What about "Tough Love" in Marriage?

 If a man is not a good husband, is it biblically acceptable for his wife to leave him, or to threaten him with divorce in order to force him to change?

An answer to this question can be deduced based on the Bible’s principles related to marriage and divorce. For a wife to go against her husband's desires and leave him, would require that she forsake her biblical responsibility to submit to his authority. Such a wife may justify her separation by claiming she is simply following Christ's example -- he set boundaries and "drew lines" of behavior for his followers, and that is what she is doing for her husband. But such a wife misconstrues her calling to be Christ-like -- she is called to be like Jesus in character, not in authority. In fact, the Bible tells her specifically that she is not to be like Christ in the exercise of authority, but to be like the Church who submits to Christ's authority (Eph 5:24).

A woman may even claim she is simply being a helpmate trying to help her husband repent. However, God does not allow those under authority to change the ones in authority by disobeying them. A wife, therefore, has no biblical permission to act outside her husband's authority, or to rebel against him, even if her intention is to coerce him to repent. Quite to the contrary, God specifically commands the wives of disobedient husbands to behave with respect and submissiveness toward them, which He says can win them over. Speaking through Peter, God tells women, "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear."   1 Peter 3:1-6   NIV/NRSV

            The wife who threatens to divorce her husband "unless he changes," should consider that her ultimatum places her in charge of the relationship. No longer is she under his authority -- by her demands she assumes his position of leadership and attempts to take control of him. If her exertion of authority is submitted to by her husband, he becomes accountable to her, and she presides as the judge of his sincerity, sitting in constant evaluation of his performance. She has made fulfillment of her own wifely duties conditional upon her husband's behavior, and at some point must give up her superior role and resubmit herself to his authority, until such time that she deems it necessary to reassume control and force him to repent again. Although such a wife may succeed in coercing her husband to wake up and begin working harder to please her, she will find herself unable to have a balanced, biblical relationship with him, because she remains the one in control. Can a healthy, biblical marital relationship be gained by venturing outside biblical marital roles? Should that wife expect to enjoy God's blessings when she resists His plans so strongly!?  She most definitely will not! Those who believe that acts of "tough love" can successfully stir husbands to genuine repentance may see some change, but the fruit born will not be of eternal quality.

            Some wives are convinced that to abide by God's command here would only make matters worse. They claim they have tried to be the "1 Peter 3" wife, but did not see fruit. But is that possible? Can God's Word be wrong?  "Let God be true, and every man a liar"! (Rom 3:4). God is never wrong. If He says that the best way for a wife to win her husband's heart is through humility, submissiveness, and respectful reverence, then God knows what He is talking about! If such godly behavior has not born fruit, then we may not conclude that God's solution is inadequate. Either that wife has not actually followed Sarah's example, so her husband has not responded, or she has been the model of humility and respect, but has not waited long enough for the fruit to be born. Whatever the reason for her husband's continued hardness, we know that in 1 Peter 3 God has given His best plan. Since the Bible reveals God's wisdom, then the plans we devise with our wisdom will be inadequate and possibly dangerous. No matter how wise we perceive ourselves, or how intense our emotions, we cannot create a better way than God's to accomplish spiritual goals. In the words of the apostle James, "… man's anger does not bring about the righteousness of God," (James 1:20). Righteous ends cannot be attained by fleshly efforts. Those who trust in the flesh will be disappointed (Jer 17:5; Phil 3:4).

Excerpted from “Help for the Struggling Marriage” by Reb Bradley