What’s old is new again: Brian Reinholz and his wife find complementarianism in marriage works for them.
Does your marriage feel like a constant power struggle? Have you ever thought about the ‘old way’ of doing things and wondered if there’s something to it?
Let me start with a disclaimer: I understand that some of the things I say might seem offensive, or misogynist. I only ask for a fair shake and an open mind, and I promise to reciprocate.
My wife and I are coming up on our 5-year anniversary. As I reflect on these past 5 years of marriage, it’s pretty interesting to see the twists and turns we’ve taken. We’re completely different people than we were, and I’m glad. Here’s our story.
Shy nerdy boy (that’s me!) meets edgy, rebellious girl. Shy nerdy boy thinks he can “save” edgy girl with his love, compassion, and wisdom. (An almost laughable statement, looking back at 16-year-old me.) He ends up learning a whole lot more from the relationship, like how to come out of his shell, live a little, and oh yeah, actually carry on a normal conversation with someone else.
They get married at 18 and 19 with every confidence that true love will overcome all obstacles. (Does this story sound familiar yet?)
It started out good but went sour fast. It was everyday combat … anything from who’s going to drive today to who’s going to cook, do the dishes, take care of the dogs, etc. Granted, we both hated our jobs and were always exhausted. But looking back, one major flaw in our relationships was we were always self-focused, not focused on each other. And I think the reason is that both of us were desperately trying to play roles that we weren’t meant to.
My reaction to these power struggles was to just start giving in. I carried the calmer demeanor of the two of us, and I’m also a chronic conflict-avoider. So I’d just bow out, again and again and again. But, as some articles here have mentioned, most women don’t really want a passive man for a husband. My wife didn’t either. So, goodbye emotional intimacy.
It was a pretty dark chapter in our marriage—there was a period where, after only a year or so into marriage, my mantra of “I’ll never get divorced” started to transition into “maybe this was a bad idea.” And once you let your mind down that rabbit hole, it ends up in some pretty dark places.
It was around this time that we decided to find a church. (I know, I know, here comes the sappy, God-saved-my-marriage story.) We actually didn’t really see just how screwed up our marriage was yet—we just wanted to meet some friends, and church seemed like the place to do that.
This church was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to us. Within months, we both started changing. We both had a sense of purpose that went beyond paying the bills and making our way through our Netflix queue.
At some point in the last few years, we got introduced to the concept of complementarianism—an alternative to egalitarianism that teaches on ‘different but equal’ gender roles for men and women, especially in a marital context. I was pretty hesitant as this sounded a lot like those “crazy evangelicals” who want to bring us back in time to the Cleavers.
But around the same time, we started talking about wanting to start a family, and both of us felt very strongly that if we were going to have kids, we wanted to make them the focus of our life. We wanted to pour our best into them. I had experienced the huge blessing of having a parent around 24/7—my wife had not because her father died when she was young and her mom had to work and raise the kids.
So, we wanted a devoted parent, but at the time I didn’t know what that would look like. I thought maybe I would get a work-from-home job and stay with the kids? But around that same time, my wife became fairly adamant: “I’d like to quit my job and stay home with the kids,” she told me.
There’s been more changes than just that though … I’ve begun to take a lead role in financial management, overall family vision, making major decisions, etc. From my perspective, the new role and responsibility has driven me to step up a lot more, to fight hard for our family and feel good about it. (Like the whole ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ thing.)
From my wife’s perspective (these are her words), she feels like our changing roles have cut down on arguments, helped her to feel more clear about responsibilities and expectations, and she has gained peace from not feeling the need to control everything. I have also seen her relationships with other women improve a lot, and I’ve seen her grow in all types of handy skills (she’s made her own yogurt, mayonnaise, and ranch dressing in the past week). She also reports being a lot happier.
So here’s where I’m probably going to heat a few kettles. I believe that men and women are different, and that it’s dangerous to ignore these differences when it comes to marriage.
One thing I’ve observed in a lot of men is that they either skew toward passivity or skew toward domination. The passive men (who I think are the majority) need responsibility—I know I did. The domineering men need accountability. (One way to accomplish this is regularly meeting with, and baring your soul with, a few other men that aren’t afraid to tell you if you’re way off base. I strongly recommend this for both men and women.)
As for women, well, my perspective is probably weak at best here … but from what I’ve seen most women want freedom to make their own decisions and live their own life but they also want a husband who has a plan, has a vision, and has the courage and discipline to execute that family vision.
When a wife takes control, either by choice or out of necessity—I see this all the time where the wife brings home the bacon, raises the kids, and takes care of the house—she’ll most likely resent her husband for being lazy. But lo and behold, the husband quickly feels disrespected and not needed, so he checks out.
Maybe these stereotypes seem really sexist and really unfair … you’re probably right. But have you not seen this play out before? Maybe it’s just my circle, but I see this happen. All. The. Time.
Every marriage is different. Every balancing act is going to look different … the roles are going to look different. Same with same-sex relationships. I’m not saying it’s my way or the highway—but I do know that this family relationship has taken a lot of stress and tension off of both of us. I think a knee-jerk reaction that calls a male-led model “oppressive” probably does more to hinder rather than help couples that might benefit from it.
Are power struggles getting in the way of intimacy in your marriage? Or am I totally off my rocker? Happy to hear either opinion but let’s keep it respectful. We’re all just sorting through this maze together.
—Photo Sean MacEntee/Flickr