The Problem With Roles in Marriage

The Bible’s instructions on marriage have less to do with “roles” and more to do with attitudes of the heart.

Love Like That

In my last post, I explained why I consider myself a megamysterian (as opposed to a complementarian or an egalitarian). The megaysterian idea comes from Ephesians 5:32, where Paul explains that his instructions on marriage come down to this mega-mystery: marriage should look like the relationship Christ has with His church. This is the beautiful and mysterious Bridal Paradigm that informs most of my understanding of how God wants us to do marriage.

The Problem with Roles

My problem with looking at what the Bible says on marriage through the lens of “roles” is that it reduces the discussion to functions. But if you carefully read Ephesians 5 (and other scriptural instructions on marriage), you will find that these scriptures describe  attitudes of the heart, not some kind of organizational chart or list of tasks for him and her.

Here’s how Paul sets the tone for the whole marriage discussion in the first few verses of Ephesians 5.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)

Love. Like. That. Like what? Extravagant, selfless, sacrificial, completely surrendered. This is the heart behind Paul’s instructions on marriage.

So if it’s really about the attitude of the heart and not functional “roles,” what are these attitudes?

Heart Attitudes for Husbands

I’ve posted these before, but it’s well-worth repeating.  For a husband, Christlikeness toward his wife should look like:

  • He loves his wife unselfishly, not using his power and position to control her or to push her into conformance, but to bless her.
  • He may never be required to literally lay down his life for her, but he must be willing to sacrifice himself (physically, emotionally, financially, etc) for what is in her best interest.
  • He will pursue her relentlessly and fiercely with his love, understanding what pursuit means to her.
  • He cherishes her by surrounding her with care and concern for her well-being – clearly demonstrating that he is for her.
  • He is consistent in speaking the truth of the Word over her in a way that encourages and edifies her and reminds her who God says she is.
  • He provides for her faithfully – which means applying himself diligently, but not to the extent that he neglects her need for his time and attention.
  • He will do all in his power to establish and maintain a deep connection with her and protect the intimacy of the relationship. Staying connected is more important than being right or asserting his rights.
  • He beautifies his bride, as Jesus does, seeing her the way God sees her, perfect and beautiful, through the eyes of grace.
  • Above all, he partners with Christ, encouraging her to walk in the fullness of her true identity, toward the goal of fulfilling the destiny God has for her life.

Heart Attitudes for Wives

A wife, then, should have the following attitudes, which reflect her relationship with Christ.

  • She believes in and trusts her husband.
  • She offers her full surrender, to hold nothing back from him, bringing the fullness of her genuine self to the marriage.
  • She best honors and enables his leadership by willingly remaining under his covering and protection.
  • She honors and respects him by listening to him and knowing his heart, giving importance to things that are important to him.
  • She knows that his desire is for her and believes that his intentions toward her are always good.
  • She can come to him with anything and trusts that he will respond with love and grace.
  • She puts him first, above all other relationships.
  • She comes to him, fully unashamed, taking him as her only intimate lover.

Two Caveats

By describing marriage as a reflection of the heart attitudes between Christ and the church, I am in no way saying the men are “gods.” It seems obvious, of course, but I just want to be clear.

Second, it is clear that aspects of both lists apply to both husbands and wives.

Let’s Focus on What Matters

When we focus the discussion on “roles,” the important heart attitudes get lost, and we end up arguing about secondary matters.

If both husband and wife get their heart attitudes right, the “roles” will pretty  much take care of themselves, no matter what you end up calling them.


For further reading on attitudes of the heart, I suggest these two posts:

 

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6 thoughts on “The Problem With Roles in Marriage”

  1. “If both husband and wife get their heart attitudes right, the “roles” will pretty much take care of themselves, no matter what you end up calling them.”

    It’s true, they do! Generally, it’s not in tandem, someone is called on by the Lord to go first.

    1. You are so right, Robyn. Someone usually has to go first. I’m actually planning a post on that very topic as part of this series.

  2. But how is this practiced in real life. If it’s not about roles and attitude of the heart what does one do when real problems occur. Like right now, my wife wants to spend 400$ on a vacation that we were supposed to go to in 2 months. I didn’t want to because we have bills to pay. She got very angry when I said no(I usually never say no but I’m tired of having no money in the end of the month) and now I feel bad. Am I not being loving? Am I not pursuing her because I said no? Was I right in saying no because I’m the husband? How does one do in those cases.

    1. I hear your concern, and I understand the pressure that financial stress places on marriages. In this case, I would say it isn’t about whether the answer is yes or no but how the two of you can work together to find a solution. While I do believe husbands have authority in marriage (read my latest post on that here), what’s most important is that you work to preserve your connection through this disagreement.

      I don’t know every detail, but one scenario might look like this. “I know this trip that we planned is really important to you.” [it’s super important for a wife to feel understood] “but the $400 puts a lot of pressure on me and on our finances.” [explain how the situation makes you feel – it’s very helpful for her to hear that.] “Maybe we can put our heads together and figure out a way to reduce our spending in other areas so that we can fit this trip into our budget. Do you have any ideas how we could do that?”

      The goal is to make this situation you two against the problem instead of you two against each other.

      1. My solution is more cutting than Scotts is. You sound like a reasonable husband, and it sounds like you are not saying “no” just “not now.”

        It is a fact that, as the husband you are saddled with the responsibility of leading and sometimes that means saying “no.”

        It is a fact that, as the husband God will hold only you accountable for your marriage.

        You sound like you are being kind and loving in your responsibility, then its between you and God. You need to call your wife out on her lack of submission to your leadership.

        I was a spoilt wife and believed that it was submission when I agreed with his decisions. But in reality it was HIM that was submitting to ME; most feminist wives believe that is an equal marriage.

        Lots of times in marriage there are stalemates, that is just the nature of humans. (i read my comment to Darrell and he said add to my comment from him ….) Its awkward at first, doing what is right, but the more you make these decisions, the easier it gets. But dont forget to make the funds available for the next time; meaning, follow through with your promise of budgeting.

  3. Pingback: The Real Meaning of Authority in Marriage — Heaven Made Marriage

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