The authors begin with the consequences of failing to sacrifice for oneness with your wife: divorce, or at best a marriage where the wife has given up on having her deepest desire satisfied. Both authors tell the stories of their nearly ruined marriages, although most of the subsequent illustrations are from Stoeker’s marriage. Both appear to have had a misguided idea of what leadership in a marriage is. They thought leadership was about deciding things—they were the Chief Tiebreaker, and if there were an impasse, it was their right and responsibility to break it. The problem was that they decided things in favor of their needs and desires, without including their wives'. Another problem was that they did not give importance to their wives’ opinions. When Stoecker’s wife said that his family treated her poorly, he refused to believe it.
They discovered that what their wives (and women in general) wanted was oneness. Oneness is making her needs equal to yours. Oneness is about doing something that seems pointless to you because she values it. Oneness is sacrificing yourself for her, just as Jesus sacrificed himself for the Church. The authors refer extensively to the metaphor of a servant. The husband is the servant of becoming-one-with-his-wife’s-essence. A servant who loves his master will study his master’s needs and try to anticipate his needs and desires ahead of time. He will consider his time to be his master’s (after all, he’s a servant; his time is not his own). But this is unnatural to men, partly because we are selfish, and partly because we have inborn tendencies that make it difficult. The authors identify ten:
- Men are rebellious by nature—we want things our own way
- The male ego is bigger but more fragile than the female ego—so we tend to be afraid of our wives’ gifts.
- Men are relatively less sensitive to the needs of others
- Men are less able to express emotions and feelings verbally than women are
- The male brain is more oriented to facts and logic than to
emotions and intuitions—so we stifle our wives’ intuitions
- Men are sexually stimulated visually—and so are prone to stifle our wives by looking at other women
- Males take responsibility for nurturing the love relationship before marriage and then sit back afterwards
- Men need less romance than women, so we tend to forget to stoke
the fires of romance
- The male shield from inferiority is his work, while the woman’s is her marriage
- Men desire peace from marriage while women desire oneness
How do you be a servant to your wife’s essence? First, as a servant, your master defines what rights you have. We have no “right” to please ourselves, because when we promised to love our wives, we gave up that right. Just because we really enjoy something does not give us the right to do it, if our wife feels it hinders the relationship or the family—even if (theoretically) they are wrong. By doing it anyway we would be preventing her from doing God’s work the way she believes it must be done. Basically, servants sacrifice their happiness for their master’s; likewise husbands need to sacrifice their happiness to serve the master of honoring their wife’s essence. “In premarriage class, I often say, ‘If any of you guys have a problem with giving up your rights for the sake of the one you love, get up and run for the hills.’ If I didn’t have at least one couple per class call off their marriage, I suspected I was not telling the truth clearly enough.” (p. 104) Ultimately, “oneness lies not in the sentiment of loving your wife as yourself, but in the act of loving her as yourself.” (p. 161)
Sacrificing time is required, too. Time to sit and communicate (which may be a sacrifice for us). Time with the kids. Respecting how she spends her time, even if supper wasn’t even thought about because she felt that one of the kids really needed extra attention that afternoon.
We need to let our wives practice their ministry. If they view having a spotless house as important to a ministry of inviting friends over, we need to treat it as important and maybe come home from work early, even if we think spotlessness is excessive and unnecessary. It might require doing some things simply because she thinks it needs to be done. For example, one time Fred’s wife wanted him to pay a visit to a neighbor that he knew was completely unnecessary. And so it turned out to be. He asked his wife if it meant anything that he did it simply because it seemed important to her, and she surprised him by the intensity of her yes (she felt that they had been neglecting Christian neighborliness).
Similarly, it is important to highly value our wife’s thoughts, even if they seem vague or unquantifiable. She may say things that run right across our values, but God gave her gifts, too, and marriage and raising a family is just as much a call for her as it is for us. She will see things that we would not and although we may be annoyed by them, they are important. Our wife is supposed to be a helpmate; we should not stifle the help she can bring. One might even expect that we will not understand some of the things she sees; if we did, we would not need a helpmate...
At times our wife will be not the person we thought we married. She we will be weak in some area that is important to us. Instead of trying to get her to clean up her act, our response should be to do her job for her when she is not able. If she’s too busy to clean the dishes in the evening and dirty dishes depress her in the mornings to where she mopes around all day, the answer is not to tell her to deal with it, but rather wash the dishes yourself in the evening (even if that means forgoing certain evening pleasures). God entrusted his daughter to her husband; we need to help restore her.
Likewise, we need to honor our wife. We need to stand up when someone dishonors her or acts in a way that transgresses a value she (and hopefully, you) hold dear.
The next section of the book is about how to serve your wife as Chief Servant. It involves studying her, to know not only what she likes, but what she values and, even more importantly, what living as a Christian means. It means that we need to include our wives in the decisions and to make decisions with her in mind. Ultimately we may end up choosing something that she does not want because it is better for her (for example, not moving to be near her parents even though she wants to emotionally because in her heart of hearts she wants to raise a family independently and this would not be possible otherwise), but she needs to know that we considered her. (Likewise, we may end up deciding that we need to remodel the home because it would help raise the kids better, even though we’d rather have the mortgage paid off.)
The husband also needs to be a strong spiritual leader. No one should know more of the Bible, be faster to ask forgiveness, pray and worship more, act to conform to biblical principles more, or be more consistent meeting with God than us. Never put your family in a position where you and your family cannot grow, whether that be a church or a job location. Your wife yearns for you to lead her spiritually and slacking off will make it harder for her to submit to you, because she respects you less. Similarly, we should make every effort to get rid our sins. They do not affect just us, they affect our wife as well—particularly sexual sins. Arterburn describes how he would look at the lingerie section of the newspaper early Sunday mornings when no one else was up. Not only was he not prepared to worship when he got to church, but his wife was haunted by dreams where she was being chased and wanted to find her husband, but could not. Furthermore, sin has effects on our families, on our kids. If we don’t get rid of sin, by the time we are confronted with it, it may be too late for our kids. Along those lines, the authors mention a husband who had a sin that finally was about to come up to the surface and destroy his reputation at church, where he was a deacon. She had covered up for him, but now it was impossible. We should give our wives permission to confront us. The authors’ reaction to this couple is that they want their wives to hang them out to dry publicly if they sin and refuse to repent.
The final section of the book is about sex. Many married men report having just as many unfulfilled sexual desires as when they were single. Wives tend to view sex as a chore and don’t really want to do it. Some just outright refuse. The authors first say unequivocally that this is sin on the wife’s part: In 1 Corinthians Paul says that our bodies are not our own. A man’s wife is the only legitimate way that a man can be fulfilled sexually and by withholding it from him she dooms him to being sexually stimulated by her but having no outlet. However, the husband’s body is not his own, either. Has he given his wife what she deeply desires: emotional oneness? If not, she is not going to be very sexually attracted to him; no wonder she doesn’t want to do it. Husbands have no more right to withhold emotional oneness from our wives that they do to withhold physical oneness from us.
Another part of the problem is that men tend to define being fulfilled sexually as catering to their appetites. However, how can we expect emotional oneness if we expect our wife to do something that she despises? Our marital right is physical oneness, not fulfillment of unbridled fantasies. The man’s idea of what is acceptable is going to be larger than the woman’s, but he needs to learn what her boundaries are and not push them. Trying to push her boundaries is trampling her. Under no circumstances should the man ever even suggest anything that she considers sinful (even if it is not inherently sinful).
Basically men want intimacy through physical oneness and women want intimacy through emotional oneness. Men are generally not “in the mood” to give emotional oneness naturally. Likewise, women are not generally “in the mood” to give physical oneness. However, when we obey God’s command to not treat our bodies as our own, and the man commits to meeting his wife’s emotional needs and the woman commits to meeting her husband’s physical needs, Arterburn notes that we begin to appreciate the other’s need and we truly become one.
I first learned about this book through an advertisement for the original title, Every Woman’s Desire. The new title is probably an improvement, but the book lives up to its original title, as well. The authors have a simple answer for the question: every woman’s desire is emotional oneness. The whole book is essentially about how men fail to realize this is what women want, and, worse, completely fail to sacrifice their desires to give their wives what they need. In some sense, a lot of the book just seems pretty obvious to me. I was just planning on involving my wife in decisions; what’s the point of being married if you don’t do it together? I was planning on considering her opinions, not doing things that she didn’t like, etc., because that just seems like the minimum one would need to do. However, while I probably would not have been an overbearing husband, it is likely that I would not have been very willing to sacrifice when my wife wanted something that seemed to me to be unreasonable. I probably would have acted like Chief Tiebreaker in those situations and would have probably ended up trampling my wife’s essence to some degree.
I found this book to be very disturbing. I knew that Jesus calls husbands to love their wives sacrificially like He loves the church, but I might not have put “sacrificing ‘reasonability’ and doing something just because it is important to her” in the category of Jesus’ command (although I would have probably learned over time that things worked better that way). So when I read the book, the magnitude of how much we give up when we get married became clearer. You are basically giving up half yourself. Perhaps it is harder for men to give up themselves, since women seem to do this more naturally. Apparently God thinks that the result is quite worth it.
I also think that this is a good book for single women to read. Since over 80% of women report being unfulfilled in their marriage, I am beginning to think that the most important requirement a woman should have for a guy (after loving God more than anything else, including her) is that he understand that he needs to give up anything that hinders emotional oneness, not just for a little while during dating, but for ever and ever. If you are a single woman, after you read this book you will not want to settle for anything less than a man who will sacrifice what he thinks is important to for the sake of emotional oneness with you.
This book takes a very conversational approach. It states the principles and backs them up with some scripture, but it does not go into intellectual depth. It is intended as a very practical book, a call to men to love their wives as they want to be loved by seeking emotional oneness. It gives a large number of examples of what kinds of things this might entail and it gives a large number of examples of how we might completely fail (and what the consequences are). To someone who was raised in a Christian home whose parents loved each other, some of the authors’ examples seem obvious. However, I think that most men will be disturbed by this book, because the call to give ourselves up is not something we do very well. Given the statistics of how men are generally totally oblivious to the needs of women, I suspect all readers will benefit from this book.
Good examples. The authors are very vulnerable and the reader knows that they are not just saying something that sounds good but have actually started off not doing it and came to know the folly of their ways. I think this book could use a bit more intellectual grounding (although, I have to consider that perhaps that is not always necessary of helpful) in order to be a 100-year book, but it is very disturbing (in a convicting sort of way) and this is not to be ignored. I definitely feel that my marriage will be much better than it would have been without this book.