How to Handle a Woman

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:

57 Replies to “How to Handle a Woman”

  1. Twenty six years after going through marriage preparation classes at Sacred Heart in Texarkana, you finally come along with the answer to the final exam. I remember the couple teaching us asking what we thought was the most important thing we could hope for in life. My wife to be said to be happy and I said salvation. You are good. You are really good.

  2. Interesting choice of songs to illustrate your point. I think Mordred’s song from Camelot is a good illustration of how the secular world regards Sin.
    I also enjoyed (and was made uncomfortable by) the other video. If only more sons actually valued the counsel of our fathers…

  3. “Do you have a deep affection, a warmth, a compassion and desire for your wife, Do you like her?” Even if all are true, it is very possible that she does not communicate the same to her husband. In such a situation, the husband must live a truly sacrificial love for his wife and family, which is only possible through an active prayer life and constant requests for intercession by all three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

  4. All this talk of being a real man and there has been no mention of St. Joseph? Truely there is none nor ever will be a husband and father as great and holy as he was. Men who want to be real men should strive to imitate his virtues.

    1. At least he knew with certainty that in any family argument he was going to be in the wrong 😉

  5. Very well said. I am one of those who could not keep their marriage alive, and after about 15 years of marriage first separated and then divorced two years later. I do not want to engage in the tired old argument that when a marriage fails the fault lies with both spouses. What you write above reminded me of all that did wrong, to sum it up in one word, selfishness. What I did not do as a husband I am at least trying to do as a father to my three – now young adult – children. That is a task that somehow is within my grasp, with lots of help from Above. Even for those of us who failed in their marriage, my message is to persevere, ask yourself what is the right way, and pray, pray, pray.

  6. Beautifully said but also difficult to put into practice since us wives are not always easy to love. But when a husband loves, loves, loves his wife, no matter how difficult she is to love, her love and obedience comes as well. My husband and I have been married 16 years and have grown closer over the years. I made a decision to always defer to him, without understanding why … but it felt right and good. It was only after I accepted Christ in my life again that it made sense. Last year, our marriage vows were blessed and made holy.

    We make it a point to pray together, Father. It keeps us close.

  7. I’m sure you would like to think of yourself as “biblical” (and you very well maybe). But biblical or not, you’re still incredibly misogynist.

    1. Andy, I suggest you consult with what the word misogynist means.

      misogynist = A man who hates women.

      Nowhere does the Monsignor advocate hatred of women. In fact, the good Monsignor is arguing precisely the opposite: to love women, even when they are humanly unlovable.

      You would do better to call him a philogynist instead.

    2. I presume you were not being tongue-in-cheek in calling Msgr. Pope “incredibly misogynist”, since no emoticon was included. Misogynist means “Characterized by a hatred of women.” Words DO have meanings, and, in this case, I see no cause to use this word with respect to Msgr. Pope. Further, regardless of what happens to be politically-correct at this date and time, there are objective differences between the population of men and the population of women when each is taken as a whole, and to discuss such objective differences is not, rationally, misogynist.

    3. This is an incredibly strange comment. What basis do you have for saying a man who is asking us to love our wives hates women?

      1. Ok y’all I think I have figured out the problem. Andy is from another planet and hasn’t quite figured out the lexicon or how human beings tick. Give him time, he will come to understand. 😉

      2. How to handle a Catholic Priest:

        1)Realize he truly believes he is ordained by a magical, higher power.

        2)Realize said higher power tells him inequality is really equality

        3)Hope that someday he finds an institution that helps people who believe they are hearing the word of God.

      3. How to handle an Andy:

        1. Pray for him, and ask for help for yourself

        2. Ignore any fight-picking, sarcastic, name-calling comments

        3. Respond to polite, sincere comments with patient, charitable answers

      4. Dear Msgr. Charles Pope

        with respect to: December 2, 2010 at 10:34 am “Ok y’all I think I have figured out the problem. Andy is from another planet and hasn’t quite figured out the lexicon or how human beings tick. Give him time, he will come to understand.”

        is remarkably patronizing and disrespectful. People who profess to be Christians should always stand up for what they believe whist respecting those who disagree with it, which your comment, sadly, does not.

        1. Read on further threads my friend and don’t reduce the conversation to one comment. You seem to fail to grasp that we were considering the fact that Andy was being sarcastic in his comment and playing the devil’s advocate role hence I adopted a playful tone as well. Only later did we come to understand that Andy was being quite serious and the conversation then became less playful on my part. So I think your judgement is rash in this case. Perhaps too if you had some awareness of further conversations that Andy and I had you might be less severe in your judgment of me.

  8. My husband’s unconditional love for me (in the context of a live devoted to Christ) saved my soul.

  9. I’m with Vijaya here – the problem is when a wife really wants to show deference and her husband acts like an a** or a gutless wonder. If more husbands merited respect, things would be a lot better.

    And don’t even get me started on women who don’t want to show respect or give deference. It’s tough business, this being human.

    What’s with the slam to good Monsignor, Andy? I’ve never had the impression that he’s misogynistic at all – ever!

  10. Monsignor,
    I would love to read more of your thoughts about headship in marriage. I grew up in a misogynistic environment which was always justified by appeals to “Scriptural marriage”. It was not uncommon to hear men say, “These verses mean that if I tell her to take out the trash, she’d better take out the trash!” Some gave lip service to the idea that maybe they shouldn’t go around commanding their wives to “take out the trash”, but, in many cases, it was only lip service. I carried these problems into my own marriage and it’s been a long haul to even begin to see the problems caused by this outlook. I’m starting to get a clearer picture of what is meant by obviously respectful men (I’m thinking specifically of two priests who have been instrumental in helping me understand what it is to be respected in the first place) who talk about headship, but I’m still puzzled by it.

  11. I have been married to a great guy for 33 years. The man is a saint for putting up with me.

    My advice to the woman is let yourself be loved. If he brings you flowers- don’t say what are these for? how much did they cost, are you in trouble???….. Say thank you honey for thinking of me.. I love you. Sometimes us girls like to be complicated; most guys just want us to be nice to them.

  12. I am in a relationship that has marriage potential. I agree with what you’ve said 100% – there is a HUGE difference between merely tolerating someone and loving them. There is also a HUGE difference between relationships where one person is giving their all, and relationships where two people are giving their all. I will say that I am very glad that I have practiced celibacy – being celibate helped me figure out what went wrong in past relationships, and fix it, and also learn how to respect myself, and take care of what God gave me. Working the ER, and being a psychology major for PA school or forensic psychology has taught me that there is a chain of events associated with good and bad things. Being celibate has led me to make better decisions and not rush things; whereas I have seen that when celibacy is not practiced, the relationships tend to go downhill and move too fast. Just an example. Anyways, great post, and I still keep up with reading the blog even though I may not comment as often anymore.

  13. I was in a very painful marriage for 25 years. Both of us caused each other immense pain and sorrow.

    One night I was talking to God about “what to do about her?” His answer? “Forgive!” It was an order, not a suggestion.
    I had to pull off the road because of the tears of hurt and anger and disbelief. I could hardly bear the very thought of forgiving so I said I couldn’t do it. Then I realized I not only couldn’t but was unwilling. So I asked for the grace to become willing, then for the grace to forgive.

    It was a process that went on for a number of years with no real change in my heart towards her. I had been merely gritting my teeth and enduring till the moment I was inspired to ask Jesus more out of desperation than anything else, Lord please give me the grace to love her with YOUR Heart.

    In an instant my heart was changed. I had been seeing only the pain she was causing me but now I saw the pain that she had gone through and the anger, fear and bitterness melted away.

    I suddenly felt a softness and compassion towards her I had never had before and I did start loving her with no expectation of any change in her. But change she did.
    Women are made to be responders and when my attitude was changed hers was too.

    I’m not saying there was a fairy tale happy ending but when she died unexpectedly I was devastated.
    I realized that the grief of losing her was a testament to the absolute power of God to radically transform our lives.

      1. This really is a very touching story…Thank you Jeff for mentioning it here.. I’m sure many will benefit from it and be a little more hopeful.

  14. It’s off the topic of this post, but I have to point out that the scene from “Fireproof” is straight out of Protestant mythology: the son is basically clubbed over the head with “Repent, you sinner!” and, after 60 seconds of increasingly futile resistance, he is overpowered. In the process, God is essentially portrayed as having standards that are arbitrary and unreasonable, but He cannot be questioned in this because He is God. This will not work with most Americans, at least; it will be necessary to make strong arguments that God is not an omnipotent tyrant, and His laws are for our benefit, not His. It would also help to show a bit more humility. The most effective preachers I have heard not only condemn all sin (by name!), they also make it clear that they are speaking as fellow sinners in constant need of forgiveness.

  15. I think Mary hit the nail on the head with her last sentence. All most men really want is their wives to be nice to them. It really is that simple with us guys!

    1. Joe, what you wrote caused me to remember something I read somewhere that seems fundamentally true to me and is echoed in your comment: “The foundation of a happy marriage is for the wife to respect/honor her husband, and for the husband to love his wife.”

      1. I have to disagree. Maybe many guys only want a woman to be nice to them, but I want a woman who will love me. And that means challenging me, pushing me, correcting me, supporting me, kicking me in the teeth if necessary when I am screwing up, and sometimes being nice to me. But sometimes being nice is a sign that the person doesn’t care enough to be truthful.

  16. 38 years of Love. Love gave me 2 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren (so far). Love is the mother of all other attributes of marriage. A person can be mad at another for a period of time, but at the same time know the anger is not a subsitute for love, but only a sensation, because love is present even during trials. Yes, Love gives us the ability to love. God sent His Love in person, the Love that mounted the Cross. The new law is Love one another. But most of all love God first.

  17. My morning meditation often leads me to more clearly see how to be more faithful to Christ, I must become more couter-coultural! I tried to live my life by “normal worldly standards” my marriage was doomed my two children although very young at the time, were scarred and I was hopeless, depressed, and wishing for the end to my self imposed prison sentence!

    Then by what I can only describe as Gods grace, he saved me from the “pit of dispair” I found myself in. He reunited my broken family. My wife, at the time a nominal evangelical Christian found herself at home as a Catholic – we developed a sacramental marriage – The both of us (while there is still far to go) have found real joy! Where there was immobilizing fear – we (try) to have boundless confidence that the Lord our God will see us through! We have gone from a barren wasteland to a field of great abundance (we have also been very fruitful as we are expecting our fifth child)!!!

    Thank you for your faithful sevice to God. I will keep you and all priests in my daily prayers!

  18. Msgr. Pope, I don’t think your point could be more accurate. How do you handle a woman? You love her. That’s it. That’s what it means to handle a woman. It is really just that simple. The way she responds is not my concern — that much is up to her. My job is to love her. And you’re right: it is not easy. Sometimes, it is extremely difficult. But that’s okay — God knows we’re human and gives us the grace we need through prayer, penance, and the sacraments. Moreover, these challenges help us discover how to love the way Christ loves.

    I also want to thank you for the sensitive way you handled this subject. You mentioned men who respond to you bitterly when you do not articulate the shortcomings of wives in marriages. I am definitely the sort of man who would respond this way. There are, of course, quite a few reasons for this, most of which concern some past relationships. But it is also because nearly every marriage article I’ve ever read addresses husbands rather than wives. As a matter of fact, I have seen one article in my lifetime that addresses some of the common shortcomings of wives. I find this a bit suspicious. It is not that I want to see women flogged for their failures, but why is it that we challenge wives so little? Are women not also human beings, capable of failure, needing guidance, and responsible for their actions and character? The typical marriage article does not give you this impression.

    This, however, is almost ancillary to my real gripe about these articles. The real problem I have with them is not so much their intended audience but their tone. The one article I read which was addressed to wives was remarkably sensitive, gentle, and forgiving — and of course, that is how such articles should be. By contrast, almost all of the articles I’ve read which were addressed to men were rather severe, as if the authors believed the best way to relate to men was to beat them into submission. The worst of them seemed ashamed to be men.

    So I thank you, Msgr. Pope, for your article — it was nice to read an article that was challenging but also humanizing.

    1. David, perhaps you should read Dr. Laura’s Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. She really takes wives to task for making their husbands miserable when all he wants to do is to love her and to be loved.

      1. JQ – thank you for your suggestion. I had to chuckle at myself after reading your comment – I knew nothing about “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands,” but the impression the title gave me when I first encountered the book several years ago was diametrically opposed to the description you offered. Shows what I know! Anyway, thanks.

  19. Msgr Pope has hit the nail on the head. Women want to be loved. Some of us spend our whole lives looking for it in the wrong places, but we’re still looking for it and have yet to find even a shred. Some of us have it and lose it and will do almost anything to get it back again. Some of us are immensely blessed to have had it all along.

    ALL of us, from birth to gray hair, want to be loved. If a woman knows you love her, she will walk through fire for you. She will face her greatest demons to try and please you. A marriage that exists in true love is immensely blessed and rare. I only hope that Msgr. Pope’s advice helps lead more couples to one.

  20. You gave us our marriage prep. Six years after the fact, I’m glad you were hard on me. I speak for my wife in this regard, too.

  21. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the different experiences of married couples in their relationship. In marriage is it not that the relationship should be 50-50 and not 60-40?

    Thank you Jeff for sharing your story.

    1. Actually, the best marriage relationship is 100-100: both spouses giving themselves completely for the other, instead of going half-way and waiting for the other to do the same…

  22. Interesting that someone should mention the book “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”. I read this book a few years ago and it completely changed how I look at my husband. It has made me a better wife to my husband which has caused my husband to love me even more – a true “win-win” situation! I was so impressed by this book that I sent it to all my married daughter and my three daughters-in-law, explaining to them how it helped me and encouraging them to read it. Unfortunately, all three daughters-in-law saw the book as women debasing themselves and unfortunately, two of them are now separated (their husbands, my sons, left them) and one of them are having serious marital difficulties. In all three cases, they showed little or no respect for their husbands. When I learned of their marital troubles (all three since September 2014), I reminded my daughters-in-law of the wonderful marriage advice found in this book. One them (who is now separated) seemed offended by this saying that their marriage was a 50-50 arrangement. I was tempted to say “and where has this 50-50 relationship gotten you?”, but I didn’t. Instead, all I can do is pray for them. I totally agree with Frank’s comments concerning the best marriage relationship is 100-100.

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