“From the beginning, family duties are distinct; some are proper to the husband, others to the wife. Thus mutual needs are provided for, when each contributes his own services to the common good.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
There isn’t anything else quite like it. Marriage stands out in all of creation. It is the very archetype of the astounding reality called ‘complementarity’: where two are different for the sake of one shared good. A common good.
Sometimes, even often, it can feel as though something is simply wrong: Why are the differences between man and woman—and the reasons and implications of the differences—so hard to discern? Why are they so hard to live out? Why do they seem to be unfair, at least sometimes? Isn’t the difference between man and woman commonly the very thing that breaks rather than makes a marriage?
Surely, this—the complementarity of man and woman and all its implications—is one of those gifts that comes with a challenge and a cost. Here we are called to reckon with a primordial truth: human life was not designed to be easy. It was designed to be stunningly rich. And the sooner we think in terms of our own life as an arduous good that demands more than we could have imagined, the sooner we position ourselves to succeed in it.
For those of us in marriage, or preparing for it or deliberating about it or simply seeking to help those in it, the complementarity of man and woman should be a central object of study and discernment. It is complex, especially in the sense that it has multiple levels or aspects, all of which are intertwined. Beyond the obvious biological complementarity in the conception of children, there is complementarity also in the raising of children—the richness of which might be missed. But there is more.
An unrecognized effect of the evisceration of our households—i.e., their transformation from productive centers of life to bunk-and-entertainment-houses characterized by activities of consumption—is the loss of another and essential aspect of complementarity: the complementarity in the daily work of a household. The ancients took this complementarity for granted. Indeed, common life in most times and places took this for granted. And of it, we taste all too little.
To rediscover it calls for breaking through caricatures and misused models. It calls for creativity and discernment in what we can do in our homes in our current context. It calls for humility and courage, and perhaps most of all loving patience, in helping each other see and start to practice something that might feel alien.
But of this, I think, there is no doubt. Married couples—and thus really all of us—are suffering mightily from the diminution of the lived, concrete, daily, natural complementarity of husband and wife. And a simple first step in addressing this is for husbands and wives to commit to spending more time, together, in the home. Here, we will surely start to see and to taste how we ‘fit together’ even more than we realized.
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: TODAY MY WIFE DIRECTLY JOINS THE WORK OF LIFECRAFT… now at… Sofia’s Corner
Sofia has from the start been an essential part of everything here at LifeCraft. Most of what I know of the gift of marriage and home life is from observing and responding to what God has given me in Sofia.
At Sofia’s Corner, she will share resources to give more flesh and concrete direction for living the principles of LifeCraft. This brings me great joy, and I think you will share my excitement, now that you too can taste something of the genius that animates from within all that I do, and even more, all we do in our home.
Right now she has three focuses: Reading in the Home, Singing in the Home, and Celebrating in the Home. Be sure especially to check out the Advent/Christmas resources, such as the video on making an advent wreath, and lists of our favorite Christmas read alouds–which we hope will materially enhance your time together at Christmas. And coming very soon, resources to make Christmas Caroling at home easy! Visit Sofia’s Corner HERE
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.
The heart of your essay for me is this:
“The ancients took this complementarity for granted. Indeed, common life in most times and places took this for granted. And of it, we taste all too little.”
There is no doubt this is true and it thereby begs (in this case seriously begs!) how in the world did we get to the point where we question things that were comfortably taken for granted for generations upon generations. Not just in marriage, but in all so many things about our lives. I suppose it is always healthy to wonder about things as they are and even to make personal accommodations, but for at least the last three generations we seem to have been on a mission to negate or destroy all practices of the past with a smugness that we knew better how to lead lives. One look outside one’s window into the world as it is now would suggest that such smugness is well beyond being misguided.
I applaud you reminding us of what we really have lost. The good news is that in every family is the capacity to not march to a suspicious modern drum beat, but to rekindle that which is ennobling in family life.
Bob, I deeply appreciate this comment. It really is a wonder that we have moved so far from common sense. And yet, we might thank God that the goodness of reality, and our enduring ability to discover it and live it, is even more wondrous! Let us keep encouraging one another.
A huge welcome to Sophia! I LOVE the book list which has some new titles that are unfamiliar to me and I look forward to discovering them. It was also a treat to get a separate Christmas list. I very much look forward to this column as an addition to an already inspiring weekly post.
Thank you for this week’s reflection John. It’s always a good reminder to appreciate the value of God’s providence in placing men and women together in marriage, and the necessity of cultivating the relationship more purposefully within the home!
Karen, (This is Sofia) Thank you for your warm welcome. I’m very excited about this project too!
I cannot believe you have relegated your wife to the corner!
🙂 Okay, in all seriousness, I am glad that Sofia will be an official part of this already very rich blog. I don’t comment often, but always read your Wednesday quote and reflection, which always gives me much to ponder.
I can now look forward to the added bonus of Sofia’s feminine genius. (I see, too, that there is a special section on books alone; that will be my first stop!)
Blessings to you both,
Thanks Melisa. And be assured, it’s the corner in the sense of the cornerstone… 🙂
Thank you for everything you offer at Life-Craft, each week I am challenged and enlightening in a new way by your reflections. This issue on complimentarity is something I find needs to be learned each day, week, month and year in a marriage. A few steps forward, one back. Our human condition brings us no perfection in this ongoing dance, but only a striving to do better. And sometimes we can hit a sweet spot of floating across the dance floor effortlessly, utter Joy!
I’m also very excited to see Sofia’s Corner, and her tangible ways to implement the concepts you present within our households. I’m amazed she’s posted her first content during this very busy holiday season, and am so grateful. May God continue to bless you both as you spread your bright light to the world!
Cathy, Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. You’re so right about the ongoing dance, and that occasional sweet spot…! I too am thrilled that Sofia is prioritizing this–and I really think her resources on singing at Christmas will also hit a ‘sweet spot.’
Funny that you mention Sofia is your “cornerstone”…what a beautiful notion. This morning it came to me that in most of the world and through history, where men live without Christ, women and girls are aborted or abandoned as lesser, burdensome humans: are “the stone the builders rejected”… but are really the cornerstone of creation….
It is the loss of Christ in women’s lives now, too, which cause them so much pain at the misogyny of the fallen world that they’ve all lost their minds. Thanks for letting me add my spare thoughts to your beautiful essays. Merry Christmas and God bless
I see this witnessed “in flesh” in the marriage of my sister and brother-in-law as they raise my nephew, who was born 11 years ago with a brain injury:
“Here we are called to reckon with a primordial truth: human life was not designed to be easy. It was designed to be stunningly rich. And the sooner we think in terms of our own life as an arduous good that demands more than we could have imagined, the sooner we position ourselves to succeed in it.”
I am about to write to them to thank them for hosting me over Christmas and I plan to include this quotation. Thank you!
You are welcome, Anna. God bless you, and them.