In a recent thread, several people gave accounts of marriages which are problematic in some way. There were stories of several so-called "complementarian" marriages in which the wife is not able to make any decision without running it past her husband. There was the so-called "egalitarian" marriage in which the husband showed no impulse to protect, support, and cherish his wife in her time of need. There were seemingly "model" marriages which can only be described as whitewashed tombs. And, of course, there were the horror stories of abuse. After several of these negative examples, one commenter opined that she wishes she had more positive examples to cite. Another replied with the following hopeful plea:
Maybe there are some folks with "beautiful marriages" reading this who could lead the way?
On the whole, the institution of marriage is in a state of disarray today. Divorce, marital infidelity, and domestic violence are rampant, and there does not appear to be much appreciable difference between Christians and non-Christians. Anecdotally, we all know plenty of broken homes and miserable marriages; and we can think of few marriages we can genuinely describe as "beautiful." Beyond that, we all know too many families which appeared to be "perfect" but which suddenly seemed to implode. Who can blame us, therefore, if we grow cynical and wonder if any marriage is truly happy?
Then there are our suspicions that no marriage on the other side of the complegalitarian divide can really be happy. If I claim that my "complementarian" marriage is a happy one, at least some egalitarians will dismiss that claim. "Of course you think it's happy! You're the one with all the power. But your wife is likely in a state of quiet desperation." If my wife were to write in and tell you what a wonderful marriage she has, those same egalitarians will assert that she is somehow deceived, ignorant of what true freedom and equality feels like, afraid to speak out, or trying hard to convince herself that she really is happy. Conversely, if a male egalitarian talks about how wonderful his marriage is, many complementarians will suspect him of just settling for the easy way out and abdicating his leadership. Or if an egalitarian woman describes her happy marriage, those same comps will suspect her of somehow "running the show".
All of these suspicions and stereotypes can make it difficult to cite positive examples of marriages that work. But it seems to me that comps and egals would find much common ground if we actually began talking about how to have a successful marriage. I have long contended that there is not much visible difference between a good complementarian marriage and a good egalitarian marriage. I have read moderate comps and moderate egals say essentially the same thing in the comments on this blog. I have also read comments by hardline egals who cannot accept that it is possible to have a complementarian marriage in which the husband leads without becoming authoritarian; and comments by hardline comps who cannot accept that an egalitarian marriage can function well without one person clearly being in charge.
If we spend all our time reacting to the hardliners, we'll do little to improve the state of Christian marriage. But if we set aside our assumptions and prejudices long enough to consider some positive examples, I think we'll find there's much about which we agree.
I've been married to Lisa for fourteen years. During that entire span, I've been blessed to be able to work at home, and during almost that entire span, she's been a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. That means that she's had to deal with my presence more than most women who have been married twice as long. Yet rather than smothering each other or growing tired of each other, we have become incredibly close.
We've certainly had our conflicts, and some of them have gotten ugly. There have been times when we seriously wondered if our marriage would survive. Thankfully, those times have been relatively few and far between. And when we've had them, we've eventually swallowed our pride, repented, and worked through them.
Aside from my relationship with Christ, my marriage to Lisa is my greatest source of happiness. I regard being her husband as my highest "calling" and most important "vocation." I've seen that by the power of the Spirit, a husband and wife truly can die to self and live for each other, and that when they do, they can experience rich delight and inexpressible joy.
Lisa and I have forged what we see as a "beautiful marriage" in a complementarian framework, and I would love to write about how we interact with each other on a daily basis, how we work through the times when we don't see eye to eye, and how we view authority and submission. I wonder, however, if any such discussions will be taken seriously. Will the examples I give be regarded as a valid working out of complementarian principles? Or will they be viewed with suspicion and summarily dismissed? Am I able to reach across the aisle to find common ground upon which to build "beautiful" Christian marriages? Or is my only option preaching to the choir?
Preaching to the choir certainly is easier, but that's not why I participate in this blog.