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Roles: He Won't Lead. She Won't Follow. What Should I Do?

Spiritual Headship.

Is it an issue you and your spouse have battled over?

You want your husband to lead, but he won't. You want your wife to follow, but she won't.

As you read through this post, take time to read both sections (wife's AND husband's). Do so without judgment or thoughts of, "See... YOU should be doing this."

Focus on your role, while realizing the importance of understanding both roles.

First, wives...

When your man is not fulfilling His God-given role to love and lead you and your family, consider these 2 things:

  1. What is your role as his wife?

  2. What is his role as the husband?

Notice the order in which those questions are listed: YOUR role first.

That’s because (if you’re anything like me): when our husband doesn’t lead, we tend to first focus on what his role is- taking note of all the ways he’s NOT doing it correctly.

We may even believe the lie that if he doesn’t fulfill his role, we cannot fulfill ours.

Frequently what happens in the absence of a husband’s leadership is a wife will step into that gap to hold things together.

What else are we to do?

When your husband doesn't lead, do you take over his duties, or is there another option?

There IS another option. We will get to that very soon, but there’s something we must do before we go any further...

If you have been sitting in judgment on your husband’s performance, then your heart is clouded with concern over what he is or isn’t doing. This will absolutely affect all of your choices and interactions with him.

If you’ve been sitting in judgment, take this moment to confess that to the Lord. Humbly ask: God, please teach me how to be a wife to the man YOU have given me.

Now, back to our considerations…

Consideration #1: Let's wrap our brains and hearts around understanding our own role as wives.

In God's Word, there are 4 specific things we are called to do as wives:

Do you know what I find encouraging?

God has not only called us to do these things, He's created us to do them. That means we are capable. Called. Created. Capable. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Of course, we cannot hit the mark on each of these qualities every single time. Because no one (except Jesus) is perfect.

But when we habitually put these things into practice in our marriage, an amazing thing naturally happens: we invite our husband to love and lead with confidence.

A wife's personal adherence to walk in her God-given roles invites her husband to love and lead while building his confidence to do so.

So, what happens when we recognize God's Word as Truth, and we begin/continue to walk in the roles He's given us, but our husband STILL isn’t holding up his end of the deal??

We tend to panic, right? "But, Lord! He’s not doing what he’s supposed to!"

We realize our husband either:

a) Doesn't understand what God has called him to do

b) Knows full well what his roles are. He's just not doing them.

Let’s consider our second option…

Consideration #2: Take the wheel and lead. SOMEONE has to drive, right?

God has called and created your husband to be the servant-leader Jesus modeled for him to be. When he's not serving OR leading, our panic incites us to take over the leadership of our household. But…

2 things happen when you step into your husband’s calling as leader:
  • You immediately STOP doing all 4 of your God-given roles

  • Your husband CANNOT do his

It's kind of ironic, if you think about it.

We’re practically begging our husband to love and lead us: nagging, coercing, ignoring. Using anything we can think of to somehow manipulate him into fulfilling his role. We may even ask God to change him.

Finally, he takes a chance. He steps out and tries to lead. But…

He just doesn’t do it exactly how you think he should. Or maybe you think: too little, too late.

Bang! Shot down like a goose at Thanksgiving.

Oof… girls, count me guilty on this one.

It can become a life-long pattern that leads to isolation rather than oneness.

Which path are you walking?

The desire we have for our husband to be a servant-leader in our home is a God-given desire; that means God Himself wants to give it to us (Psalm 37:4).

It also means:

We must know God's Word and trust its outcome for our marriage.

Don't play "God.”

He is sovereign, faithful, and has great plans for your relationship- better than any we could ever formulate on our own (Ephesians 3:20).

So, let’s focus on what God has called US to do.

Eyes off what our spouse isn't doing, and onto our faithful God who has laid out a path for us. Step out in faith with a heart attitude of faithfulness, first to God, then to your husband.

Faithful, steadfast commitment is the heart of God’s love for us and the heart of marriage.

Let’s return to our role as wives…

Help, Love, Respect, and… Submit

I understand the cringe that the word “submit” may cause in some of you. I’ve felt it before, too. But I’m here to lovingly tell you, that cringe comes from a misunderstanding of what submission is.

So, let's dig into submission and look at God’s plan for it. (Again, eyes off us, eyes on HIM).

The most familiar verse we have for this word is Ephesians 5:21-24:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Submission is something that all Christians are called to do “out of reverence to Christ” (verse 21). Just before this passage on marriage, writer Paul urges us in verse 1 to Follow God’s example, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Submission to our husband is an expression of our submission to God first.

In submitting to our husbands, we’re saying, “God, I recognize the created order YOU designed for marriage. I admit that Your ways are higher than mine. I submit to YOU, God" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

(Is this a battle with which you struggle on the regular? Check out THIS quick read to discover the power that comes when you trade your ways for HIS.)

Submission is NOT us acting as a slave.

It's certainly not doing something that would go against God's Word.

We're also not called to respond with a "my way or the highway" attitude.

A woman is called to have deep trust in the Lord, so that even if her husband is making a poor decision, she knows God is sovereign and will provide exactly what she needs in any situation (Philippians 4:19).

So, let your husband try... and possibly fail... and show him you'll still be his biggest cheerleader and closest advocate; working together in collaboration, not competition.

Remember and be encouraged:

Submitting to your spouse may be the most powerful tool you have to help your husband be the leader God has called him to be.

Respect, Help, and Love


God asks wives to respect their husbands in Ephesians 5:33- the same passage wives are asked to submit to their husbands. I don’t think that’s a mistake. Perhaps God is being very intentional, tying respect and submission together. If you don’t respect your husband, you’ll have a very hard time submitting to him.

You may be thinking:

How can I respect my husband if he is not respectable?

Take a moment to read Proverbs 31:10-12 and see a wife who respects her husband, then reaps the blessings for it:

She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

You can be a wife who greatly enriches her husband‘s life; not by giving him respect based on his actions but giving him respect based upon who he is as God’s loved creation.

Maybe your spouse’s actions are completely unworthy of your respect, but in God’s wisdom, power, and perspective, you begin to view him differently.

Grace will take over and play a huge part in your marriage (if you let it).

2 Corinthians 5:16-19 says:

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view… 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

God has called you to see your spouse and yourself as new creations, both receivers of His grace (2 Corinthians 5:17). Grace at work in your home will produce respect.

If your husband is not a Christian, he is still God's creation, one with whom God Himself longs to have a relationship. You are in a unique position to show your husband the love of God like no one else can. God says in His Word that when you respond to a sticky situation with gentleness and joy, not berating your husband for something that went wrong, you will slowly win him over (1 Peter 3:1-2).

When our husband is a believer, we need to stop silently asking him to perform and start helping him to grow in Christ. If we’re basing our respect on his performance, we’ll be sorely disappointed because he’ll never meet our standards.

But God…

HE has already met the standard for your husband. He did through Christ Jesus!

Now YOU get the privilege and honor of walking beside him as his helpmate.


God created us to be our husband’s helper.

Genesis 2:18- The LORD God also said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make for him a suitable helper.”

Be his companion, helper, and friend every day. (For inspiration, listen to Powerful Pursuit: Best Friends- Part 4.)

Whether he’s fulfilling his role or not, come alongside him with gentleness, wisdom, godliness, and LOVE.


We are called to love our husbands as we see in Titus 2:4.

But love for our husbands is not just found in this one verse. There’s a theme. From Genesis to Revelation, we see God’s love for us, and His call for us to live out the two greatest commandments:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)

  2. Love your neighbor (your spouse is your closest neighbor!) as yourself, and let Christ’s love control and compel you (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

We find another powerful passage on loving our husband in Proverbs 31:26-30:

26 When she speaks, her words are wise,

and she gives instructions with kindness.

27 She carefully watches everything in her household

and suffers nothing from laziness.

28 Her children stand and bless her.

Her husband praises her:

29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world,

but you surpass them all!”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;

but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

Wives, Vow to Change: An Encouraging Call to Action

If your husband isn’t leading, embrace your role with faithfulness.

Pray for him to grow in his roles.

Doing this will temper your own discontentment while expressing your faithfulness first to God, then to your husband. His need to take the lead will be reinforced.

Remember, do not try to change your husband; doing so puts the dependence on yourself rather than God (which is exhausting!).

It also sends the message that he has to perform, and all of a sudden you're keeping score again. (If keeping score is a common occurrence in your marriage, click to listen to a podcast about this HERE or read a blog post about it HERE.)

Let God work! Philippians 2:13 says, For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. GOD can take what seems impossible to us, something that we've tried everything we can think of to change, and do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or think.

As a helpmate, respect and support your husband’s efforts.

Be his encourager. Look for ways to make his responsibility easier. (For help and encouragement in this area, read 4 Ways to Encourage Your Husband and listen to How to Encourage Your Husband.)

And as you help, love, respect and submit, you will give him the confidence to love and lead. His fears will be eased.

Pray for him and with him, always looking for ways to remind him of your (and God’s) faithfulness.

Men, you may be thinking...

I want to be a spiritual leader in my home but my wife won't follow; what should I do?

The very fact that you’re asking this question shows your desire and pursuit of a God-honoring marriage. Your ambition is honorable and you’re bearing witness that God’s plan for marriage is the best plan.

What should you do if your wife won’t follow?

Step 1: Read the next sentence twice:

Effective headship practiced in the pattern God intends will draw your wife willingly into your secure leadership.

God provides instruction for the gift of headship. Are you adhering to Jesus’ teachings or making excuses for your lack of adherence?

Jesus’ teachings on headship

Let’s look at a few passages that explain how Jesus defines a good leader.

In Luke 6:46-49, Jesus says: Why do you call me Lord, and do not do as I say?

Jesus’ question should stop us in our tracks for a heart check.

Here's the real question: Are we leading like WE think we should lead or are we leading like Christ has called us to lead? Nowhere does Scripture tell a husband he must make his wife submit. Instead, it instructs him to use his power and authority to express a love that does not stop.

Jesus says in Mark 10:43-44, Whoever wants to be great must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be last.

Headship works effectively only when a husband seeks to be a humble servant like Christ; putting aside ALL of his own selfish ambitions.

In the world, the word “leader” implies superiority, power, and rule. In Scripture, the word for leader is most frequently used in the context of servant.

Some Biblical examples include:

  • God addresses Moses not as leader but as “Moses my servant” (Hebrews 3:5).

  • Paul advocated the same idea in Galatians 5:13 when he writes: Serve one another humbly in love.

  • Jesus teaches this in John 13:15-16 as He washes His disciple’s feet.

Many of us think of a servant being the least of men; a scorned sect of society. Someone to pity and of whom to make demands.

But pair the word "servant" with "leader" and you get something beautiful…

like an ice cream cone!

An ice cream cone has 2 parts. The cone and the delicious, yumminess that's been scooped inside (mmmmmm… my mouth is watering).

The cone is the leadership: sweet, solid. It knows its job and has the fortitude to handle any ice cream situation.

The ice cream is the servanthood of the duo. It melds perfectly together with the leadership; the sweetness goes down easy. Once you crunch the ice cream together with the cone, you can't wait to take the next bite.

A husband who is a servant leader is irresistible to his wife.

A servant leader lays down his life, preferences, and agenda for those he loves; that position of humility and humble service is a delicious thing.

This next verse, from Ephesians 5:25-33, is written by Paul: Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

This is the model God gives: His servant leader Son, Jesus, loving the church no matter what it cost Him. (Want to know how powerful it is to never let your spouse know how much your service/generosity toward them cost you? Check out THIS quick read.)

Jesus gave himself up; life included.

What service; what love!

C.S. Lewis, famous Christian author, writes that a husband’s “headship is expressed in taking the position of the cross; not in doing what he prefers, but more like the crucifixion; whereas the wife receives the most even if she gives the least.”

Christ loved the church. Not because of her grateful, loving response. He simply just loved her first. Through that love, He drew her to Himself. He led the way to the Father by serving us with His very life.

Husbands, Vow to Change: An Encouraging Call to Action

Become the humble, servant leader that God has called you to be.

Give sacrificial love explained in Ephesians 5:23-33.

Live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

This kind of faithful leadership is what wives yearn for and find hard to resist.

For more information on our Biblical roles, read: How Fulfilling Your Role Can Transform Your Marriage and listen to How to Help a Hurting Marriage: Roles (Part 7).

To go deeper, listen to this blog’s corresponding podcast:


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