I did not come to my marriage knowing how to trust or to show respect to my husband. I grew up in a household where men were viewed with skepticism and suspicion. It was assumed, and I saw plenty of first-hand evidence to support it with my stepfather’s behavior and even that of my grandfather toward my grandmother, that men were going to oppress women if given the chance and that a woman’s only defense against it was to be preemptive and not allow it to happen by asserting control. My stepfather’s behavior toward my mother and myself taught me that women were objects designed to please men, and that if we weren’t doing our “job” we weren’t worth anything. Conflict resolution in our home consisted of yelling, screaming, and hitting.
My husband fared little better. His parents didn’t yell at each other, his mother simply did what his father told him. If they had disagreements, they were all done in private. In his home, the man worked long hours and the woman then waited on the man. Her own needs were not addressed, and his parents were not openly affectionate with one another. My husband did yell, mostly because he had learned that it intimidated others into giving him what he wanted.
Neither of these images were the ideal, but for the first 13 years of our marriage, they were really the only images we knew. Then, we attended a WorldWide Marriage Encounter. That weekend, and the support we got after the weekend, changed the picture. We began to see that the Catholic Church had a different way to do things, a way that didn’t involve yelling and screaming but involved trusting and respecting your spouse.
The trust and respect the Catholic Church has for her spouse is indeed profound. She is proud to profess His name everywhere she goes, and eager to introduce new people to Him. She is so confident in His love and His tender mercy that she does not hesitate to send her children straight to Him whenever they have made a mistake, no matter how grave it may be. She teaches the children she receives from their very first moments to love Him, to honor Him, to obey Him and, in the simple words of the Virgin Mary, to, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
Likewise, the trust and respect that Christ has for his Bride is magnificent to behold. He is proud to tell everyone about her beauty and He completely trusts her with all of His accounts. He knows that she will dole things out responsibly and for the betterment of their children. He encourages everyone to go and learn from Her, and sets the example of how to treat Her by willingly dying for her sake.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its savior. As the Church submits to Christ, so let wives also submit themselves in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church, however, let each one of you love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband” - Ephesians 5:21
Submit does not mean what most people think it means. Submit simply means to put yourself under the mission of another, to help them accomplish that mission. Christ’s mission is to give His life for Her in defense of her, and the Church would be a fool were she to ignore that mission or to present an obstacle to Christ in performing that mission. The Church’s mission, to which Christ submits himself eagerly, is to serve Christ and to bring new children of God into the world. This is not a small thing or an unimportant thing.
In a Catholic marriage, the spouses each have unique but complementary missions. The husband’s mission, in the model of Christ, is to defend and protect his bride and their children with his own life if necessary, to love her and cherish her and to love and cherish the children she presents to him, to provide for her and for the children, and to lead them to heaven.
The wife’s mission, in the model of the Church, is to serve the husband, to aid him and encourage him in his mission, to nurture and protect the children which are entrusted to her care by God, to be a good steward of the things which the husband has provided for the family, and to support her husband and family on their journey toward heaven.
Neither of these missions are easy, but the husband and wife are uniquely suited toward their roles because what they are required to do is written on their hearts. It begins with a mutual trust and respect for one another. Trust that your husband, though his methods may be different, is working for the good of you and your family. Respect him in his efforts to defend and protect the household, encourage him in his struggles to be a man of God.
For women, this means no public berating of your husband. Do not get on Facebook or other social media channels and tear him to ribbons. He may not see it, but he will see the change in your attitude toward him. The world casts enough stones his direction, he does not need one coming from the woman who is supposed to support him most. If you feel the need to vent your frustrations, write a letter to God or go visit your parish priest to help you gain some perspective out of this. Let other women admire the man you married. Extol his virtues publicly, praise his efforts, and lift him high. Your simple words of praise will be the motivation he needs to continue on the right path.
For husbands, this means that you do not speak negatively about your wife nor do you degrade your wife to others. Talking about her as a “ball and chain” or referring to her as a “bag” or any other derogatory remark about her does nothing to build a stronger bond between the two of you. Instead, be the one who uplifts and praises his wife publicly. Let other men see your example of how to treat a wife, and then let them see the happy wife that results. Other men will envy the relationship you have and will be drawn to Christ because of it.
You may be wondering what trusting and respecting your spouse has to do with Catholic parenting, and the answer is: a lot. Children learn by modeling. Model a bad marriage for them, and this is what they will pursue. Model a good marriage, and this is also what they will pursue. In trusting and respecting your spouse, you are modeling for your children how to treat their own spouse, how to treat members of the opposite sex, how to respect themselves, and are creating a united front which the children then know they cannot divide. In studying the Catholic Church's teachings, we can learn how to follow in her footsteps and show our children by our example how to trust and respect their own future spouses.
Thank you for taking the time to read Chapter 3 of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us, you can click the link above to find the table of contents and catch up. I hope you will join us tomorrow for Chapter 4: Setting Firm Boundaries. Let me know what you thought of this chapter in the comments below.