How Comp Theology Can Turn Beautiful Engagements Into Hurt-Filled Marriages.
by Eileen Slattery Berglund
I’ve seen it far too many times to count.
I’ve experienced it myself.
A young couple begins to date, gets to know each other fully, the strengths, the weaknesses, the quirks. They fall in love with each other. They are oh so happy. They become engaged and look forward to a wonderful life together.
Why is it then, that so many beautiful, happy engagements turn into struggling, combative, distrusting or broken marriages?
I believe for Christian marriages some of the answer lies with the rigid parameters of complementarian thinking that are put on the newly married couple by many churches and other believers. I do not believe that those who follow the complementarian thinking are evil or intend to do harm, but I do believe, to an ever increasing degree, that is exactly what happens. Many articles have been written citing passages of scripture to support my egalitarian views. I’ve even written several myself. However, in this article, I just want to speak plainly.
Picture if you will, a young couple falling in love. You ask the young man what he loves about his future wife and he gushes with never ending praise. He often includes characteristics like “ she doesn’t let me get away with stuff” or “she balances me”. In many cases, his praise may include “I love her spunk” or “her stubbornness” or “her ability to influence people and bring joy and clarity”. He will often compliment her outward beauty and inner character. He delights that she has “a mind of her own”, “she is smart” and “she can hold her own”.
Obviously, those are not words that every man has used to describe every woman, but it is extremely common for each man to see some of these qualities in his soon to be wife. It’s who she is, and he sees that and loves her. He sees God’s image revealed through her and is excited to begin a life together where the two of them can be stronger than either of them can be on their own.
And then they get married.
And suddenly, the rules change.
Suddenly, the beautiful, smart, stubborn, balancing, influential woman that he adores and loves is told that she needs to “tone it down.” She is told to submit, and instead of being given direction and clarity on what this looks like in the Biblical context that it was written, she can see that “in church circles” it clearly means that her voice now matters less. Where once she was President of the student organization, and led many in neighborhood outreaches, and brilliantly presented her thesis to a standing room only crowd, (all things her husband admired) she is now told that she cannot lead, she cannot speak with authority. Not the same way a man can anyway. Afterall, that’s now the job of her husband.
In an attempt to honor God, she follows this advice that is both “taught” and “caught” by the Christian circles in which she exists and mingles.
She questions her confidence.
She is shamed for her behavior.
She becomes less of herself.
Less of who her husband fell in love with.
Less of who God made her to be.
Meanwhile, his story is just as sad. He was once the brightest star in her life next to Jesus. When the young engaged woman was asked to describe what she loved about this man she was about to marry, she too, overflows and pours out “ a million reasons” why she is in love with Him. She loves how sensitive he is. She loves that he is so confident in himself and who God made him to be that he doesn’t need to prove himself. She loves how he plays with her nieces and nephews and can picture him as a tender, loving father one day. She likes that he is quick to listen and slow to speak, that he enjoys her intellect, isn’t threatened by it, and that he can keep her a bit grounded without deflating her when she lapses into her wild dreams of the future. And she loves that he can cook...that he actually loves to cook. She doesn’t care that he isn’t athletic and is barely 150 lbs soaking wet, she finds him the most attractive man in the world. She is happy to drive places when he doesn’t like to drive and pick a movie for them to watch when he has trouble deciding.
Obviously, those are not words that every woman has used to describe every man, but it is extremely common for each woman to see some of these qualities in her soon to be husband. It’s who he is, and she sees that and loves him. She sees God’s image revealed through him and is excited to begin a life together where the two of them can be stronger than either of them can be on their own.
And then they get married.
And suddenly, the rules change.
Suddenly, this stable, happy, healthy, peaceful man is now told he isn’t quite enough. He needs to “man up” if he wants to be a true man of God. He needs to lead...everything. He needs to have the final say on...everything. It’s great if his wife sees things his way, but when she doesn’t, he must take charge and pull rank because that’s “how God intended it.” He is told that he needs to “take care of” his wife, both financially and, in a less obvious way, behavior-wise. He needs to love her and protect her and the only way to do that is through “being the man” and “the head of the home.” He squirms in his seat each Sunday as the previews for the men’s annual retreat are played on the screen. He isn’t interested in chopping wood, or hunting deer, or being the next wrestling champion. What he wants is real connection, not more pressure to be something he’s not.
In an attempt to honor God, he follows this advice that is both “taught” and “caught” by the Christian circles in which he exists and mingles.
He becomes burdened.
He feels defeated and insecure.
He feels overwhelmed and simultaneously “less than.”
He becomes less of himself.
Less of who his wife fell in love with.
Less of who God made him to be.
Fast forward several years into complementarian Christian living, the wife is unhappy and insecure, the husband is unhappy and insecure, and the marriage and all the hopes and dreams that went with it, are on rocky ground. And all of this has happened because both the husband and wife were trying to do what they were told to do to please God. They humbly laid down their lives and in reality, got screwed. What they were told was God’s plan, was not actually God’s plan. They feel far from God, yet desperately dependent on Him at the same time. They begin to wonder if maybe they really aren’t good enough for God. Maybe there really is something inherently wrong with them. They go to the church to ask for help in their marriage and they are given more and more complementarian advice that if they would “each just follow their God assigned roles” then everything will work out.
So they try.
They try in earnest.
They try with blinded hope.
And several more years pass by.
And things only get worse.
Friends, there is a better way. A way that allows both husband and wife to fully and completely retain the fullness of who God made them to be. A way that allows husband and wife to work together in the way that God originally fit them together. It can take on a myriad of different appearances, but it sometimes looks like any mix of the following.
A wife who works outside the home.
A husband who works outside the home.
A wife who stays home and watches the kids
A husband who stays home and watches his kids.
A wife getting the final say on something that she is more educated and experienced with.
A husband getting the final say on something that he is more educated and experienced with.
A wife preaching to a congregation of men and women.
A husband preaching to a congregation of men and women.
A wife counseling friends who are hurt.
A husband counseling friends who are hurt.
A wife fixing a car.
A husband fixing a car.
Should I go on?
I think you get the point.
The better way, is the way of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is just as scriptural, well, no, it’s more scriptural (yes, I said it) than the complementarian view. It will not fix every problem in every marriage and will not eradicate every sin that any human may still commit. But it will give each new marriage a fighting chance to thrive in the way God intended it to thrive for that couple. Neither partner will be made to become someone other than who he or she is. The foundation they built together through the unique nuances of the God given personalities and the Spirit filled giftings will not have to bow down to some man made “gender role” system.
Shame will lift.
Insecurities will eventually fade away.
Confidence, security, trust and freedom will grow.
Happiness and true joy will be rediscovered.
If you have been caught up in this mess yourself- please know there really is true hope. It comes in being rooted in Christ but also taking a fresh look at what the Bible we rely on really intends to convey to those of us who are married.
It’s time you are set free to be YOU again. And the same is true for your spouse. I’ve been there and I’ve come out on the other side, stronger, wiser, and better than ever.
I’ll be cheering you on!