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Thursday, June 21, 2012

If you read much around here, you already know that I’m not afraid of stepping on toes. Today I was given a writer’s challenge to write something controversial to provoke my readers, so I decided to write a post I’ve been putting off for a long time.So here goes.

Many of you have heard of, if not actually read, the popular book His Needs, Her Needs by Dr. Willard Harley. I highly recommend this book for couples, because it does a good job of explaining common differences between the needs of men and women.

I read something a while back by Dr. Harley that he calls his cardinal rule of marriage:
Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.
Sounds reasonable, right? Seems fair and logical, doesn’t it? 

Except it doesn’t really work.

Now before you start yelling, let me make it clear that I certainly think the best scenario is to gain agreement in all decisions. That said, however, I don’t see any scriptural basis for making agreement a universal “cardinal rule.” A worthy goal, yes. A doctrinal absolute, no.

At the Point of Impasse

In a healthy relationship, reaching the point of impasse, where agreement simply cannot be found, should be a rare thing. For most decisions, prayer, conversation and a willingness to serve and support each other will lead to agreement. That should be the 98% case. 

But what do you do when you’ve both prayed and received different answers?  What do you do when you genuinely disagree on the best way forward because a consensus could not be reached?

It seems to me there are several possible default approaches to such a situation:
1.    Do nothing
2.    Flip a coin
3.    Wait for someone to change his or her mind
4.    Somebody gives in just to keep the peace
And here is the point at which I provoke you:
5.    The husband takes the responsibility to decide the matter by his convictions

Authority and Responsibility

As near as I can tell from my study of the scriptures, God ordained marriage as an ordered partnership, where husband and wife are equal in value, but each has differing roles.  That means that the position of authority (call it headship or leadership if those words are easier for you) is assigned to a husband at the wedding, regardless of whether he recognizes it and regardless of his apparent worthiness to carry it out. Let me be clear; this position does not in any way lessen the value or worth of his wife or diminish her role or importance in the marriage. It’s just the way God chose to set it up. “The husband is head of his wife, as Christ is head of the church.” (Eph 5:23 NIV)

At the same time I believe that husbands are held accountable for walking out their authority in a Christ-like manner, with all love, strength and sacrifice that entails. The authority granted to husbands comes with an undeniable mandate.  “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25 NIV)

(If you are new here, I would appreciate it if you would take the time to explore why I believe what I believe about the role of husbands and wives and the implications of those beliefs, which I don't have room to reiterate here.  You can read more on the husband’s role in my posts “Husbands, Lead with Love” and “The Question of Authority.”  For more on the wife’s role read “Love, Respect and Submission.”)

Getting to the point, what does this kind of ordered partnership mean in the very small minority of cases where you are unable to agree upon a decision?  I believe the husband should man-up, take the responsibility, and make the call. Right or wrong, the consequences are on his shoulders. But read on!

Decisions like these should never be made lightly or without a careful eye to preserving the connection in the relationship. That means reassuring his wife that he has her best interest at heart and that of the family, that he has listened carefully to her input and understood it, and that he bares the responsibility of his decision. If he does not take care of her heart in a Christ-like fashion, then by default he has made the wrong decision, regardless of whether it turns out he made the right call for the situation or not.

My stance on this raises lots of questions, and I’ve got more to say on this controversial topic, which I will cover in my next post.  But I will stop here and (hopefully) leave you provoked.

Let me hear your feedback in the comments.


JennyBean said...

Well said! I don't have a lot to offer in terms of feedback, but I wanted to commend you for writing such a bold post. I also wanted to state that, as a woman, I agree with this, I feel it is scripturally sound, and I don't feel oppressed by it. Not nearly so oppressed I have felt by women who shout about feminism all the time and take up their pitchforks at posts like these!

This doesn't stifle us; it defends us, protects us. It commands the man, as you said, to make his decisions wisely and take our hearts into careful consideration, and likewise, he will bear the full brunt of any foolish mistakes. I feel protected by Abba in the way He has designed things.

*sigh* what a glorious thing marriage could be if people could only live it out the way God intended, instead of worrying about themselves all the time!

tbright said...

I'll stand up and say you are confirming what Dr Harley writes.

The Policy of Joint Agreement, the POJA is key, even when they don't agree.

When it comes right down to it, regardless what technique the couple tries if they don't agree, ultimately they have to be enthusiastic about it.

What good is submission (There, I said it) if it's not ENTHUSIASTIC submission? Doesn't God warn us about being lukewarm? I suspect, but I don't claim to speak for God, that lukewarm submission is as distasteful to God as other examples of lukewarm faith.

Ditto for lukewarm leadership, lest anyone think I'm picking on one gender, not the other.

No I think Dr Harley has nailed it here. The POJA is being hot or cold regarding something. Whatever the solution, it's best when both spouses are enthusiastic about it.

That may be mean enthusiastic agreement about what to do, or enthusiastic leadership or submission if they don't agree.

But in all cases, the key element, the one Dr Harley says is necessary is enthusiasm.

Even if it's enthusiastic agreement to go with what the other wants to do.

Scott said...

Jenny - I'm glad to hear you agree with what I had to say. I totally agree with you that marriages would be so much happier if we could do it like God designed it.

tbright - thanks for your comment. I don't really have as much objection to Dr. Harley's "enthusiasm" part of the statement as to the "do nothing" part. I agree with much of what you said, that lukewarm leadership or submission isn't good, but sometimes there is just not going to be enthusiastic agreement in any form, and then what?

J said...

Why, this is bold of you! And biblical. :)

I think the concept of submission is scary when the wife has experienced inappropriate authority (whether with her husband, a father, etc.). In a close, trusting relationship with a godly husband, it's not so hard. I'm fine with hubby leading, even though I'm a pretty strong personality myself.

Now I'd be lying if I said I never had an "I told you so" run through my mind when he made a decision opposite from my suggestion and it didn't work out. But hey, I shut my mouth and God shaves off a few more of my rough edges. We both learn and grow in that situation too.

Scott said...

Thanks J. I kind of covered the ideal scenario here, as you said, in the context of a close, trusting relationship with a godly husband. That does make it easier, though not always easy.

I plan to examine a few "what if" non-ideal scenarios in my next post. Stay tuned.

Strong Man said...

Good post. Looking forward to some specific examples.

Not just Paul, but Peter, and Jesus himself referred to this structure in the Bridal Analogy and other references. I don't see any way you could honestly read the scriptures and come to an alternate conclusion.

I'd say 95% or more of actual decisions affecting family life aren't even joint at all--what to do at work, who to call, which friend to let the kids play at, when to pick them up, what to eat for mealtime, when to have which snack, etc.

Most of the decisions that need to be made together, are probably easy and unanimous if you're headed the same general direction.

But you've been honest about what happens if not. Quite awhile ago you posted on this concept, and I added to it in my post: Decision Time.

Too many of my friends who are husbands just back down to hold the peace, and sometimes the wife may not even know how strongly he feels about the issue that he's surpressing. But that's not healthy.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post very much and thank you for giving me an occasion to stand on my desk and shout a big "Amen!"

I can see the consequence of our actions, from the original fall, in full play of marriage.

Men step back and women push in; makes it hard. It's kind of like, "Which came first, The chicken or the egg?" (btw: it's the chicken) If men would lead, women would follow. If women would stop pressing over men, they would lead.

I see that authority and responsibility have been clearly bestowed to and in men. However, I do see another principle at play. The principle of power. There is a power that has been bestowed to and in women ... it is the power to build or destroy a home (marriage).

Before I was "un" feminist-ized, there is no way, unfortunately, that I would have yielded to the authority of my husband in a decision stalemate. Conversely, if a husband refuses to lead, it will be virtually impossible for a wife to follow; how can you follow if you are not going anywhere?

I've heard teaching that says that God will hold the husband 100% accountable for not using his authority to lead (he follows - abuse of his position); I agree. But, I believe, God will also hold us wives 100% accountable for not following (we lead - abuse of position)

Sounds like an impossible formula; good thing God specializes in missions that are impossible!

Jason@SongSix3 said...

Scott, EXCELLENT article!! Tiffani and I couldn't agree more with the examples you gave above. I once was the man who deferred to her simply to keep the peace, and she mostly ran things. And our home was definitely out of order - both of us knew it. As we began to understand God's roles for each of us according to His Word, we each began to change out attitudes. It has created a great environment in which we each feel very safe in discussing things... And in the event of a disagreement, she hands it over to me voluntarily. Have I made some bad decisions? Oh you BET I have! But not once has she ever said "told you so!" my dear lady has been nothing but gracious when I have failed.

Last year we were living in two separate states while I got started working a new job after 5 months of unemployment. I was also busy looking for a new house for my family. When I finally found one I liked, I wanted her to come see it, but it meant serious inconvenience to get her there. Instead, she said to me, "In biblical times, when men & women were betrothed, he went away to either build a house or to add on to his parents' house - she really had no choice in the matter. You know what I like, and I will trust your leadership and judgment to find something that will suit our family - and I will be ok with it. God will give me His grace to handle it." Wow! That was a serious change in direction from our past life!

We've now been in that house for just over a year, and we love it more every day... It really does suit our family! Again, excellent post... I believe you spoke God's heart precisely!

Scott said...

Strong Man - I recall reading your past last year when I first posed the question about how to break a decision logjam. I never came back and answered my own question, though I've been meaning to for more than a year. I agree that backing down to keep the peace is a bad idea, as Jason and Robyn both attest.

Robyn, I think your distinction between authority and power is important. I've actually been wanting to explore that very issue in a post.

Jason, thanks for you powerful testimony!

tbright said...

I guess I am having a hard time seeing how a man can lead if it wife is unwilling or let's be generous, uncomfortable with following.

Let's take something simple, let's go to dinner. Here is how that frequently plays out in my house on date night.

Me: Where would you like to go dear wife (DW)?
DW: Anywhere, you pick.
Me: OK, let's go to that steak place you like.
DW: Oh, I don't want to go there.
Me: OK, what do you suggest?
DW: I don't know.
Me: How about that Italian place?
DW: I'm not really feeling it...

And that dynamic can go on.

Now that's just something simple, but it can be maddening, and it sets the precedence that even though she says it's my decision, it's not really my decision.

Now if we can't even get some simple leading/following on something as simple as dinner, then you can imagine when it's something really important.

Bringing it around to the POJA Dr Harley teaches, you don't go to dinner until there is enthusiastic agreement on where to go.

But let's just say I get where guys are coming from when they have given up trying to lead. Sometimes it's simply not worth the effort vs the results.

It's not like I've not studied my wife. I know her favorite places. It's just that I can't get a good read on what she's feeling at that moment, and when the question is asked, there is often no straight answer.

Now I just say, you are more picky about dinner than I am, so where are we going, and she can decide. I take the approach that I can find something I like almost anywhere I go.

But as I said, it seem fruitless to lead as I turn around and often don't see others following.

So I often wonder, is it really a failure to lead or a failure to follow? It's not like I'm sneaking around. My DW wanted to get into better shape, so I supported that by going to the Y with her, and now I get up at about 4:30 every day and I don't see her working out very often.

I'm still setting the example by working out 6 days/week, changed my eating habits, researched the subject, offer to shop/make healthy meals. But I look back and I don't see anyone following in the example.

About six months ago that's what I told my wife. I said you've told me you want me to lead, well I'm leading, you can choose to follow or not. I can't make you follow. All I can do is lead and look to see if anyone is following.

I don't observe much following in the world in general. Not just my marriage, but for many couples in the church. I can think of only two or three where there are visible signs of a wife following her husband's lead in the church.

Paul Byerly said...

Amen! I like much of what Dr Harley says, but have always had a problem with this. It gives either person the power to grind things to a standstill, and it flies in the face of Biblical headship and submission.

And while it's good for submission to be enthusiastic, it's not required. Obedience is good even when it's begrudging, and disobedience is wrong no matter how enthusiast we are about it!

(Why have I never been challenged to write something controversial?!)

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