Thursday, January 24, 2008

Husbands, Love Your Wives

In my travels around the mommy blog world, I sometimes notice the theme of respecting our husbands being raised in various contexts.

From deferring to his judgment even if we disagree, to accepting the fact that he expects us to do whatever his mother wants and that to do less is to "disrespect" her--and, by extension, him--this topic bubbles to the surface.

I've written before about wifely submission, but this time I want to approach the subject in a different way. I want to focus on what husbands owe their wives.

I am blessed with a very good Catholic husband. He shoulders many burdens in his care for me and for our children; he is a good example of faith, loyalty, and love. He treats me like an equal and is willing to discuss any area of disagreement or discord we may occasionally have, and he works hard at being open to communication. I frequently realize just how important that really is to a marriage, and how lucky I am to have him.

It seems to me that one of the biggest areas of conflict that comes up between husbands and wives is a lack of that sort of give-and-take communication. Some men hand down decrees from near-Olympian heights, covering everything from the family budget to their homeschooling demands to their plans for a weekend, content in the knowledge that their wives, as good Christian wives and mothers, will unquestioningly obey. Certainly in the past it was more traditional for a man to behave that way, but this is one of those areas where 'traditional' doesn't always mean 'good.'

It is, of course, not good for a man to have his decisions constantly questioned; this undermines his authority. But it is equally true that it is not good for a man to have his decisions always accepted without question. Men are not gods; they are as prone to human failings as we women are. It's not necessary to nag, to scold, or to complain without end, but it is neither necessary nor helpful to a marriage to grant constant acquiescence even to things with which we have heartfelt disagreement. On our parts, this is likely to produce either the kind of smoldering resentment that lashes out as passive-aggressive behavior in an endless martyr complex, or to puff us up in the false belief that we are being truly holy when we say nothing, even if we are later proved right (over which we can then muse in quiet triumph). The effects on our husbands will be grave, as well; they may think we have no useful opinions or advice to offer, or they may begin to resent our placidity or take us for granted.

And our husbands are enjoined to love us, as Christ loved the Church.

This is not an easy, docile, placid sort of love. Christ, for His Bride, suffered an agonizing death on the Cross; prior to that, He worked tirelessly for Her, preaching, healing, forgiving. Our husbands are called to be prepared to lay down their lives for us; they are called to see us as worthy of their whole hearts, which includes being worthy of being listened to, consulted with, and made a part of their lives.

If we sit back while our husbands insist that members of their extended families must come before us in all things, are we letting them love us? If we refuse to raise our real objections to some plan or decision, are we letting them love us? If we put up with constant television watching, or a demand that we have dinner on the table at his convenience, or an insistence that the children ought to be learning differential calculus in the third grade no matter what the cost to our homeschooling schedule, are we really letting them love us?

I've talked before about what true submission involves; it seems to me that permitting our husbands to love us, the real us, with all our thoughts and opinions and plans and needs and desires, is part of the challenge. This doesn't, of course, mean that we should get our way in everything, but it does mean that our husbands should at least know that we have a way, and that they should be prepared to communicate with us in a search for the kind of loving and trustful compromise that we can both be pleased to reach.

If we love our husbands, we will give them the opportunity to love us. This is what they have promised to do, and this is the way that they will fulfill their vocations here on earth, and gain eternal happiness in the life that is to come.


Hélène said...

A couple weeks ago Catholic Exchange had an article about submission. One of the commenters said that he and his wive teach marriage prep. He tells the men that when making important decisions he follows his wife's opinions 95% of the time. Then he said that she is RIGHT 98% of the time. The percentages probably differ slightly for each marriage, but that is probably about what men should do: follow their wife's opinions most of the time, and humbly admit when they should have followed their wife's advice. On the woman's side, when she was right but her husband chose the other option, she shouldn't gloat over it or be a martyr.

Also, I think that part of loving one's spouse means respecting the spouse. I have heard so many women going over a litany of gripes about their husbands. If they have a problem with him they shouldn't go around telling everyone about it. There may be occasions to mention something to a friend, but to tell everyone borders on detraction. From the husbands' side I often heard them making fun of their wives. Any time that happens I am always shocked that they would belittle their beloved in front of others.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Helene. The way you talk about your spouse to others is very important. Don't blog about his weight gain, his laziness, etc.

Sheila said...

I too have seen this topic crop up elsewhere. I think Holly Pierlot has a really lovely and profound take on it in A Mother's Rule of Life. Her struggles even to understand what headship/submission mean were beautifully answered when she read John Paul II's Dignity and Vocation of Women, and "something made [her] head reel: that there could be no true communion if there wasn't true equality; that it was not a matter of man being superior and women inferior; that marriage called for mutual submission" (89).