Double standards and the weaker spouse

Woman saying "No way!" © Denys Kurbatov |

Below is how I read Romans 14 with regards to marriage:

One spouse believes s/he may eat anything, while the weak spouse eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats. Let us not pass judgement on our spouse any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of them. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your spouse is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your spouse to stumble. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgement on them self for what they approve. Whoever has doubts is condemned if s/he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. [My abbreviated paraphrase of the ESV version of Ro 14]

Let’s take alcohol as an example. I am convinced there is no biblical command against drinking, only against being drunk. I could back that up very well, but I know others who are just as convinced it is sin to drink any alcohol at any time. While I will explore the scriptures with such folks, I would not drink in front of such a person. However, this is far more difficult if that person is your spouse. It’s not about something being right or wrong – Paul is very clear in Romans 14, and elsewhere, that eating meat and drinking wine are not wrong. The point is that doing something someone thinks is sin in front of him or her is harmful even though the act is not sin.

How does this play out in marriage? I think it means limiting ourselves in any area where our spouse thinks something might be sin. This could be drinking alcohol, engaging in certain sex acts, watching R rated movies, and so on. 

Am I really saying your bride can limit you this way? She suddenly decides something is wrong, and you should stop doing it? As hard as it sounds, I find it impossible to not see that as what Paul expects of us. Yes, this could be difficult, and yes, it could be a significant sacrifice, but sometimes love requires that.

What if your bride was fine with many things when you got married, but has since become hyper-religious and has a longer list of sins? I don’t have an easy answer for this. At some point, I think one would be encouraging legalism, and I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a cork screw than encourage legalism! My thought would be to deal with the legalism rather than the individual things she has declared to be sin. Study grace with her. Try to understand why she has become legalistic, What fear(s) she may be soothing with legalism? What does legalism do for her, what gain is there in it? Deal with the root, and the other issues will go away. Fight the individual issues, and the legalism will only become more entrenched. In the meantime, sacrifice for her, and to be right with God.

Links may be monetised
Image Credit: © Denys Kurbatov |

Shop to give links page

Links to blog posts that stood out to me this last week: Note – I had two weeks’ worth, and was short on time, so I have no doubt missed a few great articles.


Between The Sheets

Wow! What a Check List for Healthy Marriage: You could use this as a check list to find areas you should work on.


Between The Sheets

Wow! What a Check List for Healthy Marriage: You could use this a a check list to find areas you should work on.

Black and Married with Kids

5 Character Defects That Ruin Marriage: Check this list – if you see yourself, you need to take action.
Five Signs Your Spouse Is Your Roommate: Another good check list.
How To Get And Give The Appropriate Space In Your Marriage: How well do you share your shared space?
Certain Risks Are Necessary For Marriage Growth : No risk, no growth.

Couple Things Blog

Sexy and Fun Date Ideas Made Easy (plus a giveaway!): Introduction to an interesting resource I not aware of.

Happily Married After

This Blog Will Not Save Your Marriage: David is right – the best a blog can do it point you in the right direction. If you just read, you are wasting your time!

Intimacy in Marriage

3 Reasons I Like Public Display of Affection: This could be a great discussion starter with your bride.

Journey to Surrender

V-Day Anxiety Cure #1 – The Numbers Game: A great list if ideas.

Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage

“You Say You Want a Revolution?” – the Beatles: Some will be hatin’, but I’m rollin’ with Mark on this.

Marriage Gems

Avoid these 5 regrets by living and loving to the fullest: Change now to avoid regret later.

Marriage Life

MT Project: Comparison Kills : This is so true. Are you killing yourself, or your marriage, with comparisons?
Are You a Fairweather Spouse? : Another well done analogy.

One Flesh Marriage

Choose Your Path to the 10 Day Challenge: A path for most of you …
Ogle Away!: Brad give you permission to ogle … your wife.
Look at My Sacrifice: Sacrifice with strings? Maybe not.

Romantic Act of the Day

Traveler’s Advisory: Up your returning home gift giving score.
Give Her the Day: A gift she will love.

The Romantic Vineyard

Hold On: When life is busy and crazy … hold on.

Safe at home

The Power of a Great Response in Marriage: This is a skill we all need to develop.
Emotions Are Not Overrated, Even for Men: A crash course in sharing emotions.
When Those You Love Push Your Buttons: You can change how you react.

Simple Marriage

How to commit to the end : If you both commit to it, your marriage can be great.

Stupendous Marriage

3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Love Your Spouse: Stu is wise beyond his years!
Taking Offense: The Problems It Causes, and How To Get Over It : See above!
3 Phrases to help reconcile with your spouse: Memorise these, then use them
Stupendous Marriage Show 028: Apologies and Married Couple Friendships
Happiness in Marriage, When do we have a baby? 

…to Love Honor and Vacuum

Is Using Pornography the Same as Cheating?: A woman’s thoughts on a tough question.
Romance Novels: Dangerous, Harmless, or Just Fun?: A great follow-up to the above.
Women and children first?: “The Costa Concordia, which ran aground last week off the coast of Tuscany, was, in part, a feminist tragedy.” I so agree with Sheila!

5 Comments on “Double standards and the weaker spouse

  1. Paul!

    Probably the single most well written post ever on TGH! You hit the bulls eye on this one.

    “Deal with the root, and the other issues will go away.”

    Here’s one tougher for you, when there is a “difference of opinion” of the “root”, we both can’t be right, can we? I’ve spent many thousands of dollars on marriage counseling for it to boil down to that core question… and all along I knew, deep inside, how to resolve it.

    Resolution: “In the meantime, sacrifice for her, and to be right with God.” THG daily post, 01/22,2012

  2. I need to make a point that I think a great many people miss, when they read Rom 14, as well as 1Cor 8:7ff on very similar grounds:

    The circumstantial presumption of the directives not to harm the weaker brother is…the existence of the weaker brother.

    The problem that I feel the church fails to address in this sort of situation is the education, instruction, growth of those who are weak, whether because of being new or otherwise just not growing. That we put up with people who are weak, and never expect them to grow, ought to be a crime. Do we not have Paul preaching expressly that certain people ought to be actually put out of the local body when they fail to build understanding? Cf. 1Tim 1:19,20; 1Cor 5:5 for extreme examples.

    Consider Paul’s complaints earlier in 1Cor: In ch.2, he explains that he came to Corinth with no high words of wisdom, but only with the gospel. In ch.3, he goes into an extended critique of what the Corinthians have failed to do with the gospel he has preached, failed to grow past the need for mere milk and into the meat of our faith. He preaches a blue streak of condemnation for factions, jealousy, and neglecting to build carefully.

    Consequently, while I adhere closely to the “do not harm your brother” attitude, conversely we have a serious and lifelong obligation to educate those who are weak, so that their misunderstandings and false restrictions do not hold back the mature unnecessarily.

    To return to the context of your post — and I came to reply here due to the paragraph beginning “Am I really saying your bride can limit you this way?” — on the one hand I agree that self-limitation in the face of weakness or ignorance is appropriate. But on the other hand, the necessary follow-on to the realization of such weakness is to take command of the household so as to build her up in the proper understanding that has manufactured a false limitation. This relates, perhaps, to the last paragraph on legalism, and as you said, there may be no good answer, but the bottom line is that we who have maturity must educate those who lack it.

    • @karl – I agree with you 100%. I have for years said I need to write a little book entitled “Don’t be the weaker brother”.

      It is the church that needs to do this, just as Paul did, and it is the church that has largely failed at this. The difficulty for a man doing this with his bride is that she perceives him to have something to gain from her changing, and that gives her an excuse to not listen to him. This is why it’s so much more effective when it comes from the church. Or the “older women”.

  3. Paul, excellent post! And I think this applies a lot to sexual variety, too. I think the marriage bed is undefiled, and so in general freedom is the name of the game when it comes to marriage and sex, but if a partner really feels something is degrading or wrong, you shouldn’t do it. I get so many emails from women saying that their husbands are demanding things that they don’t think are right, and it’s heartbreaking.

    Intimacy is too important to sacrifice for our own physical pleasure–whether it’s about alcohol, or what we do in bed, or what movies we watch.

    And I find that most of these problems can be dealt with better by doing one simple thing–work on your friendship. When a couple is able to laugh together daily, even if it’s just doing something silly, then all of these other conflicts are so much easier to handle, and people are so much more willing to listen and truly hear one another.

    Thanks for the links to my posts from last week!

    Sheila from To Love, Honor and Vacuum!

    • @Sheila Gregoire – You are so right about pushing for things sexual. I always wonder at the shortsightedness of a man who pushes his bride for something she has said she does not enjoy. Even if she gives in, and even if he enjoys it, can’t he see how he is damaging his sex life moving forward?

      Is such blindness a result of lust over reason, of it is deeper than that. I fear it shows that most men have bought into the porn lie that women enjoy such things, and those who don’t will learn to if they are just pushed to do them a few times.

      *Deep sigh*

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: