“Roles play an extremely important part in healthy family functioning. Most researchers agree that the establishment of clear roles within a family is directly connected to a family’s ability to deal with day-to-day life, unforeseen crises and the normal changes that occur in families over time.” – Rick Peterson

“….submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Bible

Tanya was looking forward to her upcoming marriage to Tim. Tanya was an only child and had been on her own since she graduated from high school. She was a very capable woman and enjoyed her independence.

Tim had also been making his own way in life for a number of years. In fact, his only concern about getting married was adjusting to the presence of someone else in his living quarters. He was looking forward to marriage with both excitement and trepidation.

Tim and Tanya decided premarital counseling would be a good idea before they launched into their shared life. They made a wise choice; marriage expectations and roles and responsibilities are key components in determining happy and successful marriage.

According to Rick Peterson, Department of Human Development, Virginia Tech, researchers have identified the following five roles as being essential for a healthy family: provision of resources; nurturance and support; sexual gratification of marital partners; life skills development; and maintenance and management of the family system.

The first three roles are fairly self-explanatory and obviously require the involvement of both husband and wife. In current society, often both the husband and wife have an occupation that brings in money. An argument might be made that this is driven by the establishment of a life style that has moved way beyond needs into the want category – but that’s the topic for a later discussion.

Nevertheless, both husband and wife bring resources that are crucial to a healthy family, even though they may not receive financial recognition.

In most families, the fourth role, that of life skills development, could benefit from increased emphasis. It applies to encouraging our children in the areas of academic and social skills. In addition, husband and wife should continue to encourage each other in the development and utilization of the skills God has given them.

The fifth role, maintenance and management of the family system, is perhaps the most difficult and often controversial. It involves many tasks, including leadership, decision making, handling family finances, enforcing behavioral standards and maintaining appropriate roles with respect to extended family, friends and neighbors.

For ease of discussion, let’s consider three categories of relationship roles in marriage: equalitarian, traditional and a combination of the first two.

In an equalitarian relationship role, the partners desire a shared approach to leadership and decision-making. The distribution of household tasks and responsibilities is determined by interests and skills rather than by traditional male/female roles.

Couples in a traditional relationship prefer roles that are based on gender, with the husband being more dominant in leadership and decision-making. This doesn’t mean that the husband is more capable or knowledgeable. He simply is the one who accepts the final responsibility for the decisions and is the front person, so to speak.

Many couples today opt for a combination of the equalitarian and traditional roles. The Bible clearly establishes the man’s role as one of final leadership. However, the Bible also unmistakably says the man’s leadership role includes denying himself as necessary to maintain the family, up to and including death, i.e. the defender of the family no matter what the consequences.

Hence the combination of the two in a healthy fashion means that the man understands “the buck stops here” (as President Harry Truman once said), while at the same time the man also acknowledges that he must have input from his wife.

It should be understood that the first four family roles require equal involvement from both husband and wife. The final role, in essence that of leadership, falls to the husband by definition and not by ability. Ultimately, he takes the lead in implementing unconditional love.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.