Part 2 of this series looked at the first two ways in which complementarian men slide into functional patriarchy. Today’s discussion adds the navigation of a husband’s and wife’s desires.
Desires are good, God-given impulses, and human life would grind to a halt without them. Unsurprisingly, husbands and wives often vary significantly in both the strength and object of their wants. Differing desires are not restricted to marriage, as any negotiation among a friend group over where to eat out demonstrates. But marriage provides the opportunities for different wants to be felt and expressed across every category of life. Desires drive thoughts about what church to attend, which ministries to be involved in or give to, the disciplining of children (both in theory and individual situations), how clean the house ought to be, how important living near family or in a certain region of the country is, budgeting and everything therein, what kind of vacations to take, what pattern to load the dishwasher, what constitutes being “on time,” frequency of sex, dividing time between in-laws and other family, if and when to drink alcohol, what kind of school for children, and practically every other conceivable situation under the sun.
Desires certainly range in their centrality to who we are as people, as can be seen even in the brief list just considered. Which church a couple attend is more directly drawn from their beliefs and commitments then the pattern for plates and bowls in the dishwasher. Regardless, it’s important to recognize that a husband’s desires are not inherently more right, true, or wise than his wife’s desires.
Early in my marriage, Kate and I got into a quarrel when she wanted to spend $500 for a medical procedure for her mom’s cat. Let’s just say I was opposed. I grew up in a house where cats were worth the amount it would take to get another cat. Kate grew up in a house where cats were buddies. The more we talked about whether it was wise to spend God’s money (a nice theological truth I kept emphasizing), the more I began to take notice of my wife’s reasoning. And I was surprised to hear something more righteous than I expected. Kate was clear that she would not have spent that sum on her own cat, but she wanted to do it for her mom because of how much her mom had sacrificed for Kate over the years. The expenditure wasn’t fueled by folly, but by Christlike love. Love is kind, after all. Realizing this didn’t change my desires – I very much did not want to spend $500 on a procedure for this cat. However, my desires were not the lynchpin in the decision making. Both my wife and I have equal claim on our income (and it is our income, regardless of whose name is on the check), spending that $500 didn’t cause us financial distress, and nowhere in God’s law is such a thing forbidden. I needed to listen to my wife’s desires and not dismiss them as irrational or silly.
Husbands need to be particularly careful to police themselves on the point of their desires. Every leader is in danger of having their desires overgrow the flower bed, especially when wives are taught the biblical command to submit to their husbands in the Lord. Preferring a wife’s desires ought to be part of our consistent habits. Two particular blessings flow when we prefer our wife’s desires over our own. First, the husband’s calling before God is to bring his wife joy and to feel her joy as his joy (Eph 5:28-29). He who loves his wife loves himself. Second, there will be times of legitimate disagreement when a husbands must make a decision that his wife does not think is right or wise. A husband who has consistently preferred the desires of his wife is far easier to trust and follow when he has a long history of caring for and preferring her. She can know his refusal to follow her desires does not come from selfishness, but because he feels the call of God and cannot go against it.