When I speak on marriage or do marriage preparation work, I sometimes get accused of being tough on men. I plead guilty, with an explanation, or two.
First of all I am a man and it’s just easier for me to speak firmly to men. I tend to be more polite with women. Secondly, I think most men are encouraged when they are summoned to duty. A lot of men I have talked to are a bit sick of all the hand holding that goes on in Church, literally and figuratively. Most men I know are more interested in hearing of their duty and being summoned to it in a manly way. (However, I must say I have experienced some very definite exceptions to this rule. Some men especially react with great bitterness that I do not better articulate women’s shortcomings when it comes to marriage. I suspect there is a personal dimension to this story). Finally, I believe in male headship when it comes to marriage. Some call me old fashioned, some call me misogynist. I just prefer to call myself “biblical” (Eph 5:19ff; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1). But headship in the Scripture means responsibility rather than privilege. Hence the husband has the first obligation to love, to sacrifice, to anticipate and fulfill the needs of his wife and children. So yes, I am tough on men.
In that vein allow me a moment to extend some old advice to men, especially those who are husbands. Women are surely invited to listen in and to apply some of this to themselves too! For although men have the first obligation, women are not thereby passive or without duty in this regard.
And here is the central question for a man: “How to handle a woman?” An old song from Camelot answers the question well, and biblically I might add:
How to handle a woman? There’s a way,” said the wise old man, “A way known by every woman Since the whole rigmarole began.” “Do I flatter her?” I begged him answer. “Do I threaten or cajole or plead? Do I brood or play the gay romancer?” Said he, smiling: “No indeed. How to handle a woman? Mark me well, I will tell you, sir: The way to handle a woman Is to love her…simply love her… Merely love her…love her…love her.”
Alright men, It’s not that complicated is it? Love her. Simply love her, love her!
In marriage counseling I will sometimes ask the husband privately, Do you love your wife…Honestly now, do you really love her? The answer is not always obvious. Many people confuse mere toleration with love. Because I put up with you means I must love you, somehow.
But my question goes deeper: Do you have a deep affection, a warmth, a compassion and desire for your wife? Do you like her? Some of the men who are more honest with themselves realize that many of these qualities are no longer operative and that, at best, they have a tense toleration for their wife. And there are often protests as well: Father, you don’t know how my wife can be!….She’s hard to love. (Actually I do have some idea. We priests are not mere bachelors and we too are called to love some people who are difficult to love). Love remains the answer. And so I inevitably invite the husband to pray for a miracle:
When you go home, get on your knees and pray for the miracle to really love your wife. Pray for the miracle of a tender and humble heart that will love her with a deep, abiding, compassionate, and passionate love. Pray to love her unconditionally, not because she deserves it, or has earned it, not because she feeds you or sleeps with you. Pray to love her “for no good reason.” Ask God to give you the same love he has for you. You and I are not easy to love, we have not earned God’s love and don’t really deserve it. But God loves us still the same. Yes, pray for a miracle. Your flesh may think of 50 reasons to be resentful and unloving toward your wife. Pray for the miracle to love her any way, deeply and truly. Pray for a new heart, filled with God’s love.
In the end, the only way to “handle” a woman is to love her.
I can hear the fear talking as well: Are you saying I should be a doormat? No, love speaks the truth and insists upon it. But only love can distinguish between respect for the truth and mere power struggle. Only love can distinguish properly between reverence for the good of the other and merely insisting on my own preferences. Love can speak the truth but it does so with love.
As a priest I have found that the more I love my people the better equipped I am to lead them to the truth. And when they know and experience that I love them, there is trust and they can better accept the truth I am summoned to preach. But it is love that opens the door.
Advice to husbands, How to handle a woman? Love her.
In case you’ve never heard the song from Camelot here it is. The Scene begins with Arthur furiously lamenting the short-comings of the Queen and then reacalling some old advice given him by Merlin:
Now, you will say, “Camelot ended badly.” Yes, but in the end we do not love merely with good results in mind, we love unconditionally, as God does. God loves because God is love and that’s what Love does, He loves. And so to for us, called to be possessed of God’s love, we love. We risk to love. The Lord was killed for the love he had for us. We do not love merely to get something from it, we simply love. Others may accept or refuse our love, but as for us we love. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16).
Simply love her, love her, love her.
Here’s another video clip that says it better than I. This is clip from the movie “Fireproof” wherein a husband struggles to love his wife. This scene is the turning point of the move, the breakthrough: