Head of the Home
Heart of the Home
On this page:
Manipulation Under the Guise of Headship and Submission
As it appeared in the premiere issue of
The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Magazine
Summer/Fall 95 Issue
Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved.
by Marianna Bartold
With special thanks to Fr. Hermley, OSF and Louise Hand
for their generous assistance in research for this article
As Catholic parents who teach their own children at home, we understand our role as primary educators. We often discuss the graces we can attain through the marriage sacrament, as we nurture marriage's first blessing - children - and our duty to educate them. How often, though, have we actually probed into our roles and duties to each other as husband and wife?
Contemplate what life would be like now if Adam and Eve had not fallen into the trap of sin which all their children since have inherited. Imagine a life with no suffering, now work, no sickness, no death - beyond our comprehension, isn't it?
Now picture marriage - the first human relationship God Himself created. Can we perceive a marriage (not to mention a lifetime) of never being upset, angry, hurt, or jealous? Imagine a marriage with no misunderstandings, no comments hurled in anger or tinged with sarcasm, or no finger-pointing with blame. What would it be like to always be content, self-sacrificing, and loving?
There once was such a beautiful relationship which existed between man and woman, two human beings made by and in the likeness of God. There was love and devotion for the Creator and each other, sweetness, innocence, and bliss. Then the tempter came - and humankind fell.
Marriage, like every other aspect of our lives, has been touched and weakened by this Original Sin. Baptism takes away the sin and replaces it with grace. But the sin leaves our natures weakened and we must ever be on guard not to be tempted or weakened further. It is no easy thing for us to do. Our weak wills must be strengthened by grace so that we can conform ourselves to God's will.
Ever since the Fall, man and woman have worked against each other, even while trying to work with each other. This happens because, knowingly or not, we abandon God's way. Instead of being true companions and co-creators, husbands and wives can easily let their roles slip to that of competitors.
Think of all the sayings, meant to be humorous, that reinforce this idea: "Women! Can't live with 'em! Can't live without 'em!" "What's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine!" "Patience is a virtue, Find it if you can... Often found in woman - Seldom found in man!" What is all this except reinforcement for divisiveness, selfishness, and pride?
What is Marriage?
"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring..." (New Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601.)
Marriage is a sacrament and, therefore, a mystery. Holy Scripture and Tradition reveal to us that matrimony was instituted by God, as were the laws pertaining to it. Marriage is also an act of the human will, for both spouses must freely consent to totally give the gift of self to the other. The two become one. Once the sacrament has taken place, the "nature of matrimony is entirely independent of the free will of man, so that if one has once contracted matrimony, he is thereby subject to its divinely-made laws and its essential properties." (On Christian Marriage, Encyclical of Pius XI)
Bishop Fulton Sheen tells us in Three to Get Married that "...human marriage is like the union of Christ and His Church. The realities are eternal; what happens in time is its shadow."
The Forgotten Church Teaching
This does not mean love is not at the root of marriage. Love itself is an act of the will. However, our wills, as noted beforehand, are weak. There are times when we can easily have a lackadaisical approach to our marriage commitment. This is what Pius XI meant when he said the spouses are subject to God's laws and the properties of marriage.
When husband and wife become one, this is meant both in the bodily and spiritual sense. We Catholic home educators often boast large families - the fruits of our bodily unions. (And sometimes we "boast" about our large families. It is wonderful to be proud of our children - but whether we have 2, 8, or 20 offspring, it is prideful to brag about the sizes of our families, as though the sheer number of children we have suggests we are somehow better than others.)
What I call "the forgotten teaching" is that the sacramentally married couple are to assist each other -spiritually- in achieving sainthood. Pius XI tells us that "man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life so that through their partnership...they may advance ever more...in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love towards God and their neighbor, on which indeed 'depends the whole Law and the Prophets.' " Our goal is heaven. We must remember that and help each other attain this goal even as we educate our children for the same purpose.
After the Honeymoon
Marriage is a life-long learning experience. Most newly married couples start out with starry eyes and swelling, hopeful hearts. Because humans adapt well to new circumstances and environment, couples quickly get used to each other's presence. A husband may no longer compliment his wife, or remember her with small tokens of his love (like flowers, candy, books, perfume, or even a simple note to express his feelings for her). The wife may cease to meet her husband at the door when he returns from work or stop going out of her way to cook or bake something he especially likes. The couple begin to answer each other quickly, tersely, and thoughtlessly. Life has become too burdened and complicated. They take each other for granted. Love is still there...the husband and wife just don't take time to let it manifest itself. The work on the marriage is ignored, though usually not on purpose. The couple has forgotten their marriage takes three - God, the husband, and the wife. God deliberately took Eve from Adam's side that husband and wife, with His help, would walk side by side as partners. So what is it that happened?
Self-absorption in one's own affairs - whether it's work or out of the home - has taken the front seat. Though they are a couple, they somehow have stopped thinking tenderly of each other when they are separated during the day. Their lives become isolated - the husband's concentration is on his work, the wife's is on the home.
These difficulties may or may not manifest themselves before the arrival of children. After the first glow of parenthood has worn off, sometimes children can also be looked upon as just another responsibility or burden.
In the great encyclical on matrimony, On Christian Marriage, couples are instructed that just as they toil and work diligently with all their strength in the natural order, so they must use "...unceasingly the powers given to them by the grace which is laid up in the soul by this sacrament. Let not those who are joined in matrimony neglect the grace...which is in them; for, in applying themselves to the careful observance, however laborious, of their duties they will find the power of that grace becoming more effectual." Further, the letter tells them that if they should feel "...overburdened by the hardships of their condition of life, let them regard in some measure" that which St. Paul wrote: "I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sobriety."
The Husband's Temptations
It was Pius XI, who wrote over 100 years ago "...deeply grieve with Us that a great number of men, forgetful of that divine work of redemption, either entirely ignore or shamelessly deny the great sanctity of Christian wedlock, or relying on the false principles of a new and utterly perverse morality, too often trample it under foot. And since these pernicious errors and depraved morals have begun to spread even amongst the faithful...We consider it Our duty to raise Our voice to keep the flock committed to Our care from poisoned pastures and, as far as is in Us lies, to preserve it from harm." (On Christian Marriage) How much does this apply to our times!
Everywhere we turn - the work environment, the neighborhood, television, movies, books, newspapers and magazines - we get the message to do what makes one feel good - consequences be hanged. (An excellent example of this is the currently popular movie, "The Bridges of Madison County" which is flouted as "heart-rending," "a story of love," and given other romantic descriptions, when what it's really about is temptation, discontentment with one's lot in life, selfishness and adultery.)
Men, particularly, get the message from the outside world that they are going above and beyond the call of duty when they work and support the family, without any financial assistance from the wife. Culture even tells us that it is all well and good if a man wants to be married (so far, marriage is still socially acceptable). But it is not easy for men who must work in the world. Since a man must work to support his family, the majority of his waking hours are spent with his co-workers - who are also influenced by our humanistic, secular, politically-correct society. Unless every single person a Catholic man works with is also of the same bent, it is only a matter of time before even minute details of his life become known, questioned, and finally challenged. (In our experience, we have learned that Catholic men, in particular, are targets for various forms of harassment.)
A husband who loves his wife and children, (and is happy to welcome more children into the home), who wants and pursues the Catholic way of life, prays, actually attends Mass, and tries to spend as much time with his family as he can will face insidious, if not outright, temptations. His co-workers might think it's ok that he "allows" his wife to stay at home and nurture the children. However, comments about such "traditional" homes will be made.
"What does your wife do with herself all day?" "What did she do before she stayed at home?" "Your wife homeschools? What's that? Well, how do you feel about it?" After a few explanations or words of polite defense, our husbands' co-workers may realize they had best not speak out against our lifestyles. There is more than one way to skin a cat, however. At work, anything like a daily, simple discussion on a sports game, a night out at the bar "with the boys," or the price of goods (clothing, for example - especially if it's for the wife!) can begin to wreak havoc on a man's inner life.
Men are culturally encouraged to be selfish - though, of course, those exact words are never used. How many good husbands and fathers have to deal with the following types of comments:
"Hey, buddy, don't you need time to yourself? How about a night out with us?"
"You can go out alone, can't you? - you don't have to take your wife everywhere, do you?"
"I just went out last night and bought a brand new (fill in the blank: fishing tackle, suit, gym equipment, car, boat, cottage, etc.). Oops! Sorry to mention it....know you can't afford this, what with your wife not working and all those kids at home."
"Hey, man, just because you're married doesn't mean you're dead. I mean, you have a right to your own life."
There it is again - cultural reinforcement of selfishness, of contempt against the Sacrament of Matrimony (seen as a burden), and an insidious swipe against the man's spouse.
Yes, it is the wife, especially, who is really the one under attack. What a man's co-workers are really saying is, "It's your wife's fault you don't go out with the guys, or can't have a new car, or enjoy any freedom. You let her control you with her need for your attention, all those kids she keeps having, and all your money it takes to support them all." These remarks can often make a man begin to resent his family waiting for him at home - and the poor man doesn't really know why he's suddenly discontented!
The husband may begin to think his wife spends too much on groceries, or on books for the kids, or the occasional clothes she needs, etc. Granted, she's at home with the kids all day - but how hard can that really be? She's just too exacting - isn't she? If she just scrimped a bit more, watched the money he earned a little better, showed more consideration for him - well, life would be easier! After all, a man has his rights!
Depending on the man's faith, character, personality, and life experience, it may take a while for such thoughts to manifest themselves in the home life. Some men can recognize what is happening and don't bring the nonsense home with them. Others do not readily see the bad fruits they unwittingly harvested by allowing the "seeds of doubt" to be planted in the first place. The husband may do some surface soul-searching and come to the conclusion that, since he is the head of the home, he must assert his authority. After all, isn't that what he's always heard - that he is lord and master, king of the castle, "numero uno" in his home? He's head of the family - and that includes head of his wife, doesn't it?
Before continuing any further, I'd like to point out to the reader it is not my intent to 1) pick on men, but I do wish to discuss 2) temptations men must face in the outside world which often come to disturb the sanctuary of the home, and 3) discuss women's temptations next!
Bringing The Trouble Home
At home, a husband who is in turmoil from such temptations faced in the outside world may become irritable and grumpy, short-tempered and snappish, or overbearing. He may begin to pick at his wife and/or their children. Silly fights erupt over trivial things that he will insist are not trivial. He may show rudeness by unnecessarily interrupting his wife's work, her visits with others (on the phone or in person), by over-seeing or questioning every single purchase a wife makes, making a fuss over the household bills, or insisting on knowing everything his wife does and why. He may demand that his wife wait on him. He may question what work she did during the day - housework and/or schoolwork, noticing only what was not completed and ignoring that which was.
He may not know it, but the man is unfairly testing his wife's love and patience - and to what purpose? To prove to himself (or to his friends and/or co-workers?) that he made the right decision in choosing a spouse? To see if she really is a "helpmate"? To weigh her obedience or lack thereof? Is he comparing his wife to other women in some way? Yes, he may say he likes having his wife at home (and he most likely really does), that he wants the children homeschooled, and that working mothers know they don't really have much energy or time left to give their own husbands and children. But it may be he's also looking at the other side of the coin when he compares his wife to those who work outside of the home. He'll begin to think about what he feels his wife should be doing - she's got the time because she stays at home! Or he may begin to compare his spouse to his own mother - who may or may not have been a stay-at-home mother, and, in all likelihood, did not carry the added responsibility of homeschooling. Either way, it is never wise to compare one's spouse to one's parent of the same sex.
The Wife's Temptations
In such circumstances, the wife, busy in her little world of children, housework, and homeschooling, does not know why her husband has started acting like this. Women who stay at home are not culturally supported, so the obstacles and temptations the stay-at-home mother faces are different than those of husbands at work. A homeschooling mother, especially, has to deal with not only the questions of why she is not "working" (this means outside the home, for the good Lord knows there is enough work at home!), but also has to face questions, often snide, as to why she's teaching her children herself.
She may have to fight the temptation to give up homeschooling and do something "worthwhile" - because the implication given by our culture is that the raising of children is of little worth. After all, she is often told, "It's fine to want children - it's another to dedicate one's life to them." She also is reminded that she has a life of her own.
The stay-at-home and homeschooling mom often has no women neighbors at home during the day that she can share with, much less any who also teach their children (here is one reason for the existence of homeschool support groups). It is very likely she has made her husband and children her entire universe and every waking moment is given in loving service to them.
A stay-at-home woman's very existence and choice in lifestyle is a slap in the face to many around her. She is considered a curiosity, she is looked at askance, with hidden jealousy, or even perceived as a threat. Because woman is by nature sensitive to those around her, it is easy for her to discern other's feelings toward her (call it intuition, if you will, but most women display this sensitivity). So she must deal with other's feelings about her life. She has to put up with other's comments when she is told she is "old-fashioned," that her husband is using her as "a baby-factory," when someone implies that she is wasting her life, or she is asked how her husband can afford all those children, and - by the way - when is she going to get a real job? Other women might talk about their own husbands and the wonderful, romantic things they do or the expensive vacations they take together. Still others might make unprovoked and unwanted comments, supposedly sympathetic when a stay-at-home mother doesn't wear the newest fashions or her children don't own the most up-to-date toys. If there seems to be the slightest new challenge or even a problem in her home life, such a mother will usually be told that the problem all comes down to homeschooling! (Homeschooling must be wearing her down, she needs a break, the children don't have enough friends, they have too many responsibilities with their assigned household chores, they can't possibly be enjoying their childhood. etc.) And, of course, if her children ever act up, everyone looks at each other with a self-satisfied smug or rolls their eyes, as if to say, "Well, well, what happened to the perfect family?"
Such comments and attitudes are really an attack on the husband, the inference being he either isn't attentive to her needs or the children's needs, isn't doing such a hot job of supporting the family, won't encourage his wife to "lead her own life," or is just being a "typical male" concerned only with his own pursuits.
Unlike her husband, the homeschooling mother has no adults to talk to during the day, usually cannot finish a sentence or chore uninterrupted, and has no time clock to punch. Her day never ends what with the children's needs and demands. She'll be wryly reminded of the old saying, "A man may work from dusk to dawn, but a woman's work is never done." For the woman, it is only a matter of time before interference, a lack of support, and her own stirred-up emotions come to a head.
All this can lead to a silent bitterness that can take hold in the woman's heart against the very home life she has built. This building bitterness will show itself when a woman begins to complain to her husband and children that they do not appreciate her, that her job is more difficult because she has the care of the children constantly on her back, and that she can never got a single job completed because she never has a moment's peace.
Couple this with any temptations the husband may be facing, and a wife's reactions to what she perceives as her husband's not-so-loving treatment will also depend on her faith, character, personality, and past experiences.
She may wonder: "Is he tired? Worried? Overworked? Can I do something to make it easier? Is it true I'm not doing enough?" She may work even harder to please him, and feel it is to no avail. She may react to her husband's moods and fight back - either with silent refusal to budge one more jot or she may argue with words and actions. She may resent her husband's assertion of authority when he walks in the door from work. After all, hasn't she had to deal with all the troubles of the day alone? Then again she may think, "He's head of the home. I'm supposed to submit myself to him. I don't like it and I don't want to, but I should do it. It will teach me humility."
As the conflict grows, there may be strong, emotional words thrown back and forth. If a husband consistently claims he is too tired to talk, the wife may ask: "Is there anything wrong with my needing your attention? You certainly have energy for your friends!" In turn, the husband will retort, "I show my love by supporting you and the kids and coming home at night. You expect too much. And what about the kid's needs? What have you done with them today?" "How dare you question me about what I've done all day! You don't see me checking up on your job! What gives you the right?" "It's my house! I have a right to know! And you're home all day. Why don't you do my job and I'll stay at home? Let's see you do my work!" And so it escalates.
There may be arguments of "women's work" and "men's work." A man who is exposed to "liberated" men and women all day will likely go overboard in his reactions at home. He'll either want a clear definition of what he and his wife will do - according to their sex ("Only women change diapers, and only men replace sparkplugs") or he'll buck against "traditional" man/woman jobs ("Who says it's a man's job to fix things around the house?"). A woman who has little or no adult contact during the day will either take over all a woman's "traditional" jobs ("This is the life I chose - I must do my duty and not burden my husband by asking for help") or will refuse to do any of them once her husband is home ("I've changed dirty diapers all day. It's your turn!). There is no compromise on either side.
Many modern popes have predicted correctly that when men and women forget God they become selfish...."Only I count....only my feelings count"....that men and women would begin to see each other as objects rather that as life-long partners and co-workers. The popes predicted well.
What the Church Has to Say to Men
The difficulties Catholic men of morals (indeed, men of any faith) must face in the outside world are acknowledged and addressed by the Church. Indeed, the aforementioned obstacles are given an answer, almost one by one. Here we refer to Familiaris Consortio, the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, when the Holy Father speaks on "Men as Husbands and Fathers":
Within the conjugal and family communion-community, the man is called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father.
In his wife he sees the fulfillment of God's intention: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him," and he makes his own the cry of Adam, the first husband: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."
Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: "You are not her master," writes St. Ambrose, "but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife....Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love." With his wife a man should live "a very special form of personal friendship." As for the Christian, he is called upon to develop a new attitude of love, manifesting towards his wife a charity that is both gentle and strong like that which Christ has for the Church.
Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships, as does, in contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the phenomenon of "machismo," or a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships.
Although the last paragraph on this section is meant for all families, Catholic home educators will especially appreciate these words: "In revealing and reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all members of the family; he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church."
Head of the Home and Heart of the Home
For those earnestly trying to live an authentic marriage blessed by the Church, St. Paul's exhortations are often used as a reference point on the role of women. Unfortunately, his words are often misinterpreted so that men and women can easily believe that the Church expects men to be authoritarian and women to be doormats. This is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Unbeknownst to many, non-Catholic ideology has seeped into and infiltrated the Catholic view of marriage.
Our separated Christian brethren have been taught they can interpret the various Scripture passages, while led by the Holy Ghost. (Catholics know that only the Church can interpret the Bible, which is a gift and a tool to be used in conjunction with Tradition.)
How often have we heard: "Women, be subject to your husbands." (Ephesians 5:22). But how often has the rest of the Scripture passage been quoted: "And husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church - and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man should leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'"
If husbands follow Christ and His Church, it is easier (notice I did say easy) for wives to submit themselves, just as all children of God must submit themselves to the teaching of the Church. Christ taught by His great love, His example, His words and, most importantly, His actions (which were motivated by His love). Never did He use force.
Granted, it is not always a simple thing for anyone - man, woman, or child - to consistently follow the Church's teachings in every single aspect, but when we fully understand that it is this same Church, instituted by Christ Himself, that we must obey, at least we then have the desire to do so. So it is with the roles of "head of the home" and "heart of the home" - a husband will desire to be Christ-like, and a wife will desire to follow.
Imagine the roles of husband and wife this way: Christ is carrying a lantern, leading a married couple down the dark Path of Life which, if carefully followed, leads to Heaven. The path is narrow, there are small rocks and boulders, dangerous by-ways and pitfalls, scratching shrubbery, stones and nettles. But Christ beckons, walking ahead and lighting the way. The wise husband eagerly follows behind Christ, and the wife, trusting the One leading her spouse, knows she can safely follow her husband. Keeping this particular picture in mind, headship means Christ-like leadership and submissiveness means trust.
Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote:
"Sacred Scripture, in developing the Mystery, never tells wives that they must love their husbands, although husbands are bidden to love their wives. Rather, the wives are to be subject to their husbands. This implies no servility, for there is this parallel: Christ loves the Church, but it is for the Church to submit to Christ. St. Paul is arguing from the Divine to the Human Nuptials, and not from the Human to the Divine."
Then the good Bishop breaks down the symbols and the reality for us, as shown in the diagram below:
Wives must obey their husbands
As they would obey the Lord.
The man is the head to which the woman's body is united
Just as Christ is the Head of the Church, He, the Savior, on Whom the safety of His Body depends.
And women must owe obedience at all points to their husbands
As the Church does to Christ
You who are husbands must show love to your wives
As Christ showed love to the Church when He gave Himself up for Her.
And that is how husband ought to love wife, as if she were his own body; in loving his wife, a man is but loving himself
He (Christ) would hallow it (the Church), purify It by bathing It in the water to which His Word gave life. He would summon it into His own presence, the Church in all Its beauty, no stain, no wrinkle, no disfigurement; It was to be holy and spotless.
It is unheard of that man should bear ill will to his own flesh and blood. No, he keeps it fed and warmed.
And so it is with Christ and His Church; we are limbs of His Body: flesh and blood, we belong to Him.
That is why a man will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife; and the two will become one flesh.
Yes, these words are a high mystery; and I am applying them here to Christ and His Church.
"...As Christ does not deprive His Church of liberty...so neither does the primacy of the husband take away any freedom that belongs to the dignity of a human person. It does not imply a servile obedience to the husband's wishes if contrary either to right reason or the dignity of the wife, nor does it place the wife on the level of the children, for children are subject to both father and mother."
He further shares with us, "In the words of the Papal Encyclical on marriage: 'It forbids that, in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the detriment of the whole body...For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so may she and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.'"
St. Peter wrote: "You too, who are wives must be submissive to your husbands. Some of these still refuse credence to the word; it is for their wives to win them over, not by word but by example; by the modesty and reverence they observe in your demeanor."
What does the Church tell us this passage means? Again, Fulton Sheen explains this to us, "The mission of the woman is a reflection of the mission of Mary, who defined herself as the 'handmaid of the Lord.' Mary renders captive the heart of man to deliver him over to her Divine Son. The woman who rules by love manifests this dependence on her husband, so that the flesh might tell...what the Spirit speaketh in the Word. This is the hidden meaning of the words of St. Paul...The woman by nature seeks to found her love on another; but, lest the husband should trample on that which is confided and even surrendered to him, he must in turn be subject to Christ...the symbolic primacy of the husband in ruling will never be detached from the primacy of love, where the woman is queen."
Husband and wife are subject to each other in all things, as shown in the marriage vows, "To have and to hold, from this day forward...forsaking all others...till death do we part."
Further, "Love makes the husband simultaneously subject to the wife, and thereby subject to the Lord Himself, just as the wife is subject to the husband." It is only right, then, that married couples share in each other's lives in all things. There is no "life of one's own" to pursue.
Headship and Submission
As heretofore explored, it is easy to see how husbands and wives can interpret the Church's teaching to their own advantage. Couples can learn the art of manipulation - not knowing, of course, they are indulging in such a low-handed way to acquire what they want. This can be seen when one of the spouses gives in to the other, in order to later get something he or she also desires.
Hence, a wife who thinks she is being submissive may think, "If I say nothing when he buys that snowblower, then he'll have to let me get new carpeting for the bedroom." A woman who tells others, "I am submissive to my husband," is like one who shows his pride when he says, "I am humble." The very words tell us the opposite is true.
A man who likes to believe he holds an exaggerated role of authority on the home will say to himself, "When I allow her to go shopping with her friends, she'll have to let me go out with the guys." The man who likes to quote Ephesians on the subjection of wives to husbands shows he does not wish to acknowledge his role to love his wife, as Christ loved the Church, even to giving up His life for Her. Such a man is interested only in domination without the love and responsibility that is inherent in his headship.
Wives, especially, can trick themselves into thinking they are submissive if they keep silent when they should have spoken, or when they cajole by appealing to the husband's ego. Husbands, who want to prove they hold authority in their homes, will command in order to test a wife's submission, may provoke family members unnecessarily (again, under the pretense of testing obedience), or may conceal from his wife something he knows or has done, convinced that he is simply keeping his own counsel, as he believes befits the head of the home.
The Church tells us that there are nine ways to be an accessory to another's sin. Though they are meant for all as a self-examination of conscience, those of us who are married should well take notice, for the sake of our spouse's souls, as well as our own. The ways we can assist another in sin are: 1) By counsel, 2) By command, 3) By consent, 4) By provocation, 5) By praise or flattery, 6) By concealment, 7) By partaking, 8) By silence, and 9) By defense of the ill done.
Instead of centering on self, husbands and wives must remember they are companions, as well as co-creators with God in the continuation of the human race. Daily, husbands and wives must say to each other, "How can I show my love for you?" while the other party must say, "No, no - how can I truly show my love for you?" This is real and self-sacrificial love, and true concern for each other as companions, with no competition. This is real marriage and real commitment! It is only when men and women believe this and accept each other as equals in the sight of God that marriages will be stable.
No, it will not be easy because the temptations will still come. The world tells us again and again, "Only my feelings count...only my happiness matters." This message is everywhere because the world has lost its values.
Only people who truly want to make marriage work will appreciate the Church's recipe for a good marriage:
1. Go back to God if you have strayed in some way from the marriage commitment (although the betrayal of adultery automatically comes to mind, it is not the only way to stray from the marriage covenant). Relief, forgiveness, and absolution are a confession away.
2. Attend Mass every Sunday, if not more often. The devil never takes a vacation and you can't take a vacation from Christ.
3. Renew your marriage vows together. Pray for and with each other, as well as for your children.
In all aspects of wedlock, remember, "What is more yours than you yourself? But what is less yours than yourself if what you are belongs to another?" (From A Brief Catechesis on Matrimony)
Finally, "...let husband and wife resolve to stand fast to the commandments of God in all things that matrimony demands; always to render to each other the assistance of mutual love; to preserve the honor of chastity; not to lay profane hands on the stable nature of the bond...Let them constantly keep in mind, that they have been sanctified and strengthened for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament." (On Christian Marriage)
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