Mutuality in the real world

Mutuality 2012 is done and dusted, but here’s hoping it’s only the start of a renewed conversation about equality in the church.

Hence this post: How does mutuality work in the real world?

More specifically, how does it work in a real marriage? (Note: not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s notion of a Real Marriage.)

Is mutuality even practical?

Complementarians say no. Even if mutuality works well enough most of the time, they argue, every marriage comes to a stalemate at some point.

So what do you do then?

This was the question put to Amanda and me by our former pastor during one of our premarital counseling sessions. He asked what I’d do if I was offered a job in another state, but my wife didn’t want to move. (The irony will become apparent shortly.)

According to complementarian theology, somebody has to make the final call. Giving the wife an equal say is fine when you can come to agreement without too much bother. But whenever you reach an impasse, the husband becomes the decider-in-chief.

Male headship, then, is to marriage what the vice president is to the U.S. Senate: a tie-breaker. So argues Tim Keller:

Headship sometimes involves tie-breaking authority. In a marriage, you only have two votes; so the occasions do arise when there’s an impasse. How do you break the stalemate? It can only be broken if one party has the authority to overrule.

I agree with Keller that most relationships need a tie-breaker at some point. I just don’t see why it should fall to the man to break every stalemate.

However you interpret the apostle Paul’s statement that the “husband is the head of the wife,” neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer ever said it’s the husband’s job to be the final decision-maker. That’s an assumption which complementarians read into the text, not something the text actually says.

Returning to the question of how this all works in real life…

I remember a time when Amanda and I were faced with a major decision. We were contemplating an overseas move (ah, the irony), and we just couldn’t agree. Amanda wanted to go for it — and I did too, at first. But then I started having second thoughts. Major second thoughts.

Honestly, it was one of the most difficult points in our marriage. No matter how many times we hashed it out, we just couldn’t get on the same page.

Eventually, I conceded. I deferred to my wife’s judgment. I’d like to tell you this was some magnanimous gesture on my part, but it wasn’t. It was more like a grudging concession.

Looking back, though, if I hadn’t listened to Amanda — if she hadn’t broken the tie in that case — we would’ve missed out on one of the most incredible experiences of our lives.

There have been other times when I’ve been the one to break the tie. Somehow, through 10 years of marriage, it’s always worked out, regardless of who got to be the tie-breaker.

Sometimes Amanda has the most wisdom or the clearest perspective. Sometimes she can see things that I can’t. Sometimes the smartest thing I can do is defer to her judgment.

For me, appointing myself the final arbiter purely on the basis of my gender would be an act of colossal arrogance (not to mention stupidity).

I hope that over the next 10 years of marriage, I get better at listening to my wife — becoming more attuned to her perspective, her wisdom, and her unique insight. Sometimes she has the better judgment, plain and simple.

Sometimes, I would make a lousy tie-breaker.

3 thoughts on “Mutuality in the real world

  1. I fully agree. We’ve had similar types of impasses, and I certainly haven’t pulled the husband card on them. I think your idea of “decide not to decide until we agree” is generally a good policy, but when you just can’t agree, there’s no way I’m going to call the shots every single time. I’m not always the one with the best handle on the decision, so it shouldn’t always be my decision. And, much like in your case, New Hampshire turned out to be pretty nice.


  2. I don’t understand your thinking that because it always worked out, regardless of who got to be the tie-breaker should be support for your mutuality stance. As a hypothetical, the move overseas may not have worked out. The same could be said if you were the tie breaker and decided not to go overseas. It may or may not have worked out.

    If your wife is the tie breaker and it doesn’t work out, then what is your course of action?


    1. Joe, in that case, our course of action would be to revisit the decision together. In reality, we rarely find ourselves in a position where one of us has to be the “tie-breaker” b/c we’re committed to making decisions together and, whenever possible, not moving forward until we both agree on a direction. After 10 years of marriage, I’d say it’s worked out pretty well for us. The example I mentioned in my post was unique b/c there were some very specific deadlines involved, so we didn’t have the luxury of waiting till we could get on the same page. One of us would have to concede to the other without necessarily being fully convinced. And in that particular case, I’m glad I was the one who conceded, b/c I realized later that my wife could see some things I couldn’t at the time. Also, sometimes the relationship is just more important than getting to have the final say.


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