Soon after getting married I read an article about a husband’s responsibility to love his wife. The author described a wife who is “nourished and cherished” by her husband, using words like “glowing,” “flourishing,” “satisfied,” “content.” This wife sounded quite wonderful. So did her husband. I, on the other hand, felt off—worn out and lost in the shuffle of needy children and duties at home. I loved my husband, but our marriage was far from “glowing” as we struggled with communication and unmet expectations.

So, naturally, I concluded it was all his fault.

He’s not nourishing and cherishing me, I would lament. I’d count down the moments until he arrived home from work, waiting for him to burst in the door and rescue me from my failures and frustrations. When he didn’t live up to my demands, I gave into despair. I tagged him “in” and checked myself “out.”

Marital Dissonance

When I first heard a sermon on Ephesians 5:22–33 upon returning to church after years away, I expected to be angry and defensive. Instead, I wept at the beautiful picture of complementarity painted in Paul’s words. My husband and I eventually chose the passage for our wedding. Though headship and submission was new to me, in both belief and experience, I wanted to go all in.

Complementarian churches regularly call men to step up, to initiate, to lead the way, to spiritually lead their wives and kids. They are to set the pace for the home as the family runs after Christ. This is a good and biblical challenge. The problem comes when we (wives) hear this teaching for our husbands and want from them what only Jesus can provide. We become critical and grumbly. Words from Ephesians ring in our ears: Is my husband loving me? Nourishing and cherishing me? Sanctifying me? Washing me with the water of the word?

Suddenly we realize we don’t feel so nourished, cherished, sanctified, washed. Rather, we stare at this sinner we married, wondering why he isn’t making us all bright-and-shiny holy.

Nourished and Cherished by Jesus

Ephesians 5 is prescriptive; its imperatives shape how husbands and wives are to view their relationship and responsibilities to one another. But it’s about something far greater than mere human marriage: “This mystery is profound,” Paul writes, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). Christ is the head of his bride, the church. He’s her Savior. He loves her and gave himself for her, sanctifying and cleansing her, presenting her spotless to himself. Jesus loves his bride as his own body, nourishing and cherishing her.

There’s a beautiful way in which a husband’s love for his wife pictures this, but it will never be this. The most wonderful husband cannot accomplish in his bride what Christ accomplishes in his church. And so when I look to my husband to be these things for me, there’s only one word for my posture: idolatrous.

A woman nourished and cherished only by her husband may thrive for a while, but eventually she’ll wither. If she doesn’t know her God, she can’t know herself. Her marriage may be happy, but her life will be shallow. Fruit from the love of a husband won’t last unless it’s rooted in the love of the Bridegroom.

Freed to Love

As I look to Jesus to nourish and cherish me—as I embrace his love for me and my union with him—I’m freed to love my husband with no strings attached. This is the path to security and confidence: united to Christ, I can joyfully submit to this earthly union, trusting the same God who is shaping me to be more like his Son is at work in my husband too.

My husband wrote our wedding vows. He prayed he would lead me to an ever-deepening satisfaction not in him, but in Jesus. This is male headship—not striving to be Jesus to your wife, but striving to point your wife to Jesus.

My husband isn’t perfect, and sometimes that leaves me disappointed. But I’m also thankful. I’m thankful he wants to grow in grace and challenges me to that end. I’m thankful our imperfections are platforms to celebrate God’s matchless love. I’m thankful for a man who doesn’t stand up tall trying to be my savior, but bends low with me before the cross. I’m thankful for an imperfect marriage and a perfect Savior.

I have an alarm that goes off a few minutes before my husband gets home from work. As the ringer blares, the words flash across my screen: “Nourished and cherished by Jesus.” I don’t always read it. It doesn’t always keep me from hoping he’ll walk in the door and rescue me. But it serves as a simple reminder to lift my eyes to the One who does nourish and cherish me. And because he does, this imperfect wife can take her imperfect husband’s hand and enter the messy, beautiful, sanctifying work of marriage together—wholly dependent on Christ.