Complementarian Marriage Wish List: An Egalitarian’s Perspective, Part 1

You’ll recall that awhile ago I did a series of posts on the book Love and Respect. In it I shared a list compiled by members from one of my former small groups about suggested ways wives could respect their husbands and ways husbands could love their wives. (And you already know what I think about the love women/respect men dichotomy!) As I wrote, I had a hard time resisting the temptation to critique items on those lists. I decided to save that for its own post.

My intention with this post is to clarify some points of egalitarian marriage which are often misunderstood or misrepresented. I had to divide this up into two posts so the post wouldn’t be a mile long, so you’ll get part 2 next week.

First up, the list of things husbands in the group said they wanted from their wives:

How to Show Respect to a Husband:

1. Values decisions and requests when made. I’m guessing that “values decisions and requests” actually means “agrees with my decisions and fulfills my requests.” Assuming this is true, I’ll address these two aspects one by one:

Agrees with my decisions: Agreement is nice. However, in getting there, don’t shortcut your way around honest answers to these questions: Is this decision right for you and your family? Have you sought your wife’s input from the beginning of the process, and considered her opinion to carry equal weight with your own (i.e., no hiding behind the “husband has 51% of the vote” BS)? If you’re having difficulty agreeing, are you okay with holding off on making a decision until you both reach consensus?

Incidentally, how often are you agreeing with her decisions?

Bottom line: Everyone is accountable for themselves, and no one has any business asking for unquestioned acceptance of their actions.

Fulfills my requests: This is reasonable provided that the request itself is reasonable, and that the wife has the freedom to say no if she chooses.

2. Gives importance to things I find important. I’d agree, inasmuch as this is mutual, and the husband and wife are in agreement on issues they both find important.

3. Speaks well of me to others. I don’t know if this means merely “Refrain from saying bad things about me” or “Go out of your way to say nice things about me.” The former is certainly something both spouses should be able to expect from each other, and the latter is icing on the cake.

4. Does not contradict me in front of the children. There are parents who feel that they must always present a unified front on every issue, no matter how minor, so that they can save face or so that their kids won’t feel insecure or won’t have the chance to try to pit them against each other. I get this. However, consider what’s going to happen sooner or later if you let your children grow up thinking that you are both always on the same page about everything: They’ll be in for the shock of their lives when they discover this isn’t the case. I speak from experience on this one. Growing up, I never, ever saw my parents fight. In fact, the first time I saw them have a mildly heated argument about something, I had a nervous breakdown, thinking this meant they were going to get a divorce.

Your children need to learn that a disagreement between mom and dad isn’t the end of the world. They’ll also need a model of healthy conflict resolution. You, as the parents, have “first dibs” on providing this! Don’t pass up the opportunity.

Furthermore, if a “no disagreements in front of the children” rule is in place, this means that, more than likely, one person is always going to be the one biting their tongue and going along with something they really don’t agree with (or pretending to agree, at least). This person will typically be the less headstrong one, or the one who always gets preached at to “submit”. And guess who that would be? The wife. In a marriage of mutual submission and respect, this is not okay.

5. Praises me. Possibly a reiteration of #3, with more emphasis on “Go out of your way to say nice things about me.” Perhaps this is a person whose love language is “words of affirmation.” There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, provided that the person desiring to be praised is (1) doing things that are actually praiseworthy, and (2) not expecting recognition for everything they do.

6. Reciprocates love emotionally. I had a professor who, every time someone made a vague statement during a presentation, would interrupt them and say, “Unpack that for us, please.” In other words: explain what you mean, and be specific.

If I could, I would say that to whoever came up with this item on the list, because it doesn’t really make sense the way it’s stated. It could mean either “When I do something nice for her she should respond in kind, with feeling” or “She should return my affection (hugs, kisses, etc.) with her own.” Either one is plausible, I suppose, and either one seems reasonable enough.

7. Supports decisions. See #1.

8. She allows me to deal with things in my own way without pressure. This one is…well, not exactly a red flag, but a yellow flag, maybe: proceed with caution. It really all depends on what the “things” in question are, and also what’s meant by “pressure.” If it means, “Let me make all the decisions for our family on my own”, then this is a bad idea (see #1 for reasons why).

Where strictly personal matters are concerned — like how someone else dresses or what brand of shampoo they prefer or whether they keep a neat or messy work space — I’d say, yes, more often than not, this is good advice. Your spouse is an adult, so give them the courtesy of handling their own affairs the way they think best. If, on the other hand, they are consistently lazy, rude, or neglecting something that directly impacts the well-being of the family — say, paying the bills on time — a little “pressure” is exactly what’s needed!

There does seem to be a perpetual complaint among men about their wives “pressuring” or “badgering” or the ever popular favorite: “nagging.” They also seem utterly baffled about why their wives do this. Listen up, men! Here’s why:

In a marriage worldview that tells women that they have no vote in the way things go (or that their vote can be “vetoed” by their husband), that they should be submissive and obedient and “win him without words”, they feel helpless. They have no recourse. They aren’t the ones privileged with the ability to make decisions independently of their spouse (or override their spouse’s decisions). What options do they have? Excessive verbal reminders, pressure (and yes, “nagging”), are often their only hope for effecting change of any kind at home or in the relationship. It’s a faint hope, to be sure — but as anyone who’s ever been in a desperate situation knows, a faint hope is better than none at all. Start treating your wife as an equal, and I’ll just bet this will become a nonissue faster than you think.

9. Purposely seeking to meet my needs without pointing out my faults. I have a feeling that the gentleman who came up with this item had something specific in mind, but we, the uninformed audience, don’t know what that is. It could be anything. Is it something like “meeting my need for a napkin while I eat messy barbecue without pointing out that I have a stain on my shirt”? If so, I guess that’s fair enough. If on the other hand it’s more along the lines of, “Just give me what I want without expecting any action on my part” and/or “Don’t notice or point out my role in any problems I’m having”, I’d have to say that one’s a little less doable.

10. To be thoughtful of insecurities and encourages me in those areas. Harder than it sounds! “Encouraging” your spouse in the area of their insecurities means you are, on some level, drawing attention to those insecurities. Some people react badly to this — for them, it’s like poking a bruise. Doing this well is a really, really tough balance for a wife (or a husband) to strike. You want to inspire and motivate your partner enough to light a fire underneath them and be a catalyst for their personal growth, but not so much that they feel belittled or pushed into something they’re not ready for.

I will add that if a wife doesn’t choose precisely the words her husband wants to hear (and it’s highly likely that she won’t), it can come off as “pressuring” or “pointing out faults”, which the husbands have said they don’t want. This means, gentlemen, that you can’t have it both ways. You will have to decide what matters more to you: making sure your wife never says anything that makes you uncomfortable, or accepting her help in areas where you struggle. And this nearly always involves discomfort in some form, somewhere along the way. But that’s a choice you will have to make — no one else can make it for you.

Continued next week…

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