort to prevent that from happening. That’s wonderful!

      Did you read all this? Isn’t it pretty clear that nagging is frowned upon? At the same time, a wife is her husband’s helper, so it’s going to involve reminding him of things.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. If you didn’t read the whole post, I hope you’ll go back and do so, because I think it clearly frowns on a wife nagging her husband.

  5. Great points, Scott! The only thing I would add is when he is willing to lead don’t snatch back the reigns. That will keep him from wanting to step up spiritually. Instead, follow his lead as he is learning and like you said encourage him along the way. It’s a learning process and as wives, we need to help them flourish not critize them or feel we need to take the lead back when they aren’t doing things how we would do them. Submitting in all circumstances and not just the areas we agree with.

    1. Hi Kristi,
      Great addition, thank you! I completely agree with you. Here’s a part in my book that makes this exact point and contains a great quote fromHelen Andelin:

      If a wife really wants her husband to lead, she should put him in the position to do so. Get behind him. Encourage him. Make him feel responsible. Then, when a husband starts to lead, a wife needs to make sure she does not complain about his decisions or criticize him for not doing things the way she wants. She needs to embrace the decision he makes, and resist the temptation to take over. Helen Andelin, founder of the Fascinating Womanhood Movement for promoting biblical marriage writes:
      When a woman hands back the [reins] to her husband, she must let go completely. She must turn her back on it, come what may. If he makes a mess of it, let him suffer the consequences. Refer all [questions] to him. Don’t shield him in any way. He must suffer. That is the only way he will learn [to lead].”

      You said, “Submitting in all circumstances and not just the areas we agree with.” I appreciate this point, because I’ve heard different women say, “I would submit to my husband if I agreed with him.” You’d think the problem with this statement would be obvious—if you agreed with your husband you wouldn’t have to submit to him. Submission is in place entirely for when a wife does NOT agree with her husband. God commands wives to submit so the relationship can go forward.

  6. Thanks for this post . I believe many homes are going through this kind of situation in one form or the other. I like it when you said ” keep praying ” also that, God answers might be in giving us strength to bear the situation. It was similar to a woman I advised on similar issues yesterday incidentally. Her own case was the husband doesn’t attend church meetings nor involve in any spiritual matters. She claimed the husband was not like that before they married and at the beginning of their marriage. So she resulted into nagging him. When I told her to stop nagging , be patient, continue praying and leave God to do his perfect work in him. She told me she has been patient enough . But I told her a spiritual person doesnt give up on spiritual matters. It is through faith and patience we obtain the promise !
    Once again thanks for this post .

    1. Hi Richard,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. That situation sounds very similar to what I discussed in the post. Your counsel to her was good. I’m glad that’s how you advised her, versus allowing her to feel comfortable divorcing her husband.

      I’ve also had many people tell me, “S/he wasn’t like this before we were married.” Having heard this statement so many times, it’s encouraged me to encourage people to make sure they know the person they’re considering marrying very, very well.

  7. 1 Peter 3:1-2 always seemed a bit difficult to me. I admire women who can follow their husbands’ leads so much that they can win them over. I strive to be this kind of wife even though my husband is already a believer, but I far too often rear my ugly head.

    1. Hi Tara,
      By difficult, do you mean challenging, or difficult to understand why God would say that?

      That’s humble to acknowledge what you said. I’d say, because all women have a sinful nature, that it’s a struggle for all women. But I doubt all women would admit it on Facebook :). Just to be clear, men have a sinful nature too, and I think the way it often “rears its ugly head” for us is through stubbornness.

  8. As a husband and father, sometimes I view home leadership from a collaborative perspective. Of course, there is always that extreme where the husband largely neglects his duty and withdraws from taking the lead. In such scenarios, invitations and a gentle reminder as you have suggested will help. However, I love your idea about praying about it. I am a great believer in power of prayer in marriages. I have seen first hand what prayers can do in a marriage. Great post, Scott.

    1. Hi Olu,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, it’s definitely a collaborative effort in a sense. It has to be. Katie is home with the kids while I’m at work. She has to lead at that time, considering she’s in charge. The unfortunate situation takes place when a husband is home and the wife STILL has to lead.

  9. This is a very timely read since my husband and I are going to lead a family seminar this Friday! I took notes of your suggestions! Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Nance,
      That’s wonderful to hear! I will pray for you and your husband both regarding this seminar and that God would use you to strengthen marriages and families. I’m blessed my post might have helped you – even in a small way – in this endeavor.

  10. I believe the majority of women since Adam dropped the leadership reigns, have this issue. When, as women, we have our leadership in running our home and taking care of our children 10-12 hours a day, it’s very easy to continue after our spouse is home. Our children look to us for direction, discipline and leadership while Dad is at work.

    When he returns we lead in the food they eat, when mealtime is, homework etc. And, Dad lets us lead because he’s tired from working, fighting long commutes and managing those under him at work.
    As wives, we need to give our husbands time to, “re-enter” the home and family before giving the run down of who did what to who etc. Husbands need to come home, take a shower, ask him to sit and keep you company as you fix dinner. This time can be used just between parents to reconnect and find out about his day. Then eat a nice meal in peace. As women, we need to instruct our children in word and example of this. During dinner children can discuss their day. From that time on, we can redirect our children towards Dad, his opinion, his thoughts in a subtle turning back the leadership to him. If you or they have a question, ask him. We used to take turns of saying grace prior to dinner. Then Dad can see how his children are growing in their prayer life. When it’s his turn, he can use it as a teaching time through His prayer. As a part of saying grace, we each would thank God for Dad working every day to provide for us a home, food and clothing to show our appreciation. It’s hard to not pick up the reigns of leadership, instead of frustration, use that energy to ask God how you need to change and grow so your not an obstacle. Leave the reigns down, some men know their wife will keep picking them up, so don’t. If you struggle, go into the bathroom and take a step back, but leave those reigns of leadership alone. It may become a battle of wills, don’t participate, keep yourself busy, chew gum, ha, keep your mouth from speaking and taking those lovely reigns beckoning to you, alone. Slowly, your husband will see your not taking over, and sometimes to us, painfully slowly, he’ll pick them up a little at a time.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Great to hear from you!

      That’s a fantastic insight explaining why it would be hard for wives to turn the leadership back over to the husband when he comes home considering that responsibility has been on her shoulders all day. We moved to WA from Lemoore, CA which is hope to a large naval based. Husbands would go out on cruises for up to 18 months. Can you guess the biggest problem the couple had when the husband returned? Basically what you said, but in an even worse way. The husband had been gone – not for 10-12 hours, but 10-12 months. The wife had been in charge, running the house, making the decisions, etc. Now she’s expected to turn that back over to the husband? It’s difficult!

      The other situation I’ve seen – which you also alluded to – is the husband comes home, the wife is exhausted, so she wants him to handle the kids, discipline, etc. He’s tired. He wants to eat. He wants to crash on the couch. So then you have wife wanting the husband’s influence, but he’s drained.

      Mary, your comment is wonderful, with some great, practical advice. I hope anyone who reads my post makes it down to see your comment too.

  11. Our Pastor’s recommendations are the best practices (as usual 🙂 Thank you!
    I would add, be a good/active listener and review the decision making process with your hubby ( participative management is not a threat to submission). There’s an old saying- it’s lonely at the top.

    I look for confirmation (most of the time 🙂 re big family changing decisions, that we’re making a sound/biblical decision vs a worldly one driven by emotions, faulty assumptions, too much risk, etc.
    I need help thinking heavenly. I’m deeply encouraged when my wife reviews the priorities that went into making the big decisions and when we have peace/unity re big change. I’ve made big revisions many times after my wife summarizes some of my nutty ideas. Sleep on it, is a good practice.

    1. Hi Steve,
      Very well said my friend! I especially appreciated this comment: “participative management is not a threat to submission.”

      I’ve said before from behind the pulpit, in my mind, the three greatest resources God has given a husband on this side of heaven are:
      1. The Word of God
      2. The Holy Spirit (also called “the Helper”)
      3. His wife
      A husband who does not listen to his wife is forfeiting one of the greatest resources God has given him.

      It would be hard for me to think of going forward with a big decision if Katie was opposed to it.

      God bless you Brother!

  12. I think your suggestion to pray about the situation is very important because there is no problem God can’t solve when we call on Him in prayer. I like your approach of not offering absolute guarantees. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Edith,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. You said, “There is no problem God can’t solve when we call on Him in prayer.” I have seen a couple marriages that were pretty terrible, but were able to be changed very quickly when both people committed to obeying God’s Word. It has the power to improve even the worst relationships.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!