Roles, Responsibilities, & Decision-Making In Marriage
Below are several areas to consider with your fiancé/spouse within the topic of Roles, Responsibilities, and Decision-Making in Marriage. The subject matter and Scriptures should serve as a starting point, but it is not meant to be exhaustive.
SCRIPTURAL DIRECTION AND BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES
Jesus Christ gave us the perfect example.
In thinking about your role in marriage, consider the example Jesus provided from His life on earth. He fully exemplified servant leadership, balancing headship of the body of believers and submission to God.
(Matt. 20:26-27, Phil. 2:5-8).
Scripture provides us with direction for God’s design for marriage.
Society’s standards for marriage and for the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives are ever-changing and often do not align with Scripture. Couples must regularly consult the Bible for direction and guidance as it reveals God’s design for marriage and helps identify and correct unbiblical thinking (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Heb. 4:12).
Marriage is a joint effort that requires mutual submission.
Living out your roles in marriage, agreeing on and fulfilling responsibilities, and making decisions for your family should be a joint process characterized by mutual submission. Your actions and decisions should be consistent with your love for the Lord rather than selfish ambition (Col. 3:23).
Seek wise counsel.
As decisions are faced in marriage, it is often helpful to seek guidance from wise individuals. Getting another perspective can provide a different point of view, reveal blind spots, and help you learn from the experiences of others (Prov. 19:20).
God’s Word provides us with a foundation we can trust.
Through the living Word, God has provided sufficient teaching and guidance to understand the plan of salvation and to know how to live a holy life. This can give you comfort in your marriage, knowing God’s Word is always trustworthy and the best source for counsel in decision making in marriage (2 Peter 1:3-4).
God has promised wisdom to those who ask.
At certain times in life, you may not have specific scriptural guidance on making a specific decision. In these cases, God has promised He will give you wisdom to work through these things. You can have confidence He will help you through life as you humbly seek Him and walk “in the way of wisdom” (Prov. 4:11-13, James 1:5-6).
Prayer must be a vital part in making decisions.
Fervent prayer is a key for every individual and couple who are seeking to make decisions. God is a loving, trustworthy heavenly Father who wants the best for His children. His plans and purposes are for your good and the benefit of His kingdom. Therefore, while submitting your will to God can be a difficult task, it also can provide you with great peace and comfort, even when your circumstances are uncertain (Matt. 7:7-11).
Roles in marriage.
Each spouse is equal in value, yet distinct in role.
God designed an order to be followed in marriage and family (1 Corinthians 11:3). God’s intent is for marriage to reflect the relationship and oneness of the Trinity (see how Jesus referred to His oneness with the Father in John 17:21-23). Each person of the Trinity is distinct, yet intimately connected with the other. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each equal in value, yet distinct in role. Similarly, husbands and wives are equal in value, yet distinct in role. God’s image is revealed in both the husband and the wife.
These roles are designed to be complementary.
The Scripture contains general and specific teachings concerning both the roles of husbands and wives. Consideration must be given to both husbands and wives; God designed these roles to complement one another, and one role is incomplete without the other. For example, wives are able to submit to their husbands more easily when husbands love their wives with the self-sacrificing love that Christ exemplified on earth. Likewise, husbands more naturally show love and affection toward their wives when the husbands feel esteemed and valued. These principles are illustrated in Ephesians 5:21-33, which provides some very important insights into God’s design for men and women.
Spouses should practice mutual respect, honor, and submission.
Through the Word, God reveals a number of important principles about His design for relationships. The importance of mutual respect, honor, and submission is one of those themes. For example, He affirms the need for these principles between parents and children (Ephesians 6:2), servants and masters (1 Timothy 6:1), citizens and governmental authorities (1 Peter 2:17), and church members and church leadership (1 Timothy 5:17).
Mutual respect, honor, and submission are also keenly present or absent in marital relationships (1 Cor. 7:3, Eph. 5:21). Their presence helps relationships flow more smoothly through the ups and downs of life. Their absence leads to emotional hurt, disconnection, and conflict. It is easy to critique how well you feel your spouse is doing at showing respect, honor, and submission to you. However, each husband and wife should really focus on assessing how he or she is doing personally by looking into the mirror of the Word.
There are specific teachings for husbands and wives.
The Scripture passages below are organized into verses specifically addressed to husbands and verses specifically addressed to wives. Note how God encourages husbands and wives to meet their spouse’s deepest needs. It is our privilege to help each other to develop into Christ’s likeness and to reflect God’s glory.
Husbands, love your wives.
Husbands are called to assume the role of a Christ-like servant leader who will watch for and guide the course of the family. This role includes loving in a self-sacrificing way that does what is necessary to make a wife feel nourished and cherished (Eph. 5:25-30, Col. 3:19).
Husbands must remember that while they have been given the role as the spiritual leader of the home, it does not give them authorization to “rule” in an authoritative way. Being domineering, controlling, or disrespectful to one’s wife is sinful. Likewise, not fulfilling one’s duty to attend to the spiritual needs of the family due to absence, passivity, apathy, or neglect is sin. The husband is to be intentional about understanding and being sensitive to his wife. Not doing so will hinder the husband’s spiritual life (1 Peter 3:7). Husbands have also been given the role of providing for the needs of their family (1 Tim. 5:8).
Wives, respect your husbands.
Wives are called to respect and be submissive to their husbands. This involves a willingness to assume the role of a wife that is Christ-like, encouraging, respectful, and helpful to their husbands (Gen. 2:18, Eph. 5:22-24, 33).
Respecting one’s husband does not indicate the wife is of lesser value than the husband. Rather, it involves being his partner in the way that is designed to bring out the best in him. God’s design for a wife’s role in marriage does not include being domineering nor being a doormat. Either extreme will promote an unbiblical marital relationship and needs to be corrected (Col. 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1-2).
Instructions for both husbands and wives.
A number of roles and responsibilities apply equally to both spouses. The listing of verses below is not exhaustive; rather, it serves as a starting point for your own study of the Word on this topic.
- Have a servant’s heart (John 13:12-17).
- Raise your children to know the Lord (Prov. 22:6).
- Respect church leadership (Heb. 13:17).
- Respect governmental authority (1 Peter 2:13-16).
In marriage, each spouse needs to have a role that is recognized and valued with certain responsibilities to which he or she is held accountable. Take time to delegate responsibilities, deciding which spouse will take ownership over specific tasks, areas of the home, decisions, etc. Delegating responsibilities is a process whereby both the husband and wife mutually agree on assigning the responsibility for each task. In this way, each spouse makes a commitment to take care of something and is accountable to the other spouse for following through.
There are benefits to deciding on responsibilities.
While having both spouses involved in various responsibilities is beneficial, one still needs to take ownership. Responsibility involves action, follow-through, and accountability. Defining roles and responsibilities is beneficial because it reduces the possibility for misunderstandings (“I thought you were going take care of that”), blame (“I did my part, but you didn’t”), and criticism (“Why did you do it that way?”). A clear assignment of responsibilities reduces the opportunity for conflict, such as when trash day comes around or a bill is due. Defining responsibilities also allows you to form healthy boundaries in your marriage. Think of it this way: “Boundaries help determine who is responsible for what. If you understand who owns [is responsible for] what, you then know who must take responsibility for it.”
Be willing to help each other.
While deciding on responsibilities is helpful, spouses should not be overly rigid about who does the tasks. If your spouse is overwhelmed and needs help getting his/her responsibilities taken care of, by all means, help. In doing so, you help bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and attend to your own personal responsibilities (Galatians 6:5).
When spouses feel support from each other during stressful times, trust and closeness are fostered. Spouses who work cooperatively empower one another, help each other feel needed, and sometimes accomplish tasks more quickly (Ecc. 4:9).
How are responsibilities defined and determined?
Responsibilities in marriage are largely determined by a spouse’s preferences, skills, interests, abilities, and time availability. Because of these variables, the definition of responsibilities will differ from couple to couple. If one spouse has more skill, discipline, or interest in taking care of something, then he or she should certainly feel free to do it.
Certain responsibilities can be shared yet are “owned” by one of the spouses.
There may be certain domains in which the husband or wife desires to have “ownership,” and these domains should be respected. For example, a couple may determine that one spouse holds the primary role of taking care of the family’s finances, budgeting, paying bills, etc. The other spouse has input and helps as needed. This illustration is but one example of how responsibilities are in one sense “shared” by both spouses and yet “owned” by one of the spouses.
Problems can easily arise if the roles are not clearly defined, are too rigid, or if one or both of the spouses isn’t being accountable for taking care of his/her responsibilities. For example, if one spouse makes all of the decisions and has complete control, the marriage will be unbalanced. Conversely, if one spouse avoids responsibilities, procrastinates, or does not follow through on completing tasks, the marriage will be just as imbalanced. In order to avoid problems in these areas, remember to “check-in” with your spouse and discuss how each of you feels about the arrangement of responsibilities in the marriage. It is particular important to have “check-in’s” during life transitions, such as the transition to parenthood, as roles and responsibilities may need to shift. Clear, proactive communication can help you deal with these issues when they arise.
Be proactive about decision making.
The foundation for making good decisions is a prayerful attitude that is submissive to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Discuss your expectations for how decisions will be made and how the two of you manage decision-making gridlock. Questions to consider may include:
- What types of decisions require a discussion between the two of you?
- What types of decisions can you each make without consulting the other? (For example, making purchases of small items for the house may not need a discussion between the spouses. However, a decision about purchasing a new car will likely require a consensus.)
- What will you do and who will you contact when you cannot agree on a decision?
Leaving, cleaving, and making decisions as a couple.
Particularly in the beginning of a marital relationship, making decisions can be a difficult process. Each spouse may be used to making decisions on his/her own without having to consider another person. Or decisions were made with the help of parents. The decision-making process may also be influenced by how each spouse sees his/her role in the marriage. In marriage, part of “leaving and cleaving” involves mutual decision making. Some individuals may need to shift away from a situation in which parents or roommates had primary influence on decisions. Instead, decisions are made considering one’s spouse first.
Other examples of potentially difficult decisions relate to holidays and in-laws. A married couple has to make decisions about how and where they will celebrate holidays. These decisions can be particularly difficult when the couple does not live near one or both sides of the family. They can be further complicated when in-laws put pressure, intentionally or unintentionally, on the couple to spend time with them. Realize compromise and flexibility are often required for these types of decisions, and ultimately, each couple must come to their own decision about what to do.
Common sense, logic, and signs can all be a part of decision making.
Sometimes decision making is simple; unfortunately, many times it isn’t. However, if you follow the principles set out in God’s Word, you can have confidence that the Lord will see you through. In decision making, you need to avoid both the error of the Jews (over-focus on supernatural signs) and the Greeks (over-focus on earthy wisdom). Both ways hinder a true understanding of God’s ways
(1 Cor. 1:22-24).
Like the Greeks, some people over-focus on learning, earthly wisdom, and logic. Because of this, many of them find faith to be an illogical and foreign concept. However, believers know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Scriptural principles like “going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) or “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) are not learned from common sense. Rather, those are spiritual principles and matters of faith that go against what is natural. In the context of biblical decision making, this means that you must not make decisions solely upon what “everyone’s doing,” or what appears to be the most natural or easiest solution. Rather, your primary allegiance in decision making must be to biblical teaching and principles.
Conversely, like the Jews, some people seek to oversimplify decisions by looking for signs or feelings that indicate a direction. For example, some people believe that if something happens easily or goes smoothly, it is automatically a sign of God’s favor. On the other hand, sometimes people believe that if something is difficult or they encounter setbacks, it must be a sign that God thinks something is bad. However, while the ease or difficulty of working through something may be an indicator of God’s direction, these factors should not be the only evidence used to determine God’s direction. God can speak in any way that He chooses and sometimes it can be in the form of a sign. However, remember that human beings are susceptible to reading into things based on their biases and interpretations.
Proverbs 13:10 says, “Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” You may seek out different individuals for each topic area, or you may choose to consult an individual about more than one area. Remember to seek counsel from individuals who are wise in the Lord and who will have the ability to advise you even if the advice isn’t what you want to hear.
We have freedom and responsibility.
We need to remember that God could have written the Bible in any way He wanted. That means He could have included a ten-volume set with answers to common questions that come up in parenting, choosing a job, or deciding on a college, but He didn’t. In the Scripture, God has set out guidelines for what His children need to do and what they need to avoid. He didn’t design His children to be robots without any freedom nor did He design them to be moral free agents that can do whatever they want. When you have taken care to live within the teachings of God’s Word, you can have confidence He will honor your requests made with a humble heart (see figure below).
Understanding preferences, house rules, organizational norms, and absolutes.
The figure below helps outline the different levels of decisions you will face in your marriage. Often difficulties may arise when the two of you see the issue on different levels of the pyramid. Before coming to a decision as a couple, you both need to agree on the underlying level of importance of the decision.
Below are descriptions of each level:
- Preferences are personal opinions, decisions, and choices. For example, your favorite restaurant, color, or model of car are all preferences. Two individuals may agree or disagree about each other’s preferences, but neither is wrong.
- House Rules are rules of conduct established by families or groups of closely related people. For example, in a family, the parents have the privilege and responsibility to create and maintain the house rules for their own home. Two sets of parents may agree or disagree about these rules; however, they each must determine what they believe is best for their own family and abide by it. If one family sets the curfew for the children at 9:30 pm and the other sets the curfew at 10:00 pm, which one is wrong or better? Neither is. While each set of parents may disagree with each other, each set of parents has the responsibility to set the house rules for their own home.
- Organizational Norms are standards of conduct, behavior, dress, and participation/non-participation in activities established by businesses, churches, and social/service organizations. This level is where many church traditions and practices are found.
- Biblical Absolutes are God’s moral laws that are explicitly stated in the Bible as either commands or principles. These are true for all people, in all places, at all times. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) is a biblical absolute. Adultery is sin in God’s eyes – period. This has been true ever since the law was given and will remain true as long as the world stands.
Each level of the pyramid above has a different authority. For example, the authority for biblical absolutes is God’s Word. An organization determines organizational norms, while a family unit determines house rules. In a marriage, house rules, which may be described as personal “convictions,” become a couple decision rather than an individual decision. Each spouse should prayerfully and respectfully consider the other’s opinion, mutually submitting to one another.
This chart is implemented in the following example of deciding how to school children:
Always start with biblical absolutes.
Ask yourselves, “What does the Bible say about the education of children?” A few of the verses that speak to raising children include Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and Proverbs 22:6. Clearly, there is a biblical mandate to raise children to know God’s ways. However, note the biblical instruction does not specifically address how children should be taught mathematics or geography or how to teach a child with a learning disability. Therefore, at the Biblical Absolutes level we have been given a clear teaching about the spiritual nurturance of children; however, it does not provide a command about other aspects of education.
Identify organizational norms.
Ask yourselves, “Has the church given direction on the education of children?”
The Elder Body has affirmed the biblical truth that children are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The elders have concluded that the education of children is a decision parents must make thoughtfully and prayerfully; they acknowledge parents of one household may come to different conclusions about what is best for their children (public, private, or home schooling) than parents of another household. That said, the elders encourage all parents to have respect and Christ-like love for those who choose differently. Therefore, the organizational norm has affirmed the biblical absolute and has given guidance that parents should prayerfully consider the options, choose what best fits their family, and respect those that choose differently.
Create house rules.
Ask yourselves, “What do we, as a couple, believe about the education of children?”
House rules are accepted and/or created by a couple. Many house rules develop by default without much thought. For example, which chair does each person in the family sit in at supper time? Other times, house rules simply develop out of what the parents grew up with in their own families of origin. Conversely, some house rules are the result of a deliberate process of information gathering, prayer, discussion, and counsel.
A couple may find that they have very similar or dissimilar views on the education of children. However, as they pray, discuss, and gather information, they can come together to make a decision. Ultimately, the parents must make a decision for their own children and family, not anyone else’s. It is okay for them to choose an education option that is different from another couple. However, it is not okay for the couple to judge another couple’s decision. Once the couple has decided on what type of education they would like their children to have, the decision-making process is complete, and they must work toward implementing their decision.
Biblical decision-making principles and steps.
Below are some steps to consider when working through a decision-making process:
- Identify and clarify the decision that needs to be made. Humbly seek God’s guidance through prayer.
- Study the Word to determine if the decision involves biblical absolutes. If so, follow the scriptural principles laid out in the Bible.
- If the decision does not involve biblical absolutes or if the Bible has no explicit command or principle about the decision, see if the church provides teaching or guidance on how to proceed.
- Seek the counsel of someone you know and trust.
- Realize some decisions have multiple options, any of which may be acceptable to God. In these cases, you can use biblical wisdom principles to make a decision.
- Identify the needs of those who will be affected by the decision.
- Consider the short-term and long-term impacts of each option.
- Evaluate pros and cons of the various aspects of the decision.
- Remember just because something happens easily or smoothly doesn’t necessarily mean it is good, and just because something is difficult doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad.
- Implement your choice.
- Re-evaluate the actual implications of your choice.
For further information, including couple questions and exercises, please see the full document.
For Further Information:
Biblical Headship And Submission
Today’s world is filled with distorted messages of what true headship and submission means. This is not a recent challenge. The struggle has been present since the fall of man. This document explores the purpose and intent of God’s original design.
A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage (2nd Edition)
Authors: Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, Milton Bryan
This 352-page book teaches practical communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills within a Christian framework. The 2nd edition is filled with teaching from scripture, couple exercises at the end of each chapter, as well as the latest research on marriage. This book can be helpful to young couples just starting their relationship and for married couples who are having marital conflict.