Perspectives on egalitarian relationships: Ruth and Nick Wells

Monday, 2 April 2012

This week's guest post on egalitarian relationships comes from Ruth and Nick Wells, who are both youthworkers living in Bournemouth. Ruth and Nick have been married for nearly 10 years and have two children.

"But who wears the trousers?"

It seems to be a trend to write about marriage as a couple, and so as those who would not want to shirk away from what is trendy (!) we have decided to follow suit. We write as a couple, approaching 10 years of marriage, who met as young people and are both Christians. We also write as people who both hold an egalitarian view of gender and marriage. We are both youthworkers and have two beautiful children. This post is anecdotal rather than an over-arching theological exposition of egalitarian theology – it is our story.

It is not uncommon for the issue of how we ‘do’ our marriage to come up with various people. From the ‘oh so Nick looks after the children too’ to ‘what, Ruth was once your boss Nick?’ we are often met with looks of incredulity! To us this is how things work best, and how we believe we are both able to outlive what it means to follow Jesus.

When people have been able to move on from the fact that we both work, and believe that Jesus, not one of us, is the ‘head’ of our marriage, the inevitable discussion is around ‘but who makes the final decision?’ This question goes something like ‘but the buck has to stop with someone doesn’t it?’ Well we are happy to report that there have been no occasions at which one of us has had to ‘pull rank’ so to speak, and at which we could not reach a decision through negotiation and that mysterious art-form ‘talking to one another’. It isn’t that we always agree - we don’t - but we have never got to the point where we couldn’t resolve something through being together and chatting it through. We have been best friends for over 15 years and as such we find that we have some understanding of how we work.

We believe that marriage isn’t a relationship bound together through the subjugation of one party to another, but is one of mutual submission, respect and love. We also find it hard to imagine that if someone has to always ‘pull rank’ on decisions or forcible stop the buck, that there isn’t something fundamentally at odds in the relationship. It seems plausible to us that no-one needs be assigned the ‘in-charge’ monitor of the marriage. Just as Israel in the Old Testament sought to replace God with an earthly King, we believe that people sometimes mistakenly feel the need to replace Jesus, as the over-seer of the marriage, with man.

So what does our marriage ‘look like’? Well, following having our children we decided to both continue working part-time jobs to not only ‘provide’ financially, but to pursue our callings as people, and also parents. Our children get to see each of us as parents with roles within the home and as providers with our work roles – demonstrating that it is important to have dreams and aspirations and to seek to step into what God has gifted each of us in. We believe that our children do not have pre-scripted roles as they grow up, but are free to explore their own God-given gifting regardless of their anatomical make-up. It is not always easy to maintain this balance of life, work and children, but it is something we strive for and something that others find difficult to grasp.

A case in point would be following an interesting conversation about gender roles one New Year, when we found out that some other local Christians had reported that they knew who ‘wears the trousers in that relationship’! It wasn’t meant as praise for us both feeling able to be articulate opinions as part of dialogue. It was derogatory and hurtful. It suggested that because we both had a say about things, because we were both comfortable and confident to look after our children and because we did not fulfil stereotypes of ‘firm husband’ and ‘demure wife’ there was something wrong. It is saddening to us that the utter joy, love and freedom we find in our marriage is not found by others. It is tragic that so many women feel they have to put their own callings on hold for the sake of their husbands. It is sad that so many men miss out of being ‘Dad’ because they dare not shy away from the crippling shackles of over-working in order to be seen to ‘provide’.

So we want to give Jesus the trousers, if that’s not some kind of blasphemy?! He is the one who heads up our marriage and it is to him that we are accountable. We will continue to try and hold each other in love, respect and mutuality whilst trying to find fun, adventure and joy in the journey.

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