The Forgotten Role Model: Spouse

I have been noticing some differences lately between single adults and married adults, specifically in the way both types of people think and make decisions. I must admit that, at first, I had thought of the single adults I know as just being a little “quirky” in their thinking processes, and then I realized why they seem to do things differently than I or other married people do: an entirely different decision-making process is needed for couples than is used by single adults.

Single adults do not have anyone else to be accountable to. Single adults do not have a spouse for a sounding board or to take into consideration before any major decisions are made. Married adults automatically have another person for those purposes, but that does not mean that all married adults automatically give consideration to their spouses when making decisions. Having or being a spouse requires that decisions should be made with concern for your mate’s needs and desires. Married adults who make decisions as though they are still autonomous singles are destined to become single again. Sadly, their marriages will fail or at least will not be as successful and satisfying as will the marriage of two people who are both dedicated to fulfilling the needs and desires of their mates.

A sad fact of the world we live in today is that more and more children are being raised in single-parent households. Regardless of the reasons behind this phenomenon, the parents must fill in the gaps that these children experience. A single parent is doing double-duty, serving as both father and mother in many situations, even sometimes when custody of the children is a shared arrangement. My heart aches for the single moms and single dads who are doing their best to raise their children alone, and the homeschooling single parents are simply working miracles, in my estimation. However, while they are providing the household income and nurturing their children, there is an unfortunate side effect that they cannot effectively cover on their own. Their children do not see that parent modeling the role of spouse. Children commonly see their parents as a mother or a father, but not as a wife or a husband. The relationship of parent to child is usually restricted to the Mom or Dad role. The single parent is forced to make the major decisions alone. While advice may be sought from friends, co-workers, or grandparents, the decision ultimately rests only on the shoulders of that single adult.

Occasionally, an opportunity arises with my own children when I can give them a glimpse into what it means to me to be a wife, rather than always representing a mother. I point out the same things for my husband, how he is not just a father, his role is also much more complex. When we have major decisions to make, we discuss them together, but not always in front of our children. Therefore, it is important to give the children a synopsis of our decision-making processes so that they can realize how both husband and wife can influence the outcome. While the choices faced by single adults usually come down to a simple yes or no option, the conclusions reached by couples almost invariably contain some level of compromise on behalf of both parties. An adult who is completely unwilling to compromise for joint decisions is thinking with a single-adult’s mindset.

In our family, “checking in” has become routine now, but it stems from a very serious traffic accident that occurred only weeks into our marriage. That first time that my husband did not arrive home from work in a timely manner led to our habit of always letting the other know where you are and when you are leaving. Recently my husband had an after-hours reward party with some of his co-workers. He called me even before committing to attending, just to make sure I had not planned an early dinner. I encouraged him to go have fun at the celebration because he had earned it as much as any member of his designing team, but I understood and appreciated why he checked in first. Some people may not have felt obliged to notify their spouses, but in our family, the courtesy is commonplace. The single adult has no need to check with anyone before making decisions; the single parent may only need to notify a baby-sitter in case of a delayed arrival.

An acquaintance of ours has recently built a new house and purchased all new furnishings for it, replacing everything that was lost in a major house fire. This acquaintance is currently single and has proven it with every decision and every purchase. Every construction detail and every appliance was chosen without regard for any other person. If this homeowner had been married, many of these choices may have had different outcomes. As I toured this new home, I saw many things that I would have preferred to have another way. I could see many decisions that my husband and I would have discussed and done differently, had it been our home, but for this homeowner, discussions and compromises were not Standard Operating Procedure.

The single parent who is blessed with another chance at marriage will once again have the opportunity to provide the role model of spouse to the children, but while still single, it is an extremely difficult pattern to portray. This is where the rest of us can help. I have frequently found myself in the position of being the only married parent that some of my children’s friends know personally. In those cases, I carefully watch how I live out that role, so that I can be an effective role model to them for what I feel a spouse should be. When an appropriate opportunity arises, I speak up and share my opinion of how situations are handled differently by a wife than by a mom, or by a husband than by a dad.

Television programs are often, unfortunately, the most listened to voices and most watched role models in the lives of our youngsters today. I doubt that a suitable role model for a spouse could be found anywhere on television. The characters portrayed do not usually submit to a Biblical system of authority, but are usually involved in comic role reversals, continual insults and criticism, and deceitful plots against each other. Men are seldom seen as strong heads of their households; more often, they are depicted as beer-drinking buffoons, interested only in sports, and who depend upon their wives to keep the children in line and the household running efficiently. Television programming is rarely considered to be purely fictional entertainment; instead, it has gone so far now as to redefine “reality” for us.

The importance of taking time to be together as a couple, aside from time spent as a family (with the children), is well documented and well publicized. What I am emphasizing is the importance of demonstrating that spousal role to my children throughout the daily routine, not limited to special events and date nights. As I go through my days, whenever an opportunity presents itself, I will point out to my daughter, my son, and now their significant-others the things that I feel are important for me as a wife and the things that are important for my spouse as a husband. As a wife, I respect my husband’s opinion, knowing that he often has greater insight than I do into certain facets of life. As a wife, I try to keep our home as a place of solace and respite from the industrial world where my husband spends his days. As a husband, he looks after the safety of his family, ensuring that we have reliable vehicles to drive and maintaining our home as a secure and cozy shelter. As a husband, he provides for our financial security through a good job and working additional hours to earn extra money when unexpected needs arise. Major decisions are discussed together, with input from our children when the outcome will affect the entire family, but the children need to see that those decisions are made as a team, since we are not independent individuals. The role of spouse means that I am a member of a slightly larger but more important group, the couple, and that I should not neglect my responsibilities to that group. I must repeat this–having a spouse requires that decisions should be made with concern for your spouse’s needs and desires. Married adults who make decisions without regard for their spouse’s welfare or opinion are at a very great risk of becoming single again.

As we strive to train up our children in the ways we feel are best, we should try to include all of the roles they will possibly fulfill in life. I am seeing more children growing up with a view of themselves as future parents, but I seldom hear them speaking of themselves as future spouses or expressing concern over what their future spouse might think of a given situation. It would be sad, indeed, to prepare our children to be parents without preparing them to be spouses at the same time.

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