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Published Date: August 10, 2022

Published Date: August 10, 2022

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Strategies for an Equal Marriage in the Midst of Unequal Career Demands

I sit in the military chapel, taking it in. The sun pours through the stained-glass windows, casting a warm yellow glow across the maroon and wood room. I sit on one of the back pews, with rows of soldiers-in-training, family members, veterans, service members, and others in front of me. My spouse is preaching today. He is a chaplain at the installation and is a regular speaker here. I joked with him earlier in the week that I would be sitting near the back door because of what he decided to preach about that day: mutual submission.

Sometimes you end up on a path you never expect. The day my husband and I agreed to marry one another, neither of us realized the extent to which our paths would diverge from what we expected as individuals. For him, that path would involve moving from his family’s complementarian views to egalitarian advocacy. For me, it would entail my own long journey toward military chaplaincy. Holding on to one another is the only way we’ve survived the tectonic shift.

In the fall of 2020, about two years after we got married, we entered the chaotic life that is being an active duty military family. My husband is an active duty chaplain, and I am a licensed minister, certified women’s empowerment specialist, and marketing copywriter. Immersion into the culture of military life has been a challenge for me, as I’ve learned by trial and error what it means to be a spouse, woman, chaplain spouse, professional, minister, and more.

Within this environment, the service member is often made the center by default, as the family’s housing, insurance, living location, and more are absolutely dependent upon their career. That is why spouses are called “dependents” on paper, no matter what we bring to the table. The service members (whether male or female, but majority male) work extremely long hours, face hazardous conditions, often are commanded to leave for extended periods of time, and more. The family is often uprooted and must rebuild their support system time and again.

These factors pulling the service member outside of the household often leave a wide gap for the other spouse to fill. Families have different ways of managing this. Some spouses work full-time and pay for extra help in household areas. Some spouses choose not to work to create more flexibility. Most often, families do a combination of both. There are a variety of strategies for managing the different pressures placed on both spouses, service members, and the household.

My spouse and I are committed to equal partnership in our marriage in everything from creating the family vision to putting away the dishes. It takes constant diligence and intention to avoid the pull of centering everything in the urgent military demands. To some extent, this is unavoidable. But we’ve developed some strategies to help us maintain our individual personhood and marriage within such a demanding context. Here are a few of them.  

Let the Conversation Evolve

My husband and I started our marriage at different points on our journey with egalitarian thinking. Both of us grew up in more complementarian backgrounds, but I was already in step with equal partnership when we started dating. We had many lively conversations about what it meant to be married and what roles each of us would play. In the end, his dedication to learning and Scripture gave me the confidence to proceed with the marriage. That said, like many people, our first year of marriage was extremely hard.

But after being married a few years, the conversation evolved from explaining aspects of egalitarian thinking, sharing about the emotional and societal labor women face, and discussing different points of view of Scripture to now partnering together in advocating for equality for women and men. His commitment to conducting his own research and study in the Scripture and elsewhere led us to a point where we are now on the same page. It took almost four years. But now we have a lifetime ahead of us.

I often felt the urgency of needing him to believe exactly as I did as fast as possible. But now that we’re working toward the same goal, I realize he needed that time to come to his own conclusions. It’s okay to allow the conversation to evolve and approach it with patience. Trusting God with my ambitions in the midst of it was sometimes a challenge, but looking back, it would have saved a lot of angst.

Express What You Need Early On and Frequently

Until we got married and lived together, it was hard to identify the unspoken assumptions we both had about gender roles and marriage. And in a context as demanding on his time and energy as the military, it became imperative to communicate more quickly. As one person consistently picks up the slack, it is easy to fall into resentful thinking. Harboring resentment toward your spouse, toward the military, toward it all is easy to do. I succumbed to this resentment too many times, but I finally realized I could speak up about it sooner.

There is always an ebb and flow as the demands change. We’re learning that we can always ask one another for help with different tasks, and we can also say no to helping if we can’t summon the will to do it with a good attitude. We’re starting to realize that expressing frustration sooner and asking for what we need earlier and more frequently helps both of us. It helps us take ownership of what’s in front of us and of our attitudes. Instead of working with resentment, we see resentment as a sign that something is not working. And then we can address it together at the right time.

We’re also learning to boldly ask for time that we need to be refreshed. If either of us needs time away to reflect, pray, or recharge for an hour, a day, or a weekend, we make it happen. Usually, it just requires additional planning to be sure all responsibilities are taken care of ahead of time or as needed. Both of us are committed to doing whatever it takes to make it possible for the other, and that makes it easier to ask.

Observe Each Other in a New Environment

Within the grind of married life, it is too easy to see your spouse only at home. I work remotely and would thus only really see my spouse in the morning as he’s making breakfast, and then later in the evening when he was decompressing and making his lunch for the next day. After a while, it became unhealthy for us.

I wasn’t able to see him leading field services out with the soldiers, offering counseling to people hurting, or leading meetings with the team. And he couldn’t see me analyzing the brand of a company, researching how to best speak to their customers, facilitating a virtual minister group, or meeting with my community colleagues. We saw one another tired at the end of the day, and not when either of us were truly “in our element.” It felt like our relationship centered in household tasks and administrative duties. It was tedious and dull.

Once we realized what was happening, we decided to be more intentional about being together in new spaces. I attend as many events or gatherings as I can for his job, and he does the same for me. We try to find ways to observe one another in new settings to continually refresh how we see one another. That could look like attending a community event, taking a class together for a fun skill, or trying a workout at home that the other person enjoys. Even in the midst of the everyday pressures, this helps us see the giftings and abilities the other has and helps us remain committed to cultivating them.

Proactively Pursue Your Values

Even though we came from different worlds, our core was the same. We both care a lot about living alongside people who don’t know Jesus and sharing life with others. We both felt a call to chaplaincy before meeting and incorporated that into our lifestyle. My husband was the first person to ask whether I had considered joining the military myself. He thought I had what it took to be a good officer. Though that had never entered my mind as a dream or even a possibility, it planted a seed.

A few years later, I’m starting my master of divinity part-time in order to pursue military reserve chaplaincy, with his full support. I also work half-time at a remote job, and this helps pay for school and expenses while retaining the flexibility needed when unforeseen cross-country moves and schedule changes are required. This is a privilege I’m thankful for. It will take me longer to get to chaplaincy, but that is because I chose to move at a slower pace that is sustainable within the life we currently live.

In the midst of military life uncertainty, it helps that neither of us finds our identity or purpose solely in this lifestyle, his job, or a particular job in general. We are working to live out our values and our commitment to living with a chaplaincy mindset. It happens to be within the military context right now. This subtle shift helps us to remain focused on the big picture. It helps us make decisions and retain an equal focus on both of our parts in the journey. He is the official chaplain at this juncture, but both of our callings pull equal weight in our decisions. Both of us make sacrifices. This is because we are equally as committed to becoming who Jesus created us to be and to allowing the other to do the same—together.

The day my husband preached about mutual submission in marriage was a historic day for me. In a military setting that often centers the challenges and lives of men, I felt seen and valuable. As I sat in the military chapel pew, I realized it was the first time I had actually heard egalitarian marriage preached live and not on a podcast or video far away. And the best part? It was my own spouse passionately preaching about the equality of women and men. We have come a long way.

Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash.

Related Reading

Leading Together: Lessons From Sharing Leadership in Ministry and Marriage
Reclaiming Submission: Mutual Love and Service in the Egalitarian Marriage 
The Old Testament Marriage That Showed Me Equality Is God’s Design