Happy Wife, Happy Life

By Scott Keith

Disclaimer:

Before I write this blog and describe how awful I believe the concept of, “Happy Wife, Happy Life” is, please allow me to provide a few disclaimers. First, I love my wife! We have been married for twenty-one years and have raised three beautiful children together. I can honestly say that she is the love of my life. Second, we, like all couples, have had good times and bad. We have treated one another extremely well, and we have both, at times, treated one another poorly and ashamedly. We are, I think, somewhat typical as far as that goes. We do not have a perfect marriage––nothing is perfect this side of glory––but we do have a good marriage. She is for me, and I am for her.

The Argument:

As far as I understand the mantra, the argument, I think, goes something like this. If husbands do whatever is necessary and live as though all that matters in life is their wife’s happiness, then, they too will be happy. Presumably, husbands will also be happy because their wives will know that come what may, they are right, and he is wrong, and he will capitulate to her better judgment. The argument was best summed up by a meme I recently saw entitled, “The Golden Rule for a Happy Marriage.” It went like this:

Rule # 1: The Wife is always right.

Rule # 2: When you feel that she is wrong, slap yourself and refer to rule number 1.

You Can’t Make Another Person Happy:

I have several problems with this inane modern banter. First and foremost, is the reality that no one person can make another person consistently happy no matter what they do. People are either happy in their situations or they are not. Allow me to clarify. I believe that being a husband and or a wife is a vocation given to us by God. God is He who calls us into relationships with one another for a myriad of reasons, including procreation. But, I cannot make my wife happy with that situation no matter what I do unless she is already somewhat accepting of her vocation as wife and generally content with her life. If I am content in our marriage she is generally more content as well, and vice-versa. But what kind of person would she actually be if what made her happy was that I was made miserable by serving her every whim? Do we not call these type of people evil despots? If the husband’s happiness doesn’t matter at all, and the wife’s happiness alone is the goal, what incentive does any man have to get married? Perhaps we all shouldn’t wonder so much why young men, on the whole, no longer care about marriage when we go around saying foolish crap like “Happy Wife, Happy Life.”

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Social Justice Warriors:

Second, I think that this phrase is an outgrowth of the overall social justice war that has been going on since the sixties, embodied by the modern Social Justice Warrior. A Social Justice Warrior is a blogger, activist, or commentator who are prone to engage in lengthy and hostile debates against others on a range of issues concerning “social injustice,” identity politics, marriage equality, gender, and political correctness. These people have been engaging in a social Blitzkrieg over the last decade, and they seem to have won. The systematic goal of the Social Justice Warrior is to tear down any remnant of the old white male patriarchal system and replace it with one that is more “inclusive.” The phrase “Happy Wife, Happy Life” affirms the social justice idea that men have been happy and in control long enough and now it is the woman’s time to rule. This usurpation of time-honored norms might be all well and good if in the process men on the whole, husbands and fathers specifically, and Christian marriage even more precisely, hadn’t been completely trampled underfoot.

It Is Not All About Happiness:

Third, though it is wonderful when two people are happy in a marriage–or just the wife according to the mantra–marriage is not all about happiness. The sheer reality of the sinful world in which we live is that some of us are never happy, and most of us, though we may feel content and blessed, are not consistently happy. Although it is not all about happiness, God has given us to one another to help one another and be blessed by one another. But I digress. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God, “Let us create for him a helpmate.” Husband and wife are to help one another and make it through together. Wives are made for their husbands. Husbands are called to love and cherish their wives. Happiness is nice, but God’s call that, “man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife,” is actually good. When this, “holding fast,” results in mutual and not one sided happiness, it is even better, perhaps even great.

Christ in the Middle:

Fourth, the Apostle Paul turns this phrase on its head in Ephesians chapter five where he writes: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:21-28) We are to submit to one another in reverence to Christ. Christ is in the middle of our marital relationship. He established it. He loves it. He sustains it, and He is the one who redeems both husband and wife.

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Free Before God, Servant to All:

Fifth, this is part of what Luther means when he in On Christian Freedom, claims: “A Christian man is the most-free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” Not that wives are served at the expense of their husbands, nor that husbands are served at the cost of their wives. Rather, that those of us who are in Christ are free before God on account of Christ. In Christ, the Law no longer has the power to condemn us before God. We are now free to serve one another in love, not out of threat or fear. We serve first those God has called into our lives in the form of family and work our way out from there to our other neighbors in the world. What I despise most about the mantra is that it brings a veiled threat back into our freedom in Christ. I am free to love and serve my wife because Christ has set me free. I do not love her out of threat that my life will be unhappy if I don’t make her happy. Rather, I love and serve her because Christ has set me free and called her into my life so that I might freely love her with all that I have. And though my effort to love her is often too little, God wraps me into His grace and for the sake of Christ forgives me for that as well.

You are Free Indeed!

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) So what is left? What is left is to live in Christ. Live in His mercy. Live in His grace. Live in His freedom. Live in His calling to others. Live in His love first shown to you, which you now, on account of Christ, show to those whom He has called to be your neighbor. Live in your marriage each day knowing you wake up next to a child of God who on account of Christ is free to serve you, and feel free to serve, and make her happy, in return.

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9 thoughts on “Happy Wife, Happy Life

  1. I don’t think the old saying is meant to take too literally…it is somewhat of a joke not a spiritual belief or right.
    Good sermon though.

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    1. I think you might be surprised about how many young men hear this phrase and get really defensive. I’ve joked with this line, and a few single guys I had been hanging out with got really serious and said this was the reason they weren’t getting married. I tried to persuade them differently, but a lot of the millennial generation take this phrase serious, whether in jest or not.

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      1. Agreed. This may have started as a joke, and maybe even is slightly humorous on some level, but it has gone beyond mere playfulness. Men are denegrated in our scoiety. Actual marriage is denegrated to an even greater extent. This is idiotic phrase is just one more examply of that denegration. Further, it miscontrues our freedom in Christ to actually serve one another in love. Thanks for reading.

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  2. Amen, thanks for letting me sit in on your class. I enjoyed it & have a question about 1st cause. Time is so important to us & seems to run in a line w/ each action > every next action.This is reduced to 1st action or cause. What if time is circular, or exists in another way that we cannot understand. Looking forward to your podcast, peace brother @mountainbadger

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    1. That is a good questions. I think though, that I may leave it to the philosophers among us. I do Know that the Hebrew representation of time was mor cyclical than strictly linear, and they still saw God as the “first cause,” or more properly He who always was, is, and ever shall be.

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  3. Concerning Christian Liberty is such an excellent and biblical book! That paradox in scripture, whereby we are free, but we are called to be slaves, is so badly misunderstood and misapplied!

    I am free from sin, condemnation, and all works that I might perform to earn or maintain God’s favor, therefore I can freely become the slave of my wife and children for their benefit, not simply their happiness. I can do this freely because I love them, not because I view my wife as some tyrannical despot whose wrath I must appease.

    I think you successfully threw out the bath water while leaving the baby in tact.

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  4. Scott is really in denial. Besides, Mrs Keith reads his columns. He simply must measure his words carefully. He knows that he must still please his wife as any other married man normally does. If not, he will feel the consequences in his relationship. An unhappy wife is not conducive to a harmonious life. It is true..true..true.

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    1. Mrs. Keith does read my articles and I believe she is in agreement with me here, Here is my question to you, John: is an unhappy husband conducive to a harmonious? If not, then why don’t we say “happy huband, happy home?” Becuase it doesn’t rhyme as well?

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