Letters From Mentors: Elizabeth Elliot’s Marriage Advice for Wives

From her book Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot explains how wives can revive the romantic feelings of esteem for their husband:

Marriage is no house party; it’s not a college campus or a stimulating political row or an athletic contest, and the man’s having been a spellbinding orator or a great halfback somehow does not seem terribly significant anymore.

But you ought now and then to remember what he was, to ask yourself what it was, really, that caught your eye.

Come now, you will say to yourself, you didn’t marry him because he was a great halfback, did you?

No, you married this person.

Whatever the inner qualities were that enabled him to do the things he did then are still a part of this person that you go to bed with and eat breakfast with and wrestle over the monthly budget with.

He is a person with the same potentials he had when you married him.

Your responsibility now is not merely to bat your eyelashes and tell him how wonderful he is (but breathes there a man with soul so dead as not to be cheered by a little of that?) but to appreciate, genuinely and deeply, what he is, to support and encourage and draw out of him those qualities that you originally saw and admired.

***

I love reading pretty much anything that Elizabeth Elliot says on marriage and anti-feminism.  She is kind, clear, and to the point, something I admire in a writer.  I thought that some of her pieces may go well in this continual topic series I’m writing called Letters From Mentors.  I’ll be including these in my daughter’s book so that she has access to these other women’s thoughts in one place 🙂 ❤ .

It’s just so beautiful to have different perspectives from older women who have more wisdom or advice than I do right now.  There’s a reason the Bible counsels believers to gather many advisers, and for the older women to be teaching the younger women how to love their husbands and children, it’s because if they’ve been living rightly with God, they should be blessed with the ability to see things a younger (less experienced) woman may be able to see.  

Elizabeth points out something so crucial to marriage in this short script to us. Something so obvious and yet profound.  That we graciously and carefully handle our husbands as the unique man God created him to be.

That we remember his talents and beauty of his soul, and the romantic things about him that made us fall in love with him when dating.

That we genuinely look again at him, from that perspective we had when we were dating ❤ .

That we encourage him in his dreams right now, and for the future.

That we be his best cheerleader in his life ❤ .

And that we try to show him daily how much we love and adore him, just for the man he is and has become.

Stephanie

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11 thoughts on “Letters From Mentors: Elizabeth Elliot’s Marriage Advice for Wives

  1. Me: 29f Him: 48m married 2+ years, together nearly 5

    I read advice like the above and immediately wonder how crappy this husband is that he needs to be “handled” and the wife needs to be reminded why she even likes him!

    I know, I know. We’re still in the “honeymoon stage” and “one day we’ll know what *real* marriage is”. Personally, I think y’all are stuck with a crappy husband and think everyone should be miserable.

    My husband had a heart attack at 39 caused by diet, smoking, and no exercise (OTR driver). He had a stroke a year later that left his left side completely numb, but has since regained some feeling in the form of excruciating pain, that he’s had to get used to because there is no cure. He’s on disability, but works part time.

    I knew ALL of this going into our relationship.

    Error #1 people make in marriage: assuming life can’t change in an instant. You need to prepare both emotionally and financially.

    The heart attack didn’t cause my husband to quit smoking, start exercising, or change his diet. I told him when we started dating that he had to quit smoking to keep me. He told me he would, then took 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (a lot of tears) to do it.

    Error #2 made in marriage: assuming you can’t help someone change. No, you can’t make someone change, but if they say they *want* to change, that is a green light to being a drill sergeant.

    The sentence that will defuse all fights about changing is this: “You told me you wanted to [insert change]. I’m your accountability buddy. If you still want to change, I’m still your rock. If you don’t want to change, we need to have a different discussion. Do you still want to change? What do you want from me? ”

    Now, when he says “I want you to back of and let me go my own speed” you say “no problem. However, as your spouse I deserve to know where you are in the process. I need updates and rough figures. I cannot be left in the dark, *it’s not fair to me*. ”

    When it comes to smoking and other addictions quantity is your best tool because most addicts are willfully oblivious to how much they’re consuming. They live in the moment. Bringing the quantity into the light is 99% of the battle.

    Error #3 is both the easiest to identify and hardest to deal with: actions speak louder than words. He sounds like the perfect guy, but what does he act like?

    My husband is not built to be a househusband. He’s used to running himself into the ground working to support a family. He physically cannot do that any more. I’m technically the breadwinner. This hurts him emotionally not because he resents my job, but because he feels like he should be able to do more. He’s very well equipped for being a househusband (he cleans a heck of a lot better than I do!), but he still can’t reconcile the financial side of things, so he has bouts of depression, but it’s getting better.

    Saying he’ll do the dishes means nothing if they go undone for a week.

    Error 4 is Choice. Are you with your partner because you want them or because you need them? I don’t need my husband and he doesn’t need me, but we want each other very very much! Relationships built on want remove all barriers to breaking up and are ironically stronger because the couple knows that they are loved for themselves rather than the rent. Arguments, which are inevitable, are more meaningful in the long run because both sides are choosing to fight to keep the other. Meaningful change happens rather than keeping with the dysfunctional status quo. The person who is assured that they are needed have little incentive to change while the needy person lives in constant fear of rejection.

    Error #5 is when you tolerate rather than accept, which encompasses all the above errors. What happens when his health fails, he refuses to change, he says he will pick up his socks, but he never does, and you need him? Does resentment fester because you tolerate it, or do you smile and accept it? This is a personal question because all people are different. But, if you can’t accept it, you should probably be with someone else.

    P.S. I don’t believe it’s possible to force yourself to genuinely accept this stuff. It’s a personality thing.

  2. “I read advice like the above and immediately wonder how crappy this husband is that he needs to be “handled” and the wife needs to be reminded why she even likes him!”

    Catherine, I remember seeing what that other commenter pointed out how you truly feel about your husband (and when you were only dating!!). No offense, but you do not sound like a happily married (or even when you were dating!!) woman.

    And it’s true, you must not have been married long enough to understand why posts like this are good and helpful. Everyone’s different, but again, you definitely do not sound like a happily married woman who can help others go through ups and downs.

    If all you have is “you should probably be with someone else,” then you’re perpetuating the divorce failures. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to let your comments through if all you have are insults to mine and the readers’ marriages, and yucky spewing of your unbiblical advice.

    Read somewhere else, or try having a good attitude. I’m sorry your life is so negative.

  3. Catherine, I’m going to point out some faults I see in the comment you left, you can take it or leave it, I’m not looking for a response but would like to leave my two cents for others.

    “I read advice like the above and immediately wonder how crappy this husband is that he needs to be “handled” and the wife needs to be reminded why she even likes him!”

    I don’t see how it shows a husband needs to be handled, but it’s wanting to remember and look toward oneself about why they were attracted and wanted to be married in the first place, since things change as time goes on. Bodies change, finances change, life changes. Before I got married it was all about me, then I found my best friend and knew I could not live without her. When I got married it changed from being all about me to all about us and what was best for us. We had rough patches learning to be married, but we looked at what we could do for ourselves to make the marriage work. Then when the kids came life changed again, so it’s having to constantly remember where the love came from and how it has grown.

    “I know, I know. We’re still in the “honeymoon stage” and “one day we’ll know what *real* marriage is”. Personally, I think y’all are stuck with a crappy husband and think everyone should be miserable.”

    I don’t think you need to attack people just because you don’t agree with them. I don’t see where it said everyone should be miserable. This is basically saying what her Supporting Your Husband in His Mission was saying about encouraging the spouse in his passions, and remind them of what made them fall in love.

    “My husband had a heart attack at 39 caused by diet, smoking, and no exercise (OTR driver). He had a stroke a year later that left his left side completely numb, but has since regained some feeling in the form of excruciating pain, that he’s had to get used to because there is no cure. He’s on disability, but works part time.

    I knew ALL of this going into our relationship.”

    Good, that is something like other issues that would be major issues within a marriage or lead to struggles and fights down the line. Honesty is key.

    “Error #1 people make in marriage: assuming life can’t change in an instant. You need to prepare both emotionally and financially.

    The heart attack didn’t cause my husband to quit smoking, start exercising, or change his diet. I told him when we started dating that he had to quit smoking to keep me. He told me he would, then took 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (a lot of tears) to do it.”

    The point you’re making with the error is good, however, I still think wanting to marry someone under the condition they have to change first, is not the best starter for a marriage. I would tell people if they want to make someone change during the relationship, to not get married before whatever change that person wanted is completed, however that change has to be instigated and initially wanted by the person who will change. Otherwise resentment or relapse will occur during trouble times.

    “Error #2 made in marriage: assuming you can’t help someone change. No, you can’t make someone change, but if they say they *want* to change, that is a green light to being a drill sergeant.”

    Agree with the first part you cannot make someone change unless they want to change in the first place. However if they want to change, this does not green light being a “drill sergeant.” Unless you meant that another way which you stated below being an accountability partner (which is a better way). Being a drill sergeant is not a good way to bring change, that will only lead to resentment in the long run.

    “{The sentence that will defuse all fights about changing is this: “You told me you wanted to [insert change]. I’m your accountability buddy. If you still want to change, I’m still your rock. If you don’t want to change, we need to have a different discussion. Do you still want to change? What do you want from me?”

    Now, when he says “I want you to back of(f) and let me go my own speed” you say “no problem. However, as your spouse I deserve to know where you are in the process. I need updates and rough figures. I cannot be left in the dark, *it’s not fair to me*.”

    When it comes to smoking and other addictions quantity is your best tool because most addicts are willfully oblivious to how much they’re consuming. They live in the moment. Bringing the quantity into the light is 99% of the battle.}”

    These three paragraphs I don’t have an issue with as long as they are made with love and in a good tone. If they are made in an angry or bitter or controlling way, it will not work. You sound like you have all the control in this marriage, which isn’t good.

    “Error #3 is both the easiest to identify and hardest to deal with: actions speak louder than words. He sounds like the perfect guy, but what does he act like?”

    I agree with this as well, however, this needs to be turned on oneself as well. Not only how does the other person act like, but also how do I act towards the other person.

    “My husband is not built to be a househusband. He’s used to running himself into the ground working to support a family. He physically cannot do that any more. I’m technically the breadwinner. This hurts him emotionally not because he resents my job, but because he feels like he should be able to do more. He’s very well equipped for being a househusband (he cleans a heck of a lot better than I do!), but he still can’t reconcile the financial side of things, so he has bouts of depression, but it’s getting better.

    Saying he’ll do the dishes means nothing if they go undone for a week.”

    First paragraph is good, shows y’all are working together. Last sentence… I work but if I see something needs to be done I will help when I can, it’s not often I can help, but I don’t just force the action to be done by my stay at home wife.

    “Error 4 is Choice. Are you with your partner because you want them or because you need them? I don’t need my husband and he doesn’t need me, but we want each other very very much! Relationships built on want remove all barriers to breaking up and are ironically stronger because the couple knows that they are loved for themselves rather than the rent. Arguments, which are inevitable, are more meaningful in the long run because both sides are choosing to fight to keep the other. Meaningful change happens rather than keeping with the dysfunctional status quo. The person who is assured that they are needed have little incentive to change while the needy person lives in constant fear of rejection.”

    Marriage is a choice, a choice to get into a relationship with the person, a choice to get married, a choice to stay married. My issue with this is the want vs. need. I feel there needs to be a balance. If someone wants to be with someone when trouble or rough patches occur, then that person may not “want” to be there during the rough patches or trouble. Yes, being too needy isn’t good, especially if you’re married to a person of bad character.

    Relationships built on want do not remove all barriers to breaking up, they make it easier for one to leave once they don’t want the relationship anymore. I’m sure I could find statistics to support this, maybe I will post it another time. I’ve always felt that when people say that their spouse should “love them for themselves,” that gives them the excuse to do whatever they want, either letting themselves go or stopping the romance. And to counter what you said, in a want only relationship, arguments are not going to be more meaningful because each will only push what they want versus what’s best for the marriage as a whole.

    “Error #5 is when you tolerate rather than accept, which encompasses all the above errors. What happens when his health fails, he refuses to change, he says he will pick up his socks, but he never does, and you need him? Does resentment fester because you tolerate it, or do you smile and accept it? This is a personal question because all people are different. But, if you can’t accept it, you should probably be with someone else.”

    Communication is key to every relationship especially in marriage. Do not just concentrate on the other persons faults that you either need to tolerate or accept. Look at yourself and see what possible faults that you have that the other person may have to tolerate or accept.

    “P.S. I don’t believe it’s possible to force yourself to genuinely accept this stuff. It’s a personality thing.”

    No wiser words can be said, so if one cannot accept these things and wants to push their beliefs on others, they should not comment on blogs they don’t agree with. You aren’t here looking for dialogue. This blog is not pushing the issues written about on other people but has them out there for anyone that wants to read them.

  4. just a thought, but maybe instead of “handle”, something like “treat”?

    “handle” might seem a bit manipulative to some people.

    i know what you meant, but understand how some people might see it differently.

  5. Hi FML, are you referring to where I said this, “That we graciously and carefully handle our husbands as the unique man God created him to be.”

    You’re probably right that handle is the wrong word choice. I meant it as being sweet and delicate with them… but with the way Catherine used it lol, I can see the problem! I’ll change it, thanks!

  6. i think it’s always good to remember when we met, what we liked about each other, what drew us to one another. i’ve always thought this was wise advice 🙂

    the bible often tells us to remember … remember what happened, remember the stories, bind them on your heart, remember, and tell them to the generations coming after you.

    i’ve always thought there’s a lot of power in remembered stories of how we got here. it’s amazing how remembering and retelling these stories ignites little flames of life back into us just when we need them 🙂

    i’ve never been part of a storytelling family, but i’ve admired them and wondered what it would be like to be part of a generational family who sits around and tells stories; it must be a beautiful and remarkable experience for children to grow up listening to great grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and parents tell stories. they’re so powerful 🙂

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