This is a good question. I believe we will see that the husband should still looked upon as the “head of the woman” even if he is unsaved, but he can’t really be the “spiritual leader” until he is saved.

Regarding HEADSHIP, we read in 1st Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, THE HEAD OF THE WOMAN IS MAN, and the head of Christ is God.” This truth has been God’s design since the creation of Adam and Eve, for the man (Adam) was given a place of “headship” over the woman (Eve). Adam was to be the LEADER and PROTECTOR of his wife. The woman was not to usurp that role. This truth applies to all men and women throughout the world, whether they acknowledge it or not. The Apostle Paul applies it to “spiritual leadership” in 1st Timothy 2:11-13, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” This is true when men and women come together in a church meeting, as we see in 1st Corinthians 14:34-35, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” As we can see from this passage, it also extends to the home, for women are to “ask their own husbands at home,” which means they are to be submissive to them at home and allow them to be the “spiritual leader” in the home.

This is all good and proper IF the husband is saved, but your excellent question deals with an “unsaved husband.” What is she to do in that case? Since he is not saved, he can’t possibly take the lead in spiritual things for he is “spiritually dead” (see Ephesians 2:1) and needs to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-6). The Lord foresaw this situation and has given the saved wife instruction in 1st Peter 3:1-2, which reads: “Wives, likewise, BE SUBMISSIVE TO YOUR OWN HUSBAND, that even if some do not obey the word, THEY, without a word, MAY BE WON BY THE CONDUCT OF THEIR WIVES, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.”  We learn two valuable lessons here. First of all, she is still to “submit to the headship of her husband” even though he is unsaved. His unsaved condition does not change the truth that he is in a God-given place of authority over her as man and as her husband. I know this truth is not popular today, especially in the current “feminist movement” where women desire to be equal in every way to the man. But God has NOT changed his mind and Christian women have the privilege of showing God’s order in headship to the world by “obeying their husbands.” Of course, she is not obligated to obey him if he is asking her to do something that is sinful and contrary to God’s Word, for we read in Ephesians 5:23, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, AS TO THE LORD.” Her submission to him will be a wonderful testimony to the world at large AND to her husband, which may be used of the Lord to “win him to Christ.”

That is the “second lesson” in this passage, for instead of trying to force the husband to read the Bible or to listen to her preaching the gospel to him, the woman can “live Christ before him” and her CONDUCT (behavior) may draw him to the Savior “without the word.” This doesn’t mean the husband can be saved without believing what the Bible says about trusting in Christ for salvation; it means that her godly life will lead him to desire to be saved and then he will repent of his lost condition and trust the gospel of Christ for salvation (Romans 1:16; 1st Corinthians 1:18). We see more of what a godly life is like in verses 3-4, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the INCORRUPTIBLE BEAUTY OF A GENTLE AND QUIET SPIRIT, which is very precious in the sight of God.” Many an unsaved husband has been won to Christ by having a godly wife “adorning the gospel of Christ” in her words and deeds. After he is saved, he can then completely fulfill his role as “the head of the woman” by also being “the spiritual leader in the home.”

In closing, I should add one more word in answering your question. Though the woman is not to take the place of being the “spiritual leader” in the home, she can still “teach in the home.” Older women are told to be “teachers of good things” to young women in Titus 2:3 and this includes teaching them to be “keepers at home” (verse 5, KJV). Young mothers have a special place in God’s plan to teach their children and there too they will not only “teach through the Word of God,” but also “teach by example,” and one of those examples is being “obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” (DO)  (546.5)