I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life. I’ve worked in the retail and service industries. I’ve busted my back laying pavement in 100 degree summers and I’ve sat for hours on a cushy chair checking in books at a library. The only common thread in all the different settings in which I’ve been employed is this simple truth about me: I like to work, and I like to work hard. Because of that there’s been very few jobs opportunities that I’ve refused to consider. In fact, there’s only one job that I would not entertain under any circumstance:
I see a lot of troubled marriages in my line of work and often the problem is that both parties are under the impression that their relationship is essentially a small mom and pop business consisting of, well, mom and pop. I can understand the misconception. After all, marriage is certainly a lot of work. But thinking of marriage in the same way as we do our employment only leads to deep resentment over unmet expectations, feelings of being unappreciated or potentially unhealthy imbalances of power.
When being a spouse is understood as a job a natural question arises: ‘Who’s the Boss?’
Go ahead, I’ll wait a while you run through some nostalgic Tony Danza and Alyssa Milano moments. I had to Google the theme song just now…
Ok, back on track. This isn’t a question of headship or submission. Those are related topics and opinions vary widely. But wether you hold to a conservative view of ‘husband as the head of the house’ or a more progressive ‘equality of partners’ ideal, you cannot escape the dynamic: if marriage is your job, you have a boss.
You’ll expect me now to make the claim that ‘Jesus needs to be your boss’ but I won’t, cause he’s not. Bosses create your job description, set your goals and evaluate your performance. Employers are task masters - and Jesus is certainly not that.
Nope, if marriage is your job, your spouse is your boss because they are the one to whom you are accountable for your work. And if that dynamic exists in your relationship, the likelihood is that it’s reciprocal. You are also the boss of your spouse. And that’s when things get really interesting! An unhappy marriage consisting of two employers is almost never healthy. There are always conflicts in marriage and you can be assure that neither are able accurately assess the situation. Instead, they both blame their ‘employee.’ This happens because both parties have the misperception that they set the marital expectations for the other party. Surly if my wife is treating our marriage like her job, I should be the one to let her know what sort of wifely things she needs to improve before her next performance review, right? In fact, gentleman, why don’t we all just go ahead and put that review on the family calendar now…
Go ahead and give that a try fellas, I dare ya.
But if being a spouse is our job and we’re measured in our performance by our partner - how can we be expected to do a good job if we aren’t given a position description and the metrics to measure our performance? Before anyone gets the idea that a spousal position description and goal setting is a good idea for any relationship I’ll have you do two things. First: watch a little ‘Big Bang Theory’ and see how well it works for Sheldon. And second: consider what a marriage based on clearly articulated expectations and goal setting really looks like.
Romans 4:4 says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”
When we consider marriage our job we lose any semblance of giftedness or emotional generosity. Each spouse sees the things the other does for the marriage or family as what they are ’supposed’ to do. Each party feels unappreciated in their effort because gratitude is lost in the dynamic. After all, an employer doesn’t feel grateful when an employee submits a report on time. They feel like the employee has done what is expected of them - not out of generosity - but out of obligation of employment.
You know this is your marriage dynamic when it feels like what you do doesn’t count. Why would it be at all significant when a husband folds a basket of laundry? Aren’t household chores part of the job? Why would a husband even notice if a wife straightens up the garage - isn’t it a part of the job? It’s not that an employer doesn’t appreciate a good employee, but no employer feels as though they’ve been given a gift when the employee does what’s expected of them.
There is, of course, an alternative.
Consider your marriage your duty.
The word duty describes a different kind of work. Broadly defined and applied, duty is the kind of work someone signs up for even though they didn’t have to. We value soldiers and first responders above even other social services because we understand that their service is the sort that requires a higher level of sacrifice - and that communicates the reality that it’s more than a job. What they do is something they do apart from the pay, they choose to pursue the invaluable good. A good soldier or cop holds themselves to a high standard and doesn’t need a boss to set expectations or evaluate performance to correct behavior. Rather, they set their own expectations and strive to surpass them.
Now of course there are bad cops and bad soldiers; but I would argue that those are the ones without a strong sense of duty. They are the ones who didn’t have a lot of other options and are really in it for the pay. To them, it is a job.
But my point remains. I am to be a student of my wife and learn how best to do my duty of being her husband. Like a good soldier, I’m not in it for the ‘thank you for your service’ but I’m far more likely to get one for that very reason. I don’t do husbandly things because I have to or am expected to, but because I choose to pursue the invaluable good. Like a good citizen, I’m not obligated to appreciate a good cop or be grateful for someone’s military service; but you can damn sure that they - and my wife - have all my appreciation and gratitude for their commitment to their duty. The efforts in this dynamic are not understood as an obligation, but as a gift from someone who has willfully bound themselves to sacrifice. It is, in short, a very healthy way to be married.
TLDR: Being a husband is not my job. It is my duty.