By Heather Riggleman, Crosswalk.com
Late one evening as we were planning for the weekend, I asked my husband if we had time to rip up a section of the carpet to assess the 110-year-old floors underneath. We had bought an old Victorian to restore and I was anxious to get rid of the old, tattered carpet.
“Sure. Happy wife happy life, right?”
“You truly don’t mean that do you,” I asked wondering if he meant to be sarcastic, but it sounded genuine.
“Yeah, I do. If you aren’t happy, I’m not happy.”
Chris went on to explain he tends to plow through the components of his job, the demands on his time, and time with friends. But when it comes to his marriage, he learned a long time ago that life is better when he puts me and my needs first.
These “needs” he tended to are emotional security, quality time together, parenting the kids, and ensuring everyone pitched in for the chores.
As much as I appreciated his explanation, I didn’t like the connotations that resulted from the phrase. The phrase often said man to man with a wink and dripping with sarcasm.
In fact, it is everywhere; there are signs and plaques sold all over America. It’s incorporated into wedding toasts and some churches have even fused this idea into marriage and counseling programs.
But is it true? Is it biblical? Are men responsible for the happiness of their wives? Are we reading too much into this phrase or perhaps taking it the wrong way?
Is This Phrase “Happy wife, happy life” from the Bible?
The short answer is no, you cannot find this exact phrase in the Bible.
While there is no way to pinpoint where exactly this phrase comes from, according to Stackexchange, the phrase may have appeared as early as 1903 in the final verse of a song titled “The Work and Wages Party.”
I'm a work and wages party man,
I say that's what I am.
You'll find me true and hearty, man,
For that is what I am.
Now, let's rejoice to end the strife,
With all the kids in clover,
A happy wife, a happy life,
And a jolly good turn over.
And it can noted that this phrase may not have even intended to express a causal relationship, i.e. a happy wife doesn’t necessarily cause a happy life. But we’ll discuss below if this relationship may still be true.
The closest similar phrase in the Bible is found in Ephesians; Paul tells us that a husband is to love his wife as Jesus loves us. That surely includes taking responsibility for the relationship and how he treats her.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesian 5:25-30
Is the Principle “Happy wife, happy life” Found in the Bible?
Yes and no. There is no specific passage that explicitly says, “Husbands, you want to a happy life, then make your wife happy. Every day, all the time.” The closest passages to this concept are found in 1st Peter and Colossians with Paul’s previous statement as the foundation.
It is important for a man to love his wife and love her well. 1st Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
And Colossians 3:19 reminds husbands to, “Love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”
Paul didn’t write, “Husbands, rule over your wives.” He wrote love your wife. Love her well.
Many husbands who take their marriage seriously say the quote is an implication that it is a part of their responsibility, but it is not their full responsibility.
A recent study published in Women’s Health magazine, however, still says the phrase is true. 394 married couples kept dairies of their daily activities and emotions. They were asked questions about their relationship, whether they felt their spouse appreciated them, supported them, understood their feelings, etc. The responses were then assessed against overall satisfaction.
The study found: “Men are more content when their wife reports a good marriage. If she's disappointed in their bond, the man's wellbeing plummets.”
A Word of Caution
However the phrase was originally intended, it is believed by many husbands to be true.
But, it can nonetheless erode a marriage if not put in the proper context. While it is noble for a husband aspire to make his wife happy, it has implications that a husband expects to be rewarded for accomplishing things on the to-do list and making his wife’s wants a priority.
This creates a barter system, “I give you what you want so I can get what I want.” The myth leads to long-term disappointment, frustration, and resentment for a man. Husbands begin to think, ‘Why does she get everything she wants and I don’t? Doesn’t she see how much I sacrifice for her?’ It can create a negative view of women and marriage.
As for the women this concept may seem like a great situation. But it can create a sense of entitlement and of holding all the power in the relationship. A wife as the capability to reward her husband or destroy him with her disappointment.
In a “Happy Wife, Happy Life” relationship, it is possible for men suffer in silence and women believe everything is okay as long as they’re getting what they want.
Both parties would do well to remember their spouse is not responsibility for their happiness.
Just because you’re unhappy or dissatisfied, it does not make your partner, or your relationship in general, responsible for your feelings. When you assume your happiness is your spouse’s responsibility, you’re asking a flawed human being to be God in that area of your life. Only in God will you find your true happiness.
Psalm 37:4 encourages us to “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This scripture should be scored on your heart with two commitments:
1) Commit to the idea that your partner is not responsible for your happiness.
2) Commit to the idea that you are not responsible for your partner’s happiness.
Both parties must always look to God first and put the needs of their spouse ahead of their own. A lasting and fulfilling relationship is built on the foundation of trust, honesty and respect. Treat each other as equals. Be each other’s best friend. Be real and honest.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Anthony Tran
Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.