A Word to Men About the Stages of Family Life

Young Family Stage

Most of us are bursting with love when we get married. We didn’t think it would be possible to love our bride more than when we got engaged, and now that we are newly married, we are convinced our love is complete. A verse like 1 Peter 3:7 hardly seems relevant.

And then the honeymoon season winds down, and we become more comfortable around each other. We begin to see the less-good side of our loved one. It is then that we realize that our love must move up a notch. We have to learn to love each other even when we see the blemishes in the one we thought was so perfect. We begin to get a glimpse of just how different women are from men about a lot of things. We must learn to love even when we are offended or displeased. We must love when we disagree. Familiarity can very well breed contempt without love. With familiarity love’s demands are greater. Hopefully, by God’s grace, we have already understood and treated our wives as equal before our Lord, heirs with us of eternal life.

Then for most it happens: our first child arrives. Many men are not ready for what the entrance of a baby into a family’s daily life means. Maybe both spouses were working full-time. Now only one, and maybe only one income for a while. There might be college debt to pay off. A baby brings with it many needs that cost time and money.  

When the children come, the house is often found disheveled, kitchen sink full of dishes, and piles of dirty laundry that never seem to disappear. Blinded by selfishness and lack of understanding about a wife’s needs, we might actually complain to her in our frustration over the state of the house! Before, we did not have to contribute much to daily household affairs, but now we do, no matter how inconvenient personally. Life becomes much more scheduled and opportunity for recreation is less. It is then we realize our love needs to go deeper.

We need to understand her perspective in all of this, her needs, both physically and spiritually, for she is the weaker vessel.  We must learn to honor her role as a mother and remember both her gifts and limitations. Our care for her needs to become a priority, a thought many men resist. As we submit ourselves to God and His Word, He uses this stage of life to give us a new understanding of His love and its demands. He gives us the grace to become more truly loving, more like Him. 

Mid-Life Family Stage

As we approach “mid-life”, we find another set of tests.  Children are now older. Maybe life now is far more complicated and busy than we ever could have imagined.  Parenting teens and young adults is a much different ball game than that of a young family. Our responsibilities at work might be increasing as well now that we are the veterans. If we are serving Christ in vocational ministry, we add to this the enormous amount of time and energy given to others in our care as well. The strength of our love for wife and children is put to the test daily: Will we keep living with our wife in an understanding way?  Will we show her honor, respecting her limitations, and encourage her, or will we despise her for what she is not and cannot do? Will we seek the Lord together in the midst of the stresses of life or will we drift apart in selfishness?

We have many roles to embrace in life: We are Christians, husbands, fathers, employer/employee, citizen, spiritual leader, etc. . Each of these roles needs our attention without neglecting any of them. But if we love our God, we will strive above all things to maintain a growing love for our wives and children. They don’t need merely time or fun activities. They need our love.  

Many of us quickly realize that, in our flesh, we don’t come close to having the bandwidth for this time of life. We need the love of God in our hearts now more than ever, maybe even more than we ever will. We need the strength that comes from a deep marital love as well. We were meant to meet each of these challenges together, holding one another up, strengthening one another in love.

A Word about Afflictions

Life is already impossible to live well apart from the love of God, but when afflictions are added to the daily grind, life becomes exponentially “impossibler” to navigate without Him. We must live with our wives with understanding, honoring her role, and treating her as a spiritually equal partner in the Gospel, even when suffering. We must learn to actively love our wives and children while in pain, while suffering great fatigue, while overwhelmed, while dealing with depression. In such times we must go more deeply in our experience of the love of God so that we can give to others and think past our own pain.

Late Stage of Life

We know the day comes when one or both of us will probably be disabled by illness. We wonder if cancer, dementia, or an accident will permanently and severely handicap one or both of us. It is not possible to be ready for such a time, but when it comes, we will need God’s love through us in greater measure. It is a beautiful thing to see an older couple that, although struggling with many things, lives abiding in love and unity.     

What love looks like, what it demands from us, changes with our circumstances. Times of life require our love to take on different aspects of God’s love. God is love. In marriage, in parenting, in work, in ministry—in life—it really does come down to love. As we humbly turn to Him, He gradually changes us into His loving image.

Men, if we are not pursuing this kind of love for our wives, this verse makes it very clear: our prayers to God are hindered. Love for our wives, understanding them, honoring their differences, and treating them as spiritual equals, is a very basic expression of our faith in Jesus Christ. Without it, our prayers to God have little value. We are promised grace in time of need (Hebrews 4:16) and wisdom if we but ask (James 1:5-8), so we need to ask and receive from God what is needed by faith to love our wives as He commands us.

F. McPhail

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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