Are Men the Ultimate Failures in Failed Marriages?

During a spirited discussion in one of our Care Groups last evening, a brother said that though a wife may take some of the blame for a failed marriage, the ultimate blame lands at the feet of the husband.

At first I strongly disagreed with him:

“We’re talking about two imperfect human beings here.  Why ultimately the husband?”

His reply:

“The husband has the greater responsibility to lead and protect.”

That Ephesians 5 text was his proof text (vv. 22ff).

And ol’ Adam only made matters worse:

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen. 3:6-7, TNIV, emphasis added)

To be honest, I don’t want to agree with my dear brother.  But I’m finding it hard to disagree.

The wife has a mind of her own.  And no amount of healthy spiritual leadership in the home by the husband is fail proof against a marriage going sour.

Does it ultimately land at the husband’s feet?

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44 Responses to Are Men the Ultimate Failures in Failed Marriages?

  1. Douglas Wilson makes the same point, rather more strongly, in his book “Reforming Marriage.” I’m still not sure I completely agree with it, but there is at least some truth in it.

  2. tc robinson says:

    Some truth, to be sure!

  3. George says:

    That the man has the responsibility to lead spiritually is clear, but it is not a direct consequence that if the marriage goes south that it is ultimately the man’s responsibility. For all of his efforts, he is only one of two.

    If a man’s good leadership in the marriage would absolutely mean the sustenance of that relationship, then yes. But this is not certain. It is the hope, I suppose.

    That being said, men all too often are not taking that responsibility seriously. Adam did not, and it was disastrous.

  4. Jerry B says:

    Nonsense. Why is necessary to appoint blame when a marriage fails? Clearly when a relationship committed to before God and family is torn apart and discarded both parties share in the responsibility.

    How is it less of a failure for Eve to want the fruit first and more for Adam not to stop her from eating it?

    The point of the Ephesians passage is mutual submission wife to husband, husband to wife – that takes the who is to blame question off the table. Perhaps instead these things happen in such a way as bring glory to God, John 9!

    Looks to me this is just a unique way of proclaiming the dominance and therefore control of men over women. Setting men up for a lifetime of guilt over a failed marriage and letting women off the hook and excusing them as the “weaker vessel”. I don’t buy it. I guess some sins are not as equal as others

  5. petermlopez says:

    Man, that’s a tough one. It’s one of those that is much easier to counsel someone else about than to deal with personally.

  6. v02468 says:

    Is it God’s fault Israel left Him…? Hosea 1:9 – divorced Israel.

  7. Nathan Stitt says:

    We have known several families recently where the wife suddenly left all behind, and has gone off to live a wild life of her own, while the husband is now trying to take care of all of the youngsters on his own.

    One might make the case that it is generally the fault of the man, but it is by no means absolute. Also, I am more inclined to blame both parties than just one, as that has been my limited experience to date.

  8. well, it take two to make a marriage work not one. not just compromise but also a strong sense of mutuality is needed to make the marriage work. even so usually divorce or abandonment is the last step in a long period of marital discord, perhaps years. so no, I would not say it ultimately falls to the man – it just all depends.

  9. Wow! That’s tough. I think you can theoretically make every failed marriage the husband’s fault – just as you could probably make every one the woman’s fault. We’ve know men and women both that have left marriages for the most frivolous reasons. We’ve known people who stuck it out in absolutely miserable circumstances. Both, either, or none may be at all committed to the marriage or to God.

    Would you tell a man who was totally devoted to the Lord, his church and his family that it was his fault than his wife left him? So maybe he’s not totally devoted. Obviously she’s not either. And we don’t really know, even with counseling, all the time on every level.

    I do believe the husband is the head of the family and that too many have abdicated that role, but I find this just too broad sweeping to be acceptable.

    If my husband were concerned over some behavior or action of mine and prayerfully shared that with me – If I got mad and left – If he continued to pray for me and sent me notes of affection and concern and if I got angrier and moved to South America to get away from him – if he left his job and his friends to pursue me because he wanted me right with the Lord and I still rejected him, how is that his fault?

  10. Sue says:

    If the couple believe in and act on male “final call,” then the fault must be attached more to the husband. He has denied counselling, perhaps, or not initiated counselling or got the couple into debt without her agreement or some such thing.

    However, otherwise, and in general, I can think of no reason to assign more accountability to the husband. Both men and women are equally sinners and equally adult.

    It is possible, I suppose also for it to be just something that happens. I don’t know, but sometimes a woman, or a man for that matter, has been raised to have utterly the wrong expectations of life in general. Sometimes people have depression and other issues, that impair intimacy. We really can never know these details.

    I truly believe that one must think first of what is best for the children, but eventually, a man or woman, has to think of how much a poor marital relationship can impinge on their physical and mental well-being.

  11. Matt B. says:

    We must not proof-text or let our experiences define theology.

    Genesis 2: 7 tells us that God made man.
    vv. 8-9 He creates the garden.
    vv. 10-14 we’re told about the rivers.
    v. 15 God puts Adam in the garden to work it.
    v. 16 God tells Adam he can eat anything…
    v. 17 …accept the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
    THEN God makes Eve in v. 22
    God’s instruction not to eat the tree of knowledge was communicated by God to Adam. This took place before Eve was even created! Eve’s misquote of God’s word in Gen. 3: 3 “neither shall you touch it”. Is not corrected by Adam and therefore was endorsed by him. Adam’s passivity in this exchange is telling. After the fall God first approaches Adam in 3: 9.

    Adam, like all of us men do apart from the grace of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit, failed to lead his wife in instruction and failed to lead his wife when Satan came to tempt her. God sought him out as the leader/head of their marriage. I believe that God will first “seek out” the husbands of Christian divorced couples for answers just as he sought out Adam. And those men better have a better answer than, “The woman You gave me did it”.
    God bless you all!

  12. tc robinson says:

    Bitsy, I see your point. But my friend has assigned that Herculean role to the husband that does not allow him to be excused for failure in a marriage.

    Sue, I argued along those lines. But yes, if the man has the “final say,” then more blame is assigned.

    Along the way, he failed. He missed a few things. And so on…

    Adam, like all of us men do apart from the grace of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit, failed to lead his wife in instruction and failed to lead his wife when Satan came to tempt her. God sought him out as the leader/head of their marriage. I believe that God will first “seek out” the husbands of Christian divorced couples for answers just as he sought out Adam. And those men better have a better answer than, “The woman You gave me did it”.
    God bless you all!

    Matt B, this is what makes it so difficult to let the man ultimately off the hook.

  13. Damian says:

    I’ve gotta say I disagree, and I think it’s tenuous to say that Ephesians or Genesis support it. ‘Who was with her’ does not denote a greater responsibility, although it does perhaps denote a failure on Adam’s part not to intervene. And the entirety of Ephedians 5:21-33 seems to me to spend more time suggesting mutual submission, in the balance between time spent between men and women as well as in the text.

    When it comes down to it, like any relationship, responsibility for its downfall rarely comes down to one person. And that responsibility should always be judged on the actions of that person.

  14. tc robinson says:

    Damian, Gen. 3:9 anticipates v.9, in my opinion. He failed and God knew it, hence v.9.

    Why are we insisting that Eph. 5:21-33 is all about mutual submission? Maybe you need to help me see it.

  15. Justin says:

    My first thought upon reading this was to say that while I think that Genesis 3 is doing a lot of things, I wouldn’t think that assigning blame for all later failed marriages is one of them.

    I still would say that, but after thinking more about it, I think I’ might be with TC on this one. I want to disagree, but…

    Maybe it does ultimately land at the husband’s feet?

  16. tc robinson says:

    Justin, so you’re feeling the same tension?

  17. I suppose these knuckleheads would blame God for Israel’s unfaithfulness.

  18. Justin says:

    Yes, I can certainly see where you’re coming from.

  19. tc robinson says:

    Oh, Stan!

    Justin, but it’s still something to process.

  20. Dillpickle says:

    God gave us free will for a reson…..may be it was because he knew we weren’t perfect……In getting to know God he tells us of Jehoveh is a merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth…exd34:6He is good and ready to forgive. We canot blame man for everything and i know he’s not going to hold me responsible for something my cousin did….in getting to know god i have found out he is definitely a forgiving Goad and BTW..for all of u folks that believe bad peolpe are going to help and burn in eternal fire….u do not know Jehova God of Psalm83: 18 you whose name is Jehovah.

  21. Iris says:

    Interesting! I must admit, as a woman, it is interesting to read that a man considers men to be the problem. However, as you have discovered, our theology on the roles in the home relationship will determine our “take” on this. You are brave to bring the question up.

    Personally, I think it can never be leveled at one or the other in a blank method. Each case has variants. They must always be considered. Whenever it is always one or the other’s main fault in our mind, matters will be misjudged.

    I know, I’m no help at all. Enjoyed the discussion.

  22. tc robinson says:

    However, as you have discovered, our theology on the roles in the home relationship will determine our “take” on this.

    Iris, this is it. Thanks for contributing.

  23. Damian says:


    Sorry for the delay!

    It’s reasonable to see foreshadowing there in Gen 6, T.C., but I still don’t think that responsibility is suggested, considering that v.10-12 make no mention of it – it is all focused on the woman thereafter.Even in the curse of 17-19, there is no mention of responsibility, but rather it suggests to me punishment for foolishness – v.17: “Because you listened ot your wife…”

    In Ephesians, I feel it is important to ignore the ‘subtitle’ usually inserted between 21 and 22, Because v.21 makes more sense as an anticipation of what follows – an introductory statement, so to speak – than a conclusion from what comes before. So 22-33 are expounding v.21. 22-24 speaks further of wives submitting to their husbands; 25-33 speaks in greater detail of the husband submitting to his wife.

    The reason for the shorter women’s section? perhaps because of the chauvinist sexual politic at the time (or perhaps because of the specific situation in Ephesus? I’m not using a commentary, so I can’t recall what consensus is).

    I feel this structure makes more sense in the context of the whole letter than the alternative.

  24. tc robinson says:

    Damian, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    But noticed who is first addressed, not the woman, but the man. This should not be slighted.

    Yes, there’s that mutual submission in Eph. 5:21, but Paul takes off from v.22 to focus on the husband as kephale to his wife and so on. What is then said of the man is not said of the woman from v.22 to the end.

    The man is the one who is told to leave parents behind and bond with his wife and so on…

  25. Damian says:


    It’s always a pleasure to discuss with you :).

    In Genesis, I can’t help but reflect on how children are often reprimanded when they act up in a group. The ringleader – the one who instigated the crime – is usually dealt with last. The followers are dealt with initially. I feel like God is treating Adam and Eve much like this – which is why he speaks to Adam first, and much more briefly than he speaks to Eve.

    You’re right that what is said of the women (that they must submit) is not said to the man to the end. But, if v.21 does serve as an introductory statement, then that is given. The reason more specific exposition is given is because men submitting to their wives is such a counter-cultural concept that it requires further exposition to be understood.

    Am I making sense?

  26. tc robinson says:

    Damian, true for such practice, but is it the same thing in Genesis, ring leader last?

    But the Ephesian 5 text is really about Christ and his church but along the way how the husband should treat his wife, not “a counter-cultural concept.”

  27. Damian says:


    Perhaps I am wrong. But to me, it does seem to be the same thing here – as I said, judging from God’s words to Eve and then the curses.

    Yes, Ephesians 5 is about Christ and his church. But in v.21-33 are specifically about marriage – they digress from the point, returning only near to the end. And the relationships they propose (in fact, v.21 and all it entails) are strongly counter-cultural.

  28. tc robinson says:

    Damian, I could be wrong too. But it seems like Adam was addressed first because of what was expected of him.

    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.

    This is never said of the woman. She is not addressed as kephale.

    If anything, Paul was reminding men of their responsibilities.

  29. Damian says:

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that first point, then :).

    You’re right about the kephale address. But do you think this supercedes the prior instruction to submit to one another? If so, why?

  30. tc robinson says:

    Damian, I agree with the first your decision on the first point.

    My wife reminded me sometime this year that even though we’re husband and wife we’re also brother and sister in the Lord.

    That’s it: a husband and wife are fellow believers and therefore need to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v. 21, TNIV).

    I believe my wife got it.

  31. Damian says:

    Your wife is a wise woman, T.C. :). That’s a nice way to reconcile the two.

  32. Sue says:

    So then, sometimes, it would be useful to have a woman in the pulpit, presenting insights which are more likely to come to women.

    I really enjoy reading Renita Weems sometimes.

  33. tc robinson says:

    Sue, I have no problem with a woman going into the pulpit every now and then. I’m serious.

    Who is Renita Weems?

  34. Sue says:

    Here is my favourite all time post of hers,

    “It can’t be empowerment if you’re still preaching wives’ submission and husbands’ headship. It can’t be empowerment if women are wives (or ladies-in-waiting) and men are priests, the “covering”, and the “head” of the household. It can’t be empowerment if your sermons keep women believing they’re incomplete and lacking unless they are married? It’s not empowerment if you fail to tell women that they don’t honor God by suffering through abusive marriages. It’s not empowerment if men are not challenged to see women as equals and if women are not made to stop romanticizing their subordinate role. It’s not empowerment if you don’t open women’s eyes to the way their devotion and patience are being exploited by their churches (not all churches, of course) and by their pastors (not all pastors, for sure).”

    I’d like to hear her preach some day!

  35. Damian says:


    I suspect that most men would learn a lot more, were a woman in the pulpit all the time ;-). Thank you for the link to Ranita Weems. I enjoyed reading her blog tremendously.

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