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Volume 13, Issue 3: Husbandry

Love Rebounds

Douglas Wilson

The Bible teaches us that husbands should love their wives, and that wives should respect their husbands. We may infer from this that wives need to receive love, and that husbands need to receive respect. When the Bible says that shepherds should feed the sheep, it follows, or seems to, that sheep need food.

We also can note that wives have a need to render respect, and not just a duty to do so. Husbands have a need to love their wives, and not just an obligation to love them. We are all called to find our fulfillment in doing what God calls us to do. A man who does not love his wife is a man who is failing to fulfill his husbandly duty. But in this failure, he is failing to be what he needs to be. Put another way, a man who is harsh with his wife is not just failing to "meet her needs," to use the common phrase, he is failing to meet a fundamental need that he has.
He does not come to love her because she is needy and he is full and overflowing. The man and woman are both needy, but in different ways. He needs to love and she needs to be loved. She needs to respect, and he needs to be respected. A man who loves his wife, Paul says, loves himself.
As much as a man might want to believe it, he cannot be independent from his wife. When Adam stood alone in the garden, mankind was not yet fully created. God had looked at everything else He had created and said that it was good. But when one male stood there, He said it was not good that man should be alone. Male and female created He them.
A man cannot be a sadist to his wife without being a masochist. An unkind word to a wife is like hitting yourself in the forehead with a hammer. God has so united a man and woman together that, in effect, when a man does not love his wife he is refusing to love himself. When a wife disrespects her husband, she is showing herself worthy of contempt and invites disrespect to be heaped upon her.
This is the reverse of our current psycho-babble. We have been told, ad nauseam, that before we can love others we have to first love ourselves. This is false on two counts. In the first place, Paul tells us that no man ever hated his own flesh. There is a natural love for one's own body that ought to be a template which a man uses in order to determine what he should do for his wife. When he has a headache, what does he want? What should he therefore do when she has a headache? The problem is straightforward—it is simply the Golden Rule applied to marriage. Do for your spouse what you would like done under comparable circumstances.
But there is a sense in which love of spouse and love of self is directly linked. Our confused generation has the thing upside down. We should not work on loving ourselves, and then, when we have that down, go on to work at loving the wife. Rather, to the extent that we need to learn something in how to love ourselves, we are to do so by working on loving ourselves in the image of our wives. How should a man love himself? He should treat his body right. Who is his body? She is.
A man who treats himself right in the person of his wife first is a man who is blessed indeed. A man who eats broken glass is likely to find that his body somehow retaliates against him. A man who drinks kerosene is a man who will likely have trouble with his body shortly, Rolaids or not. A man who cuts off his own fingers will soon be unable to pick up the knife in order to get at the last two.
And a man who is harsh and angry with his wife is not just a sinner: he is a fool. He yells at her in the morning and wonders why the conversation at dinner lags. He harps on her and criticises her—for her weight, her cooking, her discipline of the kids—and when her life is full of the sound of his pontificating voice—oh, yeah, the sex isn't any good either. A man who treats a woman like this is actually treating himself like this. The problem is that he is such an unbelieving fool that he does not acknowledge what Scripture says about his fundamental unity with the object of his complaining. A man, staring at a mirror, bemoans the fact that his hair is uncombed. Well, comb it.
Returning to the point, Paul says that a man who loves his wife loves himself. It is very hard for a man to outgive a woman. And in giving to her, he discovers that he is giving to himself. But by the time he learns this, the lesson of humility is already taken a deep root, and he has learned not to abuse it. This is no technique, no trick. How can those dead to sin still live in it? How can a man alive in marriage opt for the death called selfishness?

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