The Self-Righteous Wife

I’ve spoken to newly married girlfriends who have shared their frustrations with their new spouse. There is generally some area that the women wish their husbands would improve on, and they are growing weary waiting. We generally come to the same conclusion—their husbands may need to grow, but perhaps the wives are struggling with being judgmental and self-righteous. We can look at our men, see sin, and be too quick and eager to point it out.

I relate. That was me.

I remember my wedding like it was yesterday. It was a cold, yet beautiful December day. All of our decorations were red, white, and green to reflect the season. It was exactly what we hoped it would be and more.

After the honeymoon we returned to our home eager to start our new lives together as one. But soon the fairytale ended and real life began. It didn’t look quite like I had imagined. There were no glaring problems. No deep-rooted sin issues. Yet I was extremely aware of my husband’s shortcomings, and I wasn’t holding back on sharing my thoughts.

I was quick to point out sin and eager to share “observations” about how he could change or grow as a leader, all under the pretense of being his helpmeet. I judged my husband harshly our first year of marriage. I was quite self-righteous. I thought I was right, and I played the role of his “holy spirit.” Like I said, I masked it as being his helpmeet. Wrong!

Wasn’t I helping him by sharing my wisdom and insights into every single part of his life? Surely he needed my help to become a godly man. (Obviously I’m speaking tongue-and-cheek.) I was filled with self-righteousness and self-absorption. There was a plank in my eye the size of a California redwood, but all I could see was the speck in his (Matthew 7:3).

Tongue for Blessing and Cursing

James addresses the problem of the self-righteousness. “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10). With my tongue I would bless the Lord and curse my husband made in the image of God. Though God views my husband as clothed with Christ’s righteousness, there were times when all I saw were filthy rags.

Most of my corrections stemmed from a desire to fill some perceived need of mine and had little to do with his sanctification. My desire was that he would change for me, not to please and glorify God. My observations were generally (not always) selfish.

Again James helps us see why we might quarrel for selfish gain. He writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:1-2). Though we did not always fight outwardly, my heart was often committing murder. I would be angry and harsh. My “needs” weren’t being met, and so I would fight.

Growing in Grace

I am aware I am not alone. We’re not all patiently waiting for our husbands to change and grow. We can be judgmental, angry, and often accusatory. When we fixate on little preferences the result can be extremely damaging. We can become dissatisfied, bitter, and even long for another man. Women, we can be hard on our men. We have to remember that there isn’t one-size-fits-all for godliness.

But most of all, we must pray for them. Our job isn’t to be their “holy spirit” by calling out every sin we sight. Thank God, our heavenly Father doesn’t treat us like that. God is gentle and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love. God can help us learn to love our husband with a love that is tender and kind and filled with affection and grace.

Now, nine years later, I’m still learning how to lovingly help my husband, but even more I am learning how to enjoy him. I have grown in looking for areas of grace and gifts. God has helped me use my tongue to encourage, build up, and praise him for how God has made him, rather than tear him down for how God didn’t make him.

And just as I’m not surprised by my sin, I’m equally unsurprised that God would help me grow in this area. God works all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). He provides a way of escape for our sinful self-righteousness (1 Corinthians 10:13). He promises to finish the good work he began in you and in me (Philippians 1:6). This is good news for us! God is faithful.

Amazingly, even when I fell into the temptation to judge my husband God remained unswervingly committed to forgiving me because my sin—not in part but the whole—is covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. And sister, so is yours.

  • Kim

    Great post! I am so thankful to God for helping me to see many years ago my sin in wanting my husband to be the image of what all the books were saying a Christian husband and father should look like. God showed me that those were good ideas but not what He said in his Word a godly man should look like. That was so freeing for both of us. No longer did I want him to conform to a certain standard but was so thankful to see God working in both our lives.

  • Moe Bergeron

    Dear Trillia, Thank you for this thoughtful word.

    When we arrive in heaven and stand before the throne of the great King and Judge, he will say; “When you did it unto the least of these…” This word will not ring hollow for people who were married in this life so there will be no excuses for the way we related to our brother or sister in Christ. Love your spouse as Christ loves you.

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  • Walt

    Thanks for this article.

    I think it is very dangerous for husbands or wives to set out to “change” their spouse. If your spouse needs to be “changed,” then why did you get married in the first place? I suspect part of the problem is the Christian marriage industry, with all kinds of resources pointing out what we should be like as spouses. Engaged couples need to sift through these things very carefully in order to skip all of the useless junk they contain.

    • Moe Bergeron

      Walt, When you wrote, “Christian marriage industry” you hit the nail on its head. And a by-product of that industry is how pastoral ministry is not considered specialized enough to speak into the lives of married Christians so once again the authority of the local church is usurped. Living as man and wife is not rocket science. Love as brothers and sisters ought to love one another, as Christ!

      • Walt

        Indeed, Moe. The value of solid pre-marital counseling at the local level is enormous. My wife and I are thankful that we had excellent pre-marital counseling from our pastor/church.

  • SM

    No doubt many women need this reminder.

    If women had a better understanding of ezer kenegdo (help meet or help suitable for him)and instead of settling as the help or assistant to their husband, these pitfalls of thinking could possibly be eliminated. There is significant difference between women understanding that as “a help suitable” her call is to “help her husband” and women understanding that as “ezer kenegdo” a counterpart or one facing man, their call is to be a strong ally to man using their strength and power i.e. gifts, abilities, wisdom, etc. to accomplish the purposes of God.

    • Lisa Robinson

      SM, thank you for this helpful clarification, one that I wish would be properly understood. That takes nothing away from complementarianism, btw

      • SM

        Lisa, I agree a proper understanding of “ezer kenegdo” takes nothing way from male and female complementing each other as they accomplishment God’s purposes, yet it does undermine male-female hierarchy. The common wrong understanding of “ezer kenegdo” as an assistant, or help that is subordinate to the higher ranking husband, is perpetuated and/or easily inferred in an environment that promotes ranking in relationship according to gender.

        • Tim


          It doesn’t automatically imply “rank.” But in the context being referred to, we see a woman was made for the man not man for the woman, and that should shape our understanding of how the woman is an ezer kenegdo to the man.

          • SM

            Tim, it reads to me as if you are saying “it doesn’t automatically imply rank, but it does imply hierarchy because woman was created for the man.” If I am misreading, my apologies, but as it appears to me, it is this understanding of “ezer kenegdo” as the help or assistant for the man that I was addressing in my initial and follow-up comment to Lisa. This understanding of “ezer kenegdo” falls way short and too often leads women to misunderstand their creation purpose and their co-vice regent image bearing status and settle for a lesser vision by assuming as “the help” or “assistant” they are to point out how they think their husband should grow as Mrs. Newbell describes or some other distortion i.e. assuming a subordinate position in the relationship, not have personal goals because she is to help or assist the husband in his goals, etc.

            By contrast, from the Edenic context of Gen 2, on the heels of Gen 1, I contend “ezer kenegdo” is a strong ally and competent partner that stands in front of or corresponds to man using her strength and power alongside to accomplish God’s purposes. In this context, maximum flourishing of both male and female is realized and God is brought much glory as they steward creation as complementing image bearing co-vice regents. Help (“ezer”) is not really about what she does *for* (“kenegdo”: suitable for) the man, though she will indeed help as many a good man also helps woman. “Ezer kenegdo” is who she is in relation, similarity, correspondence, and comparison to the man.

            • JB

              Tim/SM thanks for your discussion. This conversation strikes a nerve that has been forefront in my prayer the past 2 months. I’ve seen what was put wonderfully as the “Christian marriage industry” shy away ANY clarification on the woman’s submission pushing the whole “co-equal partner” or worse, that problems are ALWAYS the man’s fault because he isn’t loving/laying down his life enough.

              Only people could screw up God’s word. It is clear there isn’t even designation of male/female in heaven and that God describes Himself as BOTH Male and Female. Yet, it is also clear that woman WAS ‘made’ for man and that she is to submit to her husband. (Even as the CHURCH is to submit to the Lord). I suspect Tim’s response (like mine) came from a sensitivity that many men like I do that we are often left with zero support from the modern church to reinforce our authority (yes, authority) in our own homes since women are expecting to compete or not submit their visions to their husbands.

              What shocks me about this as a CEO of multiple companies, is that I have no problem with “submission” by Vice Presidents under me who are not only smarter but often even more strong willed than I am. My leadership and vision are often challenged, but never disrespectfully EXCEPT when my authority is directly challenged. And then it is only because I can not accomplish the vision without well equipped, smart leaders who can execute what is necessary to carry out that vision.

              Yet – when it involves wives (or prospective ones in my case), I’m told I must “lay down my life as Christ did for the church” or that I’m controlling when merely asking for cooperation with what is fit.

              Yes there are terrible managers (and husbands) that are super sensitive to ANY question or inquiry of those under their authority. Yes, there are terrible leaders who don’t realize they won’t hang on to a valuable executive (or wife) if that person’s goals/needs are incorporated in the “plan.”

              But I can not tell you how much peace came through my soul reading this article knowing that there is at least one woman who “gets it” that she isn’t the Board of Directors over her husband, but put their to help equip THEIR vision in God. I have served as an executive to very foolish leaders, both men and women, and know how terribly challenging it is. But God has given me miracle after miracle when I trusted HIM instead of those over me when I just adopted to their vision and needs – rather than trying to “manage them” to be the boss I wanted them.

              I pray that this woman (and all wives) are blessed with not only husbands that appreciate their qualities, but that our Daddy would supernaturally anoint these husbands to exceed the desires of their wives.

            • Tim


              Thanks for your interaction. I do not think you misread me. I do not perceive rank or hierarchy as a bad thing since it is clearly biblical in a variety of contexts. Human pride rebels against the concept of hierarchy or rank because ever since the fall we cannot be satisfied unless we “become like God.”

              It only increases my dignity when I rightly submit to authority with my ultimate authority being God himself, that authority trumping all others. Women have an opportunity in the context of marriage and Church to display the beauty of Christ in their submission. Christ having submitted to the Father, gave us a sense of the glory and beauty of submission. So, I perceive it as an opportunity in sanctification not a dehumanizing restriction.

              In case I wasn’t clear, I was using Paul words and logic in 1 Cor 11 in regards to the woman being made for the man. He was referencing Genesis of course so I thought it appropriate to bring up. It takes exegetical gymnastics to hide hierarchy in gender roles from the New Testament. The problem is not with text obviously, the problem is the deeply rooted western ideology that colors how we view authority and relationships.

              By the why, I hold to a “hierarchical” Trinity and therefore I see role-based (not Ontology), submission as beautiful and worthy of imitation.

              I am not a woman, I cannot easily step into a woman’s perspective, but I think I would be quite pleased with the notion of pushing back against the cultural tide by showing the glory of godly submission in the unique way a woman can.

  • Bethany L.

    Thank you, Trillia. I’m glad my niece posted this. God worked it out for me to read this, which dovetails perfectly with a book I’m starting to read. “Families Where Grace is in Place” (subtitled: Getting free from the burden of pressuring, controlling, and manipulating your spouse and children)by Jeff VanVonderen. It’s “not a how-to book. This is about God’s grace.” He writes, “What if the other person doesn’t become the person you want them to be? Is it possible for you to be a happy person?” (hit me right between the eyes, and I’ve only started. Thank you!

  • Tamika

    Great article for all stages of marriages. Many of my newly wed friends are experiencing “The Self-Righteous Wife” attitude. As I read through it, one word continually, came to mind “selflessness”. This was not exclusively discussed in my pre-marital counseling (which I highly advocate)but should be. After almost 13 years of marriage, I find her,”The Self-Righteous Wife”, trying to creep in on and linger in my marriage. With time and maturity I have learned how to discipline her; especially when I think in terms of my own growth, and maturity in my relationship with Christ. For me, I choose the model set forth by God the father who has showed us how to reconcile, exercise long-suffering, forgive, and love. I hope God will receive glory in this. I believe I can do it because of the sacrifice God gave through Christ Jesus. He continues to model for me daily. Praise God for grace!

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  • KH

    Not every issue that wives deal with in their marriages stem from their self righteousness. Sometimes, the changes are ones that the Lord wants, and sometimes, the wife waits for 25 years and sees no change. I certainly think that wives can be self-righteous, but I think we also have to be careful to speak to our husbands about sin that needs addressing. Submission does not eliminate lovingly speaking to him.

    • Moe Bergeron

      If my goal is to see my wife be anything other than an image bearer of Jesus Christ then I will fail her as a brother in Christ. Discontent is such a joy killer and it will poison a marriage.

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  • Brandy

    Lovely post on a subject dear to my heart.

  • Walt

    Well said Mrs. Newbell you certainly are a humble woman, who loves Jesus very much. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

    Peace and grace in Jesus Christ the Lord!!!

  • Doreen

    Thank you very much for your wonderful article! This man would risk his life for you, as other men would for their wives.

  • Nina Snedden

    Ladies…this is worth the read

  • John

    Totally disagree with this post. I am a man and I think wives should point out ever last sin their husbands have. I also think it’s a man’s role to point out every last sin his wife has.

  • Ray Mason

    Throughout the article, to the very end, I was quietly amused that the wife never gave up being self righteous. Ray

  • Winston

    Very interesting article, especially since I’ve lived through the situation…with past and present wives. When I married my current wife our marriage (both of us) considered it to be mostly because we were both “saved – born again Bible believeing Christians”. I thought my wife to be a Proverbs 31 wife initially but, oh, did my views change over time. My wife was judgmental and never looked at herself and her own personal spiritual and earthly weaknesses. My former wife married me because she thought “she could change me”…and that without telling me about it! Many people consider disagreements over financial matters to be the biggest cause for marital dissolutions, but likely it is due to “poor communications skills” and “unwarrented expectations”. We all must realize that each of us are imperfect in this life but made perfect in heaven … but then, there are no marriages in heave either!

  • ken Kirkham

    Recently my wife and I attended a showing of a video series called Love and Respect. It addresses many of the issues discussed in this very good article. After 17 years of marriage this single show changed our lives significantly as we both learned about the other. Through this show I learned that my wife was not wrong, just different and as we embraced the differences we both changed.

  • The Solution for Marriages

    Excellent article, we will be passing it on to the women that we mentor. Well thought out and presented. Thank you!

  • David S

    Speaking on behalf of God’s sons who want to please God and love their wives, may God bless you, Trillia.

  • Bill

    I’m a Christian but I may be in the wrong place. I say that because I probably should have left my wife before we had a child. I can’t describe what it’s like to love reading the Bible but I can’t stand the 1 percent of people in Church who will be mad at you because you don’t meet their expectations. There are some who don’t believe their spouse is entitled to their affection unless they’ve earned it. If you think I have a personal problem you’re right. The Minister said I needed therapy with a Christian Counselor. Over a period of years we saw six. It’s a waste of time if they don’t have the credentials that insurance companies require. What it gets down to is the Holy Scripture. If couples would just stop fighting and lower their expectations of their mate then they could learn to laugh together. They could read the New Testament over and over again. It’s making unselfish sacrifices for your spouse. It’s foot massage and sharing. It’s refusing to get mad for long. Oh yeah and it’s making sure certain things happen regularly. You find a way to be kind even when you don’t want to. Your spouse must have enough food, water sleep and sex at regular intervals. These are basic needs that have to be met. You can’t find scripture to refute this.

  • Peeter B

    When my daughter got married, I gave her a thought I learned long ago: A man marries a woman hoping she won’t change, but she does.
    A woman marries a man thinking she’ll change him, but he doesn’t.
    Therein lies the dilemma. A bendable and an unbendable forces meet.

    • autumn

      Thanks for posting–I had no intention of changing my husband when we married. But, now that we live together, yes, there are things I would like to change and I know I have changed. Sadly, marriage has not been a good thing and we are both committed Christians.

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  • KB

    I feel really bad for these husbands. It would never occur to me to try to change my husband. He’s an adult, for goodness sake! I love him, that’s why I chose him. And we’ve been married for 13 years.

  • Moe Bergeron

    Dear KB & Others, The agent for true and lasting change is the Holy Spirit and His application of God’s Word into a man or woman’s life. We cannot do what God alone can do in a person. It’s downright impossible.
    Sanctification of a husband or a wife is God’s business and we will soon become frustrated legalists if we usurp the work of God in a person’s life so please don’t go there. The work of the legalist who legislates for another is a work of the flesh and it is not of the Spirit. It is definitely contrary to God’s revealed will. No one should be surprised when their efforts to effect change in another person fails. Pray for that husband or wife. Encourage them by loving them with unconditional love.
    So my dear sisters and brothers be Christ to your spouse and wait upon God to transform them by His power. Be humble. If you truly believe you are saved by grace then give grace to others. Especially to that one you promised to love until death. God never said it was going to be easy.
    Lastly, How has your relationship to your spouse (good or bad) served to draw you closer to Jesus Christ?

  • Lauren H.

    This is a good article but I also think some sides need to be careful not to take this issues to far. Women do have tendancy to want to “change” their husbands or try to “fix” things that are not really problem. But their is HUGE difference from a woman trying to help her husband in area that he struggles in and trying to “fix” something she doesn’t like about him.
    I just see all to many times wives stop helping their struggling hubbies, because they were acused of not being “greatful” or trying “fix” their man. And in all reality she was just doing the good wifely thing and help him in an area he struggled in.
    Also for Hubbymen. SOmetimes your wife is just trying to help where she see you struggle. Or maybe she sees an area that could use improvement so she changes something about herself to help you. She is NOT always trying to change you. Her changing the meals to more healthier options is not her saying she thinks your fat or going to die soon. She just cares enough for your health to do something about it.
    Or when she discusses with you about t.v and video games. sHe may not like them herself, but it could very well be she sees you put entertainment first before Christ and she just wants to help you, like a good wife should.
    And for people who dare to judge other wives and husbands. Its not your place to correct wife in what she does with her husband and it not your place to correct the husband. Its between them and God. Not you and the “christian” rules people set to be more “christianly”.
    Sorry this turned into rant. Other than that, this article hits it on the nail.

  • Kyle

    This is also good for husbands and young men to read. Men your wives love you and doing their best. Don’t expect them to be like your mamas and have 40 years of experience under their belts. You might have to suffer through a few years of bad meals and wrinkly shirts.
    Also don’t think this gives you freeway to slack off. If you hear yourself saying to your wife, “You’re trying to change me.” Actually look at your life and see why you felt the need to defend yourself. Your wife may have a point.
    This is from thirty years of marriage.

  • Dora

    Although the article makes a valid point, it is obvious that Christian men need to learn more about godliness, responsibility and manhood in today’s society where masculinity has declined in significance. This lack can be a real burden on Christian women.

    • Moe Bergeron

      Dora, Are you implying Christian women are more advanced in their sanctification than Christian men and as a result those women who are more advanced in sanctification are suffering at the hands of less Christlike men? Please say that was not what you intended to communicate. Thank you.

      • Dora

        I’m referring more specifically to marriage, but the ideas can be extended. What I meant to say is that men are called to a position of leadership, and that requires at least an awareness of the fact, plus the qualities to do that, while I consider that it is easier for a woman to fulfill her role.

  • Bill

    Hi Dora, I too have been married 30 years. It’s a shame that some men are momma’s boys. Even after they’ve served in the Army, built a career and raised children. When it comes to my Wife all I want to know is “what does she want?” Once in a while I get an answer. If she wrote down a list and stuck it on the fridge, I would work to make those things happen because I know what to do. How about masculinity? My Father taught me to be a gentleman. When I encounter an angry woman I don’t fight back because I think she’s possibly immature, or more likely hurting inside. Any strong reaction on my part will do nothing that will help. I refuse to hurt her. Young men today are treated by employers to be like a lion on a stool. They are taught to be obedient and polite. I learned that with feminists they can be easily angered If I notice them in a way that they might think I find them attractive. I’ve encountered angry reactions from them when I didn’t even say anything. I only noticed them briefly and unintentionally. Where I work if I innocently touch a woman I can get fired for it. Men who are taught obedience in a politically correct world will practice trouble avoidance techniques.

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