My Husband, My Companion

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As a Christian feminist, I often feel conflicted regarding how to view my husband.  As a feminist, I’m told to view my husband as my equal.  I believe whole-heartedly in this and I do view my husband as my equal. But I have found that among feminists, it is sometimes unpopular to praise your husband simply because of his gender.  So, I find myself reserved in communicating my admiration of him. On the other hand, I’m told by conservative Christians that I am to view my husband as my authority, my “head,” the protector of my fragile/weaker frame, and the ruler of our home.  So, for me to communicate that my respect for my husband exists outside of this hierarchal and patriarchal framework, I am deemed “not a good Christian wife”.  Thus, I’m left perplexed in how I should view him.

When I look at my marriage, I try not to view it through the lens of gender.

It is hard for me to type that statement because I do not believe the answer to gender inequality is to eliminate gender identity.  I do understand that it is difficult to determine what is male and what is female simply by looking at the surface of a person.  Our society is slowly learning that gender is determined by more than a person’s anatomical make-up.  Even though this difficulty exists, I believe that we will do ourselves a disservice if we try to eliminate gender identity all-together.  Within our gender identity lies more opportunity for diversity.

For some, acknowledging the differences in one another is negative; because the belief is that we are predisposed to ranking that which is different, thus creating a hierarchal system.  The claim is that some differences are good, some are bad, and some are better than others.  But, I believe these differences should exist solely in-and-of themselves.  I should be able to acknowledge that my husband is male and that I am female, and just let that be.  The fact that my husband is male does not make him superior to me, just as I am not superior to him simply because I am female. The same can be said of all differences.

With that being said, in my marriage, I do not believe our gender to be pertinent.  While, yes, the fact that my husband is male makes up a part of who he is, the overall enjoyment I receive from his personhood goes so far beyond his gender identity.

I believe I should be able to verbally communicate my love and admiration for him with the understanding that this exists outside of his identity as a male.  For me to withhold my praise and admiration simply because of his gender would mean that I, myself, am partaking in gender injustice.  Not to mention that I would be missing out on celebrating the person my husband is.

In the same way, I should be able to communicate that my respect for my husband can and does exist outside of the fact that he is male.  This does not make me a less-than-ideal Christian wife.  I believe that this actually makes me a better Christian wife, because my respect for my husband is not out of obligation or solely founded upon his gender identity.  My respect for my husband stems from who he is on the inside, which I believe to be Christ-like.

When I look at my husband, I view him through the lens of companionship.  What I see in him is the friendship we have cultivated. I see the daughter we co-parent.  I see the son who will soon join our family.  I see what sets fire to his bones.  I see what causes a frown on his brow.  I see the memories he has shared with me from his childhood.  I see the family that has helped create the person he is today.  I see him, Jonathan; the entirety of his personhood.  Not simply Jonathan, who is male, but Jonathan who is my husband, and my companion.

Redefining Conflict

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I’ve learned that couples enjoy sizing their relationships next to others, and a common comparison is who has the most conflict.  Obviously, you are not in a healthy relationship if fighting is constant, and your only way of speaking to each other is screaming.  Fighting like that shows an inability to communicate, and if that is the case there is a problem in your relationship.  But just because one couple has more conflict than another couple, does not make their relationship less healthy.  It is impossible to be in a relationship with another person without conflict.  In a friendship, marriage, or any relationship, two individuals are coming together having grown up with different families, different experiences, and different likes and dislikes. As these individuals begin to interact intimately with one another, they soon realize the differences in each other’s thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and conflict arises.  Somehow though, so many of us believe that if conflict is present it shows an incompatibility in our relationship.

When my husband and I first started dating, there wasn’t much conflict, if any at all.  We hardly ever fought, and we rarely disagreed with one another.  I would not make the mistake though, in believing that our lack of conflict meant our relationship was happier and healthier then than it is now.  In our case, the lack of conflict stemmed from our inability to be open and vulnerable with one another.  I was nervous to really speak my mind or outwardly disagree with my then boyfriend; not because he was controlling or aggressive, but because I thought that if we had conflict in our relationship it meant we weren’t meant to be together.  If our relationship was built to last, then conflict should not exist.  I now know I could not have been more wrong, so why did I view conflict so negatively?

Growing up, when I heard the word conflict it was always accompanied with war, battle, fights, and struggle.  Whenever we spoke about war and the Middle East, it was always referred to as the “Conflict in the Middle East.”  So conflict had this negative connotation in my mind.  The reversal of this was also true.  Because conflict was connected to violent words and events, I thought that an absence of conflict equated peace.  In my mind if there was a lack of conflict,  that meant there would also be a lack of fights and struggle.  So, if there was conflict in my relationship,  that meant we had a violent and aggressive relationship; but if we did not have conflict, then we had a peaceful relationship.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I began to form my own understanding of the word conflict.  I was taking a class with one of my favorite professors.  He started class one day by saying that an absence of conflict does not equate to peace.  Instantly, my mind was troubled because that was not what I’ve been taught.  He then began telling a story of a family whose father ran a tight ship.  The children were always quiet, the house was always clean, and everyone in the home made sure to do what the father said.  The father was a strong, aggressive, demanding person.  No one would dare speak out against him or challenge him.  So, if there was an absence of conflict because there were no disagreements, no arguments, no fights, does that mean their home was full of peace?

I soon realized that conflict was not this violent and negative word that I always deemed it to be.  Conflict for me became a representation of a truly intimate relationship; a relationship where trust, openness, and vulnerability exists.  There is no fear of judgment, because the two individuals have reached a point in their relationship where differences are acknowledged and embraced.

After that class I accepted that for me to be in a relationship, whether it was with a friend, a family member, or a significant other, I had to let go of my fear of conflict.  This fear was crippling me from truly experiencing relationships with others.  In my dating relationship with my husband, this fear was causing me to miss out on fully knowing him, and it was keeping him from fully knowing me.

Our love may not be perfect.  Through the course of our relationship, we have made each other angry, we’ve made each other cry, we have raised our voices to one another, and we’ve given each other the silent treatment.  There have been times that we have gone to bed angry, and there have been times that we were not slow to speak and quick to listen.  Our marriage is not in danger though, just because our love is not that of fairy tales.  The conflict in our relationship is simply a reminder that we are continuing this journey of getting to fully know one another.

When Vows Become A Reality

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After 48 excruciating hours of labor, we were finally bringing our baby girl home.  I remember reading What To Expect When You’re Expecting and Your Pregnancy Week By Week trying to learn about all the changes my body was going through.  I remember taking a Bradley Method class trying to prepare myself for what labor and delivery would be like.  I remember reading all the materials the hospital gives you about what to do when you bring your baby home.  But there were no books, no articles, and there was no advice given on how keep your marriage thriving after having a baby.  Selah was home, but somewhere in the process I lost my husband.

Jonathan and I were married on June 25th, 2011.  We stood on a stage in a beautiful historic building, surrounded by our closest friends and family.  We spoke our vows to one another, making promises that were easy to keep at the time:

I promise to encourage and inspire you; to laugh with you, and to comfort you in times of sorrow and struggle.  I promise to love you in good times and in bad; when life seems easy and when it seems hard; when our love is simple, and when it is an effort.  I promise to cherish you, and to always hold you in highest regards.

Our marriage was easy, as our relationship had always been.  Our apartment was incredibly small, so it was easy for the two of us to clean.  We were both working, so there was no worry about a bill going unpaid.  We didn’t have anyone relying on us, so we had little to no responsibility. Every night we had together was quality time, and date nights happened quite frequently.  Marriage, love, life; it was all easy.

And then we had a baby.

I would be feeding Selah, while Jonathan packed the diaper bag.  Jonathan would be rocking Selah to sleep, while I was putting yet another load of baby clothes into the wash.  One of us would be giving Selah her bath, while the other attempted to make a hot meal for dinner.  Whatever time we had alone together, was spent catching up on sleep or catching up on the ridiculous amount of house work that had been piling up since Selah’s birth.  Even though we were around each other all day long, we would go days without ever talking.  Suddenly, our relationship was not so easy anymore.

I missed my companion; the one I chose to do life with.  I missed the person whom I would have long philosophical discussions with over French-pressed coffee.  I missed the person who I would watch a good old zombie movie with, and laugh at the cheesy gore.  I missed the person who I would car dance with at a red-light, and have absolutely no shame or regard over who would see. I missed my husband.  And unfortunately, I bought into the lie that because our love wasn’t easy anymore, it meant we were in trouble.

The truth is though, that what we were going through were not signs of a troubled marriage; they were the moments when marital vows become reality.

It was easy on our wedding day to stand facing each other, promising to love through it all when we had barely built a life together, or even experienced much life for that matter.  Naively I thought that because our first year of marriage was so easy, and because our entire relationship had been easy, that meant marriage would stay easy too.

Then life happened.

We had a baby.  Date nights became few and far between.  We went down to one income, and the stress of finances became overwhelming.  The responsibility of caring for someone’s well being weighed heavily upon our shoulders.  Our lives were no longer easy, and our love was no longer simple.  But this is when we had to make the decision to walk out our vows; to love when it is an effort, when life seems hard, and when times are bad.

So to those of you who are single: if and when you get married, don’t take your wedding vows lightly.  When life becomes difficult–and believe me it will–that’s when you have to make your promises become reality.

And to those who are married, and life has already been crashing in on your marriage, these are the moments that your vows were made for!