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A wife asked me the following question about her husband. I am more familiar with this situation than what she is revealing here. Thus, I am taking more liberty in my response to her. This situation does not mirror whatever may be happening to you. Before you follow any advice in this podcast, you must find help from those who know your issues intimately. I do not know you or your situation, so taking my perspective from this podcast as “gospel” could prove unwise. Here is what the wife asked me:
How do I deal with apathy in my marriage? My husband seems disconnected from us emotionally. He makes plans without considering anyone else, tramples people emotionally, and generally ignores us. I don’t think he hates his family, but he has an “I don’t care” attitude towards us. He expects obedience, but it seems as though he couldn’t care less about our feelings or needs.
Part of the problem here is the need to have a biblical definition of apathy, and clarification will hurt some. Our attitudes, words, and deeds fall on one of two sides of the “love, hate spectrum.” There are only two categories. It’s love or hate.
Apathy is not a Bible word, but it’s not hard to categorize, and categorizing it is vital, so you know what you have precisely. An apathetic person is a hateful person. Apathy does not fit on the love side of the spectrum.
Though it is painful to think about, what you’re describing is a hateful husband. Though apathy is not the worst form of hate, it is evil, nonetheless, and he needs to change. Of course, his repentance is not something you can administer. Whatever is going on with him is between him and the Lord, though you and the children are on the receiving end.
Your most effective posture is before the Lord, begging Him to break your husband down to where the strongholds that have captured him will fall away. Apathy is not a passive condition that has come over him, but a decision that he makes every day, each moment. You can test my theory here by observing the times when he chooses not to be apathetic toward people. You’ll see him “actively loving” those outside the family.
He will not treat other people the way he treats you and the children. Perhaps he will manifest anger (apathy) toward others, but most of the time, he will show love, not hate. The reason you must understand this is so you’ll know that he can change. He’s not a victim.
If he were “universally apathetic,” there would not be a person or situation where he was not apathetic. But he is not like that. There are many people that he chooses to be kind to rather than hateful. This perspective means he can change. He is an active participant in his hatefulness.
There is a difference between character-related problems and organic-related problems. We’re talking about your husband’s character rather than an organic issue. What I’m saying is that he has a “repent-able problem.” He can change. His “condition” is good news because you can pray and hope that God will transform him.
Now that you know he has a “repent-able problem,” you should not only pray for him “in faith,” but you will have to determine what ways you can respond to him. If he’s not abusive and you’re safe being around him, though he’s a jerk, you need to confront him. You should not accept his sinful nonsense.
But if he will hurt you, you need to find help, which could be your church, another church, or the civil authorities. Your response here depends on your safety from whatever his reactions will be. You would be fully in the right to go outside your home to find help for yourself, the children, and your husband.
Your other option will be to bear up under what is going on in your home. God will give you the grace you need for what is happening, but you don’t want to squash the courage necessary if the best response is to find help.
And you don’t want to fall into the complaining trap. This problem happens when a person is unwilling to respond courageously to the nonsense of others. They choose, instead, to grumble about them to others, with no end. Some wives in a situation like this keep talking about the “same old problems” in different ways because they don’t want to take the “risk” to follow the Lord by taking courageous, biblical steps.
I’m not fussing at you here or condemning you. I’m releasing you to be free to take this situation as an opportunity to address your fears while thinking strategically about confronting your husband or finding someone else to respond to him. Some wives have bought into the lie that they shouldn’t confront their husbands when they are sinning. That perspective is the lie.
By all means, keep yourself safe. But do something about it. Otherwise, you will continue to circle the same problems, ad infinitum, and you will not have done what you could have done to bring corrective care to a foolish man.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17).
And if you continually talk about it with no action steps, your soul will deteriorate. God gives you a way of escape, but that requires you doing something. As you pray through James 4:17, ask the Lord to reveal to you what you need to do, and to provide the grace for you to do it. If you don’t respond appropriately to James’ words, you will be in sin.
Not only will your inaction have a deteriorating effect on your soul, but it will tempt your children to hate God. They are not mature enough to have a “theology of suffering.” They think in clear, black, and white categories, and the way you’re describing your husband is a blend of Christianity and paganism.
You and your husband name the name of Christ. You’re professing believers, but according to your testimony, your home is anything but Christ-centered. The worst kind of home is a hypocritical home because it sucks the spiritual hope from a child’s soul.
If your home was pagan, the children could reach out to Jesus because He’s the answer. But a hypocritical Christian home muddies the water so much that the children may have no desire to reach out to Christ. They are seeing what Christ can do by observing what is happening in their home. It would be a miracle of grace for them to want to follow Jesus after experiencing Him in a hypocritical family. You don’t want to presume on God’s grace. And if your husband refuses to change, you must take action.
I’m speaking directly to you because what you’re describing is dire, dark, and desperate. There are two roads in front of you, and you have to decide which one you’re going to take. The entrance to both of those roads says, “Suffering.” Whichever path you choose, you will suffer, which is my point here (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:18-25).
I don’t want to paint a rosy, spiritualized picture that everything will be fantastic on either road. It won’t be great; it will be hard. But if you’re trusting God, which is evidenced by actively responding to Him by faith, He will lead and take care of you (Psalm 23:3).
Perhaps God wants you to keep trying to change things alone. Maybe He wants you to do something else that seems impossibly hard to you. Pray through James 4:17 and ask the Lord to help you discern what you know to do, but you’re refusing to do it at this moment.
If you choose to stay in the home and persevere along, you know how it’s going to be. You know this by “looking in the rearview mirror.” Your husband has a long historical record of being a fool, according to your descriptions. If you stay, you must guard your heart against grumbling, trust God that He will give you the grace to bear up under a foolish man, and spend your days equipping your children in a “theology of suffering.”
If you want to learn more about suffering and the change process, I recommend you get two of my books and prayerfully study them. One is “Suffering Well,” which teaches “a theology of suffering.” The other is “Change Me,” which will walk you and the children through the change process.
My goal here is to motivate you to do something. When sin is present, you must take action. What I can’t tell you is which action to take: confront your husband or find others to intervene. But whatever you do, the safety of you and the children is of utmost importance.
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Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).