This is a revised post from a few years ago. We have been married a few more years, and our teens are adults now. The dishes are better under control but it isn’t because we have the house to ourselves. It’s still a busy home.
I have a husband who won’t let me get near the dishes lately. There are always a lot of dishes here, a lot, always. His reasons are clearly excuses.
In 31 years, we have not had Fight One over who works harder, whether he should help with the housework, or whose job it is to iron his clothes, mow the lawn or put the kids to bed. It’s not because we’re above such things; we simply don’t do 50/50 here.
Did other people’s wedding vows assign domestic duties, and which spouse was going to be the primary breadwinner? Because to hear some people complain about their marriages, you would think that they promised to model Ozzie and Harriet in their suburban 1950’s TV home. And they resent that, so away with marriage, what they see as an obsolete patriarchal engine of oppression.
We didn’t sign a contract outlining household duties or role caricatures when we got married. We didn’t confuse our wedding vows with societal expectations or TV sitcoms.
What did we vow?
“Will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage? Will you love her/him, comfort her/him, honor, and keep her/him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her/him as long as you both shall live?”
“In the name of God, I, ______, take you, ______, to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.”
What we vowed may have been a slight variation on these words. We knew what we were promising. Notice that we both vowed the same things. There wasn’t the Housewife Version and the King of the Castle Version.
You’ll also notice that these vows are not limiting, but rather open-ended, except as to duration–until death. We were promising to love, to comfort, to be faithful. We were not promising the nuts and bolts, the how we would achieve these abstract states of existence. We were promising to live the rest of our lives committing to one relationship.
A relationship has the potential to grow and expand, and to build toward intimacy, without a limit. To live under a contract would reduce our love to a pre-ordained set of limiting boundaries.
On another front…
During my tenure as a parent, I’ve been advised by persons who are over The Age of Eighteen, that I ought not to tell adults what to do. All the advice-granters in the world would tell me to say: “OK, you’re an adult now, so I’m not allowed to tell you what to do. In return, I give up caring whether you get yourself up for church, school or work. It’s your business and I’m not going to help you anymore. You’re not my responsibility.”
There is certainly truth in there. My role as a mom changes as my child matures and I do have to increasingly step back and let him make decisions, and let him live with the way those decisions play out. I’m fine with Mr. Experience teaching him the responsibilities of adulthood. And I’m not above feeling a tiny bit of pleasure when an “I told you so” would be an appropriate thing to say.
But relationships are not contracts. A contract spells out what I am responsible for, and what I am not responsible for. Beyond the requirements of a contract one does not go. A contract limits my actions.
When we had a young teenager who was self-willed and in danger of going off the rails, the going advice was to put the relationship under contract. “This is what’s expected of you, Teenager. And if you commit these crimes, here is a handy list of the corresponding consequences. Now you know what to expect.”
It was an invitation not to be resisted. And because our children are creative people, it was unresisted very creatively. There was no instance in which he/she committed Offense X and therefore was liable for Consequence X. It was never that simple.
They don’t just want to do X and get away with it; the goal is to confound your attempts to be the authority in the first place. They want to mess with you. It’s all about the relationship, and the rebellious child knows that better than you do.
Contracts and legal agreements reduce a relationship to that which is spelled out therein. Do we really want our family relationships to be bound by contractual agreement?
Relationships are not contractually binding; relationships supersede contracts. My behavior toward those I love aren’t limited by the letter of the law. Or so says The Author of Relationships:
Romans 12:10 “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
John 15:12-13 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Romans 12:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
“We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I Peter 4:8.
Relationships with human beings are infinitely more binding than legal agreements. We are accountable to love one another. To act on their behalf toward their good, even and especially when they aren’t able to appreciate the help, even and especially when we don’t think we have the strength to do it, even and especially when we feel like doing the opposite. According to J.Budziszewski, “Love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.”
I want to relate to people in my life according to love and grace, not according to a reductive contractual agreement. At times, I must borrow heavily from an inexhaustible Source to fulfill my part.
I give the Adult a wake-up call because I know she has trouble hearing her alarm, on the morning after receiving the caution not to tell the Adult she should go to bed. Or go pick her up when she didn’t plan for the ride home. Overlook irritating and irritated talk. Dive in to thankless tasks. Really act as though the person is truly loved, and you couldn’t live without her, because it’s true.
And isn’t the debate over complementarian vs. egalitarian marriage really a hyper-focus on this very thing? They can’t get their eyes off of that simplistically reductive 50/50. The change agents are so proud of their enlightened egalitarian marriages. They’ve given us something new, something never seen before in the long millennia of human history: men and women, equal in marriage!
But the Bible had this one a long time ago:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21.
And specifically on marriage:
Ephesians 5:33: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
I Peter 3:7: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
“Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” I Corinthians 7: 2-5
Settle what job is whose, for goodness sake, and move on.
But when you confuse Ward and June Clever with millennia-old Scriptural teaching, it makes for confusion. If you’re going to set out to right societal wrongs, it would be best to get an understanding of the issue all the way down to its foundations.
My husband does the dishes lately without explanation. He fends me off and tells me to go relax. After working all day and then chauffeuring for awhile, then going to a meeting, after working on his own writing, before going to bed much too late and getting up much too early.
It’s not because he’s invented a brand new kind of marriage. It’s not because he’s heard on Christian radio that husbands doing chores get rewarded in the bedroom. He has nothing to prove and no secret agenda. He just understands what he promised.
If I am asked to conduct a wedding, I insist upon three or four counseling sessions with the couple before the date of the wedding. Among other things, I ask them both about their perceptions of tasks around the house–whether there are jobs for men and jobs for women, or whether all tasks should be equally divided, or whether they plan to take turns doing things, etc. I don’t care what they answer; my plan is for them to hear the answers of their partner and discuss their beliefs about life as a couple before they are a couple. I’ve been part of some really interesting conversations because of that question. As far as meeting each other half-way, I have them imagine (one or twice we acted it out instead of imagining) standing at opposite ends of the room, throwing soft balls toward each other, trying to make the balls hit each other; then I had them imagine standing side by side, throwing balls at the same target. You know what happens. And that’s a good illustration of how husband and wife work together in a marriage. J.
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That’s an excellent illustration. I think a harmonious marriage may just come down, in essentials, to both people deciding at the outset that they are going to be pleased with the other, rather than setting out to compete, criticize or fight for turf. It amazes me to hear women seem to WANT to find fault with their husbands. We simply decided we weren’t going to look for faults. We want to be happy. Sounds ridiculously simple minded but it works.
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I agree. One of my “trick questions” in the third session was to ask each how they wanted to change the other. Most often they said right away that they didn’t want or expect to change the other. (After all, they were in the glow of preparing for their wedding day.) But sometimes we would get into some very good conversations starting from that question. J.
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