What’s a Wife to Do? Dealing with a Difficult Husband

Lynette Kittle

iBelieve Contributors
Updated Aug 23, 2023
What’s a Wife to Do? Dealing with a Difficult Husband

Trying to change a difficult husband doesn’t ever work but usually has the opposite effect... Real transformation takes place from the inside out when God moves upon his heart, making him a new man. 

Growing up, a very difficult family member was married to a loving, kind person with a servant’s heart, an individual who seemed to do everything possible to keep the challenging spouse happy. 

We wondered how the spouse was able to deal with such a difficult person, all the while, living out Ephesians 4:2 to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

For many couples, modern-day marriage is about focusing on self, and what makes each individual happy. A difficult spouse isn’t someone most married people want to deal with long-term. Still, marriage offers us the opportunity to become more Christ-like, especially when dealing with a challenging spouse. 

Unlike the world’s pursuit of happiness, God has deeper and more rewarding purposes in mind for marriage. Psalm 66:10 describes how, "For You, God, tested us; You refined us like silver.” 

As hard as it might be, God can work good things out within us as we deal with a difficult spouse. Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” 

Abigail’s Introduction

1 Samuel 25:3 highlights the story of Abigail and Nabal in their relationship with David’s years of running for his life from King Saul: “His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.”

Although Abigail’s husband is described as disagreeable and unpleasant to deal with, Scripture doesn’t describe their marriage relationship. However, we assume from the description that he was an extremely difficult husband.

Abigail’s Predicament

Camping near Nabal’s flocks, David noticed it was sheep-shearing time. Respectfully, he kept his distance, even protectively watching over Nabal’s men and sheep, eventually sending a messenger to ask him if he might share his harvest with David and his men (1 Samuel 25:15-16).

Outraged at David’s request, Nabal hurls insults back at him, infuriating David to plan a slaughter of Nabal and all his men. On overhearing David’s plan, a servant of Nabal rushed to Abigail saying, “Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him’” (1 Samuel 25:17).

Some wives can relate to dealing with an unapproachable husband whom they, or anyone else, can’t talk to about an important matter. In these situations, what is a wife to do?

Abigail’s Choice

In this life-and-death situation, Abigail was faced with making an immediate decision, knowing she wouldn’t be able to reason with her unreasonable husband. Acting quickly, she prepared an extravagant amount of supplies for David and his men. “Then she told her servants,’ Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal” (1 Samuel 25:19).

Abigail chose to fulfill her God-given call to be a helper to her husband, even though he had created the fateful situation and hadn’t asked for or wanted her help. Rather than abandon him to the looming, tragic consequences he was bringing on himself and his men, she stepped in to help him. She recognized her husband’s weaknesses and intervened to help him when it was in her power to do so. 

Abigail’s Risks

Abigail risked everything to do what was right before God, and He gave her wisdom in knowing how to approach David. “She fell at his feet and said: ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him” (1 Samuel 25:24-26).

Some may question whether Abigail’s words to David concerning her husband were disrespectful. Was she defaming her husband’s name or merely speaking the truth of the situation? 

In response, “David said to Abigail, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.’ Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, ‘Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request’” (1 Samuel 25:32-35). 

Abigail’s Longsuffering

As challenging as it must have been for her, Abigail’s husband’s trying personality gave her the opportunity to submit to God and do what would please Him, along with growing in godliness. 1 Timothy 4:8 reminds us, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Scripture doesn’t tell us how a beautiful, bright woman like Abigail ended up married to an unruly man like Nabal, most likely an arranged marriage to benefit her family’s financial situation. Yet, Abigail yielded to doing what was right before God, over her husband’s wishes. It’s easy to underestimate the great risk she took by doing what she did, but she was not only risking her life but also her future with her husband. With both David and Nabal, she was making a life-and-death decision, with everything to lose. 

5 Ways to Cope

Like Abigail, there are wives today just trying to survive day after day with a difficult husband. 

The following are five ways to help them cope:

1. Look to God. No other person on earth, and especially a difficult husband, is created to fully meet a wife’s needs because it’s the place only God can fill. 

Instead of looking to a husband, a wife can look to God, who calls all of us to look to Him to meet our every need. As Philippians 4:19 explains, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” 

2. Answer God’s call. God created and called women to be man’s helpers. Still, many women don’t want to help, especially a difficult man like Nabal. 

Likewise, many men don’t think they need a woman’s help. Yet, Genesis 2:18 explains, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'”

Men don’t do well alone, so God created women, not as an afterthought, but exquisitely to be a helper extraordinaire. He gives women godly insight and influence, which is extremely beneficial and helpful to their husbands. 

Like Abigail, even when a husband has created a devastating situation, a wife can choose to follow God’s lead to help him. Romans 15:1 encourages, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves.” 

3. Offer companionship. Although a difficult husband’s demeanor pushes a wife away, she can seek ways to be a companion. Even if he seems unappreciative, she can do it to please God, looking to Him for her reward. As Colossians 3:17 urges: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us how, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity the one who falls and has no one to help them up.” 

4. Pray. Most of all, wives can pray for their husbands. Like 1 Timothy 2:1 encourages, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people.”

As well, if possible, pray with him and let God work through the words spoken to soften his heart. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 urges us to “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 

5. Trust God. Trying to change a difficult husband doesn’t ever work but usually has the opposite effect, causing a husband to resist his wife’s efforts and grow more challenging. Real transformation takes place from the inside out when God moves upon his heart, making him a new man. 

Still, God gives a wife tremendous influence in nurturing faith within her husband’s life. 1 Peter 3:1-2 reveals how God can work through a wife’s trust and faith in Him: “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes

Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman, kirkcameron.com, Ungrind.org, StartMarriageRight.com, and more. She has a M.A. in Communication from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.

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