The Blessings of Interdependence

Posted on September 23, 2011 by

Rather than do the typical thing and rail against the idea of women and men being independent agents who join together solely for the purpose of self-gratification, we should do more to extol the virtues of marriage and family life based on God’s design of interdependence, where each member has a role to play and is dependent on the other member to play his or her role in order for the one flesh, Christ and church picture to be visible in the context of a Christian marriage.

It seems obvious (at least to me) that God created men and women to complement each other in marriage relationship. What that looked like has been interpreted in different ways by many different theologians, but there is no question that a man and woman are to leave their father and mother, cleave to one another, and the two become one flesh acting in tandem, not two independent agents acting in their own interests. In effect, the idea is one of interdependence, where a husband needs his wife to fulfill certain aspects of life and she needs him to fulfill others.

What has evolved over time in modern marriages is just the opposite. Men and women are coming together as two independent agents, each asserting their capability to meet all of their own needs. This in effect has reduced marriage to a partnership of two people leading parallel lives and who view each other as an addendum to an already full and complete life. Thus the sole purpose of marriage has become personal happiness, amusement, and desire. When one partner is no longer happy with the arrangement, it is easy to walk away, because the spouse is viewed as expendable, not needed, and no longer desirable. Since this has become the norm in Christian marriages as well, we see the same divorce statistics in the church as among the unchurched. It is human nature to divorce oneself from unpleasantness, particularly if there is no need to endure, work through it, and grow.

One of the most fervent arguments for women pursuing a career outside the home is so that she doesn’t need a husband to take care of her. The idea is that should he leave her, she is capable of providing for her self and her children with no help from him. The implication is that a full time homemaker needs her husband infinitely more than he needs her and this unequal playing field demands that she take the necessary steps to protect herself should the unthinkable happen. I am not interested in denigrating working women here. Not every woman works with this attitude, but it is the attitude that compels many married mothers to pursue a career when they don’t have to and would rather not, all things being equal.

Laying aside for the moment that this perspective is completely barren of any concept of faith in God as our ultimate Provider, let’s ask ourselves: Is it really true that a wife needs her husband more than she needs him? I don’t think so, at least that’s not true in our house. As this is the scenario I am most familiar with I’ll use the traditional model as our example.

It is true that my husband is the sole financial provider in our home, with God’s help of course. We depend on his talent in his given profession to make the money we need to pay for our household’s necessities. He is also a father, my companion, and the leader of our family. I depend on him to fulfill his duties.

I am the manager of this little enterprise. I am the primary caregiver of our children, I manage most of the finances and budgeting, see to it that our family eats healthy meals, and see to it that things run smoothly from day to day, making it easier for my husband to do his part without worrying about the welfare of his home and family. I am a companion and helper to my husband. He depends on me to fulfill my duties.

In a Christian marriage, where each partner is committed to living a life that glorifies God and honoring the covenant of marriage entered into, this is, in my opinion, the perfect picture of two people dependent on each other, working together toward a common goal. Why then, is there such a revolt against the idea of complementary roles and interdependence?

I believe it’s because of the curse of independence. We like the idea of being in control of our own lives and destinies. Again, this is a perspective void of faith and as such should be unthinkable in a Christian marriage, but think about it. If I don’t have to depend on my husband to provide, he is less valuable to me. If my children are in daycare every day, we eat take out most nights of the week, and the finances are a mess because I am managing “my own money” and leaving him to manage his, I am less valuable to him. This isn’t always the case I know, but the couples I acquaint with who have the most financial troubles are two income couples, which would seem to be contradictory, until you analyze the net effect of the independence curse. I’m not doing anything he couldn’t do, and he’s not doing anything that I’m not already doing. He can drop the kids off at daycare himself and order a pizza. He doesn’t need me for that. If I am providing for myself financially, I don’t need him for that. We are in effect attempting to act as one unit with two heads, a monstrosity, rather one flesh working together in harmony to accomplish a common goal.

Instead of a beautiful picture of oneness and interdependence, what we have is confusion, spiritually speaking. And when one partner becomes aware of their independence apart from the other, all the little things that cause irritation or unpleasantness in a relationship take on much greater significance. They are seen as things that we don’t have to put up with. And the truth is, if we don’t need each other, we don’t have to put up with it. Most people choose not to, hence the high divorce rate among Christians and non alike.

Which is why I call it the curse of independence. Obviously there is an aspect of being independent that is useful. For example we are all raising our children to reach a point of maturity and sufficiency where they are not dependent upon us their entire lives. So while I don’t think that independence is a dirty word I do feel it’s overrated. And in the context of a marriage, it can be downright lethal.