Part 1 established that a husband’s status as leader within the family is not derived from his superiority in wisdom or morality. Complementarian men are quick to acknowledge this truth, but a gap often exists between ideas and life. This post looks at the first two of four ways I frequently see men sliding from complementarianism into functional patriarchy.
1) Reading Situations
Every day we continually interpret our interactions with people, our experience of events, and our internal feelings, narrating to ourselves our thoughts and reactions. A husband’s and wife’s world overlaps significantly as they share church, friends, interests, family, etc. together. While a husband and wife often interpret the same event in similar ways, sometimes they may view something quite differently. Was that conversation with another couple friendly, or did it contain an undercurrent of relational strain? Exactly how important is that problem with the van? What is the best way to approach this disciplinary issue with this particular child?
The husband may be quick to say the conversation was friendly, the van is not a concern, and the forbidding of privileges for the next century would be a good consequence. The wife might view each from an opposite vantage point – something was off with that couple that now needs to be addressed, the van could be a safety issue endangering the family, and the child’s rebellion is best addressed by open communication.
Who is correct? It very well might be the husband. It could also be the wife. The danger is in the husband thinking that he is automatically correct because he is the leader and therefore a better interpreter of reality than his wife. After all, he is in charge, so he must be better at interpreting the world than is his wife.
There is absolutely nothing in Christian theology that indicates men are naturally wiser at interpreting the world than are women. Husbands and wives are equally sinful, equally affected by the fall, equally prone to err. Outright dismissal of the wife’s perspective is dangerous. She could be wrong in any given situation, yes, but she’s not wrong because she’s female. A husband and a wife are God’s gift to each other as they provide different perspectives on the same situation, keeping each other from foolish, myopic understandings of the world around them. Disagreement ought to lead to careful consideration, not the quick sidelining of a wife’s perspective.
2) Reacting to Situations
Not only do husbands and wives often interpret situations very differently, they often react to situations differently. Different reactions are not solely the product of being man and woman, as personality differences abound on both sides of the gender divide. Regardless of how a husband and wife naturally respond to events, men can prefer their own manner of reacting over their spouse’s manner of reacting.
Consider the reaction to a terminal medical diagnosis for a child. The husband’s reaction to the news is a stoic acceptance of what God has wrought. His wife dissolves in tears as the shadow of the curse finally extends to her family. Both reactions are righteous responses to suffering. Trouble comes when a subtle lie creeps in and a husband elevates his own manner of reaction as more reasonable or more righteous than his wife’s response. The husband then, in his perception becomes God’s means to keep his foolish wife from plunging into emotional oblivion. If she was more rational and less emotional, she’d be a better person, which the husband already is by virtue of his staid demeanor. The opposite is equally a possibility, where a more emotional husband views his more stoic wife as lacking compassion or empathy.
A wife very well might need to grow in countering untoward emotions. It’s likely equally true that a husband needs to grow to the same degree in his emotional involvement. Jesus sobbed before Lazarus’ tomb and Peter wept bitterly over his denial of Christ. Many husbands need to cultivate godly feelings, just as many wives need to base their feelings on truth. An “emotional” wife does not need to become more like her “stoic” husband; rather, both need to grow in their areas of weakness and become more like Christ. Stoicism may be more culturally respectable than emotionalism (especially within Reformed churches), but cultural approval and divine approval are significantly different things. Rather than seeking to curtail his wife’s reactions to mirror his own, a godly husband ought to encourage and appreciate her contrasting, yet righteous responses. The variegated shades of human responses are a window into the complexity of the God who made all personalities to reflect his perfection.