Cosmic moral truth says that marriage is a covenant of interdependence.
She does things you cannot, and surely the reverse is true. Whether either of you manage to do those things appropriately is another matter entirely, but be aware of the fundamental model here. You are not independent and free from caring what matters to her. Of all the people on this earth, she warrants your consideration in that sense. But your first loyalty is to Christ, and she is obliged to share that same orientation. Getting the two of you closer to that ideal is the whole point of life together as husband and wife.
What we are up against is the high probability that her expectations are quite wrong. And it is also unlikely that she will simply listen and go along with it if try to share with her a better understanding. You owe her the effort to struggle with her sins as well as your own. That’s what a moral guardian does. Like the sheep in Psalm 25, you can’t demand she just accept verbal assurances; you have to put things in her reach. Be ready to walk in front of her to the green pastures, and to still the waters so she won’t fear to drink. Anoint her head with that annoying fragrant oil so the snakes hiding in the bushes won’t bite. There are things in her best interest that she won’t like (same as for you). It’s an art form to find the right mixture of making it available and making her take it, or keeping her out of trouble despite her wishes.
You’ll be learning things you don’t already know about her, but about yourself, as well.
Learn what God says is non-negotiable for you. In each case for such things, be prepared to accept a final break if that’s what comes from refusing to compromise. There is still plenty of forbidden fruit in this world; refuse to eat it. Drain away all of your emotion about these issues when you confront her with them. If she rants and raves, stare at her with a blank look and let it blow past you. Pay attention but don’t respond until you get the answer God requires of you. If she whines and cries, it’s pretty much the same thing. Don’t allow her to manipulate. This may be extremely hard if you have surrendered in the past.
Statistically, this kind of tension is highly likely in most marriages. Don’t engage her when she’s doing this. If she’s more likely to get revenge later, steel yourself and don’t respond. By no means should you let her pull you down. It’s not a question of being better at fighting, but of refusing to fight. Leave her standing alone; stay remote and uninvolved. What you are doing here is reassuring her that you are strong enough to weather storms; it signals you are strong enough to protect her, even if only from herself. She needs to learn that you are a rock, an anchor in her life.
My favorite image here is that you act like a slate floor. She can walk, stomp and try to gouge at you, but slate floors typically last centuries with very little signs of wear. Don’t respond to provocations.
On a great many lesser issues, be ready to make a decision if she can’t or won’t. It’s good if you can cultivate a store of whims just for this purpose. This is when you can build her admiration of you through entertainment. If you know that indecision has caused conflict in the past, take the time to work through the answers beforehand. This is part of being ready for anything. You are the shepherd; take the lead. The rest of the time, be prepared to play along with her whims when there’s no harm. Most men tend to be lazy and let the woman decide when she shouldn’t; that’s what got Adam in trouble in the Garden. Leading is a service we provide, so be professional about it.
Never allow yourself to be dragged into something that leaves you vulnerable. Sometimes you have no choice, but when you do, stay away from things you cannot master unless it genuinely amuses you. Being amused is a form of mastery in itself, to laugh at things you do poorly. Either way, master it or keep away from it. She gains bad leverage when she can demonstrate your failures. Never mind why she does it; she’s looking for ammo to use against your moral resolve. When you have no choice to participate in something for which you are incompetent, make it obvious you just don’t give a damn. Go through the motions and never let her forget you have no investment in the outcomes.
The idea is to build her cooperation and support for genuine vulnerabilities that you cannot change. Good women will sacrifice a lot to cover your gaps, but you may have to build whole new structures in your marriage and tear down the bad ones to get there. Then you can afford to think about failing gracefully and expressing major gratitude that builds her up. Until you can trust her in that way, be the slate floor. Offer no weak spots; don’t give her any leverage at all.
Indeed, put on such a strong manly aspect that other women are attracted to you. Don’t flirt dangerously, but never discourage flirtation aimed at you. This raises your value so that your wife feels the urge to compete to keep you. She needs that. She needs to take pride in being your woman. She should be ready to plump your social reputation, not tear it down. If she has the habit of picking at you in social situations, think about ways to throw it back on her so she looks like a bitch. This is not about your ego against hers, but the partnership that God intended marriages to be. She should be your stoutest defender, never agreeing with those who seek to pull you down.
Example: You are telling a funny story and your wife tries to correct you in front of everyone. Stop and suggest she go ahead and tell the story since she knows it so well. If that stops her bad behavior, you win. If she does proceed with a credible presentation, act like it’s not important to listen to her and go on with a different conversation. If she’s better at telling jokes, then forge into other forms of social entertainment where you are genuinely the expert. Until she’s really on your side, don’t give her opportunities to push back at you in front of others. Social leverage is a primary weapon against you, so master the social situations.
Don’t let her shape you; American women tend to downright evil about that. She’s been conditioned to believe that you are in dire need of her refinement. She will likely believe that she is the part of the core of civilization and that you are instinctively barbaric, a little boy in a man’s body. She will be driven to “civilize” you. The problem is that Western Civilization is not a good pattern for civilizing people; it is inherently hostile to Biblical Law. You can’t change her opinion of you, but you can make it obvious she is not in charge of you in any way.
Learn to think broadly in ways to build your prestige and influence with her. Tell yourself often that God is awesome in you. She desperately needs to see you strong and powerful. She needs that sense of security in order to operate with full attention on the things she does best. Reduce her sense of insecurity. Be consistent and wipe away her doubts. If she perceives a mixed signal about this fundamental issue, her instincts will provoke tests of your manhood. You have to weather those with grace and strength until she knows you can handle her needs.
In the long run, don’t take yourself too seriously. God is powerful enough to use you at your worst; the key is being available to Him. He will supply the rest. You aren’t changing her; you are giving God a chance to change her through your witness. At some point she will either come to life or finish dying completely in moral terms. Your heart will know which. If the latter, you may still need someone to succeed her position in your life. That’s a decision only God can reveal to you. This is not “happy ever after” no matter what happens. It’s building a situation in which shalom is sustainable.
Men, you are the anchor for shalom in your own domain.