I was teaching my son how to iron this morning. He had his first job interview, and it was time for him to learn a new skill. While he ironed, I told him ironing stories. I told him about how my dad wore suits to work every day, and my mom ironed five shirts every week, among other things. I told him about how I hated ironing.
And then I told him about how I nannied one summer for my college English professor, Linda, so she could write her doctoral dissertation. I took care of her kids and did some light housekeeping. And I ironed her husband’s shirts. Or at least I tried to. I’m guessing Alan breathed a sigh of relief when the summer was over.
I took my son to his interview. While I waited, I let my mind wander back to that summer when I lived with this professor and her family. And it hit me. I spent three months living in a home where a partnership style of marriage was lived out before me in full color, and it was beautiful.
You see, I was steeped in the view (thank you, Bill Gothard) that husbands are to reign as demi-gods in their homes while their wives exist to cater to their every desire. I remember thinking these two people were rather liberal. Maybe they didn’t know how marriage was supposed to be done according to the Bible? Their partnership seemed to work for them, and I was only a kid with limited life experience, so I shrugged it off as an anomaly.
Several decades later, I understand why partnership was the key to their healthy marriage relationship. Partnership brings three important things to the table in a relationship.
Partnership is about mutual love and respect.
Alan and Linda were suited to one another. They were both smart, had a great sense of humor, and treated one another with kindness and honor. I didn’t see Alan leading Linda as if she was beneath him. I saw two adults living life side by side in partnership with one another. I thought of them as a unit. Because they were.
Alan admired and supported Linda’s career as an English professor. He spoke enthusiastically about about her opportunity to get her doctorate. Likewise, Linda admired and supported Alan’s career in computers. (I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time to know exactly what he did! But he was doing something with computers back when they were first being introduced into households all over the world.)
There was zero hint of competition, jealousy, or one-upmanship. They genuinely loved one another, and love lifts up and supports the beloved. Both ways.
Partnership is about mutual responsibility and generosity.
I saw Alan helping Linda and Linda helping Alan at different times. It wasn’t one sided. There were no expectations that the one would always serve the other, but instead, there was an attitude of outdoing one another in service and care. I saw it. I felt it.
It wasn’t just about them either. They both had a generous, responsible character. It was woven into the fabric of who they were, as people. They both treated me, a lowly college student, as if I were their daughter.
Alan taught me Word Processing and Linda taught me how to make an awesome salad. I was underweight at the time, so Linda would make me thick, rich, chocolate milk shakes before I went to bed. She was dieting at the time, yet she exposed herself to this temptation. Looking back, that was a generous sacrifice of love!
They gave me lots of advice, like “Honda makes the BEST cars,” and they encouraged me to use my gifts and skills to make the world a better place. I believe Linda knew I came from a place of fundamentalist Christianity, and she tried to gently influence me to make use of the gifts God gave me regardless of my future marital status, but she never shamed me or made me feel like my views were ridiculous or backward.
They generously allowed me to use one of their cars (Honda, of course) so I could get a night job as a waitress in order to earn more money to pay for school. When the summer was over, they treated me to an expensive dinner out, gave me a beautiful necklace, and told me they loved me. I never had the sense that one was doing more of the planning or taking more of an active role than the other one. They were always a team.
Mutual Honesty and Vulnerability
There was peace. I never once heard an edgy tone. I never once heard a raised voice. Yet they were both opinionated (HONDA IS THE BEST!) I was fascinated with that. It was an intellectually stimulating environment. The dinner conversations were lively but safe. There were no secrets. No half-truths. No withheld information to cause insecurity.
Linda had just given birth to their second child, and she struggled with her weight that summer. I never once heard Alan say anything derogatory about her body shape. I never once saw any hint of a critical spirit from either one. They were both safe to be themselves with one another.
They were awesome parents too. Well, why wouldn’t they be?
I was given a gift that summer. A treasure. And I didn’t realize it at the time. But Alan and Linda gave me a glimpse of what a real Christian marriage looks like. And there was no power-over anywhere to be found. Linda did not power-over Alan. Alan did not power-over Linda.
Power-over vs. Partnership
Complementarian theology (I call it soft patriarchy) teaches a power-over model of marriage. It teaches that men are to have leadership (“headship”) over women in the culture, church, and home. Men are allowed to have leadership roles while women must fulfill a support role. It is the model I tried dutifully to follow in my first marriage. But that theology enables hidden emotional and spiritual abuse to thrive because ABUSE IS “power-over.”
Power-over in relationships is evidence that the curse is still at play in the world. Jesus died and rose to exchange the curse of power-over for the power of love and unity between brothers and sisters.
I am now safely (and happily!) experiencing the kind of marriage Alan and Linda had. A marriage of mutuality, unity, and partnership. There is no hint of abuse. How could there be? Abuse cannot exist where there is a partnership of equals serving One King only. King Jesus.
(Check out a video I did with Sarah McDugal where we talk about this!)
Help! I don’t have this kind of marriage!
If you aren’t experiencing a partnership, you may want to check out my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Hidden Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.
In my book I talk in great detail about the differences between a healthy marriage and an abusive marriage. I write about the propoganda that keeps women of faith stuck in abuse. I also talk about the roles everyone plays in an emotionally and spiritually abusive relationship: the role your spouse plays, the role your family plays, the role your friends play, the role your religious community plays, the role you play, and the role God plays. And then I discuss what happens if you change your role and pull a card out from beneath the house of cards you’re living in.
But I don’t leave you without hope! You’ll learn what your options are, what to expect when everything changes, and the key to your future. Because you have one!
“I can’t put this book down! The information in this book is exactly what I need right now! Natalie presents and cuts through false beliefs and lies that I have been taught to believe my entire life! She lovingly speaks truth and puts confusion to rest (in the grave where it belongs). I can’t wait to read the rest of this book.” Amazon Review
“This book is perhaps one of the best written books I’ve read in regard to my marriage. I wish it had been available 10 years ago. I often have a hard time reading through these types of books simply because of the writing styles; but Natalie did an excellent job keeping each chapter on point with very clear explanations that I’ve not seen before. The words jumped off the pages and poured into my heart, renewing my walk with Jesus and His commitment to walk with me through the fire. I strongly recommend this book for any woman of faith struggling in their marriage. It truly is a game changer.” Incredible truth from a gospel centered perspective.” Amazon Review
“Natalie writes with astounding clarity to unveil the source of the pain so many women of faith experience, but aren’t able to put in to words. She walks through how it happens with compassion and frankness. If you’re a woman who loves Jesus and your marriage is painful no matter how much effort you put in to try to fix it, this book will change your world forever. Can’t recommend enough.” Amazon Review