Is a Wife a Helpmeet or a Savior?

Courtesy LDS Media Library

I ran a race Saturday morning and as I neared the finish line, I was surprised to see my wife standing just off the course, ready to take a picture. I had shown up alone before six to pick up my race packet and I thought I’d be by myself that morning—getting up early is definitely not my wife’s favorite thing to do—but there she was in living color. When I ran a little further, there was our youngest daughter yelling, “Daddy!”

Do I need to tell you how it made me feel to see them there? I finished my race much stronger than I expected.

My wife has always motivated me to be my best self. I have some wonderful, lifelong male friends whom I love and admire, but nothing can compare to the powerful influence of an authentic woman on a man. Yes, I really believe this. Here’s a case in point.

I recently read a post from And So I Fight entitled “A True Christmas,” a story of reconciliation between the author Cherae and her husband Brandon. They had been alienated for some weeks when Brandon’s struggles with pornography and infidelity came to light. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: 

We opened Christmas presents and ate some lunch and then Brandon and I headed to my parents study to talk. I asked him what his thoughts and hopes were between us. He told me he knew that our family would be together and that things were going to work out. Tears started streaming down my face as I gently nodded my head and silently agreed with him. I then felt impressed to tell him that I will be there waiting for him when he is clean. I’ve never seen him shed so many tears. I told him of my pleadings with my Heavenly Father and what the answers to those pleadings were. He continued to cry. In that moment I was again so greatly reassured by my Father in Heaven that everything would work out and that WE would be okay. I hugged him. I didn’t plan it, and it caught both of us off guard but it was the most full of love hug I had ever experienced with him to that point in our lives. We continued to openly talk about our future together, felt the spirit confirm all that we had discussed, and shed many more tears. The Christmas I had dreaded and feared the most turned out to be the best Christmas I had ever experienced. (Emphasis mine.)

Cherae’s promise—”I will be waiting for him when he is clean”—well, that captures it for me, particularly her vision of and patient belief in her husband’s potential. It’s what makes a man explode with purpose. It gives him a reason to do and a reason to be.

I don’t know of any greater or more motivating force for a man than the tender, against-all-odds love of his wife. There is simply nothing to compare to it. It’s a force that holds couples and families together. I believe in this way a wife is like our Savior and in a sense, she is a savior to her husband.

A bold assertion to be sure but there is some strong evidence to support it. To find that evidence, we have to go a ways back—to Genesis 2:18 to be exact.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

The phrase “help meet for him” is translated from the Hebrew ezer kenegdo (כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ׃ עֵ֖זֶר) but biblical scholar R. David Freeman claims that this and similar translations of this phrase are incorrect:

I believe the customary translation of these two words, despite its near universal adoption, is wrong. That is not what the words are intended to convey. They should be translated instead to mean approximately “a power equal to man.” That is, when God concluded that he would create another creature so that man would not be alone, he decided to make “a power equal to him,” someone whose strength was equal to man’s. Woman was not intended to be merely man’s helper. She was to be instead his partner. (“Woman, a Power Equal to Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 09:01 Jan/Feb 1983, 56–58.)

According to Freedman, the word ezer originally meant “to rescue” and a similar form meant “to be strong.”  Eventually, these two phonemes (sounds) were combined into one grapheme (a unit of written language) that over time was interpreted simply as help. But something got lost in that translation. He goes on to say that the word ezer occurs 21 times in the Hebrew Bible, and of those, it is translated eight times as savior.

The root of the word kenegdo means “equal.” Freedman would prefer that the phrase be translated “a power or strength equal to him.” I love that.

Recently I heard a man explain that he was about to leave the Church and his wife out of frustration with himself and his habits, but when his wife told him, “I can’t imagine my life without you,” those words and the genuine love they conveyed stopped him in his tracks. He relented. That couple is still together, happily married and strengthening each other in the gospel.

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not thought much about going on a mission until he met Jeanene Watkins. She told him one evening, “When I marry, it will be in the temple to a returned missionary.” That changed his plans. He soon after left on a mission to Uruguay. Jeanene went on a mission too while he was gone and two weeks after Elder Scott returned home, they were married in the Manti Temple.

It’s the light of a righteous woman’s being, a magnetic force that draws a man away from self-doom. It sharpens and transforms him. It saves him.

Maybe you think I’m taking the point too far. I don’t dare take it as far as I’d like.

I’m not trying to say that saving men is a woman’s sole purpose. I am not saying that it’s a woman’s “role.” Heavens no. I can hardly figure out my own role let alone anyone else’s. Actually, I hope pulling a man back from the fire is something women never have to do. But I do believe that they have a power to influence men in miraculous ways, if they choose to or if they need to. And they often do.

If you are a wife whose husband is grappling with addiction or transgression, know this: what he really wants more than anything is your tenderness and your gentle reassurance, especially if he has fallen. He wants you to respect him, even if he doesn’t deserve it. He wants you to see his potential and to believe in him, even though he can’t see it himself. In his heart, he knows you can see what he can’t. Show him what you see and what you hope for. Show him the way. Hang on for dear life. Don’t give up if there is any chance of reconciliation. I am not saying that you should trust him when he still can’t trust himself, but hold up your desire to trust him again. It will motivate him like nothing else.

You are not the cause of his mistakes. Those are his choices. But there is nothing on earth that can influence him more to come back to you than your tenderness. From the depths of his soul, he wants the real, pure you. Let it shine.

He doesn’t have anything else to hold onto except his weakened faith and you. You just might save him. And that, I believe, is one thing God created you for.

You can’t help anyone who doesn’t want help. No one can. But if you will be ready like Cherae to take him back when he is clean, you just might be the miracle he is hoping for. It’s worth a shot. You might just save a man from hell. You might save a generation.

9 thoughts on “Is a Wife a Helpmeet or a Savior?

  1. SilverRain September 3, 2014 / 3:16 am

    There is nothing like the influence of a good man on a woman.

    Too bad so many of them are looking for an object of inspiration, they don't bother becoming one themselves.

    I really wish men knew the effect of this kind of thinking on the daughters of God.


  2. Julia Taylor September 3, 2014 / 10:18 am

    I am really happy for those who have only been married once, whose relationships fit into this mold and pattern. It is ideal for spouses to love each other, love their children, and to be striving together to become better people.

    Unfortunately, the hope that waiting, staying, trying to change yourself to be more patient, loving and kind, is a recipe for continued abuse for many women. My exhusband and I saw 7 counselors for more than 4 months with each, several for more than a year. I tried to be inspiring, and instead I was simply an enabler, doing the work of two in every aspect of our family life, while accepting emotional and sometimes sexual degradation.

    I look back now, and see that I should have taken the advice of the counselor we were seeing at the time, who told me that nothing would change in our marriage, because he didn't want to do any of the emotional work. I prayed about it, and felt that the Lord supported me in ending our marriage.

    I had an appointment the evening of the Sunday that ended a week of fasting and praying, and I left very confused. The bishop had extended a call to a ward leadership position. I told him that I didn't feel right accepting the call because I had received direction, confirmed in the temple the day before, that my marriage was not one of partnership, and that I was not sure what the next steps in my life would be. The bishop told me that he thought that it was not a coincidence that I had the appointment to talk to him that night, and that the calling was the Lord's real way of answering my prayers. He told me to go home, pray more, and be at church the next week, ready to go to work on the calling.

    I took his advice and stayed, because he told me several stories from his own life when his wife had been his reason to live and become a better man. He said that my temple covenants were in effect, a way that I could be the Savior's assistant in bringing my husband more fully into the gospel. He then gave me a priesthood blessing, in which I was instructed to be long suffering, and that my patience would be rewarded with a strong and eternally loving marriage.

    I followed the advice, but I look back at the almost 7 years after that night, and I regret it. My children and I would have had a lot more stability and spirituality, even if I had been a single parent the entire time. I really do hope that someday he finds a way to be happy and a relationship he is willing to invest in.

    My children and I took more abuse, because I was willing to believe all men need their wives in the way that you describe in this post. It didn't turn out that way in my life, and believing that your experience translates universally is a dangerous message to send to women in general. While I do believe that when both spouses are willing to work on a problem, that knowing you are supported makes a huge difference. That is true for men and women. What is not true is that a woman should stay in a marriage that is abusive and/or with a partner who refuses to see or work on the problems. The attitude that comes with the assumption that all wives can “save” their husbands, only pushes women in bad marriages to new depths of despair, as they blame themselves for their husband's actions, and leaves the husband a way to always blame his wife.


  3. Michael James Fitzgerald September 3, 2014 / 1:38 pm

    SilverRain, Thank you for your comment. I wish men and women were equally inspiring to each other. Sometimes that is the case, sometimes not. Over my lifetime, I have seen hundreds of instances where it is the case. However, I am personally troubled by the self-occupation of many men. If they don't want help, they won't and can't get it. I have written about this extensively elsewhere on this blog. I think it's time for another post!


  4. Michael James Fitzgerald September 3, 2014 / 1:45 pm

    Julia, I was sorry to read your story. It makes me very sad to hear these stories and I've heard lots of them. They are all too common. I hope I have never said anything to anyone that would inculcate enduring abuse. I am only talking here in this post about willing partners. Without the “willing” part, there can be no union and little hope. I had better address that in my next post! Thanks for writing.


  5. Anonymous September 3, 2014 / 2:22 pm

    In an answer to your title, I think women are more saviors than helpmeets. In some ways I think it unfortunate. If we were both helpmeets as was intended there would be mutual love, respect, comfort, help, etc for both partners. I'm curious as to why it seems that men are so much weaker and need so much more from women whereas we women just “take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.” A cultural shift? Always that way? Modern society? You've given me much to think on.


  6. SilverRain September 3, 2014 / 3:10 pm

    Thank you for clarifying your intention, MJF. Julia's post is exactly the type of situation to which I was referring.

    It took the Spirit a LOT of work on me to show me that the only way I could “inspire” my ex was to divorce. This kind of philosophy in your main post, I believe, cannot be expressed without disclaimers in cases of abuse (and you have to realize most victims of abuse don't realize they are being abused,) AND symmetrical language. Without that, it cultivates the abuse culture, intentionally or not. This is why women stay.

    I have yet to meet a man who believes his purpose in life is to be an inspiration to his wife. It's just never said. Imagine how different our world would be if men were taught their entire lives that their primary purpose was to inspire their wives to righteous thoughts, to be good husbands and fathers, and to help women fulfill their potential.

    I reject the teaching that, even as a partner, my role is to motivate my spouse. It is an illusion. Motivation has to come from within. If a man wants to come to God, he must do it on his own merits. I will be a partner, but never again stand on a pedestal. All that does is make it a harder hit when he throws you off of it for not being good enough of an object of inspiration.

    Not only is Julia's story common, it is the norm. Even in “good” marriages, a woman's role is to be an object. Since I cannot enter into that kind of marriage again, I will probably never marry. Sadly, that seems to be all a typical Mormon man has to offer.

    I know it sounds like a derail, but it is very pertinent to women.


  7. Michael James Fitzgerald September 3, 2014 / 5:25 pm

    SilverRain, please read my disclaimer here and the link. I will address your comments in a post as soon as I can. Again, thanks. I really appreciate your insight and comments.


  8. Anonymous September 6, 2014 / 6:29 pm

    We live in a throw-away society, marriage included. My parents, who would have celebrated their 65th anniversary in July had my mother not died in April, nearly threw their marriage away multiple times. My father suffered from depression, he became an alcoholic, he wasn't interested in religion or spirituality. And my mother wasn't easy to live with at times either. She had a sharp tongue, made more money than my dad, and didn't necessarily “need” him. Except, those last few words are a lie that Satan would like everyone to believe. They tore up their marriage certificate into tiny pieces, they separated, they fought, and on it goes. But something helped them hang on long enough to get the lessons along the way. I'm so grateful they did not give up. They eventually got their religious act together and were sealed in the temple along with their children. They suffered cancer at the same exact time in their 50's, had surgery at the same hospital. They grew to cherish one another in spite of all they had endured. In the end, my father stayed with my mother during nearly 10 years of Alzheimer's, living in the same assisted living apartment with her as her mind left. She did not know his name, but she seemed to recognize the sound of his voice, which calmed her. His life was a bit of living hell as he patiently took care of her, although this was not what my siblings and I would ever have expected possible fro him. The Lord gave him an opportunity to change and he took it. Thank God he took it.

    My mother was never an “object” in their marriage. I am not an object in mine. We are equals. We both struggle at times and need inspiration from the other. We need to be the strong one when the other is having a crisis. We've been through our own versions of living hell and we could have given up and walked away, as many do. Thankfully we chose to stick it out and better times came. We are far from perfect, but we are determined to keep our relationship with God and each other our #1 priority. Satan would like us to crumble and have a broken relationship and family, but he will not succeed. (continued in next comment)


  9. Anonymous September 6, 2014 / 6:31 pm

    I believe there are different answers for different situations (and factoring in abuse is a huge issue all of its own). If we are truly seeking the Lord's will and blessing, He will help us know the path. In some cases (that I know of personally), humble women have sought the Lord's guidance when in a very difficult marriage, and they felt it was His will that they stay. One said that after 17 years, the Lord finally released her and she left knowing she had done exactly what was required of her, even though it was 17 years of very very difficult circumstances. But she left in peace, knowing He would make all things right in the end. Others have felt that they should leave and have been blessed in doing so. Every situation is unique and each situation requires answers from above. The common factor here is that they are living close to the Spirit and are following the counsel they receive, even if it is very difficult to do so.

    We are responsible for our own choices. We choose whether or not to follow the counsel from a bishop or stake president, to seek the Lord's voice in the temple, etc. No one is forcing us to stay or leave a marriage, it is our choice. Blaming others will not solve anyone's problems, it only creates “victim' thinking that is power-sucking.

    It is a blessed thing when a woman can have a righteous and inspiring influence on her husband. It is also a beautiful thing when a man has that same influence on his wife. It may not happen simultaneously and it may not be an equal thing from both sides, but marriage is a union blessed by God and He will multiply and magnify our efforts in helping our partner. This is all part of becoming “one” – one with our spouse and, as partners, one with God. I believe He wants us to be saviors to one another and to the generations before and after us.

    I do not think this post is insinuating that it is only the woman's role to save her husband, or that a woman must stay to do so under every circumstance. No where does it come across as the only way, the universal message to every woman. That, Julia, is your interpretation that likely comes from your own life experiences and perceptions. And SilverRain, I'm not certain who you're hanging out with, but the Mormon marriages that I am most familiar with are anything but the “norm” that you infer. I see marriages of equality and men who are as devoted to their wives as their wives are to them. Start looking for the ones that work and I think you'll see a very different picture.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s