Marriage: Partnership

Feb 28, 2008 |Susan Mathis, Dale Mathis

Beginning married life together can be thrilling, but also traumatic. With a good understanding of how you'll work together as a team, it'll be more of the former and less of the latter.

From the time you rise in the morning until you fall into bed at night, you're expected to play certain roles, fulfill certain responsibilities, and make hundreds of decisions, large and small. It's the stuff of daily life. But the way you approach each day's tasks makes all the difference in the world.

Growing up, Tim watched his parents fulfill very traditional male and female roles: the man cared for the outside of the home, and the woman cared for the inside. Fortunately for Tim, he and his bride lived in an apartment, and since outside maintenance was taken care of, Tim thought he was off the hook as far as daily duties and responsibilities.

Angie had a different idea about a woman's place in the home and household responsibilities. She'd been raised in a home where Mom and Dad shared it all — cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, and so on. When Tim sat in front of the TV night after night and expected Angie to do all the "inside stuff," she couldn't believe it. She expected equality in the home. In fact, she demanded it by giving Tim a laundry list of all the things she normally did around the house and pointing out how little he contributed.

A heated argument ensued, and Tim dug in his heels. After all, he worked 45 to 50 hours a week, while Angie only had a part-time retail position. As time passed, their marital journey was littered with power games, manipulation, control, and stubborn dissension — until they discovered God's thoughts on the matter.

The division of labor is usually one of the first challenges newlyweds face. How do you get everything done that needs doing in the limited time you have? Who will do which chores? Who will run what errands? Usually, during the newlywed years, both the husband and wife work, so finding time to get chores and errands accomplished often becomes complicated.

So how do you figure out what roles each of you'll assume, how you'll delegate responsibilities, and how you'll make decisions? As a child, you watched your parents fulfill different roles. Now, as a soon-to-be married adult, you must assess your respective roles as husband and wife and decide what will work best in your marriage.

Who's best skilled to accomplish a particular task? Who has the time to run a certain errand? Finding the balance in order to avoid resentment and sharing the workload so as to accomplish life's everyday challenges should be your goals.

How You Were Programmed

Like Tim and Angie, each of you comes to marriage with personal history and experiences that mold the way you'll think about your role as a husband or a wife and the role of your future spouse. How you were raised and how you saw your parents live daily life will color how you view your role — or your future mate's role.

Cultural expectations also influence the way you think about male and female roles. But besides your role as a spouse, you'll also fulfill other roles after you marry — employee, friend, church member, citizen, adult child, and possibly, parent — and each of these roles will carry their own responsibilities.

What did you learn about the roles of husbands and wives in your church, your school, or among your friends when you were growing up? You may have heard conflicting ideas of what a wife should do, how she should act, what responsibilities she should assume, and to what extent she should be involved in making decisions. And what about that word submission? These views may have left you with a number of questions about a wife's role.

You may also have questions about a husband's role. Should he be the leader in your marriage? If so, why? What about power games, those inevitable struggles for control within a marriage? Should the husband really have to help around the house? And who, ultimately, should make decisions?

Alexi received her psychology degree from a university that had very liberal views of marriage and gender roles. Though as a Christian she fought to maintain her faith in the midst of such moral relativism, the liberal views she had been exposed to in her secular education crept into her marriage with Brent. She just couldn't allow herself to be "ruled" by Brent. She kept her finances separate, refused to allow Brent to make even the simplest decisions, and fought against his desires to protect and care for her. And she definitely wouldn't succumb to the idea that she was his "helper."

Brent, on the other hand, thought leadership meant controlling the situation, so he pushed and demanded that Alexi "submit." Fortunately, it didn't take long for them to realize that they needed some counseling to figure out what was going so wrong. Once they understood God's plan for men and women, they adjusted their thinking accordingly, and their actions soon followed suit.

God's plan for your marriage isn't for you to play power games, manipulate each other to get your way, or control your mate for selfish purposes. According to God's plan, you're here on this earth to love and serve. If that's the case, then your role as a husband or wife will primarily be to love and serve your mate.

We can do that in many ways: by meeting each other's needs, fulfilling each other's realistic expectations, and accepting each other's differences.

The truth is that God made man to naturally be the protector, provider, and covering for his wife and children, as well as the leader and, ultimately, the one responsible for the family. He's not a paycheck, a bill payer, or a convenient roomie — as I [Susan] have heard women quip in the movies and in real life.

God made woman to naturally be a completer, a helper, a counterpart, a nurturer, a balancer, and a life giver. She's not a plaything, a doormat, or a maid — as I've [Dale] seen men treat their wives in real life, on TV shows, and in the movies.

In Ephesians 5:25, the apostle Paul wrote about how a husband should love his wife: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Guys, when you marry, this should be your vow, your commitment to your wife. You must be willing to sacrifice your life — if need be — as Jesus did for us. While this example is the extreme, the point is that you can no longer continue to be selfish.

The leadership and submission Paul talks about in Ephesians are areas in which both spouses work together as a team, are united, serve each other, defer to one another, and have the same goals. Though the leader is the one responsible to see the signs ahead and respond accordingly, both you and your future mate need to stop and pay attention to the dangers before proceeding — as you would when you come to a yield sign. You must also encourage each other, support one another, and keep the enthusiasm going so you won't get weary or feel as though one of you is doing most of the work. It comes down to three things: teamwork, being a servant to each other, and avoiding the power games that will hurt your marriage.

Finding the Balance

The roles of a man and woman are unique, but they're also of equal value in God's eyes. Here's a great metaphor we recently heard: Marriage is like a tandem bike. The lead rider and the co-rider work together as equals for a common goal as they stay in sync with each other. They pedal toward the same destination, but the leader steers the bike, provides the steady pace, protects them from potential danger, and works with the co-rider to reach their destination. They must stay balanced, or they'll fall. They must stay in sync and connected as a team, or they'll crash. They must communicate with and adjust to each other, or they'll have problems.

It's also important to note what leadership isn't: it's not overpowering, controlling, or dominating. If you have a controlling leader on a tandem bike, the co-rider will soon grow weary, discouraged, and feel very unsafe. If either of you currently feels this way in your relationship, or if there's an abuse of power, you should talk with a counselor right away to resolve this important issue.

Scheduling Challenges

If you let it, this busy world will hinder good times of connecting and communicating that you could have with your future mate. Overloaded schedules will undoubtedly increase the stress within marriage. So it's important to begin your life together by reevaluating your schedules and prioritizing in ways that are satisfactory to both of you.

Tina and Will had full-time jobs and lots of scheduled activities with their two children and a multitude of friends. The problem was, they didn't make enough time for each other. After work they ran their children to several sports and other activities, kept up with extended family and friends, even volunteered for several events at church and their children's school. By the end of the day, they hardly had energy to say good night, let alone share their lives through good communication or intimacy. Because of this, as time went by, Tina and Will had very little in common emotionally, socially, spiritually, or in any other area, and their relationship rarely reached levels of true intimacy.

How can you avoid the pitfalls of overscheduling and overcommitting yourselves as a couple? A good place to start is by looking at your priorities. Healthy priorities should align with God's priorities for your life — God, spouse, family, work, in that order — if you want maximum rewards of a great marriage. And your priorities as a couple should be compatible. One of you can't decide to hang out with your single friends every weekend while the other sits home alone. Compromise and come to a mutual agreement, realizing that sometimes you may need to get counsel from others.

As time passes and your lives change, additional responsibilities and duties will inevitably come. That's why it's so important now to understand the importance of setting aside time to connect, communicate, and be available when you need each other.

And as you address the roles, responsibilities, duties, and decisions of daily life, work together as a team to get tasks, chores, and jobs done in a fair and appropriate manner. This will make your daily lives peaceful, pleasant, and productive.

Be-Attitudes of Daily Living

So how do you make all of this happen? How do you get daily jobs done, complete those boring, mundane duties, and accomplish every chore, all in the midst of your busy day, while staying in harmony with each other? It's all about attitude!

We all get weary doing those mundane tasks of life. But just like when you were a kid and had to clean up your room or do the dishes or take out the trash, tackling everyday chores as a couple is about the attitude you have toward those chores. And even more, it’s about your attitude toward each other.

Every Saturday morning, Maggie and Dean plan their chores for the day. "Divide and conquer" is the operative phrase for them. Though Dean enjoys caring for the car and jumps at the chance when it's needed, it's not always a necessity. So he pitches in to do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes it's running errands and doing the grocery shopping; at other times it's cleaning toilets and vacuuming. This couple sees their to-do list as a team project.

Here are eight "be-attitudes" that Maggie and Dean use to make everyday chores and duties a breeze:

  • Be positive. Set priorities by determining what's most important and why it's important. Don't sweat the small stuff. If you tackle mundane chores with a positive attitude and sacrificial enthusiasm, that'll be half the battle.
  • Be unselfish. Pull your own weight. Don't expect your future mate to do all or even most of the work. Step up to the plate and do your fair share. On the other hand, don't keep score if you feel you're pulling more of the load. Adjust when needed.
  • Be willing to use your skills and abilities. Use your strengths. If he's a good cook and she's a good mechanic, go for it. Don't feel tied to traditional duties. Use each other's skills to your mutual benefit.
  • Be a team. Take on jobs as a team — "divide and conquer." Just be sure to choose duties together and compromise when necessary.
  • Be servants. Just as Jesus washed the disciples' feet when they least expected it, serve your future mate by doing a chore without him or her knowing about it or by making dinner when he or she has had a tough day.
  • Be content. You know there will always be things that need to be done, but avoid becoming discontent and grumbling about what's inevitable. Chores are a part of life.
  • Be adaptable to the changes of life. When one of you is sick or working extra hours, pick up the slack for him or her for a while.
  • Be careful to use time management. We can always put off those mundane, boring things, but they'll just pile up and get worse. Manage your time so you can deal with chores on a daily or weekly basis, and you'll be better off.

Copyright 2008 Dale and Susan Mathis.

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