Marital Competition on the Rise. Guess Why?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “When You Can’t Stop Competing With Your Spouse.” It had one of those subtitles that told us we were about to read a lot of words that will say practically nothing at all: “Couples are supposed to operate as a team, but sometimes they compete instead. It’s often a sign of envy, which can fester and create resentments.” Yeah, really?


The article, while not saying anything particularly meaningful about spousal competition, and leaving us with no better solution than the stop-the-presses profundity: “they would each focus on what they were good at and work as a team”—wow, my life is changed—nonetheless interested me just for the notice it was giving of this rising phenomenon in the gender-minimizing marriages of today.


I was interested because I’ve learned that competition between partners is exactly the thing God created gender to eliminate. But this takes us back to Does She Matter?


The Does She Matter qualitative research study that I did (Emotional Intimacy in Marriage in Light of Gender Distinction), is described in the book, enGendered. I interviewed men with a history of same sex attraction and same sex unions who were now married to women for many years in Christian marriages. (Yes, they exist.) As I often repeat, this study turned on the lights for me on what God had done. My eyes were opened to deep truths of gender as I listened closely to why these guys would never trade what they had now with their wives for what they had before in their monogendered relationships. This was so in spite of the temptation to visually check out other guys at times. The reasons could be summarized as the great intimacy and fruitfulness that came from intergendered bonds.


Anyway, the second most frequently occurring reason given centered on the absence of competition in gendered life with a woman.


When I asked these men why they thought that what they had in intergendered marriage was not achievable with another man, I got answers such as how with a man, they were “more competitors than allies.”


One subject contrasted his experience with men in Viet Nam, where he had a certain kind of union in battle: “But you can’t have what you have with a woman who’s willing and ready to be a woman. Because that unity is something different.” Others talked about trust, about how, with a woman, because she’s a woman, “I trust her so there’s really nothing that I don’t [share]… [because it’s] not a competitive thing. Like the things that really are at the heart of what makes you tick, on the inside, I don’t think I would have revealed that to [a guy].” “Her softness pulls me…There’s a level of vulnerability I’ll choose to let Melanie into [that draws us together].”

“Because Sandra is committed to me as my wife, as a woman…I can trust her…which then opens up my ability to share with her” (not their real names). “Because she is not gonna try to one upmanship me in everything, compete, have the upper hand, so I trust…” “[With her], the Lord is saying, ‘You can let your walls down even more… [so we] become more one.”


Perhaps most significantly, gender gave each one in the marriage a uniqueness in loving the other. So it actually revealed and shaped their identities. E.g., “I don’t feel like she’s trying to take that away from me or put herself on an equal footing with [my] malehood (sic)…I don’t think that she tries to steal my identity.”


So, gathering those threads together, I found that the interviewees spoke of the unity fostered from a “face to face posture” in an intergendered relationship. They thought that a vulnerability, an ability to confess their hearts’ inner working, arose from this lack of competition and encouraged sharing. They explained how non-competitiveness fostered trust by removing walls, suspicions, and limits to what each disclosed. They also shared how it shaped identity by allowing the husband and wife each their own uniqueness.


Of course, husbands and wives can still compete over things, but the WSJ article highlights what will inevitably happen when couples flatten gender, whether same sex or different.


Why not let God’s gift of gender do its thing?


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