In the break room one man is berating another, saying, What do you mean your wife won’t let you go? Seriously man, you’re whipped.’ Meanwhile, the woman standing at her colleague’s cubicle is saying, ‘come on, you can go to lunch with us just this once, surely you deserve it with all the income you bring in, not to mention everything you do for him and your children. You need to let him know who the real boss is.’
These scenarios are exceedingly common in our society now. It was not always so: there was a time where gender roles ruled, giving both man and woman strict guidelines as to their place and duties in a household. We have learned a few things since those distant times with the advent of the women’s and civil rights movements, but it seems that we have created a new kind of dilemma instead of a resolution. Who in this new way of life is the rightful decision-maker in the home?
A wolf pack has one pack leader, a company has one boss. The house should have just one leader, too, right? There should be just one person who ‘wears the pants’ as we have become so fond of saying. We attribute one word to the design and success of the various rights movements: equality. The point was not that one person should be considered better qualified because of the way they were born; rather it was that, though we are different, we are all equally capable.
We have another saying: ‘there can be only one chief in a tribe.’ The presumption is that with multiple leaders matters become confusing. There are multiple demands, conflicting rules, and efforts to seize total control. That mode of thinking is even further dated than the idea that all people are essentially equal. Even the ancient Greeks and the Romans understood that a governing body of multiple individuals, combined in effort and will, were better capable of leading a society than just one person. Though the republic has obvious weaknesses, it still has proven much more effective in governance than a dictatorship.
A household is essentially a small society. It is a body of people, even if it yet consists of only two. That society has needs and goals, and must be given direction to achieve those things. Leadership is what provides that direction, but the term leadership need not refer to the qualities of a single person. Instead, I contend that we use the plural sense of it: the idea of leadership as a group of people synergistically providing focus and motivation to its charge.
In marriage there is never one loser in a contention for power. The person who ultimately gains control only finds themselves distanced from their partner, the spouse losing faith in the hope and love they had sought in the first place. While submission to each other is an admirable quality, subjugation remains as unethical as it was when slaves were made to work and women were made to stay silent and at home. A marriage, a happy and fruitful one at least, simply cannot survive such inequality.
This is not to say that everything should be equal in a literal sense. It simply is not possible for the man to carry a child, for example. There are many things that one person might be more capable than the other in doing, and some which generally work better if only one person controls, like finances. In most cases it just does not work to have two people keeping separate records when there is a combined financial interest, which most marriages have (and if not there should be some serious consideration to create one). Whether it is the man or the woman, the person who is better qualified to handle money should be the bookkeeper, and the other should recognize their own weakness there and trust the other’s judgment.
So we create various duties and responsibilities that provide our little society with efficient governance. There is only one way for these to be defined, and that is through discourse. Having two leaders only becomes a hindrance when the two do not communicate, when they do not unite in purpose. Even though it may be the husband who is keeping the books, he cannot meet his wife’s needs and work toward their combined goals without discussing what those goals and needs are, and coming to an agreement on how and when they might be met. The wife may be the primary caretaker of the children, but there can be no consistency in the development of those children without discussion and union between their parents.
We have come to a point in our collective development and understanding to see that we are equal in nature. With that comes the ability for two people to combine and create a solid marriage founded on precepts of cooperation and mutual effort. If you and your spouse are having a hard time doing so, reach out for help. We can come together to lift our own loads, smiling as we both put on our pants.