It was during the speeches of the wedding reception I heard the phrase. I cringed on the inside. The groom’s father was speaking. He said, ‘Here’s my words of advice, happy wife, happy life.’
Someone said that phrase in a conversation after church recently. Before I knew it, the words had escaped my mouth, ‘I hate that phrase.’
Megan, my wife, challenged me later that evening. ‘Why do you hate ‘happy wife, happy life’ so much?’ Her question was so good. It forced me to articulate my vague thoughts.
Here are my 2 reasons why ‘happy wife, happy life’ is an unbiblical foundation for your marriage.
1. Happy wife, happy life creates a negative view of women
The presupposition of a ‘happy wife, happy life‘ (certainly in the context the father was giving it to the groom in the situation above) is that a husband’s only real chance for happiness is by ensuring his wife is kept happy. She will make life miserable unless she gets what she wants.
Sure, it may be tempting to keep the peace this way but think what says about women. If you believe the only way your wife will let you be happy is first by making her happy, then you believe she is so utterly shallow and selfish that she is incapable letting of those she loves most find enjoyment without serving her. Is this the woman of your dreams?
But suppose you still think it’s worth a shot. Suppose you still believe your only chance for happiness at home is by making your wife happy. What happens if something unexpected comes up? She gets sick and there’s nothing you can do to make her better? You lose a job and suddenly just scrapping by replaces the luxuries happiness afforded her?
Sometimes these things happen. If we believe marriage is about what makes us happy, should it be a surprise if a wife was to leave? Instead, surely we believe marriage is a commitment to one another through which we journey through life’s victories and defeats. Our view of women will make a difference. Is your wife a partner in marriage, or one demanding satisfaction?
2. Happy wife, happy life is a selfish approach to marriage
Having said that ‘happy wife, happy life’ creates a view of wives that is shallow and selfish, it may seem surprising that I’d say this is a selfish way for husbands to live. The phrase doesn’t sound selfish, in fact it sounds the opposite, it sounds like serving.
It’s quite true, the ‘happy wife, happy life’ approach to marriage is about serving, but it isn’t about serving your wife. At the heart of the statement is your desire for happiness. In essence, keeping your wife happy is the means to your happiness. You’re not serving your wife, you’re serving yourself.
Why Happy wife, happy life conflicts with following Jesus
Without following Jesus it may be possible to approach marriage by the ‘happy wife, happy life’ principles, but I can’t make it fit into my life as a Christian. There are conflicts I can’t reconcile with how I understand the Bible.
I believe both men and women are created in God’s image. I know that sin has had an effect, but how do I hold in tension a presupposition that women selfish and shallow, with bearing God’s image? If there’s a way to do it, I can’t see it.
Secondly, Paul paints the marriage relationship as a picture of Jesus’ relationship with the church. He calls husbands to sacrificially love their wife, to serve her, to enable her to be more like Jesus.
Sacrificial love doesn’t mean giving someone whatever they want. Jesus didn’t do this. He gave his very life on the cross so that we could know God. He gave his all for our insurmountable benefit. The doesn’t jibe with a self-serving seeking of happiness where others are just a means to an end.
So, I’m not choosing ‘happy wife, happy life.’ Instead, I’m trying to love and serve my wife, to value commitment, and to remember the picture of Jesus’ love for the church. When we face hardships (and we’ve faced our share of challenges) I think of Jesus and his works – redemption, reconciliation, healing, restoration, intimacy. We’re approaching 13 years of marriage and we’ve plenty of joys, but I think it’s the words that have come from the challenging moments (redemption, healing, intimacy, etc.) that I treasure most.
But what will you choose? Happy wife, happy life? Or the Jesus way?
I am a pastor, blogger and speaker. I help ordinary people connect with an extraordinary God, so they can follow Jesus in their everyday life.
Absolutely right on. Our vows included Ephesians 5. Jesus did not expect the women disciples to wait on him hand and foot. Martha did, and He even told her that Mary chose what is ‘better, and it will not be taken away from her. Not what He needed to please His stomach, not to ‘make her happy.’ My father, before he was a Christian, used to say, marriage is 100% and 100%, not 50-50. My husband said when we first dated that life was based on a triangle, God at the top, and he on one corner, me on the other. He then said, the closer each of us come to God, the closer we come to one another. And that means sharing our burdens, respect, love. Great post!
Well said. This phrase has always bothered me.
creo que la frase no se dice en el sentido de qe el hombre debe ser esclavo de la mujer, sino que si tomaran en cuenta a JEsus el hombre trataria con amor, y delicadeza a la esposa y honrarla y serle fiel y cuidarla como a vaso mas fragil, que mujer no seria feliz si su esposo la tratara como en efesios 5. esposa feliz, una vida feliz, porque si un esposo maltrata o le es infiel a una esposa, como podrá ser feliz? en cambio si el esposo ama a la esposa a la manera de Jesus como en Efesios, la esposa será feliz porque se sentirá amada y entonces todo será una vida feliz
I tried google to translate your comment as follows and I fully agree:
I believe that the phrase is not said in the sense that the man should be the woman’s slave, but that if they took Jesus into account, the man would treat his wife with love and delicacy, and honor her and be faithful to her and take care of her like a glass more fragile. What woman would not be happy if her husband treated her as in Ephesians 5? Happy wife, a happy life, because if a husband mistreats or is unfaithful to a wife, how can he be happy? On the other hand, if the husband loves his wife in the way of Jesus as in Ephesians, the wife will be happy because she will feel loved and then everything will be a happy life.