Marriage: Democracy, Dictatorship or Equal Partnership?

I recently posed this question on Facebook:

How do you define marriage?  Would you say marriage is:
  • A Democracy where everyone gets a vote
  • A Dictatorship where one person is responsible for decisions and directions of the relationship.
  • An Equal Partnership where EVERYTHING is shared equally
For this discussion, marriage is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own. But for purposes of this writing, marriage refers to the general definition of marriage in the western world; specifically the U.S.

Most that commented defined marriage as all of the above.  Other common thoughts were we should marry our best friend and that marriages should emulate Jesus and the Bride of Christ.  And, I would agree with “all of the above”.

In the New Testament, the image of Christ coming for his bride is presented.  It is through these scriptures that we see the devotion of the bridegroom and the readiness of the bride.  The ideals of commitment, love and servant-hood are woven throughout the picture we are given.  It’s the perfect blending.

Unfortunately, today’s marriages are not that perfect.  I would venture that most of the couples that get married or are planning to marry in this day and age envision a 50-50 partnership.  Everything is shared:  money, household chores, care of the children, etc.   This is an almost impossible ideal to meet.  One or both of the people involved will feel that they are giving more than their 50%, whether it’s through money earned and contributed  or time spent around the home.

When the Equal Partnership doesn’t seem to providing on the equality front, democracy may come to the forefront.  Both sides begin to “campaign” for their own interests.  Both sides are able to lay all their cards on the table and come to an agreement on how responsibilities, money, time, etc. should be divided.  During rational times, this is a good method.  The flaw comes to play when there in no “majority”, no winner or agreement.  And that’s when, the marriage often moves into the Dictatorship phase.

In a dictatorship, one person is responsible for decisions that are made.   There are circumstances where a decision has to be made whether it is popular or not.  The “dictator” makes that decision and proceeds for better or worse.

In a healthy marriage, all of the things occur.   We both work.  My job keeps me away from home a majority of the day and as a result, most of the cooking and household decisions fall on my husband.  We don’t split them equally at all.  I try to do my part on the weekends.  And, he does ask for my help, too.  There is no “honey-do” list that must be completed for either of us.  When decisions arise that are not of the day-to-day variety, we do discuss them and try to come to an agreement.  There here have been times when my husband has had to make decisions that I could not or would not make.  I didn’t necessarily like it, but I knew that it was for the best and I would acquiesce to his authority at that time.  And, I’ll be honest, there are times that I have done the same thing.  So, you can say that my marriage is all of the above.

Many relationships fail because the “mix” isn’t palatable.  One person may feel they do “everything around the house”.  Or,  they don’t feel they have a say in any of the decisions made.  Maybe one person is a perfectionist and likes things done a particular way and just can’t accept any variations.  The key to getting through all of this is communication.  You have to be able to talk.  What you may perceive as laziness on your partner’s part, may actually be hopelessness because nothing will please you.  Or, it may be defensiveness: no adult wants to be treated like a child in their own home.

Customs and traditions concerning marriage in this country have morphed over the years. Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900% over the last 50 years. The focus often becomes “THE WEDDING” instead of the marriage. The average cost of a wedding is at an all time high of $31,213.  On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married. Part of the problem was that cohabitors, studies suggested, “slid into” marriage without much consideration. Instead of making a conscious decision to share an entire life together, couples who shared a dog, a dresser, a blender, were picking marriage over the inconvenience of a break up. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, outlined the “cohabitation effect” in a widely circulated New York Times op-ed in 2012.

When we look at marriage as a life-long commitment to serve our partner not just as an escape from life alone, the decisions we make and the actions we take may be different.  We may have to leave behind the baggage of past family relationships.  Just because our parents did it this way, doesn’t mean that it’s the best decision for our family.   If my goal as a wife is to serve my husband to be best of my ability, to provide for his comfort, to encourage  and support him, to love and treat him as my best friend, then our marriage will survive and maybe even prosper.  But, it takes a conscious decision to be that servant.  It means that I don’t always get what I want.  It means that I may have to accomplish everything on the honey-do list instead of demanding my husband does so.  Someone else will have to take priority over me.

That’s the example that Christ gave for his bride, the Church.

“Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:22-33 MSG

Service or Performance: Does it Matter

During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have all seen acts of service for others affected by the storm. Churches, organizations, businesses and first responders have all banded together to do what is needed to evacuate and to provide food and shelter to storm victims. Teams of people from schools, religious organizations, neighborhoods as well as out-of-state volunteers have come into the area to clear out debris and start the recovery process. The response has been immediate and awe-inspiring. The servant’s heart has had ample use this month.  The opportunities for selfless service have been endless as have the opportunities for those seeking the limelight of recognition.  Does the motive for serving matter?

Having a servant’s heart means to put other’s needs ahead of our own.  A person with a servant’s heart doesn’t look for rewards or recognition or even gratitude.  In our social media heavy world, we walk a fine line between giving information  and seeking recognition.  There were many, many groups posting on the various social sites about helping after the storm.  These posts were important because they  got information out to those that needed it in a rather efficient manner.  Volunteers were organized.  Needs were recognized.  It worked pretty well.  There were lots of photo ops with people working and helping both neighbors and strangers.  Our city came together to help.  As the days passed, I began to see more “LOOK AT ME” posts.  The transition was gradual, but the “where can I help” posts became selfies touting “look what I did today”.  The photo ops were still there, but the focus was changing to “ME”.  Needs were still being addressed.  So, I kept asking myself, “Does it matter why we serve?”

This is a question I ask myself, quite often for some very different reasons.  I have years of experience leading worship in churches.  I started singing in church when I was 5 years old and sang “Little Baby in a Manger” at the Christmas Program.  I’ve sung solos and in groups.  I’ve played the piano and the organ for several congregations.  I’ve even played my trombone on several occasions.  I know that I can sing.  When leading others in worship, I had to review my own motives every week.  Was I singing because I wanted God to be honored or was I really enjoying the spot-light?  To be honest, there was a little of both most of the time.  I love music and I love to sing.  During a season of my life, the only reason I had to be in a worship service was because “I” was on stage.  I did not participate in anything else.  I realized that I wanted (maybe even needed) the reward of recognition that came through performing on Sundays.  But, there were also times when the greatest worship time I received was in rehearsing to lead others in worship.  It was in those moments when I KNEW that God had given me a purpose.

In the 80’s, I heard a sermon that addressed the many people who had come to salvation through the work of some well-known and fallen evangelists.  Jim and Tammy Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart were known as ministers of God’s word.  They built their ministry serving others and reaching out to others in need.  The Bible was taught.  People were saved.  But supporting the ministry became the primary need.  People were no longer encouraged to be involved in their local church.  Once the performers became more important than the God they served, things came crashing down.   A lot of people were hurt and  turned their backs on God as a result.  I believe we have to look at our own motives for every act of service.

In most cases, I don’t know that it matters to anyone else why we choose to serve others.  As long as we are meeting the needs of those around us, we are fulfilling a purpose.  In the end, though, we have to stand before God and give an account of our lives.  I will have to own up to the times that I was more interested in the praise of others than I was in following Him as a servant.  I will have to admit the times I was fishing for a compliment.  I will have to confess the moments when I wanted my star to shine brighter than any other.  I will have to face the moments when performance and not service was my primary goal.