A husband equals…a glass ceiling?

Originally published 18 March 2013
See details about the free ebook version of this post here

To prevent any confusion, let me first clarify what this post is NOT about.
This post is simply about a husband preventing his wife from reaching for her dreams because of only one reason:  his ego.
This post is NOT about a husband asking his wife to give up her dreams for the sake of his own dreams, or about a woman voluntarily doing that, for instance by leaving her own dream job in one country to go to his dream job in another.  Rather it is about when there is more than enough space and opportunity for both dreams, like when both dream jobs are in the same city, but the husband feels that his wife’s success would threaten him.

Similarly, this post is NOT about a woman giving up her job to raise the family or manage the home. It is NOT about her husband asking her to make that choice for the sake of the family, even where she may be reluctant. In many cases I believe that this would be a valid reason for a woman to give up her career or dreams, even if she had never planned to do that beforehand.  Rather this post is about a husband asking his wife to give up her dreams for the sake of his own ego.  To complicate matters, some husbands might hide their real motive in the excuse of needing their wife to look after the family (for instance  there might still be space for the wife to pursue a few goals of her own, even where doing a thorough job of looking after and bringing up the family).
The premise of this post is that a husband vetoes or hinders his wife’s plans and dreams for the true reason of his ego alone, (even if he does actually try to wrap a legimitate excuse around his actions, like one of the reasons given above which I believe actually are legitimate reasons for a woman to surrender her dreams.)
Let me start off this post with a little (true) story.  I had just been thinking through the concept of this post, mentally fleshing out the idea, when I received a text from one of my sisters, saying that she and another of my sisters were getting together to have prayer sessions, and they would be praying especially for me to get a husband.  As the idea expressed in this post does not portray the most positive view of husbands, and it was so fresh in my mind, my face automatically contorted itself into an expression of horror.
“A husband?!  For me?!  But why?!  Don’t you guys love me?!”
And one of the sisters in question also happens to be my AuntyNaija sister – seriously, you’d think that she’d know better!
On thinking about it, I realised that I have succeeded in scaring myself while thinking about marriage and writing these posts, to the point where the idea of marriage is no longer a happy thought, or an idea that automatically thrills my mind, as it might have done in younger years. Rather I think about all the hard work, all the prayer, all the sacrifices…I think about how amazing and prayerful a husband would have to be to make it worthwhile, and how unlikely I am to find such a prayerful husband when Christians generally do not seem to be very prayerful.
However you know what, I want to find an amazing guy, and I want to get married!  I should not let myself be scared by anything I have shared on this blog, because the point of prayer is to be able to deal with all these issues, and trust that God will give me a husband and a marriage that will be tremendously worth everything.  Perhaps the way to look at these (negative) issues is to consider these as issues that someone might be likely to encounter unless they pray very hard, and also as issues that it would help to be aware of, to pre-empt in prayer before they materialise.
And to be blunt, today’s issue is extremely negative.
The point is this:  As a woman, I am personally extremely ambitious. I want to make the most of my years here on earth.  I want to do that in a number of ways.  Firstly, and most importantly, I want to know God as much as I possibly can.  I want to walk in His power, I want to walk in His truth.  When my character is squeezed, I want pure Bible to flow out! I seriously want and need to know the Bible inside out, upside down in every way possible! I know that there can be no greater aspiration for my life than to invest it thoroughly into the pursuit of God.
If you really knew me, you would know that I am not just saying this, either for the sake of trying to impress people or to win any kind of religious kudos for myself. This has been my life, and for me it is the only feasible way to live.
Alongside this, I also dream of success in other areas; I love developing and expressing creative talents.  I want to excel in expressing the gifts that God has given me.
At the moment, I am my own boss in all of these areas. I write for my own blogs, I run my own businesses.  Because of this, I am not currently aware of any glass ceiling that could curtail my achievement in any of these. I can literally go as far as I want to go, as far as I am prepared to work.  If this was not true in any other regard, it is definitely true with God.  I and anyone else in the world, can go as deep with God as we like.  God does not impose any limits on how deeply we can know Him, or how hard we can pray, how passionately we can pursue the Bible, or how much His power can resonate through our lives.  In fact, God actually encourages us to pursue Him. The Bible teaches that we should be greedy for God! Like here in Luke 10v27
Over the last few weeks it occurred to me that a husband could effectively stop this – maybe not so much the pursuit of God, but the expression of the other talents. He could do this by using his “husbandly authority”, by insisting that I should submit. This thought has actually occurred to me in different guises and permutations over the years, but I believe that this is the first time it has occurred to me in terms of a glass ceiling; that is, the glass ceiling which I have otherwise managed to avoid might finally descend upon my life in the form of my husband himself, my own living breathing glass ceiling, happily waiting for me when I get home, following me wherever I go around the world, ready to veto all my big plans and to scupper all my exciting projects.
And why might a husband do this? I guess it is possible that a husband might frown on a wife’s plans purely because he wants his wife at home to look after the house and the children. There is nothing wrong with this desire, and there is nothing wrong with this kind of life for a woman. However, if you as a husband want this, then I believe that this is the kind of thing that you should bring up before marriage, to make sure that this is also the kind of life that your intended wife aspires to.
However, the thought that really scares me is the idea that a husband might essentially hinder his wife’s ambition purely because of his own ego. That is, not for any tangible, real, worthwhile reason whatsoever; not because there is the slightest thing truly wrong with what the wife is doing, but simply because the husband feels that his wife’s progress in some way attacks his own credibility as a man, as the leader, as the provider. That is, a man might have absolutely no problem at all if his wife pursued even the highest heights in pursuits that he considered safe and “womanly” and completely unthreatening to him. Concerning less safe pursuits, a man might be happy to encourage his wife’s dreams, as long as her perceived level remains considerably below his. However, if she were to start getting too close, or if her level, for instance in her career, were to shoot stratospherically beyond his own then – oh dear!
You know what, I actually think that this is sufficient to break marriages – whether or not it is acknowledged as the real reason for the breakup. I think, as with many issues, many men might not be able to recognise this mindset within themselves, or even honestly acknowledge it where they do recognise it, which would not help the situation. I mean seriously, have you ever heard of a woman stamp her foot, get into a rage, or stomp off in a sulk, because her husband is too successful? (That is, unless his success means that he no longer has time to spend with her…) I mean, would that not be ridiculous?! And yet pragmatically speaking, we know that men express this kind of discontent all the time!
As I thought about this – this is a controversial statement – it occurred to me that marriage is probably the number one reason why women consistently fail to achieve their potential. Not only because of any external glass ceilings, and not just because as women they might be otherwise employed in marriage – that is, by having kids and looking after them, or doing housework, but also because, pragmatically speaking, each woman also has to manage the demands of her husband’s ego. If a certain percentage of men struggle with this, then for that same percentage of women, “putting their marriage first” in practical terms might mean surrendering their dreams for the sake of their husbands’ insecurities.
And then there is also the fact that many times these issues will not actually be expressed verbally. However, it will fall to that famous “female intuition” for you as a woman to deduce the issue – and deal with it. It is a bit of a cliché, but the older I get, the more I realise how true it is that the real rules in any situation are the ones that are not written or otherwise tangibly expressed. So a husband might never ever say to his wife – probably never would:
“Your success is making me feel insecure….I would prefer it if you slowed down a bit and gave me a chance to catch up, or surpass you” or
I am the man, I am the one who is supposed to be great!” or
“Why do you always insist on reaching for the stars? Why don’t you come back down to earth to live with us mere mortals?!”
However, as a woman, you might quickly realise that your husband’s congratulations on your latest exploits sound a little hollow, or what if he does not congratulate you at all, but greets your “exciting news” with silence, or what if you perceive a gradual stiffening or hardening in his attitude towards you over time, as your success grows? This is how perverse human nature is – that he might even be growing too. He might even be growing faster than you. And yet he might be upset by the mere fact that you are noticeably growing at all.
As with so many issues I have discussed on this blog, I believe that the ideal “solution” to this is best applied before marriage. And the ideal solution I propose for this is the solution I propose for everything else –  choose the right spouse in the first place, by praying very, very hard and looking for a man who is genuinely striving after God as hard as he can, and also by praying to make sure that God authorises and empowers that marriage. I am directing this at the woman as it may be your dreams that will be at risk, so if you don’t want your dreams to die, the onus will be on you to find a husband and marriage who will preserve those dreams.
However, if you are a man, even a husband already, then I also believe that you should pray about this, and if you intend to be my husband, then I doubly advise you to pray about it! It is only going to become more of an issue as time goes on, and women grow increasingly emancipated regarding careers and life options.
In a way I could stop here, you could say that now there is a solution, you  don’t need to worry about all the bad things that could happen as long as you apply that solution. However, a few more thoughts did occur to me, and I am going to express them.  I believe that this issue could be huge, and this is why it is so important to actually pray – not just go through the motions, or pray for God to validate the marital choice that you have already made.
Because marriage in some sense is necessary for human procreation and from that the continuation of the human race, in practice all this might mean that half of humanity has to give up its dreams just to keep humanity itself “ticking along”.  And no prizes for guessing which half of humanity that would be.
I know that in marriage men also give up their dreams.  For instance, a man might give up his dreams of professional creativity in one area for the sake of a more stable and well paying job outside his dream to support his family.  A man who yearns to be an entrepreneur and work on crazy dreams might go to find “a proper job”.  However, these are solid and tangible reasons to give up your dreams.  The point here is that a man might ask his wife to give up her long-held dreams for essentially no necessary reason at all, other than his ego! (“But Tosin,” you might say, “That is a necessary reason!” “No,” I would reply,  “Really, it is not!”)
My own experience – male pastors – the rule rather than the exception
You know what really made this issue strike me? The fact that I have actually experienced this myself, despite not being married!
How a glass ceiling works
I used to think that a glass ceiling would only “kick into effect” when I was say, around 50 years old, and I had already achieved some seniority in my work place. However, I now appreciate that it is there and present all the time, because prejudices in people’s hearts are there all the time. From my experience, this is how it works. When you meet someone, there might be some prejudice within them against you (for whatever reason) that makes them think that you cannot attain a certain level or you should not be allowed to attain that certain level. It might not even be about your attaining a certain level – it might just be negative attitudes towards you that are based not on facts, but rather prejudices. And obviously,there might also be irrational prejudices in your own heart against them or other people.
In fact, I think it works in a very similar way to the way I think infatuation works, in that it is not based on reality, but rather on what is in your heart, except that infatuation obviously creates positive expectations. Now a “glass ceiling” in the conventional sense occurs when there is a group of people who have matching or similar negative prejudices against you in their hearts. It is like the prejudice within each heart joins up with that in the heart next to it, and together the prejudices in each heart join to form the glass ceiling, unseen but very real, and these people stop you from getting to a position that it is within their level to assign. Once again, these rules are often unwritten, of course, but you might find, as I have done, that although no-one ever says anything, some avenues remain stubbornly closed to you – as long as they are controlled by other people.
While by the grace of God, I have been fortunate in avoiding a glass ceiling in my employment, I have been unspeakably surprised by the lack of support that I have received from Christians generally and from pastors specifically in all my endeavours for the Kingdom of God. You’d think that because I am doing this for the sake of God’s work, the Kingdom of God, that people would encourage, or support… However, that has scarcely been the case at all! I am very grateful for those people who have acknowledged and supported my efforts. And yet with so many others… And it is not as if I have not invested my own time, effort and money to support these very same people, because I have!
Admittedly, I do tend to be quite outspoken in my pursuit of the Kingdom of God, and I have hardly made any secret of the fact that I think that most Christians and most pastors are jokers. But still! Now it is not as if these people have actually formed a glass ceiling over my life, as my work in this field is not dependent on anyone’s approval or authorisation. However I am confident that if my work did need these people to authorise it, then I would quickly feel myself bumping my head into an invisible barrier! I should make it clear that it is not only men who have acted surprisingly, as exactly the same behaviour has come from women. However, for the sake of my marriage I am naturally more concerned with how men would behave!
From my own experience, I actually expect that this attitude among husbands will be the resounding rule, rather than the exception. I know that it would be diplomatic of me to pretend otherwise, that I believe most men would be encouraging and supportive and only the odd one “here or there” might struggle with this. However, I actually expect that the majority of men will respond negatively towards a wife’s success, with perhaps say, 15% per cent of men naturally handling it positively, and an additional 15 – 25 % struggling to embrace a positive outlook. Oh, the idea of marriage just grows increasingly attractive – not! That said, perhaps my own experience is not actually representative of how men would treat the success demonstrated by their wives, and is rather only representative of how people treat me!
Sincerity
Some men might make all the right noises before marriage about supporting you and your career or dreams. Some men might be lying outright, in the same way that they might lie about intending to be faithful to you, when they already plan to cultivate multiple affairs. But here is the thing – many men will actually, genuinely be sincere as they are making these promises. They might have every intention in the universe of supporting your plans. And yet, once you actually get married, something unexpected and (un)magical happens! Mr Enthusiastically Supportive slowly becomes Mr Unenthusiastic and Unsupportive.
I believe that part of this is because we as human beings do not always know what we are capable of. That is, have you ever done anything where you surprised yourself? For example, I as a person tend to think of myself as being basically incapable of envy. And yet once, I found myself responding to one of my friends out of this very emotion. I was too embarrassed to apologise, so I ran away instead! And I’ve recently had to accept that some people systematically inspire feelings of envy within me.
I believe that this is exactly the kind of thing that might happen in a marriage, that a man might genuinely not realise before marriage that he is capable of acting this way. Until he does. And then he does again. And then it keeps happening until it becomes a habit that he is either unable or unwilling to break out of. It is for this reason that I believe that it is better to look for a spouse who is desperately striving after God and Christlike character, than even someone who is clearly sincere, or has already attained excellent character but is not striving, as someone who is striving after God will keep moving forward and becoming better and better, but someone who is not striving will at best remain at the same place, but in all likelihood will actually move backwards before your very disappointed eyes.
Female superiors
This further complicates the idea about male sincerity in this issue. That is, some men are genuinely fine with the fact of having female superiors at work or in any other regard. They are sincerely happy to work alongside women at work, they are sincerely happy to report to female bosses or line managers, they might happily talk to you about their female boss, and how well they get on. From this, you might be “lulled into a false of security”, especially as he also coos to you about how he will support your dreams. And once again he might be utterly sincere about being utterly secure with female ambition and success. And yet, in practice, he might struggle to accept female ambition and success when it comes from his own wife…that might hit him more personally, in some ways that even he might not have been able to anticipate before marriage.
Limits
I believe that something about dating is that in the fun and frolicking of a succession of dates you would not necessarily get to see one another’s limits of character, as these would tend to be carefully hidden away behind the best of manners and courteous behaviour. And yet, within marriage, once you start living with this person 24/7 you quickly get to know one another’s real limits and the truth comes out. I have a cousin, she and I are quite close, we used to spend hours on the phone talking about our respective thoughts, plans, dreams and ideas of marriage (she is now married).
Well she once told me that she was going to Paris to celebrate a landmark birthday, and as I had never been to Paris before I invited myself along, assuring her of the French I spoke! So off we went together. Now this trip was only three days long, but oh my goodness, we could not speak to one another for about four months afterwards! It is amazing how much you can disagree with someone with whom you ordinarily get on so well. Limits that would never have been guessed at in all our honest and sincere phone conversations were instantly revealed. And this is also how it could be in marriage. So when you are dating him, and he seems to be the epitome of grace and excellent behaviour, you might never imagine the limits to his character that might definitely will instantly reveal themselves when you have 24 hours in a day to observe them.
Submission – not about submission
As a woman brought up in a strong Christian community, I have chafed at the idea of a wife’s submission to her husband in marriage for much of my life. For this blog post, it might be tempting to think that a man could exploit his authority to simply order me not to do what I wanted to do. However, on thinking about it, I’ve realised that it is not truly about submission as such, or which partner has to submit to which one, but rather it is more about a co-operative attitude. That is, if your spouse is not prepared to be co-operative, then it does not matter whether you “have” to submit to them, or they “have” to submit to you. Either way, the effect will be the same. This is true for instance where a wife refuses to co-operate with the plans put forward by her husband. She could hinder his plans by her lack of co-operation just as easily as a husband could hinder his wife’s plans by invoking his husbandly authority. The difference would be that the man would still be “allowed” to carry on doing what he wants.
Sullen
This is a possible scenario that occurred to me and made me shudder. There are some things that I do now where to think about them, to execute them and to get to the point of forgetting I ever did them altogether take place in the time it takes to blink an eyelid. Such is my personal autonomy and my sense of initiative that for many of these things it would not naturally occur to me to even ask my husband whether it would be OK for me to…xyz. OK, so let’s assume that I am actually now in a marriage and I have learned to discuss these issues with my husband rather than just jumping straight in.
(And naturally, as with micro-managing bosses, some husbands will simply insist on being consulted on every tiny matter, as it will enhance their sense of power to be able to “authorise” or “veto” each little detail of life….)
And imagine this – if, because of this issue – that (h)is ego, in response to my attempts to discuss in a straightforward, non-threatening manner – he just shrugs – just like that! And then refuses to truly engage with the issue, and it just drags on and on…for days…weeks? Months? And to think that this is something I would have accomplished as a single woman in a matter of minutes, or hours. I don’t think I can tell you how unspeakably irritated and resentful I would be. And you know what? I’m sure that this happens in marriage all the time.
Bringing up sons – Biblical versus unbiblical views of leadership
I think that the fact that this attitude is so widespread among men indicates conditioning that boys receive in their upbringing. I believe that men are brought up to believe that they have to be better than women in the sense that they have to be more successful, they have to be the ones providing for the home, otherwise they are not real men. I am not saying that men should not provide for their homes. However the true, definitive Biblical model for male leadership in the home is not based on who may or may not be more “successful”, or who may or may not be bringing in more money. It is based rather on servant leadership. It is about metaphorically washing the feet of your wife and family.
Jesus teaches us that if we want to be the leader, then we have to be the servant. Matthew 20v26. Remember that some women provided for Jesus Himself from their financial resources. And yet there was no question as to who was the leader. And there are no signs that Jesus let His identity be threatened by this. I think that it is so important for us Christians bringing up our sons to teach them correctly. This is because the society that surrounds them will be doing its best to teach them opposite values, that “male leadership” is about being the boss, or visibly being “the more successful”.
Some women..
To get around this issue, for the sake of at least reaching marriage, some women have devised cunning schemes.
“Pretend to know nothing”, they advise, “Flutter your eye-lashes in wide-eyed admiration at whatever might tumble from his lips”, (whether it is genuinely wise or rather an absolute pearl of mediocrity!)
“Then, once you have secured him in marriage, slowly rise to your full height!”
To which I answer:
“What – so that he would then be in the perfect position to “Glass Ceiling” me for the rest of my life?!  How incredibly silly!”  If someone shows the slightest tendency to be a “Glass Ceiling” over me, then I will be doing my utmost to run away from him as far and as fast as I can; I will emphatically NOT be trying to trick him to marry me!
Let me blunt with you, Mr Man! By God’s grace I aspire to excel in my life. By the grace of God, this will include being an excellent wife and mother. However, my dreams extend beyond these to excelling in my own right – I, me, myself, Tosin.
If that will be a problem for you, then please feel free to take your leave and make an exit now. And please don’t come back, because nothing will have changed!
I have no desire to spend the rest of my life wrestling with someone else’s ego. That is, marriage involves big sacrifices anyway – a few of which I have discussed in my previous post.
How can a supposed Christian not know this:  that you are the one supposed to wrestle with your own ego, defeat it, and keep it defeated daily  – rather than leave that battle to your poor wife?!  in fact the Bible talks not about “defeating” your ego, but rather killing it.  Jesus says:  “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”  Matthew 16v24 Remember that the cross is an instrument of execution, it is not for decoration!  What is supposed to die on that cross is our sinful nature, including our prideful ego.  As Christians we also have to live in readiness of actually literally dying for the Gospel.  Additionally the Apostle Paul says that everyone who belongs to Christ has crucified the flesh:  Galatians 5v24. And yet in my experience, so many “Christians” have shown me ugly ego that I can only conclude that no-one apparently knows this!
So you expect me to lay aside my dreams so that I can around carry that ego instead, which Biblically speaking is supposed to be dead?! And let me get this straight. You are supposed to be the leader of this enterprise called “Our Marriage”, yet you expect me to be the one to actually do all the work, and to take the initiative for dealing in prayer with your insecurities (along with the other million and one tasks I will already have to deal with in marriage)…? Frankly my dear, I don’t think so!
That said, you know what, when thinking about this issue, it is the one thing that makes me most happy that I am not yet married, and happy that I discovered it/it occurred to me before marriage (so I can emphatically deal with it in prayer when considering the husband to marry). If I never get married, know that it will be because I never find a guy who is sufficiently prayerful, who pursues God enough.
“Well Tosin, ” you might say, affronted, “Perhaps they did not find you prayerful enough, and they did not want to marry you!”
Well maybe they did not! (Shrug!) What can you do?!

Bible Verses:
James 3v14:
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.

James 3v16:
16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

James 3v17:
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

Galatians 5v22:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…

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