In the interest of full disclosure: my wife and I have been married eleven years. Not newlyweds, not experts either. We have two daughters, age four and one.
Contrary to popular belief, marriage should not be a ballroom dance, in which one person leads all the time. Why? Because life is not a ballroom. It's a mosh pit. People are throwing elbows, the guy next to you is whacked out of his gourd on ecstasy and keeps trying to fondle your earlobes, and the bathroom...the less said about the bathroom the better.
And let me explode another myth: marriage is not fifty/fifty. It is not even, as Dr. Phil says, 100/100 (though that's a noble goal). It's a combination of however much energy each person has at any given moment. That could be fifty/fifty, 100/100, 60/40, 3/97 or 97/3. It's however much you can put in while holding down a job, taking care of kids, battling an illness (yours or someone elses) and dealing with crazy in-laws and a car with a squeal that just wont go away regardless of how many times you take it to the mechanic. The rest is grace.
Marriage is messy and complicated because life is messy and complicated.. It requires give and take. It requires compromise. And perhaps a stiff drink.
Complementarians, and conservatives (especially Christian conservatives), don't like compromise, because to them it's not necessary. Every situation has a clear wrong answer and right answer. Just choose the right one, and compromising isn't necessary! If compromise is needed, that implies that there's not a clear right answer that can be applied to every situation.
My father-in-law (a conservative Baptist) once told my wife that she would be "divorced and living in the gutter by the time she was thirty." This was because she was a "contentious woman" who wouldn't allow a man to "lead her", which is in Opposition To The Bible.
After all, he posited, if there was no leader in the home, who makes a decision when a consensus can't be reached? (This is one area where polygamists have a clear advantage, as long as they have an odd number of spouses).
It's a valid question. Frequently how it plays out for us is like so: one of us wants to change something, the other wants to keep it the same. In the event that a consensus can't be reached, the one wanting to keep things the same usually wins by default. For example, say my wife wants to move to the Midwest and I want to stay in Massachusetts (a true story from ten years ago). We staid in Massachusetts, not because I was the man, but because we were already there and my wife wasn't going to force the issue. (We eventually moved to the Midwest when circumstances changed and we both agreed it was for the best).
But what if both parties want a change, and you can't agree on what the change should be? My wife and I have struggled since day one of our marriage to come up with a workable budget. We have different ideas on how money should be managed, although our goals are the same. I'll be honest - if either one of us had simply ceded control of financial matters to the other party, things would have been much easier.
But would they have been better?
I don't think so. Working together toward a budget has taught us how to communicate. And, more importantly, how to compromise. The budget we have today isn't complete, but it's getting there. And it's a hybrid system that's been put together with input from both of us. We compromised.
I won't say our system is perfect. After all, the Bible says that "a good compromise leaves everyone angry."
Wait, sorry - that's not from the Bible, it's from Calvin and Hobbes (no, not THAT Calvin). But it's true. A compromise is rarely as satisfying as getting your own way. And there have been times when we've gotten temporarily stuck because we can't find a compromise that works.
But that's OK.
I'm not scared of getting stuck as long as my wife is by my side.