Your Spouse’s Weaknesses Call for Your Sympathy, Not Your Condemnation
Does weakness equal unrighteousness? More specifically, though your spouse may disappoint you by failing to be the person you want or need them to be—revealing their weakness—does that mean they are actually sinning against you—revealing morally objectionable behavior?
For instance, most women will share that they struggle with pre-menstrual syndrome, known as PMS. Yes, a wife can overstep it and enter into sin when there is an outburst of anger and the throwing of dishes. That’s out of control. At the same time, most of us recognize the chemicals that are surging and circulating throughout her body before her menstrual cycle. She feels weak when it comes to feeling positive. Does this make her unrighteous or just vulnerable to the biology of her gender? This is a weakness that can turn to sin but is not sinful in and of itself. Though a husband can find himself disappointed, he should guard himself against profiling his wife as a horrible sinner who must repent and never again have a PMS moment.
Or a husband, as a man, will notice a woman on the beach in a bikini. This is a reality in most males. His nucleus accumbens in his brain fires when he sees the beautiful form of an attractive female. This is rooted in his biology. But this does not mean he is sinning in the eyes of God. Sin happens when what he sees the first time, leads to a long look and then to lust. The vulnerability to such temptation is not sinful. Jesus Himself was tempted. Temptation in and of itself is not sinful but when we give into it. So, having this weakness, if we are allowed to call it this, does not mean that he is a horrible, rotten sinner who needs to repent and never again notice a beautiful woman.
Unfortunately, some of us have made such a connection between our spouse’s weakness and their sinfulness, when even just a cursory skimming of the Bible should be enough to clarify for anyone that, no, weakness by no means equals unrighteousness.
For example, the apostle Peter refers to the wife as the weaker vessel. (1 Peter 3:7). In describing her this way he in no way implies that this weaker feeling is a sign that she is in the wrong. The idea in the verse has two explanations of what it means for her to be weaker. She is vulnerable to him when he refuses to understand her as a woman and honor her as his equal. That’s the point of the text. Yet, how many husbands feel disappointed at various moments when his wife voices that she feels vulnerable, misunderstood and dishonored? Is he prone to tell her to grow up, and that this is her issue, and she’s to blame for foolishly feeling this way? In other words, does he make the point that she needs to confess the error of her ways? Yet, in this verse, God puts the onus on the husband to understand and honor his wife in the face of her feeling vulnerable to him. He must be guarded against attacking her for failing to fulfill his expectations when God calls him to be understanding.
In Hebrews 5:2 and 7:28 we read about the male high priest, "he himself also is beset with weakness"; and the law appoints "men as high priests who are weak." Even the most spiritual of men have to face the reality of weakness. Once again, weakness is not equated with sin, as it pertains in these passages concerning the high priests.
And if that is not enough, we also read that Jesus "was crucified because of weakness" (2 Corinthians 13:4). In trying to figure out the whole meaning to the weakness of Jesus in this instance, one thing is certain: Jesus was sinless, and thus this weakness Paul speaks of cannot be equated with sinfulness.
What about us? Undoubtedly, we too are weak. Scripture speaks often about our weakness in the flesh (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Romans 6:19), as well as our weakness in our faith (Romans 14:1; 1 Corinthians 8:9–11). But by the grace of God, Jesus, our High Priest, will "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Hebrews 4:15), even sending us the Holy Spirit to specifically help us where we are weak: “The Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).
Though we are imperfect because of the fall of humanity, not all imperfection constitutes a trespass. Not all weaknesses are to be equated with sinfulness. Not all of our frailties, shortcomings, and inadequacies need to be confessed as sin but need to be the basis of our appeal to receive Jesus’ sympathy. Our Lord responds to these weaknesses with helpful compassion, not stern rebuke. He hears the cry of the wife, “Lord, help me with my PMS. Help me contain the weakness. Let me not cross the line into sin.” Or, a husband prays, “Lord Jesus, lead me not into temptation and when I am tempted by a beautiful woman, and I know immediately when it happens, help me flee the temptation. Help me control my weakness.”
When our wife acts and reacts in broken ways during her PMS moment and goes into the bedroom to cry, or our husband looks up in the grocery store and notices the gorgeous blond walking by him and then puts his head down to look away, we feel disappointed because our spouse has not fulfilled our expectations. We have a measure of sorrow, and that is okay. But we also recognize they struggle where we don’t, and this provides us with a reason to extend grace.
Unfortunately, some of us take our disappointment to another level and become judge and jury over our spouse. At the sight of their weakness, we denounce our spouse as inherently bad. At that moment, our feelings of disappointment prove to us that our spouse has failed to meet our need or request, and that alone makes them in need of repentance.
But do we need to recognize this as non-sinful weakness and be more understanding and accepting? After all, though the Bible refers to us as weak, God’s call to us is not to repent from our weaknesses but to look to Him for strength. Therefore, it is detrimental that when our spouse disappoints us by not being the person we want or need them to be, that we do not automatically translate this to mean they are intentionally and irreparable harming us.
Think about this. God gives different spiritual gifts to believers. Suppose a husband has the gift of administration and a wife has the gift of mercy. That she does not organize and stay on task as he does may be a weakness of hers in his way of operating, but it isn't a sin that she tends to stay too long listening to people in pain. That he does not extend mercy to someone who has repeatedly failed to abide by the rules of the organization may be a weakness of his in her opinion, but that must not be declared as proof he is sinful because he decides consequences, not mercy must be enacted.
We also know that based on our upbringing, we will have differing convictions based on matters that have been etched in our consciences. For instance, Jews did not eat certain meats. However, when they came to Christ, they learned the meat that was once considered by law to be unclean no longer was so. That their conscience and conviction remained opposed to eating these meats was interpreted as a weakness by some. Even so, Paul did not label that "weakness" as a sin. The body of Christ needed to learn to accept the weak, not condemn and show contempt. The sin wasn't in the weakness but in the one passing judgment.
Yes, a spouse disappoints us when they do not do things as we do them, when they are ignorant about matters that to us are common sense, when they forget to do something we asked earlier, or when they are governed by concerns that cause them to make choices we deem less than wise. But let's not allow that to lead to such disappointment that we become disillusioned and call that which is not sin or immoral, sinful and immoral.
If there has been adultery, abandonment, and abuse, these are sins. Such heartbreaking disappointment is the result of a spouse's violation of the sacred covenant of marriage. And yes, we can do wrong and sin in our interactions with each other, in the way we interact unlovingly and disrespectfully to each other, and I have written about that extensively. But some of us have taken up offense toward our spouse on the heels of disappointments that the Bible reveals as a weakness, not wickedness. We must be extremely cautious of not becoming judge and jury over our spouse’s weakness when God is expecting us to be more understanding and accepting, just as He is with us.
Questions to Consider
1. When was a time that your spouse disappointed you by not being the person you needed him or her to be? Did he or she sin directly against you in that moment? Did you treat them as though that were the case?
2. Which of the scriptures about weakness that Emerson mentioned surprised you? Why is that? Have you ever wrongfully attributed weakness with sin? How so?
3. When we either directly or indirectly denounce our spouse as wrong, sinful, and bad, how does that affect them, when the only thing they were guilty of in the moment was being as humanly weak as you are?
4. What weakness of yours do you feel your spouse has treated as sin? How have they expressed that? Will you lovingly and respectfully discuss this with them and ask for them to be more accepting and understanding of this non-sinful weakness of yours?
5. Due to the entrance of sin into the world at the Fall, we are now weak but that weakness does not manifest itself each and every time because of active sin. However, it can be due to sin. In 1 Corinthians 11:30, some “are weak and sick, and a number sleep” due to unconfessed sin. Please comment.