Recently I wrote about every husband's temptation towards resentment. Wives also have every inclination (as well as motivation!) towards sinful attitudes regarding their husbands. (Mistrust and disrespect are perhaps chief among them).
But in my post I counselled husbands to die to their private ambitions and seek a fruitful union with their wives that acknowledges the completely new unit they've become. Now, as I read back over that language of "sacrifice" and "death", I have a fear. My fear is that this talk of "death" will feed directly into the resentment I was highlighting.
I know this because for many years I considered myself to be a sacrificial head. I took Ephesians 5:25 as perhaps my most basic calling as a husband - to lay down my life. Trouble was - there's always a counterfeit way to view marital roles. The death I embraced was not the joyful abandonment of my rights to find a deeper joy in my wife's flourishing. Instead it was the proud martyrdom of the burden-bearing ox. I'd trudge along singing "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen...", just loud enough for people to notice. But while-ever I was a burden-bearing ox, there was a deep sense in which I needed my wife to be a burden.
This is counterfeit headship and it comes in a couple of different flavours. Some, like me, emphasize the "dying" part and spin it to mean 'desire-crushing trudgery.' Others emphasize the "saviour" role (Ephesians 5:23) and spin it to mean "knight in shining armour." But if you're married to such a head, watch out. The burden-bearer will (unintentionally) make you the burden. And the knight in shining armour will (unintentionally) make you a "damsel in distress." In either case we have a sick perversion of roles masquerading as biblical faithfulness. If you want to consider it in trinitarian terms (which I do here), you end up with Arian distinctions not Athanasian ones.
The terrible tragedy is that these marriages can appear to fulfil an Ephesians 5 complementarity. And those who trumpet complementarianism as though it's the key to gender relations can apparently justify their counterfeit roles as "Scriptural." I know I did.
But the husband is not simply called to a death, but to a happy death. As with Christ, this death is because of love and for the sake of the joy set before him. It's the very opposite of resentment. It's acknowledging the indicatives already present for the husband:
* Christ has put me to death in His cross and I no longer live (Galatians 2:20)
* The Father has made me one with my wife quite apart from my efforts (Matthew 19:6)
* My wife is a gift straight from the LORD and she's good for me (Genesis 2:18 ; Proverbs 18:22)
* There simply is no life without a good death (Matthew 10:39)
* God will make our sacrificial union fruitful (Genesis 1:28)
* Her beauty will be presented back to me, shining all the brighter for the love which nurtured it (Eph 5:27)
The husband's death is not the sacrifice of a noble sufferer or the heroics of a brave rescuer. It's the grateful response of a guy who - in spite of how she may have hurt him - still counts himself "lucky" to have her. And if he doesn't, his need is not to stuff his feelings and die anyway. He needs to go back to the 6 indicatives above and prayerfully ask for help.
No marriage needs a resentful martyr for a husband. Every marriage needs Jesus to make husbands joyful self-givers. And He will... if only we'll drop our counterfeit roles and receive again from Him.