When An Egalitarian Husband and Wife Disagree | CBE International

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When An Egalitarian Husband and Wife Disagree

On April 06, 2016

When my best friend told me she was finally ready to get her first tattoo and wanted me to come with her, I figured it was a great opportunity to get the next one I'd been thinking about. I wanted to get the words "Still I rise" from the famous Maya Angelou poem. Those powerful three words represent hope at the end of a long, winding tunnel in my journey toward sobriety. After managing quite well for a few months, I figured a new tattoo was a better reward than a chip from AA.

My other tattoos—six, to be exact—represent various other significant milestones in my life. My long-suffering husband understood the importance of the previous four I acquired during our relationship, so I figured he'd have no problem accepting this one. Still, I was prepared for him to roll his eyes at me for once again breaking my promise of "This is my last one."

I ran the idea by him after hanging up with my friend. 

"Hey, Teryn is going to get her first tattoo and wants me to go with her. I might get one too."

His response was nothing like I expected. He was deeply opposed to the idea.

That threw me off.

I expected his objection to be about money. We were saving for a house after all, so this probably wasn't the best time for new body art. Then again, the piece I had in mind wouldn't cost too much given its simplicity. I was ready to make that point when he continued, "You might as well just go for a sleeve. A bunch of random small tattoos will just look weird."

And that right there was the beginning of a debate I never expected to have. Christians—particularly Christian women—are often told to be submissive to their spouses as a sign of reverence and respect.

In complementarian relationships, this often translates to, "Whatever the husband says is final." In that tradition, the model of marriage is supposed to represent God's relationship to the church. As women, we represent the bride of Christ, and the husband represents God. Ergo, a wife disobeying her husband is akin to disobeying God.

My marriage has never looked anything like that. Though Joshua had never heard the word "egalitarian" before he met me, our relationship has been that way from the beginning. I imagine it rocked his world a bit to hear my father joke about being a "well-kept husband" because my mother earned more money than he did. But after a while, our brand of humor started to rub off on him.

Though my personality is much meeker than my mother's, it was still clear from observing my family dynamic that her independent and occasionally stubborn spirit rubbed off on me—or perhaps I inherited it.

Suffice it to say, Mom and I are the kind of women who have difficulty changing our minds once they are made up. Sometimes this is commendable, but other times, it's a fault.

Unlike my parents' marriage, my marriage with Josh is comprised of two Christians. The fact that I am a Christian feminist adds another layer of complexity. As a feminist, I'm quick to say that my body is my own, and I can decorate it however I choose. But as a married feminist, Christian or otherwise, I wondered if it would be inconsiderate to do something to my body that my husband didn't like? After all, he's the one who has to look at me.

We are both in the habit of grooming ourselves out of respect for each other's tastes. I shave my legs in the winter even when I don't feel like it because I know he appreciates the effort, and he trims his beard for me when he doesn't want to because he knows I don't like "sandpaper face."

So wouldn't getting a tattoo he didn't like be inconsiderate of me? How would I feel if Josh wanted a tattoo that I didn't care for? How would I feel if he went behind my back and got it anyway?

As mutual partners, don't we owe each other more than just a courtesy, "Hey, I'm going to subject this body I share with you to more ink, just thought I'd let you know"?

The men who like to quote Ephesians 5 at feminists like myself—"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything"—often leave out a critical verse: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (NIV).

This verse truly goes both ways. So, I reasoned, could it stand to reason that Josh, in giving his blessing for a tattoo that he didn't like, would be sacrificing his desires on my behalf? Or was I just grasping at straws?

I sought out some close Christian friends for counsel. Sometimes the right decision ends up being the hardest one. It was with some disappointment that I decided it would be unwise to get another tattoo if my husband disapproved so much. This decision wasn't made out of blind obedience, but out of respect for the wishes of the man I love most in this world. I'm fully confident that he would make the same choice out of respect for me if, say, he wanted a Star Wars tattoo on his face or something.

And it was no surprise that my sacrifice was met with his. He came up to me one evening and said, "Look, you asked my opinion, and I told you the truth. But I know you're an independent person with her own mind, and if this tattoo is important to you, then I won't stand in your way.”

I hesitated, trying to decipher any spite in his words (I didn't hear any) before throwing my arms around him and saying, "Thank you. I really appreciate that.”

We are a great team, he and I.


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