Ever hear guys complain that their wives expect them to be mind-readers? Of course you have, it’s not exactly uncommon. But why would such an absurd complaint be so commonplace? It’s not as though any woman really thinks she’s married to Professor X. I believe a large part of the answer has to do with a conflict between God’s design and the expectations of a feminist society.
God created men and women to compliment one another in marriage, and part of that creation was to make the husband the head of the wife just as Christ is head of the Church. As controversial as that is in 21st century America, we can still observe the reality of it. The fact is, women really do expect men to lead–to the point that they generally find men who are unable or unwilling to take the initiative fundamentally unattractive. This isn’t any kind of conscious choice but an instinctive reaction rooted in her God-given design.
But our feminist culture says exactly the opposite–that a woman should never be in a position of submission to a man and that initiative is domineering. The different ways in which this is drilled into men and women alike are more numerous than the sands on the seashore. So even for godly women, it’s a struggle to really accept God’s teaching on the subject; and far more common in our churches are women who struggle to find ways to reject the teaching instead. The result is that most American women think that submission is not only unnecessary, but actually immoral–an utter rejection of how they’ve been taught to behave. As a result, many wives are in a position where her instinct requires her husband to lead but her will & intellect simultaneously refuse to submit.
You might be asking how that could possibly work, and the answer is “not very well.” While people can believe contradictions, contradictions can’t actually exist. So wives in this situation are inexorably drawn into various attempts to distort both instinct and belief until they can be made to fit. One of the most common of these is to expect her husband to lead and take the initiative–but only in exactly the way she wants him to. That way, she can get what her instincts demand without actually having to submit to anything at all.
Naturally, that’s a pretty tenuous arrangement, and one has to be very careful not to break the illusion. On one hand, she can never actually tell her husband what she wants–even if he specifically asks her. Neither can she ask him for it. At the end of the day, most husbands actually want to make their wives happy. Being providers by nature, if our wives ask for something, we’ll usually go out of our way to try and provide it. But if she tells him what she wants before he does it for her, then her instinct is no longer satisfied–he’s following instead of leading.
On the other hand, she can never accept what her husband provides unless it either matches or exceeds her expectations. If he takes the initiative in a way she doesn’t immediately approve of, then acknowledging his leadership would require actual submission. When that happens, her offense is doubled. Not only did she not get what she wanted, but everything she’s been taught tells her that initiative of this kind is an assault on her very sense of self. It’s only natural that she would react according to her offense and get upset.
If she deeply commits to this endeavor, a vicious cycle of misery begins. The husband knows something is wrong and tries to figure out what because he cares about her. But the more he tries to coax an answer out of her, the angrier she gets. After all, the closer she gets to actually telling him, the more it feels like he’s failing to lead, and the more she’s tempted to double-down on her strategy. When she does answer, she does so with spite and contempt. What’s more, Because her bent instincts are demanding that she ask for nothing, she begins to believe that she shouldn’t have to ask for anything in the first place. As this sense of entitlement grows, she grows more resentful at her husband’s failure to understand what she wants. This deepens the offense she feels when he leads “wrongly,” which tempts him to try harder to figure out the problem, and the cycle grows worse.
But what would this cycle look like from the husband’s point of view? Well, he’s not an idiot. He knows that his wife wants things that he isn’t giving her. He also knows that she knows what these things are and refuses to tell him, but expects them all the same. In other words, it seems like she’s expecting him to be a mind-reader. And it fits quite a few cliches–from the whole “What’s wrong? / NOTHING!” dialogue to cyclical arguments about where to go to dinner.
So what can be done about it? Well, a husband in this situation can stop feeding the cycle by constantly trying to figure out what his wife wants. That’s not going to erase her existing sense of entitlement, but it can at least inhibit the growth of resentment on both sides. The key, however, lies with the wife. If she can, as the Apostle Peter instructs, resist her fear and submit to her husband, then she can halt this cycle dead in its tracks. The more she does this, the more she can perceive his leadership & provision as a gift rather than an entitlement. What’s more, she also frees herself to be more open with him about her own feelings and desires without nagging and backbiting, so that he can welcome her input instead of learning to dread it. Rather than a cycle of misery and entitlement, she can create a cycle of gift and gratitude–and that’s a far better way to live for both spouses.