Why so many people are confused about marital roles.

During my lunch break today I read the following Dear Abby letter:

http://entertainment.suntimes.com/lifestyles/dear-abby-seeking-ways-tell-daughter-truth-father/

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were going along in life, doing it our way, until we decided we wanted to return to the church, so we stopped drinking and smoking pot. We hit a rough patch in that journey and divorced, but we didn’t stop going to church. It’s crazy, I know. After we divorced, I knew I messed up and deep down I knew I loved him.

So, now that we have remarried, it seems like he’s taking the role of Christian husband back to biblical times. This means he is the head of the house (which I get), but to the point where I am almost like a fixture. I would say I’m here for my looks, but I am overweight. I would say it’s for the sex, but it isn’t happening morning, noon and night, if you know what I mean. I would say it is the money, but now, after his last raise, he makes more than I do.

He cooks most of the time because he gets home before me. The house is always clean, and we share the household bills and expenses. So, I’m kinda lost and confused. Do I have a purpose here? Or am I only here to help pay the bills? — STARTING TO WONDER

Here was “Abby’s” advice:

DEAR STARTING TO WONDER: Only your husband can answer that question. However, part of a husband’s duties to his wife is to make her feel “honored and cherished,” and if that isn’t happening, your remarriage is in trouble.

Marriage counseling (possibly within the church) might help you to reconnect with each other, and I strongly recommend it. Unless you find out why you’re unhappy and fix it, this marriage will not last.

One’s initial reaction might be to mock the wife, but when you actually stop and think about it for a moment, her feelings of being lost and confused are also rather poignant and touching. She instinctively senses that something is wrong here – that a husband being “head of household” shouldn’t really be synonymous with “doing everything himself”.

This couple is confused because they are trying to “do” marriage under several sets of different, competing rules all while getting no helpful teaching but plenty of bad advice.  Previously they obviously had an egalitarian marriage in which they split the earning and household management evenly. Since becoming Christians, her husband is trying to figure out what the biblical role of “husband” is supposed to entail, and he’s obviously figured out that he is supposed to be the head of the marriage. But he has no practical understanding of what that looks like, so he is simply taking it to mean, “I am the head, therefore it must be my responsibility to do everything myself and require nothing of those of whom I am the head.”

The wife sees that things have changed, but she has no concept that her husband being the head requires her to be “under” his headship. She also doesn’t seem to understand that she has duties that, as a Christian wife, she is supposed to be fulfilling. But don’t mock her; how would she know what those roles are? She may have read a few verses in the Bible about women submitting to their husbands (or not), but it’s unlikely that she has had any helpful teaching about this from other Christians.

Now, common sense also seems to be lacking here. Obviously a wife with a clue would say to herself, “Gee, my husband is working hard. What could I do to please him?” She seems to have a sneaking suspicion about some of the things she could do: take care of her health and appearance by losing some weight, making sure that physical intimacy is happening somewhat regularly, and perhaps taking on some additional responsibilities around the home since her husband now out-earns her. But my suspicion is that she doesn’t really want to do these things very much as they may be difficult, and she’d rather coast along and is looking for moral cover to do so.  This is probably why she went to someone like “Dear Abby” with her question instead of taking it to God or another mature Christian.

Still, we can forgive this couple for their confusion. It would be really helpful if pastors could step up and deliver some practical sermons on biblical marriage roles.

But the one we can truly be disgusted with here is “Dear Abby”. Now, clearly Abby is not a Christian, so we can assume she gives lip service to egalitarian marriage. But here is where the rubber meets the road; here we have a man who is doing nearly everything and a woman who is not pulling her fair share, but instead of telling the wife to step up her game, Abby blames the husband! Not only is he supposed to do everything, he’s also supposed to make his wife feel honored and cherished while he does it! Not only is that not biblical, it’s not even egalitarian.

Since they are Christians, we can pray for this couple to find wisdom from God about what the biblical marriage roles of headship and submission look like in a practical context.  However, it is no wonder men and women are lost and confused. Pastors are often too cowardly to teach accurately on biblical marriage for fear of offending their congregants, and the secular advice-givers actively promote a fake egalitarian model.

 

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18 thoughts on “Why so many people are confused about marital roles.

  1. I imagine that it also doesn’t help that this couple doesn’t seem to have any family connections who can guide them in the process. While I am no fan of cowardly pastors, this isn’t all their fault. In all likelihood the parents and grand-parents of this couple didn’t provide good examples of proper Christian living, and neither did any of their other relatives.

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  2. Neither husband nor wife have a good role model. If they had, they’d be living it. To add to that, she has already bailed once, that has to undermine his confidence. All this begs the question, if they can’t find role models, what should single people do?
    At this stage, it would not be a godd idea to bring kids into the mix.

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    • Her letter does not say she bailed on the marriage. Her letter says they divorced. She may have initiated it, but there is no reason to assume she did. That is not information we have. And I see no indication from her letter that her husband has lost confidence in her.

      Edited to add: The letter writer also said, “After we divorced, I knew I messed up and deep down I knew I loved him.” The part about her messing up could I suppose imply she initiated the divorced. I still wouldn’t assume it, but it definitely implies she knows that she was at least 50% (if not more) responsible for the initial breakdown of her marriage.

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  3. I’ve been mulling over this woman’s letter a bit more, trying to decide if her issue is confusion or rebellion or both. Probably it’s a bit of both, but I think the larger issue for her really is confusion, with a side helping of human laziness and a dash of rebellion.

    Here’s why I think so. In going over her letter again, her writing style connotes someone who is not highly intellectual. It is unfortunate that intelligence/IQ (as opposed to wisdom) are treated by many people as a moral virtue; IQ is not a moral virtue any more than eye color is a moral virtue.

    So the fact that this woman’s writing style seems like that of someone who is perhaps not highly intelligent does not mean she is more prone to rebellion, but it does mean that she is probably more prone to confusion. She is probably less able to just figure stuff out on her own or to connect the dots and infer her new role. So when she’s been sold some feminist crap her whole life about egalitarianism, and when Dear Abby sells her some fake egalitarian model, and when her husband tells her it’s his job as head of the household to do everything himself now, she’s probably pretty inclined to accept that, especially since it nicely fits with the very human desire to be a bit lazy or a bit rebellious. So it’s no wonder she’s confused.

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  4. Sounds like a classic marriage dilemma – something significant has changed about the roles the partners are taking on, but without an accompanying discussion about how to negotiate this new territory. This can happen at important milestones like the birth of a baby, or when unemployment strikes etc

    On top of that, on a superficial reading it seems like the wife is actively seeking a meaningful role to play. Just losing weight and looking pretty (as important as that may be to this particular marriage) isn’t deep enough.

    You could be right that they’re confused because they have no role models for this new type of marriage they’re embarking on.

    The other thing that strikes me is the husband could be acting defensively – either he’s doing everything, hoping to please his wife so she’ll stay, in which case he’ll burn out. Or he’s doing everything to prove to himself that he doesn’t need her, should she walk away again – in which case, he’ll push her away. Dear Abby seems to have missed that very important flag.

    Overall, the counselling idea seems a good one, whether it’s at the church or at a secular office.

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  5. The most important thing for us to see from this Dear Abby is Abby’s response.

    Notice how the wife never says that she is unhappy with her husband. She never says she wants to leave him. She never even blames him for her confusion. She’s just wondering what her purpose (i.e. her role in the marriage) is.

    Notice Abby’s response. Even though the wife never said she feels unloved, Abby immediately says that the husband is not fulfilling his duties to make the wife feel honored and cherished. And notice how Abby encourages the wife to take advantage of what Dalrock has termed the threatpoint:

    Unless you find out why you’re unhappy and fix it, this marriage will not last.

    The implied threat is pretty clear.

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  6. “She’s just wondering what her purpose (i.e. her role in the marriage) is.”

    If we are honestly wanting to help those who are confused and are looking for solutions, we could perhaps start by reducing the confusion. On this issue, listening to what the One who made us actually said goes a long way to reducing the confusion. Which of the following two verses is less subject to misinterpretation and/or exploitation?

    ** The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

    ** Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:24 (NIV)

    What does submission look like? What does helping look like?

    To actually be a help, one must do what the helped asks us to do. That concept is what creates the distinction in definition between the helper and the helped. Submission is a part of helping, by definition. To actually be a help, one must submit to the vision of the helped rather than chase their own, or they are not really a helper. But submission is not the entire part of helping. To actually be able to help, one must possess, or acquire, the required skill sets and be willing to employ them. That implies the exercise of intelligence and exertion of effort.

    The exercise of intelligence and the exertion of effort in support of the helped is much easier to understand than “submitting in all things” (whatever that actually does mean, because we know from previous conversations that it doesn’t apply to threesomes 😉 ) And “helping” is what the One who made us actually talked about in the very beginning. He says nothing about submission, except indirectly – as submission is part of helping.

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  7. Thumbs down, Dear Abby. This woman should thank her lucky stars she has such a great husband and do more to deserve him.

    “It is unfortunate that intelligence/IQ (as opposed to wisdom) are treated by many people as a moral virtue; IQ is not a moral virtue any more than eye color is a moral virtue.”

    So true. I’m tired of hearing about high IQ people who are moral idiots.

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  8. I am not one who glories in “game” ordinarily, but I wonder if the husband, having been burned once badly by his wife leaving him, has gone “blue pill on steroids”, leaving his wife confused that way.

    I’d like to say that the solution to this is to simply say “talk to your pastor”, but far too many pastors are way too confused about this as well. I can’t speak specifically to this case, but my counsel to the wife would be to start giving the husband unmistakeable signs that she is his and he can relax. What that is probably varies from family to family.

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  9. Of course she’s confused. All the advice that she is likely to find, unless, by some miracle, she finds a red pill site, is going to lead her to Marriage 2.0 and implied feminine dominance. This is leak news for those that would like to see relationships thrive.
    However, that she is confused is a good sign. It means that social conventions aren’t working/

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  10. Regarding a one income family, it’s worth noting that the Proverbs 31 woman is clearly participating in the marketplace–so I don’t know that we can argue that the “sole male provider” is the clear Biblical norm. 1950s norm as men tried to present their families as if they were old school royalty in saltbox homes serving Jell-O desserts out of James Lileks’ “Gallery of Regrettable Food”, sure, but not the Biblical norm.

    (and I say this as the sole money provider in my family, by the way)

    Maybe she simply needs to say to her husband something like “Honey, I am in this with you, and I’d like to take part in helping you–what would you like me to do?”

    Keep the smelling salts ready, of course, and then….have fun doing it.

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  11. The difficulty is that she may have a harder job than he does. He may work a desk job while she’s in a job where she’s on her feet all day. It would be very hard to work a full time job than complete all the duties of a home. As for Proverbs 31, I think it’s good to remember in Proverbs 31 lady had servants.
    It’s not really obvious to me that she is a bad wife. She just seems to be a little lost, as suggested, and could use some active leadership from her husband. She seems as if she’d be receptive.

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    • Agreed–the trick here is that she’s searching for significance. The husband does not need to have her do everything. He just needs to communicate with her about something that she can do to show she is on the team as well. It’s kinda like my baseball coach putting me out in left field a few innings so I could get beaned by the pitcher when I came up to bat (I’m a lefty–and young pitchers tend to pitch outside for righties, do the math).

      And if she’s working on her feet all day, what a great reason to get some exercise and lose some weight, eh? Husband could end up with a happier, healthier, sexier wife…..wins all around.

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  12. I didn’t see anything “mock-worthy” about the letter writer. She sounded a bit lost and also a little afraid that maybe her husband may not be happy and that they would face a divorce again. I saw her writing the letter as a sincere attempt to get advice on what to do to prevent just that from happening.

    Dear Abby’s response was off-base in blaming the husband (I didn’t see the letter writer blaming her husband for anything). Really it comes down to, talk to the hubs – he’s your love; you can talk to him; presumably he wants the marriage to succeed as much as you do. Is counseling needed? – I don’t know. It may simply be that they’re both a little gun-shy and need to just recognize it and be thankful that they’re together again – and they don’t need suggestions that there is someone “at fault” – there isn’t any fault here. It’s like BC said, really, an adjustment they’re dealing with. I, for one, hope they do work things out to mutual satisfaction.

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  13. “her husband is trying to figure out what the biblical role of “husband” is supposed to entail, and he’s obviously figured out that he is supposed to be the head of the marriage. But he has no practical understanding of what that looks like”

    This is very much the situation that I find myself in, trying to figure out what biblical marriage roles look like in everyday life. I’ve read many a blog post from people talking about the need for it, or despairing over the lack of it, but very very little about what it actually looks like. People (on this post and elsewhere) talk about the lack of mentors but with the near virtual ubiquity of non biblical marriage, one doesn’t simply find proper mentors easily.

    I see that Scott has provided a link to look at and I will read it to be sure, but speaking for myself, it would be nice to see more productive, positive and proactive responses (virtual mentoring of a sorts) to situations such as this letter rather than another post pointing to how they simply don’t get it.

    I don’t write this to complain about you per se, just expressing my frustration in hopes of finding the direction that I feel I need to make my marriage better.

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