Sunday, April 05, 2009

Equal Partnership in Marriage

I came across an LDS website which uses Gottman's materials extensively to build equal partnership relationships. This is their summary of an equal partnership marriage,

    Benefits of Equal Partnership

    An equal partnership benefits marriages as a whole and benefits husbands and wives individually.

    Happier marriages. Equal partnership fosters closeness between husband and wife, resulting in a stronger and happier marriage. Spouses feel better about themselves and each other, which makes them more likely to share their thoughts and feelings. This greater emotional intimacy leads to greater physical intimacy, an important element of a happy marriage. Couples with an equal partnership also report more stability in their marriage, less conflict, less dependency, and less resentment. Researcher John Gottman found that husbands who accept their wives’ influence are four times less likely to divorce or have an unhappy marriage.

    Benefits to men. Men benefit emotionally from equal partnership because there is greater openness and they feel better about their marriage. They also benefit from the greater physical intimacy that comes with equal partnership. Physical intimacy improves physical health and reduces stress. Men in happy marriages also are more productive at work because they are less distracted by concerns at home.

    Benefits to women. The closer communication and emotional intimacy in an equal partnership greatly benefit women. Research shows that having an equal say in decision making is the most important contributor to wives’ perception of their marriages as happy and satisfying. Wives are happier when their husbands appreciate them for the work they do in the home and when their husbands are copartners in home matters. They feel better about themselves, are less angry or depressed, feel their relationship is more fair, and are more happy with their marriage.

I am still puzzled at how Gottman's research has been used by Eggerichs to support hierarchy in marriage. If this is the case, then any advice that the wife does not need equal say is deliberately teaching unhappiness in marriage. The husband needs equal say also, BTW.


Marilyn said...

Suzanne, if you’re a fan of LDS practical application material, then I think your views on the practice of marriage aren’t that far from those of Emerson Eggerichs!

Two of my colleagues are Mormons. They tell me that Love and Respect is popular with Mormon couples. However, they say that official Mormon sources typically do not reference Love and Respect because Emerson’s materials contain exegesis of passages such as Matthew 22:30 (i.e., the passage on there being no marriage in heaven) that is inconsistent with Mormon theology. For a blog reference consistent with my colleagues’ understanding of the Mormon response to Love and Respect, see:

Although Mormons require more clearly defined roles than my husband and I espouse (i.e., it’s rare for a Mormon wife to work outside the home), the description of how Mormon husbands and wives relate is very consistent with how my husband and I would describe our soft-complementarian marriage. There is mutual love and mutual respect for what each brings to the marriage.

The BYU web site you reference repeatedly uses the phrase “equal partner.” My Mormon colleagues tell me that the phrase “equal partner” comes from the 1995 LDS Family Proclamation, which states:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”

The key words in understanding this statement appear to be “preside” and “equal partners”. My colleagues tell me that “preside” references the husband’s priesthood with respect to the family. Authority is implied, but the leadership is to be sacrificial, i.e., love your wife as Christ loved the Church. (The explanations I was given sound similar in practice - but not in theological basis - to complementarian notions of headship.) Consistent with this, a dictionary definition of preside very much encompasses authority: “To possess or exercise authority or control”. “Equal partners” refers to both husband and wife helping each other with their respective responsibilities and making decisions together. The wife’s responsibilities are the nurturing of the children; the husband’s are the priesthood responsibilities. With respect to practical application, I don’t see a huge difference between this and the ontological equality/functional difference arguments of complementarians.

P.S. You continue to mischaracterize soft complementarianism. Soft complementarian couples make decisions together! Each accepts the influence of the other. How to relate to each other in a way that fosters this unity and sharing in decision-making is a big part of the Love and Respect message.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't think I am a "fan" of these materials but I am making an enormous effort to move in your direction, Marilyn.

I do not see Eggerichs as suggesting an equal parthership marriage. He is explicit on hierarchy, final say, 51% authority and so on. I still feel that he has unfairly represented Gottman.

However, rather than going back to Eggerichs, I am going to post from another book in a day or so which will discuss power and influence.

In the meantime, I saw a quote from Carolyn McCulley which I have posted on.

PS The differences relate to my post on pracitcal submission. Who decides how many children to have, etc, etc.

Lin said...

"Each accepts the influence of the other. How to relate to each other in a way that fosters this unity and sharing in decision-making is a big part of the Love and Respect message."

I think we all know that many comp marriages are really egal in practice.

But what is taught about male authority or final decision making, etc. in marriage is really a daddy/daughter model. Not a husband/wife model of intellectual equality between adults.

In all my years of working with comp churches, facilitating comp seminars,and even being around some of these comp authors, etc., I found that basically those who teach this either practice an egal model of marriage yet teach hierarchy to others (because it is quite profitable) or have a daddy/daughter model of marriage of hierarchy.

We can discuss love/respect in practice all day but when hierarchy is the foundation, it negates mutual submission as taught in scripture for all believers to one another.

Marilyn said...

Sigh.....Lin, you continue to mischaracterize my beliefs. Hierarchy in marriage is not about the husband dictating to the wife!

Complementarians see both husbands and wives as having valuable insights to contribute in any given decision-making context. Better decisions are made when both share their insights and are willing to listen to each other's perspectives. My husband sees things I don't; I see things he doesn't. Typically, this process of sharing of insights leads to unanimity.

Hierarchy is nonetheless important. Hierarchy frees my husband to listen to and incorporate my input because there is no concern about my usurping his authority in the event of a disagreement. Hierarchy also implies a leadership role. After all, I accepted my husband's proposal of marriage because I was in fundamental agreement with the course he intended to chart for our lives.

But, we've been down this road before! I briefly jumped into the conversation here because of the saliency of the L&R discussion to me, personally. Time is limited, and replaying well-worn parts in the comp versus egal play isn't a good use of time.

Suzanne, thanks for acknowledging that you're trying to move in my direction! Similarly, when I was posting on complegalitarian, I tried to acknowledge that I think soft complementarians have benefitted from the egal critique. Thanks, too, for accepting my comments!

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I haven't wanted to rehash anything on complegal. My concern has been to isolate Eggerichs use of Gottman's research to support hierarchy in marriage. John Hobbins likewise appears to believe that Gottman's research provides scientific support for hierarchy in marriage and a validation of Eph. 5.

I don't find this honest. As you know, John blocks some of those who disagree with his views on his own blog so I have been interested in taking up this matter here.

While you give an example of male leadership that men propose marriage, a benign example, others extend this authority and leadership to the husband deciding how many children to have, whether to home school, whether the wife is allowed to work, medical treatment for the children, house, investments and so on. This is what many are teaching as complemenatarian.

I guess it comes down to this. If a child is in hospital in critical condition can the husband trump the wife when the doctor discusses the next step for treatment. Is the wife allowed to express an independent opinion to the doctor or is she prohibited from disagreeing with her husband in this circumstance.

You perhaps know that I am not creating an imaginary worst case scenario, but relating the real life breaking point for some women.

After this, I think a woman looks back and realizes that living according to the decision-making of the male has not meant a life that is more God-honouring or better in any other way. Many regrets for many women.

Lin said...

"Lin, you continue to mischaracterize my beliefs. Hierarchy in marriage is not about the husband dictating to the wife! "

I feel the same way, Marilyn. The bottomline is that earthly authority in a Christian marriage is not taught in scripture. There is no reason for anyone to teach that a husband is the authority over his wife. Where does scripture say this? Jesus Christ would never put a layer between Him and one of His followers. The temple veil was torn in two for all believers. Including wives.

I know for a fact that many comps do not practice an authority model. They believe it but never practice it. And that is great. I know many of these types. The husband has a trump card he never uses. :o)

But, my focus is soley on scripture and what it teaches. Comp/pat teaching has been abused by many, that we cannot deny. And it is getting stronger. Russell Moore is even advocating more Patriarchy because comps are wimps! (See his Henry INstitute article)

We can say that some men did not understand how they were supposed to be a benevolent dictator and listen,love and respect their wives, etc. But the fact remains that scripture does not teach that there is a hierarchy in marriage.

We see the problems with this teaching all around us. What you are advocating is a nicer gentler comp marriage. And that is fine! But the foundational teaching of hierarchy in marriage is not biblical. Mutual submission is biblical if both are believers.

What I am saying is that Eggerich can write wonderful stuff about how folks should interact in marriage but his foundation is wrong because he bases all that on a hierarchy in marriage.

Anonymous said...

I want to say a very big thanks and appreciation to Dr.Zadson for bringing back my husband who left me and the kids for almost three months within the period of 48 hours Dr.Zadson was able to bring him back to me.. i am very much grateful for restoring peace in my marital home i pray God almighty give you the strength and wisdom to help more people having similar problem like mine. For help you can reach him on his email address: or call