How should a Christian husband who fully believes in what the Bible says about Biblical gender roles handle his disabled wife? Does God exempt such wives from his command in Titus 2:5 for them to be “keepers at home”? What about God’s command in Proverbs 5:19 to husbands regarding their wives to “let her breasts satisfy thee at all times”? How should a Christian husband manage his sexual needs while also being considerate of his wife’s disabilities that might impact their having sexual relations?
These are some of the difficult questions that Christian husbands who want to follow God’s Word regarding Biblical gender roles and marriage must answer when they have a disabled wife.
Recently I received an email from a husband calling himself Bob who is struggling with how God would have him to handle his disabled wife. Below is his story.
Bob’s Struggles With His Disabled Wife
“I’m 35 and my wife is 32. I have been married for 12 years and have three boys aged 10, 8 and almost 5. My wife has had health issues since she was 16 when she had her first cardiac arrest. She had another one at 19 but hasn’t had another since taking medication. I met her a year later and we married within six months.
My wife was keen to take on the role as homemaker but at times due to health issues would need taking care of herself by me and in turn I would need to take care of the household. After a year of working full time as a teacher, running a youth ministry two nights a week, running a Sunday night church service and taking care of my wife and now new baby I broke. I had to pull back from my passions through work and ministry. I was on antidepressants for a couple of years to repair my brain from living off adrenaline constantly. All that was left was looking after my family which made me feel miserable.
My wife injured her sacroiliac joints in her back when pregnant with our second child and was having injections every few months to help keep on top of the pain. After our third child I had a vasectomy as I did not have the capacity to take care of any more people in my life. This made my wife very sad. For three years she would get quite emotional as she longed for more children. Every time we had sex she would end up in tears.
She did get through this. I had to be strong with her about it. The problem after this was that her back issues increasing got worse. This means to ever have sex, which she would do sacrificially once or twice a month meant she went through a lot of pain.
I believe in male headship in a marriage. I feel lines get blurred when I’m required to serve my wife and kids day to day. Sometimes I feel my wife has a sense of entitlement for me to do things for her because of her needs and pain. When I confront this there is the same old argument about respect, genuine pain and the gap between both our needs comes up. I’m also incredibly frustrated being the homemaker and raising my boys. I believe these roles belong to a wife and mother. I feel caged as I grit my teeth waiting for life to progress whilst giving my boys the best chance possible to do well in life and love God.
We have hired a cleaner once a week and have recently hired someone to pick the kids up from school from time to time to try and help the situation.
I’m frustrated sexually as I fight to stay pure, I’m frustrated as a man, I’m frustrated because I want to be the best husband and dad God has designed me to be but feel the health issues in my wife have stolen the ability to follow the biblical pattern to achieve it. I know it’s not her fault, she sometimes feels guilty and says it would be better if I didn’t marry her or that she died at her first cardiac arrest.
Six years ago I planted a church and have been encouraging men to lead their wives and family and not to be influenced by toxic feminism that is destroying society.
If you have any wisdom or advise that would be helpful.”
My Story Is Very Similar Bob’s
I have spoke about my wife in various articles and struggles we have had. But for a long time, I have been wanting to focus in on the aspect of my being a caregiver husband. Bob’s email was just the push I needed to do this and I hope this will be a blessing to other husbands out there who are caregivers to their disabled wives.
My wife was a nurse’s aide and then became a nurse and worked for the same hospital system for almost 20 years before she had her car accident at the end of 2012. She struggled with her weight for years and had a gastric bypass in 2011 a little over a year after we were married in 2010 she was my second wife – I had to divorce my first wife in 2009 for adultery. See my article “If We Treated Divorce Like Killing” for my exhaustive study and conclusions on divorce from a Biblical perspective.
The gastric bypass actually caused her to have cardiac issues (yes, it is strange and I did not know gastric bypasses could do that but they sometimes do). She had what appeared to be a mild heart attack as a result of complications from the gastric bypass in early 2011. After this she would have times where she experienced light headedness. She had to get on heart medication to regulate her heart. Eventually she had to step down from her nurse manager position on a surgical floor to just being a regular floor nurse again on a contingent basis. This let her work less hours and set her own schedule.
We thought she was doing better but it appeared that she had a black out, most likely caused by her heart condition, on her way driving to work one day on a highway. She hit a free way barrier doing about 60 miles an hour (according to witnesses) and the car flew up in the air. She could have died but thankfully the Lord saved her. She did however suffer a traumatic brain injury and neck, shoulder and back issues because of the accident. She has been in chronic pain ever since.
Also, the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) caused changes in her personality. Before the accident she was a strong and independent woman who liked to go to work and go shopping and visit friends and family. After the accident she was a fearful woman and woman with great anxiety and depression. Some of the depression was as a result of her losing her career as a nurse. She really saw her whole value in her education (her nursing degree) and her job as a nurse. She could not see her life not doing nursing. It has taken years of counseling to get her to the acceptance of the new life she is in now. She has to have a rhizotomy done on each side of her neck for her neck pain (and she has done this for six years now). She has these two surgeries done within 2 weeks of one each other every six months.
I have to manage her pain medication for her and keep it locked up because when she had access to it she would abuse it because of her chronic pain.
So, I am in a similar boat to you – I cook a lot, I help with laundry and also with my children. I have five children from a previous marriage and my wife has none. She was not able to have children with her previous husband. My wife has hinted about adoption – but I told her after the accident I do not think that is wise because she cannot even care completely for herself let alone a child full time. She loves babysitting my 2-year-old our 7-month-old nephews. But she can only do that for a few hours at time before being completely physically and mentally exhausted where she needs to retreat to our bedroom to recoup. I call our bedroom her “Fortress of Solitude”.
God’s Ideal for Man, Woman and Marriage
The Scriptures clearly tell us the following regarding why he created men and women:
“7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
I Corinthians 11:7-9 (KJV)
God created man to be his image bearer and thereby bring him glory. In order for man to fully image God he had to have “a weaker vessel” (I Peter 3:7) for him to lead, provide for and protect just as God leads, provides for and protects his people. Man needed children so he could play out God’s attributes as a father to his children. In order to help man fulfill his purpose he created woman as his helper and the institution of marriage to bind man and woman together.
Ephesians chapter five verses 22-33 paints this beautiful picture that he intended for man and woman to paint with marriage:
“22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
Proverbs 31:11 tells us of the virtuous wife that “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil”. As we can see by looking at the rest of the chapter that means that her husband does not have to worry about any of the domestic affairs of the home. He can safely trust in the fact that as he goes about his work she has everything in order at home from food, to clothing and the care of his children. The Scriptures tell us verse 27 of Proverbs 31 that “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness”. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if that is what all Christian husbands could have in a Christian wife? But for myself, Bob and many other men we must come to accept that reality that sometimes husbands and wives don’t get to play out this beautiful picture. The reason we do not is because of the corruption of sin in this world.
People get hurt, they get diseases, they have chronic pain and many other issues, both mental and physical, because of the presence of sin. And please do not misunderstand me – I am not saying people have physical problems or defects because they sinned – but rather because of the general presence of sin in the world. This brings me to my first piece of advice for Christian husbands who are caregivers to their wives.
Acceptance is Crucial
My first piece of advice to men like Bob who are trying to cope with being a caregiver husband is that we must come to a place of acceptance. Really both we and our wife must accept that it is God who has brought this trial into our lives. The Bible tells us the following regarding trials that God allows to come into our lives:
“2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
James 1:2-4 (KJV)
Bob – you stated that “All that was left was looking after my family which made me feel miserable.” Now someone who does not know or embrace what the Bible says about the roles of men and women would call you selfish and mean for saying what you just said. They would say that you should consider being a caregiver husband to be a privilege and not some burden you must carry.
But people who would call you selfish are ignorant of how God made man and woman. God made a woman to look after the needs of her husband, her children and her home. So, a woman who makes a statement like yours longing to make her impact on the world outside the home and feels like she is not doing everything she could is actually selfish. Her ambition is not in line with God’s design for her as the keeper of the home. But you as a man were meant to go out and work in the world and make your mark on it.
For a woman the home is her mission, but for a man his home is only a part of his larger mission that God has given him.
So, your feelings in this regard are completely normal and part of God’s masculine design in you.
You said “I was on antidepressants for a couple of years to repair my brain from living off adrenaline constantly”. Feeling moments of great stress as caretaker husband is completely normal. It will happen and it will happen more than once.
Trust me I know from experience that “joy” is not exactly what I have felt over the years in dealing with my wife’s health’s issues or the impact they have had on our marriage and family. But we can find joy in our trials when we step back and accept that nothing that happens to us that does not first go through the throne of God.
Yes, you had passions and ambitious plans. So, did and I so did other Christian husbands who find themselves in our position as caregiver husbands. But God asks us to step back and do what he has for us to do. In our case a lot of our time and energy will go to caring for our wife and also to caring for the affairs of the home when she cannot. It wills sometimes compel us to sacrifice our sexual needs for physical needs of our wife.
And here is a very important point that we as caregiver husbands should not miss. While our marriage may not be able to fully paint the picture of Christ and his Church because our wife cannot fully serve our home and us as the Church is to serve Christ we as husbands can beautifully portray the sacrificial love of Christ by laying down our lives in our caregiving duties toward our wives.
Acceptance Is Not The Same as Apathy
I have just laid out the case for the fact that we as caregiver husbands must first come to a place of acceptance of the fact that we have a disabled wife whom God has given us the solemn duty and responsibility to care for.
But we must never mistake acceptance for apathy. What I mean by this is that God has given us as husbands the solemn duty to lead our wives and part of leading them is to spiritually wash them as Christ does his Church in Ephesians 5:25-27:
“25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
I find it sad how many Pastors and teachers today skip right over verses 26-27 and go straight to verses 28-29. Many Christian teachers today dismiss verses 26 and 27 of Ephesians chapter 5 as “descriptive of Christ’s work in the Church but not prescriptive for husband’s in regard to their wives”. Really? I don’t know how they make such statements with a straight face. When it comes to marriage modeling the relationship of Christ and the Church we must accept the complete model and not just the parts that we like in our culture today.
Verses 26 to 27 reveal a critical truth about marriage. The purpose of a husband giving himself up for his wife as Christ gave himself up for the Church as seen in verse 25 is not for the happiness of his wife. Today we hear the phrase “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and that our wife’s happiness should be our central goal in marriage. But this is utterly unbiblical! The purpose of marriage is not to make a husband or wife happy, but rather it is to make us holy and conform us to God’s will.
Happiness can be a wonderful byproduct of doing marriage God’s way. But it should never be the focus or goal of marriage. Some Christian teachers will admit that holiness rather than happiness is God’s goal for marriage. But then they miss the target of that holiness – which is for man to model Christ and woman to model the church. A husband and wife might be kind and loving toward one another and even sacrifice for one another. But if a husband and wife are not modeling the relationship of Christ and the Church as it is defined here in Ephesians chapter 5 they are not striving for the holiness God desires. They are inventing their own target and their own mark.
So now let me return to what I said about not mistaking acceptance for apathy. Yes, I must accept that my wife is disabled and so must you if your wife is disabled. However, that does not mean I cease to care about her holiness. My job as her husband is to teach her the Word of God and to wash her spiritual spots and blemishes with the Word of God.
Part of my job as her husband is to push my disabled wife to be the best she can be. It is to push her outside her comfort zone to be the best wife she can be despite her disability. Years ago, after my wife’s accident for a long time I did not push her to do anything around the house. But after speaking with both her medical doctors and her therapists I was told that was not a good thing for me to do. I needed to push her. She needed to learn to push through the pain and do some things around the house. She need to get out and get fresh air and not lay on the couch or in bed most of the day. This was not good for her body or her mind.
Would she experience chronic pain for the rest of her life? Yes. But she needed to learn to cope with that pain and still function. We both needed to learn to cope with our situation.
So yes, that means my wife might experience a certain amount of pain just doing the dishes. In fact, she often has to sit and rest after doing an hour or so of house work and that is ok. I help with lifting heavy things but my wife does cooking, cleaning and laundry all while suffering from chronic pain. She may only be able to do so much and then I have to step in but I make sure she is doing what she can depending on the week.
Another thing to remember when we are caregiver husbands. Our wives are going to have good weeks and bad weeks. I certainly am not going to push my wife and have her do house work right after a surgery. But there are weeks when I can tell she is having a better week and I will push her to do more.
It is very common for people who deal with chronic pain to get lazy as a result of their chronic pain and depression that accompanies it. We as their husbands have to help our wives push through these times.
What About Sex With A Disabled Wife?
In my case, my wife already had a bad attitude about sex long before she had the car accident. She had the attitude that it was her body and I had to earn it and even then, she did not have to give it. I was aggressively working on that sinful attitude she had and then she had her car accident. I let it go for a while after the car accident and then I realized she was using the accident as an excuse to become entrenched in her position that she did not have to meet my sexual needs.
That was when I took her to task and made it very clear I would end our marriage based on the fact that sexual faithfulness in marriage is a two-sided coin. On the one side if she were to go and have sex with another man that would be one form of unfaithfulness. But how could she claim to be being sexually faithful to me while denying me sex? Such a claim is a contradiction.
Again, this comes back to the ideal way God meant things to be verses the way things actually are as a result of us living in a sin cursed world. God’s ideal is that your wife would willing give you her body and joyfully have sex with you and experience pleasure and delight each time you have sex. But in this sin curse world both men and women have physical and mental issues that make our sexual experiences in marriage less than ideal. That means sometimes you might have to have sex with your wife knowing she is in pain.
But as you alluded to – not having sex with your wife puts you in a position to be tempted to fall into fornication. Remember what the Scriptures say in I Corinthians 7:2 – “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”
If you don’t use your wife’s body to meet your sexual needs eventually you will fall into true sexual sin. And yes, the Bible refers to sex as “the natural use of the woman” in Romans 1:27. It might come down to you not looking at her face while having sex. A lot of people take offense at me saying that as I have on many occasions. But sometimes that is what we must do. Sometimes while we are having sex we have to imagine a better scenario than the one we are actually in and that is ok. That is one of the reasons God gave us as human beings the wonderful gift of imagination.
At the same time, I would highly recommend that you talk to your wife about “faking it”. Again, this is a piece of advice many people disagree with me on. But it is not a sin to fake it and I would argue that in some cases it might just be a sin if you don’t.
How many people go to work as a sales person or in some other customer facing job where it is required that they smile and put on a good front with their customers despite their pain or other personal problems?
I find it fascinating that a woman with back problems can go to work all day as a waitress smiling for each of her customers and hiding the pain for 8 hours and then she can’t come home and hide the pain for 20 minutes while she has sex with her husband? Are you kidding me? Do we not see the utter absurdity of this?
Your Children Need to Know Men Should Not be Homemakers
Bob, you said “I’m also incredibly frustrated being the homemaker and raising my boys. I believe these roles belong to a wife and mother”. You need to make clear to your children where that frustration comes from because this is not God’s design, this is not God’s ideal. You are only having to go outside God’s norm and his design due to your wife’s physical issues.
But again, they should see you pushing your wife to do her best – whatever that may be. Unless your wife is paralyzed in a wheel chair she can do some things around house. It may be painful for her – but none of us gets to live a life devoid of pain.
The same would go for women who have to work to provide for their families because their husbands become disabled. The Children need to be told this is not God’s norm or design for the family.
The Entitlement Mentality of the Disabled Wife
Bob, you said “Sometimes I feel my wife has a sense of entitlement for me to do things for her because of her needs and pain. When I confront this there is the same old argument about respect, genuine pain and the gap between both our needs comes up”. This all too common in disabled wives and my wife struggles with this from time to time. One day she expresses her gratitude for all I do for her and the next day she will have a sense of entitlement and get mad because I forgot to pick up some medicine of hers. This is a sinful flaw that we must diligently correct in the lives of our wives. This is no different than when God had to remind Israel constantly of all he had done for her in the face ofs her ingratitude toward him.
Sometimes because we live in a sin cursed world we as men and women will not be able to fully play out the gender roles God has designed for us. But each of us must do our best with what God has given us. Specifically, as caregiver husbands to disabled wives we must first come to the acceptance of the situation God has placed us in. That might mean we can’t pursue certain career or even ministerial ambitions because of our duties to be a caregiver to our disabled wife. It might mean we have to sometimes sacrifice our sexual needs because of the health issues of our wives.
But at the same time, we should never allow our acceptance of our wife’s condition to turn into apathy towards her spiritual condition. We should not have the attitude as caregiver husbands that it does not matter what our wife does and that anything she does should be considered a bonus. We have a God given duty to lead our disabled wives spiritually and that means pushing them to do their best whatever that might be depending on their condition.
It might even mean pushing our wives to work through the pain. To wash the dishes even though it hurts. To dust the furniture even though it hurts. To put away clothes even though it hurts. And yes, they have to learn to engage in sexual relations even if it hurts. Yes, sometimes we as men need to forgo sexual relations for a small period if medically necessary – but it should not be allowed to become a long term or permanent thing.