As a young wife and a new Christian, I had a completely warped idea of what “marital roles” meant. I couldn’t shake the thought of some 1950s homemaker as the “ideal Christian wife.” Mop the floors, make the beds, put the casserole in the oven promptly at five. Bonus points if I did it in heels, right?
For starters, other than while on maternity leave or finishing my degree, I’ve always worked. I only mop on a semi-regular basis (don’t judge me). And most importantly, I wear Converse far more than stilettos.
My biggest misconception? I assumed our marital roles of husband and wife had more to do with who cooks dinner or takes out the trash than how we each serve our marriage and home.
And all these misconceptions did was create the breeding ground for resentment toward my husband—and toward a God I didn’t think saw me for who I was.
Three things to know about marital roles
I’m not the only one who’s suffered from a marital-role identity crisis. Two of FamilyLife’s most read and searched for articles are centered around what defines a husband’s and wife’s role in marriage (I encourage you to read both). And rightfully so. It’s a common struggle and hot-button issue in this world. Especially right now, after more than a year of everyone working, schooling, and DIY-ing from home dropped an excess of new daily tasks on the kitchen table (check out these stats on the perceived burden).
But within those marital definitions God provides, there are personalities, giftings, history, quirks, and weaknesses shaping how those roles look within the four walls of your home—a unique marital DNA.
If you’re like I was, struggling to balance just who God made you to be alongside the ways He would have you serve your spouse, read these three things to know about marital roles.
1. Know how God defines a husband and wife.
Wives, God called us “helper” to our husbands (Genesis 2:18), to respect—esteem and honor— our men and to submit (calm down, ladies) to their leadership (Ephesians 5:22-24). Husbands, you’re called to sacrificially love, lead (do not hear “boss”/dominate), and cherish your wives—the same way Christ does for us (See 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:25-30). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, friends. Because all those beautiful Scriptures about how to treat one another as humans? They’re meant for marriage, too.
Looking back on those early years, I see how I inadvertently added my own commentary to a lot of things.
Scripture: “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).
Lisa’s Commentary, First Edition: Helper, noun—1. a woman who can anticipate her husband’s every need and provide it before he even knows it. 2. An over-zealous wife who often hinders her husband’s growth by “helping.” See also: Savior complex.
Maybe your own faux-commentary states the “helper” doesn’t pursue her own God-given dreams or does the bulk of the household chores. Or maybe it says the leader makes all the important decisions. But nowhere does God’s Word say this.
Both men and women were created equally loved and valued by God. Please do not let anyone convince you otherwise. These marital roles were designed to complement, not control.
Yet … some people do manipulate these roles to their own ends. If you are in an abusive relationship (whether physical, verbal, mental, or spiritual) know that God does not condone behavior that destroys a family or a person. (Wondering if this is you? Read more.)
2. Know your individual giftings and how those help fulfill your marital roles.
My husband and I could not be more different. He’s the extrovert, I’m the introvert. I curl up with a good book at the end of the day, while he prefers a movie where everyone gets blown up. He likes ketchup, I like mustard.
And that’s just surface stuff, y’all. My husband is also the official negotiator of our home. When we’re getting a raw deal by the insurance company or my introverted-ness has reached its limits, he steps in and handles situations like a pro. He both protects and cares for me and I feel loved and led. His natural gifting in this area serves me well.
I, on the other hand, am a peacemaker (where my Enneagram Nines at?!). When done in a non-pushy way, I help my husband bring peace into his relationships with his kids, family, and workplace by helping him see all sides to a situation.
Whether you’re gifted with mad negotiation tactics, being a natural encourager, or even ninja organizational skills, God created those in You to do His good work (Ephesians 2:10). Use them to serve your spouse and home.
What if your gifting is, say, as a woman in leadership? Proverbs 31 is all about a strong Christian woman who’s killing it, buying fields and owning a business (verses 16-18). But she uses those gifts to empower her husband to lead, too (verse 23)—toward his marital role.
3. Know the healthy balance in your home.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say the wife vacuums regularly while the husband takes out the trash. Yet it seems when people often discuss marital roles, dishes and toilet scrubbing are divisive issues. But your roles were meant to serve each other and God through these relationships. Not arguing over who last cleaned the litter box (Read “Who Does the Chores?”).
My husband bathes the dog because I hate it. I wash the laundry because I’m nitpicky about it. He covers all landscaping and gardening because I kill plants. But that’s what works for us in this particular season.
But if one of us feels slighted and doesn’t mention it? That opens the door to bitterness and resentment. And those have no place here.
I’m not saying to turn it into some math equation, tally board, or shoot for a 50/50 marriage (in fact, do none of this—marriage is not a competition). But mutual serving so our spouses can feel loved, cherished, and valued? That’s a trophy in itself.
So talk about what a healthy balance looks like in your home. Who has the time and skills to cook? What chore does your spouse despise that you can cover? And if you have kids, make sure they are chipping in, too.
Marital roles are all about loving and serving well
The new-wife days are behind me now. I still try to overhelp my husband far too often, so maybe I’m still learning there. And I sometimes still feel a little tension in my shoulders when I read the word “submission.” I’m a rather independent girl. But God’s working through that in me, too.
But I have learned this … if you really want to best serve your spouse and fulfill your marital roles, consider John 15:5-9: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing … By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
I can’t do any of this on my own. Not the helping, certainly not the loving. I recently heard a quote that hit me straight in the heart. I wrote it on a sticky note and posted it on the fridge: “Don’t focus on the loving. Focus on the Source of Love.” When I make sure to abide in Christ, the loving will flow out from that relationship into my marriage and role I’m serving in.
“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:20-21).
Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Lisa Lakey is the managing editor of digital content for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.