Wedding rings on a Bible, important symbols and the foundation of a healthy marriage.

The One Thing in My Marriage I Wish I Could Do Differently

Yesterday (May 27th, 2024) was Emily’s and my 18th wedding anniversary. If it were a human, our marriage would now be legally eligible to vote.1

I think about marriage a lot—what it takes to have a healthy one, specifically. This is something I care a lot about because, Emily and I work very hard to have a healthy marriage. And there isn’t really a great secret to it, a sure-fire multi-step strategy, or anything like that. We just talk to each other, intentionally spend time together, and try to have as much fun as possible. And while we have our challenges (after all, we’re people), I think we would both say we’re pretty happy with how it’s working out.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things I wish I could do differently. There are, without question. But these are mostly related to being careless and unkind with my words. But there is one other thing that, if I could do things over again, I would. And since I can’t, I’ll offer it to you. So here it is: Stop worrying about who leads.

Husbands, we are not managers

American evangelicals, as a whole, probably spend more time than is healthy thinking about leadership from the perspective of being in charge. We approach leadership, whether in the church or in the home, the way we would a managerial role in a workplace.2 So there winds up being a lot of posturing, chest-thumping, and demanding of our own way as we hold one another up to arbitrary or culturally conditioned standards of what it means to be a “real” man or woman.

Now, it’s not as though the Bible doesn’t describe the dynamic between husbands and wives. Ephesians 5:22–33 is there for a reason, and it’s not only to address a situational or contextual problem in Ephesus. Remember, it tells us that marriage is a picture of the gospel itself. So, there is something good for us all in Paul’s writing that wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord and that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-25). But too often, we take this passage that actually is good news and twist it for our own ends. We may not mean to, but it happens. In doing so, we perpetuate the problem that has existed between men and women since the fall—this ongoing tug-of-war as we seek to control and dominate one another (Genesis 3:16).

Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind when he penned the words, nor did the Holy Spirit in inspiring them to be written.

The better (but much more difficult) calling in marriage

So, what is good in this passage? We can see that more clearly when we read the verses right before it. (Remember, the pericopes in your Bible are not inspired.3) This call to submission and sacrificial love comes in the context of mutual submission out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). It is, essentially, an application point of this larger call for all to submit to one another, considering the needs of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:3–4).

So when we read that the husband is “the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23), it’s really important that we pay attention to what Paul describes in verses 25–33. Husbands are not micro-sovereigns over a personal kingdom. That’s not what we’re called to be. Our families already have a king to follow—Jesus—and we’re not him. (So, don’t be weird.4)

Instead, our responsibility as husbands is to foster a culture within our homes where our wives can flourish. Where they have the freedom to discover and express their gifts to the fullest as the people God has made them to be. Where they are safe in every respect—emotionally, physically, and spiritually.5 (So, again, don’t be weird.) Where we are partners in all things—equals—as we were always intended to be (Genesis 1:27; 2:18–25).

This means learning how to listen well and ask open-ended questions. To pick up non-verbal cues and to not try to fix problems. To be genuinely repentant, humbling ourselves and not equivocating on our sin. Oh, and to cultivate our own character in light of the gospel, too.

This is a much more difficult calling than simply being in charge. And it’s one where we’re going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. But it’s one that, I think, more closely honors the intent of Paul’s writing and draws us all closer to Jesus in the end.

Photo by Anna Might on Unsplash.

  1. But only in Canada, since we are not yet citizens of the United States of America at the time of this writing. ↩︎
  2. Which is to say, a super unhealthy way. ↩︎
  3. Did you know that this is what these things are called? ↩︎
  4. Especially any yahoos who think a wedding ring is all the consent you need. ↩︎
  5. This includes wrestling with theological questions and/or crises. Often, our wives need time to work those things out. They don’t need us steamrolling them and telling them what they “should” believe. ↩︎

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