On page 5 of Longing to Love, Tim Muldoon makes this profound observation:
“She [his wife, Sue] has pondered the journey that she, in her longing to be a mother, has trodden, and the work she’s had to undertake at different stages to bring me, a less agile emotional traveler, along on the journey.”
He admits that, in the world of emotions—at least in this area of potential parenthood—his wife is the leader. She has gone further down this path than he has, and it has become a task of her love to bring him “along on the journey.” It’s his task to follow.
How true it is that, depending on the area of development, one person leads in a marriage, and the other follows. This has nothing to do with authority but everything to do with gift. For many women, the landscape of emotion is quite familiar, and for many men it is not. I think it’s safe to say that many men in this culture (and so much of this has to do with how culture has conditioned us) lead their wives when it comes to being decisive and solving problems. Of course these are generalizations, but the point is that there is no one leader in a marriage. No, we lead each other, and sometimes the leader is a mere few inches further down the road than the one being led.
It takes courage to lead, and I think that’s a tougher assignment within a marriage anyway. You don’t want to make unfair demands on the one you love. Unless you have authority issues of your own, you don’t want to boss around or control the person you love. But there are times when your loved one holds back—in fear or inexperience—and you realize that most of the energy for the next move must come from you.
It takes humility to follow. I was a self-sufficient woman for quite awhile before I met the man who became my husband, and my ideas had been shaped by the 1970s, when women threw off old cultural constraints and determined to think for themselves and not depend on men. Yet here I am, nearly two decades into a marriage, and some days I must learn from the man I live with. I’m out of ideas or out of motivation, and the best thing to do is follow my husband.
It also takes great humility to lead well, and great courage to follow someone and relinquish any ideas of control. This life together is not about taking over or giving in; it is about a constant dance between gifts and needs, between strengths and desires. What a complex, beautiful life it is.
Spend time this week reflecting on your strengths and on your loved one’s strengths. Also on weaknesses. When has each of you been the leader, or the follower? How did that work? How did it feel?