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A Move Toward Egalitarian Decision Making

When I was growing up, families came and went from our community based on where the husband found employment. I don’t know of anyone who moved because the wife had a new job or promotion. I always assumed it would be the same for me: I’d marry someone, and we would settle in the place where he would find work. I assumed I might work outside the home, but only in an area where his job had already taken us, and only for the time his job kept us there.

Even after graduating college, marrying, and working while my husband attended seminary, I assumed his job would dictate where we lived and for what length of time. I was hesitant to mention my desire to enter graduate school as soon as he finished his degree. After all we didn’t know where the Lord would take us. Would there even be a graduate school where we would relocate. I felt that first we needed to follow God’s call for his ministry, then if a university was in that area I could further my education.

What I didn’t understand at the time, was that God’s call for us wasn’t synonymous with God’s call for my husband’s ministry. God could very well use my professional aspirations to guide us into the next phase of our lives.

Once I came to this realization though, I found that my husband was of the same mind. In fact, once when he was asked by a friend where he would be looking for a church to pastor, I heard him say that his wife had put off school for the past several years, so my education now had priority over our relocating.

I was so pleased that he valued my professional growth as much as his own. Whether rightly or wrongly so, his affirmation helped me to believe my own dreams were legitimate.

Several years later, after we completed our formal education, we were again faced with the question of where to relocate and how to decide whose work should have priority. Should we move where he could find work? Should we move where I could find work? Should we wait until we were both guaranteed employment before moving for either one of us? Should we relocate based on whichever job promised more money? Should we take turns?

The solution, however, has not been as complicated as the question. We decided we would base relocation decisions on what we felt God leading us to do rather than making one job a higher priority than the other. As it turns out, we have moved when I have had a job, but my husband has not; we have also relocated when he had a job, but I did not. Most of those instances have resulted in each of us finding fulfilling work.

Our ministry and occupational decisions have been different than those of preceding generations and in some ways more complicated. Yet, in one way they are very much the same. Now as then, when faced with any decision, work-related or otherwise, the same approach should suffice: to seek God’s direction and be willing to work together out of love for each other and for the Lord.

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  1. Red
    Comment #96764 posted October 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Yes! What an uplifting post.

    This comment really struck me: “The solution, however, has not been as complicated as the question.”

    This is what I think any time that complementarians get into a semantics debate about how it’s possible for two conflicting people to make decisions without a “leader.” The truth is, every egalitarian couple I know makes such decisions, and none of them can describe exactly how they do it every time. It just WORKS. It’s usually a matter of both people being able to tell what’s best for the family as a whole. That’s not (usually) rocket science.

    My husband and I have only relocated twice, and in both instances, it was patently obvious what we needed to do. Right out of college, he knew exactly what career he wanted and he had an opportunity for it; whereas I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and hadn’t been able to find good opportunities. So, duh. We moved to the town with his job.

    A couple of years later, though, it had become obvious that both of us (but more so me) were bored and unhappy where we were. I wanted to move to an area where we had more friends, so he simply found a job there instead and we took off. That time, it was more based on my preferences.

    We have tossed around the possibility of moving to a neighboring town if I should get this job or that job, and he’s never been upset or bothered by these possibilities. It’s just based on what’s best for everyone.

  2. Susan
    Comment #96766 posted October 4, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I attended a marriage conference last weekend during which one speaker used the metaphor of two people riding a horse – “someone has to hold the reins”. I stifled my desire to run screaming from the room. During this conference the 49% (wife) / 51% (husband) model for decision making was alluded to with such reverence that one would almost think it was a part of scripture. (Let’s see, is that found in the book of Nabal?)

    My brief, misbegotten immersion in this hierarchical environment did, however, provide one insight. In thinking back on myself and my friends when we used to adhere to such a view, I remembered how easy it was to allow our husbands’ weaknesses to become the weaknesses of the marriage.

    Mr. 51%: “Gee, I know you, miz 49%, feel convicted that we should tithe, but we just aren’t in a place financially to do that right now.” Mrs. 49% response? “Well I guess I no longer have to feel guilty about his decision to get that great lawn furniture.”

    Or Mrs. 49%: “Don’t you think it would be a great idea to have daily devotions with the kids?” Mr. 51%: silence. Mix well and repeat 6 or 8 times until finally, Mrs. 49% prays, “Dear Lord, I know you honor my submission and so I trust that you’ll provide our kids with all they need to know about you without family devotions.”

    I could go on. (You knew that, right?) The point is that the 49% / 51% model really insures that the strengths and weaknesses of the husband will permeate the entire marriage and infect the family at large. It gives the wife an easy out and encourages a weak ego in the husband.

    A model of peer to peer negotiation, on the other hand, as Susan suggests, requires both people to bring their A game to the table. They must bring a full court press of selflessness, patience, long suffering, gentleness, peace, and self control to the table for each decision. They must actively work to grow oneness, not divide it into easy proportions. And this continual exercise strengthens their oneness and causes an increase in the fruit of the Spirit.

    I agree, Red. Why this rabid insistence on a leader? Where does scripture hand the husband the trump-card key to a minor dukedom? Where does it give the wife a get-out-of-jail-free card?

    • Liz Liz
      Comment #96768 posted October 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Just love your illustrations Susan! They are so typical and show up the nonsense of it all.
      It’s no wonder complementarian couples often love the sort of marriage seminars which talk of how people get their own way and then excuse it on differences between women and men in general.

      It really is an enlightenment issue where couples need to ‘see’ things differently. It panders to our sinful nature to have someone to ‘blame’ and excuse our own lack of discernment and obedience.

    • Tania
      Comment #96780 posted October 12, 2012 at 12:21 am

      In a 50/50 marriage sometimes people may argue that “I’ve done 51 and you’ve done 49 lately so this time it’s your turn.”

      Why not put God into the equation and let him provide all our love AND multiply our love for each other: God 200% x (wife x% + husband x%). In this equation, the marriage is always in a situation of abundance and submission to God.

      First comes God’s sacrificial love, without which our human love for each other would not exist. He gives 200% of the love needed in every marriage (100% for each person). He gives some Love directly to us as individuals and some is communicated to us through the human partner. We cannot expect or demand that a certain x% of God’s love always come to us through our spouse, and we cannot predict the way the x% of God’s love will be communicated, whether it’s roses and chocolate, vacuuming, or an encouraging word. Besides, who is the judge of how many “percentage points” an encouraging word is worth, in comparison to a loving rebuke?

      Both the man and woman have equal “x” potential for love and submission, as they allow God’s grace to work through them. God multiplies every tiny, unpredictable “X” amount of the love and grace you give each other, and it does not matter whether the wife or husband gives or receives blessings or wisdom at any given moment. You share a “joint account” of love and what’s his is hers, and vice versa, and all is God’s.

      In this equation of abundance, no one needs to keep track of which human is giving more than the other, or who has “given in” to the other lately. There is no pre-set bias in favor of the male or female leading or following in the partnership. The only important thing is to encourage each other to remain together “In Him,” within the realm of his abundant 200% love and grace.

  3. Susan Howell
    Comment #96767 posted October 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks Red and Susan for great comments. I haven’t heard the 51% 49% argument before. It does tend to give the woman permission to first and foremost go with the husband’s wishes rather than the Lord’s directive. Wow. Powerful.

  4. Comment #96770 posted October 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Excellent insights. Thank you.

    When thinking about the typical patriarchal/complementarian marriage relationship I have often thought of Ginger Roger’s phrase re: how it was for her dancing with Fred Astaire: “I had to do everything he did only backwards and with heels on.” Extra work for the woman.

    In addition, the comp wife has to not only “obey and follow” her husband, but also operate in extra discernment, as it were, to make sure her husband is following God’s Word. And if he isn’t, then it seems she has to tread careful so as not to bruise his ego while she corrects the situation (because men are not infallible, of course).

    The egalitarian relationship described above definitely calls for more maturity on everyone’s part, and it seems to me that’s a good thing for both partners, and for the church.

    • Susan Howell
      Comment #96772 posted October 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks, Phyllis! Just an interesting aside…as I read your comment I looked up and saw that Ginger Rogers is in the movie I have on at the moment. Weird!

  5. Comment #96773 posted October 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    My husband and I both have careers–we both appreciate the support of the other person. So glad you both were able to pursue your dreams!

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