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.