Husband and Wife - Equal Partners?
by Kenneth Westby (written 1976)
Who should be in charge in marriage? The husband? The wife?
Neither? Should marriage be ruled by consensus? Or is the 50/50
formula the only way that provides marital equality? What does
the Bible teach on this vital subject?
Is there a basic biological and psychological difference
between man and woman in marriage? Is there a specific role for
the wife? A different one for the husband? Should there be a
decision-maker in marriage? Is this leadership role a fixed
responsibility given to the husband - or is it up for grabs?
Who's in charge? Does rule by consensus eliminate the need for a
decision-maker? Does the 50/50 formula work? Does it provide for
true marital equality? Should women "wear the pants"? Or, are the
"total woman," Evangelical Christians right in their insistence
that "the Bible marriage" demands a hierarchy of total male
dominance and complete female submission?
There is much confusion on this issue - and as a result,
much suffering. Even theologians, psychologists, and marriage
counsellors frequently disagree on these issues so vital to the
success and happiness of marriage. Who is right? How can we know?
What does the Bible really teach? Which marriage model was
designed by the Creator?
The past three decades have witnessed a revolution involving
the basic concepts of husband/wife relationships and roles. We've
seen a wide swing from male chauvinist domination (the "keep'em
barefoot and pregnant" marriage where women "know their place"
and speak only with their husband's permission, to the rising
tide of the feminist movement and the currently popular "open
Experimentation with non-traditional marriage forms is
increasing at all levels of society. The current record-breaking
divorce rate, which is the highest in our history and has almost
doubled in the past ten years, testifies that all too many
couples can't put a marriage together and make it work. Divorce
often seems the only solution for many husbands and wives who are
caught in the squeeze of contrasting philosophies on how to live
Why all the confusion? Why all the marital problems and
suffering? What's the real solution?
The Feminist "Solution"
Marriage, like the job market, has become a feminist
battleground for equal rights. The "righteous" cry by feminists
for equal rights for women in marriage is often just a cover for
their primary goal - equal roles. Many feminists consider any
marriage unsatisfactory until the woman has been freed from her
biological role of mother. Freed from the trap of babies and the
boredom and drudgery of a "housewife." They look for science to
speed the day of the "obsolete mother" through development of
artificial wombs. The wife, freed from male exploitation, could
then compete equally with the husband for his role. The
underlying assumption among most feminists is that the
traditional mother-wife role is unequal to the husband's role
because, they feel, it is inferior to his.
Feminists view role difference and even sex difference as
inequality. They find the solution for this "inequality" in a
unisex culture of "Just human beings." In an attempt to eliminate
the differences between male and female, feminist activists have
recently proposed a federally funded universal child-care state,
thus allowing mothers equality with fathers in their freedom from
While flying the banner of liberty and denouncing contrary
opinions as sexist, feminists ignore the fundamental issue: the
basic physiological and psychological differences between female
and male established by God Himself at creation. The feminists'
model for marriage is contrary to the human distinctions designed
by our heavenly Father. It seeks to fight against nature itself,
and the Author of sex difference, our Creator.
The 50/50 formula is often suggested to insure equality in
marriage. Thousands have tried it - and learned, the hard way,
that it doesn't work. The 50/50 formula doesn't bring equality.
Instead, it inevitably produces arguments, power struggles, and
cat-and-mouse tactics that test the agility and shrewdness of
each mate to see who really dominates in the marriage. Who makes
the "major decisions"? Who holds the greater control, the 51%?
It's easy to let your mate "make the decisions" that you agree
with anyhow. But what happens when you both see it differently?
In this supposed 50/50 arrangement the woman often seeks greater
status and power while the man tries to keep as much control as
he can for himself. Each wages war with whatever weapons are most
natural and available. The wife may use tears; the husband may
bang his fist on the table. He may withhold money; she withholds
sex. Marriage becomes a battlefield with both sides engaged in a
war neither can win! For the one who wins the play for power
inevitably loses the respect and love of the other. This kind of
50/50 "equality" has only succeeded in making both husband and
wife I equally miserable.
The 50/50 formula is often used as a means of truce between
already warring mates. But it is a contrived, artificial
prescription that fails as a bargaining forum. More importantly,
the 50/50 compromise fails to meet the need for true equality,
wholeness, and fulfilment in marriage.
God didn't intend marriage to erase individual identity or
to be a battle ground for equal rights. Rather, He wants marriage
to provide a relationship that will produce far more profound
happiness and individual fulfilment. A couple that treats
marriage simply as a 50/50 contract is destroying the very reason
for their union. Marriage should be a lifelong commitment where
each mate receives the other as a whole person, for what he or
she is rather than for what he or she agrees to do. Marriage
shouldn't be a bartering relationship for products and services.
It is not a business corporation, a military establishment, or a
prison. Marriage is a high plane human relationship. It requires
mature adults who recognize each other as mutually dependent
equals, each made in God's likeness. Each must give to the other,
and to the team they have become, not just 50%, but 100%!
The Creation Model
Let's go back to the origin of the sexes, and to the
beginning of marriage, to see what the Maker had in mind. "So God
created man (mankind] in His own image, in the image of God
created He him (mankind]; male and female created He them" (Gen.
1:27). The human species is the result of the Creator's
purposeful design. It is the Almighty who created sex difference
to benefit, not hinder, the human species.
Through the sequence of creation and through the special
manner God created the first man and woman, God purposely and
clearly illustrated the over-all structure He intended for
marriage. When we understand the distinctions in the creation of
the original man and woman, we will be able to understand the
major role differences and the basic husband-wife relationships
God intended. The key role differences were designed to be
compatible with the most obvious sexual and physical differences.
Genesis, chapter 2, shows Adam was made first. And he was
made from the earth. Eve was made secondly, after Adam had named
the various species of the animal kingdom. And she wasn't made
from the earth, but from Adam's body. Adam was given a body of
greater muscular strength. Eve was given a body that could
reproduce the human race. These physical differences are basic
and obvious. Modern biologists have discovered that the sexual
differences of male and female actually permeate the entire
somatic being of both, from white blood cells to certain cerebral
God clearly established Adam's role as that of the primary
leader and principal decision-maker in their marriage
relationship. He did this by making Adam first, and physically
bigger and stronger. And by making Eve from Adam's body, not
independently from the earth. And by giving Adam the
responsibility of naming the creatures God made (Gem.2:18-20),
including Eve - who was made by God to be a "help meet for
him," a fitting partner and compatible complement (Gen.2:21-23).
The role of leadership is absolutely essential to any team -
and that includes marriage. Though the primary decision-maker of
any team is a role on that team, it is obviously not the entire
team, nor is it a more worthwhile role man that of the other
teammates. But it is a role - a responsibility - that must be
filled. And in marriage that responsibility God has given by
creation to the man. "The head of the woman is the man..."
God gave Adam the physical and mental tools he needed to
fulfil his roles of initiator, leader, protector, provider, and
procreator. Much of Adam's time would be spent outside the home,
providing a living for the family that would, for the most part,
be under Eve's guiding care (note Gen.2:15; 3:17-20,23).
By establishing man as the principal leader and
decision-maker, God isn't saying that men are more intelligent
than women. Modern testing has found that, generally speaking,
there is no IQ difference between the sexes (though there are
differing levels of excellence in some specific areas). Nor is
God saying that men have greater worth than women (though some
have fervently tried to make Him say it). God has simply given
the male of the human species the specific mental and physical
profile necessary to function more consistently with a greater
degree of effectiveness as the leader and provider. This, too,
must be understood as a generality.
We must realize that culture and education are critical
factors in this matter as well. And that specific comparisons of
particular individuals can always be produced as exceptions to
any general rule.
Rule by consensus should be the operative norm in a
marriage. But there are times when agreement cannot be reached.
On certain issues a decision may need to be reached for the
marriage and family to continue, prosper, and move forward. Such
situations require a leader or decision-maker. Without one,
mutually accepted and respected, confusion and frustration will
inevitably result. Also, continual confrontation and power plays,
and possibly divorce.
Modern management has recognized the inescapable need for a
decision-maker. Virtually every successful government, business
corporation, organization, and athletic team accomplishes its
objectives because of successful leadership. The same is true for
marriage. Though the conflicting opinions of both mates may each
have value, there must be a "tie-breaker." In cases of
disagreement, one's judgment must prevail for the good of both.
By using the term "decision-maker" I don't mean to imply that the
husband has the right or responsibility to make all decisions, or
that his decisions are necessarily better than his mate's. In
fact, because of the wife's key role in the family and home, she
is often in the best position to make a majority of the daily
decisions. We husbands will recognize this practical fact.
In making the first female the Creator dearly outlined Eve's
primary roles in marriage. She was to be wife to her husband and
mother to their children. "The man named his wife Eve (meaning
'The life-giving one'), for he said, 'She shall become the mother
of all mankind' " (Gen.3:20, Living Bible). These roles, though
different from Adam's, are of equal value to the husband's
responsibilities. They are just as demanding, mentally as well as
physically, and they are equally vital to the success of the
marriage, family, and home. As with the husband, the wife's
marital responsibilities should not deny her individuality,
person-hood, acceptance, personal development, or participation
Nevertheless, down though human history women have been
taken advantage of. They have been given an inferior status in
most cultures. Generally speaking, man has misused his leadership
role and his physical strength to subjugate and exploit his
partner. This travesty was the result of selfishness, ignorance,
and sin. Had mankind followed God's purposeful plan for marriage,
and honored the sex differences as the Creator intended, the
historical record would be far different.
Part 2 of this article will explain the much misunderstood
"curse on women" recorded in Genesis 3:16; it will explain the
essential value of wife and mother in our society, and how to
measure the worth of both sexes; it will show the expanded role
of the modern woman, how men and women can have equality with
difference, and how the "total woman" advocates of Evangelical
Christianity misapply the true teachings and principles of
Scripture concerning the place of women in marriage and society.
Be sure to read Part 2 of Husband and Wile - Equal Partners? It
answers a lot of questions - and reveals vital knowledge missing
in today s society!
Entered on this Website November 2007