To be an Help Meet for him…

I’m a person who believes in equality, fairness, and logical thinking. I’m also stubborn, independent, and outspoken. When my first daughter was born nine years ago, I wasn’t about to become a traditional wife and mother. Because of that back story, and the events that followed, I was fascinated by Sharlee’s comment about not being a natural born wife.

I launched into marriage with the idea that I was an enlightened, modern woman. I bristled at the suggestion that might be any absolutes in gender or marriage. Instead, Don and I built our marriage around what we believed to be our individual strengths and needs. I went to grad school and got a job. Don stayed home with the baby. I loved my work, and my friends all congratulated me on my modern, enlightened relationship. Don was a great homemaker. He cooked wonderful dinners, packed me a homemade lunch every day, and made sure I never ran out of deodorant. It drove us to the brink of divorce.

I can’t logically explain why our marriage crumbled from the inside. It still seems to me that it should have worked. But it didn’t. When the Spirit told us that our home was not properly ordered, we finally responded. I came home, and Don went to work. And as hard as that was, the rewards were immediate. Our relationship blossomed. And what’s more, in the intervening years, the positive turning points in our relationship have always involved me figuring out another (usually “traditional”) piece to the puzzle of what it means to be a wife.

So what’s a modern, enlightened girl to do?

I’ve been reading Beverly Campbell’s book, Eve and the Choice Made in Eden. I especially love the section in which she analyzes the original Hebrew in the section of Genesis dealing with the creation, and she suggests that a more accurate translation of that passage might be something akin to “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who is equal with him.”

Strength. Power. Equality. Now we’re talking. And it occurs to me that if I had understood myself that way from the beginning, perhaps I would not have struggled so much to embrace my own feminine side. Perhaps a little more of my attention would have gone to understanding feminine power and influence, and perhaps a little less into making sure I could prove myself on a masculine playing field.

Of course, there are advantages to developing traditionally “masculine” attributes, but when it comes to that feminine side, I’m still learning. I had to learn how to be comfortable with my husband earning the living, leading out in major decisions, and even presiding over family prayers. More recently, I’ve learned that I can have a tremendous influence for good by creating a safe space in our home where my husband feels respected, and where he is reminded of his own divine nature and nobility of character. That’s not to say I didn’t respect and love him before. We’ve had a great marriage for years now, but despite that, communicating my respect and love wasn’t my focus. It was something I squeezed it between loads of laundry and editing projects. I’m discovering that I want it to be my focus.

So here’s my latest epiphany. Promise you won’t think me unenlightened? You know that saying about “Behind every great man there is a great woman?” A couple of months ago I finally started to grasp what that means. I used to visualize the great woman either running her husband’s life like a puppeteer or picking up the pieces he left behind. Mostly I wondered why the heck she was wasting her time standing behind him. But I’m realizing that I have the ability to impact many, many people for good when I nurture my husband. The spiritual feeding that he gets in my home extends out in ripple form, touching our children, our extended family, and our friends, neighbors, and associates.

So what about you? Were you a natural born wife? What have you learned along the way?

33 thoughts on “To be an Help Meet for him…

  1. I loved this post Angie, especially the line “But I’m realizing that I have the ability to impact many, many people for good when I nurture my husband.”
    I think I am a natural born wife because it’s the role that makes me the most happy in my life. I love to stand behind and love.

  2. I thought that I would struggle with this issue mightily. I, however, have not. I left a career I loved when I had my first, by my own choice, and have not ever looked back.

    I love taking care of my husband. I don’t think that means I have to love laundry or dishes, rather the fruits of those labors. I love nurturing him and most importantly, I love needing him.

    I don’t know that I would say I’m a natural born wife, but my husband and I have a relationship that I treasure. I almost hesitate to talk to friends about our relationship because I really have been so blessed by my marriage, and I know others that have not had it so easy.

    I like a comment cjane made once about taking care of her husband. It doesn’t have to be a political statement to make your husband a sandwich. Sometimes, I just want to. And that’s got to be ok, too. Just like you, Angie, I have learned that I am never as happy as when I am fulfilling my divinely appointed callings.

  3. I definitely don’t feel like a natural born wife. I have struggled with the meaning of “presiding” in the home, with the logic behind traditional responsibilities, and the dissatisfaction that comes from missteps along the way. I have played both types of wives, those who direct the scene and pick up the pieces. And frankly, niether has worked for me.

    As for what does work? I haven’t figured that out yet. Something about standing behind him (without ever standing beside or in front) just feels wrong. Like a denial of my needs. And maybe that’s the key. Maybe we take turns. But that doesn’t seem to be what you’re saying…or is it?

  4. As I’ve already confessed, I am not a natural born wife. I’m a much better mother than spouse. My husband, on the other hand, is a much better spouse than father. Makes for an interesting dynamic. I guess that’s just another example of how we cover for each other’s weaknesses. And we do! Cover for each other’s weaknesses, I mean. Coming to understand and accept that fact did a lot toward strengthening our marriage. My husband tends to be strong where I am weak, and vice versa. It is only together that we make a healthy, functional whole.

    Mara, I too have trouble with the idea of standing behind my man. I’m perfectly willing to do that, as long as he’s standing behind me too. But that’s a physical impossibility. Standing together, side by side, is the only thing that makes sense to me. Of course, at various times, one of us may need to lean on the other for a while or, conversely, stand a little stronger and increase our support.

  5. Maralise,
    I don’t know that we are expected to stand behind our husbands. I fully believe that we are to be side-by-side, fulfilling our divine roles that are designed to be complementary, working as equal partners to fulfill God’s purposes.

    This was one of the best posts I have read in a long time. Thank you so much.

  6. What a wonderful post. You’ve given me somethings to ponder… I love that book, by the way- Eve and the Choice Made in Eden.

    I am not a natural wife- and I too am a much better mother, off the cuff, than a wife. But like you, I have found when I akwardly put together “traditional” pieces of my life, suddenly I have synchonicity and harmony and happiness. Hmmm.

    And I second the idea that we have our own power and strenght- and perhaps the fullness of that roll has not yet been revealed.

  7. Let’s see…do you want volume one, two, or three? Or shall I get you the deluxe edition? Gift wrapped? I could go on for a very long time about this topic. If the question is “are my husband and I children of God who have equal worth and value? And are our roles equally important?” then the answer is yes, of course. I am standing right beside him. And church doctrine is also very clear on that point. But there are also ways that I am standing behind him. I have learned that in order for him to be an effective leader, I need to get out of the way and let him lead. I have learned that when I compete with him it is hard for either one of us to reach our full potential. And I have learned that when I do an effective job of my “behind the scenes” work of nurturing and building, my influence goes with him to touch people I will never encounter face to face. I’ve been interested to read about the marriages of some of the greats in history–women like Abigail Adams and Eleanor Wilson. They give me a vision of how powerful a strong wife really is.

  8. I warned you that there would be a sequel…next question, does my husband stand behind me? Totally. But I have learned that they way he does that looks very different than what I do in standing behind him. He is all about protecting me, cherishing me, and providing for me. I think that this division will look different in every relationship, but I also believe that it does have some gender specifics. When I tried to get him to nurture me in a feminine way, it was a mess. When I got the idea that equal meant the same and that respect meant treating me like one of the boys, it was even worse. (Not to mention it killed our sex life).

  9. This is all so relevant to me. Justine, you hit it on the head when you said “Making a sandwich for my husband doesn’t have to be a political statement.” I’m glad that it’s safe for me to confess here, that my husband and I argued about this for the first few months of our marriage. He told me he would like me to make his lunches and that it would help him feel loved. I lashed back with, “I’m not your mother!” lectures.

    Angie, thanks for this post. I really am glad for this insight into such a tough topic. My next question for all of you is this: I am kind of impatient when it comes to letting my husband leading out. I wait for him to suggest family prayer, scripture study, etc…and when he doesn’t. I take things into my own hands, because I feel like it’s more important to do them as a family, then to wait for him to lead out. Any suggestions there? Every time I do it, I feel strange, and I feel a twinge of “Stop! Let him!” Maybe I should just let things go..I don’t know.

  10. The trilogy:
    First of all, THANK YOU to everyone! This is a scary topic to post about. I appreciate your kindness.

    Tracey, I agree that we don’t understand the fullness of feminine power. What makes me sad is how easily we fail to recognize the incredible power and influence that has been shown to be ours, and how quick we are to discard it in favor of wordly substitutes. I had an amazing experience of the Spirit teaching me when I was reading The Proclamation on the Family. Prior to that day I hadn’t been open to the depth that it is in that document. I want to live up to what I have been given.

    Kristen, I don’t see a problem suggesting prayer or scripture study if your husband forgets. He can still preside, even if you suggest it. When Don and I were first coming back to church I met him at the door every night with a Book of Mormon so we could read together, and I don’t regret that at all. I do regret the times I didn’t want to let him assign someone to pray or to suggest a direction for our devotionals. And I regret any times that I conveyed judgement to him or gave the impression that because I thought of it first I was the more spiritual of us. I will also say that as I have become more peaceful about letting him lead he has become more serious about doing it. It helps to free up any energy that that was previously going into contention, competition, etcetera.

  11. Well done, Ang. I too have learned the hard way about not trying to preside in my family. I\’ve had to completely rework my vision of what my family should be. I finally realized that they weren\’t interested in following the script that I had worked so hard on…esp. my husband. And that my script was lousy anyway.

    And yes, there\’s no surer way to misery than expecting your husband to interact with you like your best girlfriend does.

    My husband loves nothing more than having me make his sandwiches. And scratch his back. And make phone calls for him. I\’m good with that. If only my needs were that simple. I still prefer, though, to do these things not because I\’m a woman and I should, but because I love him, and this is how I can show it. Likely, his y chromosome factors heavily into what he wants from me, but it still comes down to one person giving to another, according to his/her wants and needs.

    I think, too, that there\’s a lot of room for variety within divine role-playing. There are a few absolutes, and strong patterns exist that I don\’t think we can blame on cultural conditioning, but I think individuality plays a strong role too, and that\’s okay. I don\’t think it\’s smart to embrace, wholesale, the traditional paradigms of what is (or should be) feminine and what is masculine. Neither do I think it\’s smart to flat-out reject those paradigms just because they\’re \”old fashioned\”. I think there was plenty wrong with gender roles and relationships before modern times, and there\’s plenty wrong still.

    I think the proclamation can be easily misinterpreted with a reactionary slant. The philosophies of men are with us, in more ways than one.

    \”An help meet\” rings true to me. \”Helpmate\” does not, unless I can get a helpmate of my own…

    Again, a very solid post, full of truth. Thanks.

  12. What an outstanding, brave post. I think I am more of a natural born wife than I am a mother. I have less of a problem meeting my husband’s needs than my kids. Possibly because his involve a lot less whining and wiping? I don’t know.

  13. I’m not a total natural born wife. I think I have some natural born wife qualities, but then I have to really work at other things.
    Thank you Angie for this post, for sharing your thoughts, and providing a little nudge to me to think about this!

  14. Wow, what a post.

    I remember one time seeing a wife harshly greet her husband when he came home from work, and I watched as he visibly deflated. I made myself a promise that I would always make my husband glad to come home. When I do that, or strive to do that, which includes a variety of different things, our home is much happier. He is happy to leave work, he is happy to play with our son, he is even happy to do the dishes, take out the trash, whatever I ask him to do, as long as I preserve the integrity and peace in our home. As you can probably guess, we sort of go in waves as to how peaceful our home is, and how lovely it is really to come home to (i.e, oh, that stuff in the front hall? Um, not really sure what it is, but boy, is it sticky!). If things get out of control at home, which they inevitably do, our marriage suffers. Not a lot, but enough that I think, “Hey, what’s the deal?” When I pull it together, and do all of the traditional things you are talking about, things go a little smoother. We both feel better when I am on top of things.

  15. Wow, thank-you so much for saying this. As a fellow enlightened, self-empowered homemaker, I can’t tell you what it means to see this out there. Really, thanks.

    As for the question of behind or beside; it’s totally beside, regardless of how the corrupted world may try to miscast the love and support shown in the home as some kind of degading behind. That’s where the enlightenment lies, in looking beyond the myths of society. There is no indignity in loving service, freely given.

    And for whether I am a natural-born wife, well, I’ve always had a domestic streak, but I think early life events engendered a need for it in my case. The fact is we are *all of us* natural born wives and mothers, but we havea lot of mortality between our own birth and our first birth, and some of it gets in the way sometimes. Other times, there wasn’t enough of somethign that we migth have needed to know. Fact is, it’s like any other practice or profession; there’s a learning curve to climb before a sense of comfort and competence can be reached.

  16. My husband has a natural talent for his end of the bargain.

    I have not felt, however, that being a wife is a natural talent of mine.

    Yet through it all, I am eternally grateful to Ayn Rand for showing me what I did NOT want in a marraige.

  17. Like Justine I also feel totally blessed by my marriage. And I don’t think that Angie is saying we have to be super laundry doers or cooks to be good wives. It is so much more about the attitude we have toward one another as spouses. I stopped putting expectations on myself about what I should be doing and Matt and I sat down and talked about how we could get the things done that we needed in order to have peace, to have the spirit. We don’t try to split things 50/50 or divide things up according to traditional gender. But we do talk to each other A LOT and help and serve each other. He is more altruisitc than me many times, which is perhaps some of the reason I find it easy to love and support him.

    As for spiritual things, if I have to be the one to remember family prayer and home evening, I try to think of it as helping him fulfill his priesthood responsibilities and not me outdoing him. It can only bless our homes with more peace if we do those things and like Angie said, as we let them lead, even if by our suggestion they will have more confidence.

    Marriage truly is a partnership, but like many of you have said that doesn’t mean we’re always side by side. There are times to follow too.

    Thanks Angie, for the post.

  18. Nice post. I also appreciated Angie’s and Heather’s responses to Kristen. A question or suggestion can definitely help and do not need to infringe on a husband’s responsibility to lead. I think sometimes we associate the role of a leader with the idea of superiority or importance–and I wonder if we could realize the sheer practicality of a patriarchal order, if there would be less competition and feeings of inadequacy. Think, for example, when two people meet at a door at the same time–for efficiency, it just makes sense to have one person hold the door while the other steps through. Likewise, in a class, if there were no teacher to lead the discussion, you could easily end up with a mess of voices where no one can truly be edified. It is the same in a family–organization and separate roles help the family to function and be healthy. Further, we all have inherent gifts which help us to be better suited to our particular role. We need leaders to have order, but they are not inherently superior or more important than those who follow–just necessary. Hope this makes sense.

  19. Its easy to let him still be the leader, but you suggest something.
    You say: “Is now a good time for family prayer?”
    He says: “Sure.”
    You say: “Do you want to have family prayer now, or after the kids brush their teeth?”
    He says: “As soon as I’m done with my computer game. How about 10 minutes?”
    You say: “I’d like us to start reading the scriptures. How many verses do you think we can commit to reading each night?
    He says: I don’t know. How about 5?
    You say: OK, that sounds like a good number to try. Its always hard to remember. Do you want it to be your job to remember, or do you want me to try to remember?
    He says: I always forget. Lets have it be your job.
    You say: I was thinking of ways to motivate us for reading scriptures, since we never seem to remember. Maybe we could have a chart, and once we fill it the family goes to a fun outing.
    He says: OK, I guess so.
    (Then you make a chart. Put it up. Exlain to the kids about the reward. And put them in charge of remembering.)

  20. Thanks Angie, Heather, Jennifer, JKS, Kathy, and everyone who chimed in to give me some sound suggestions for my questions–I really appreciate it. :)))

  21. I remember hearing/reading somewhere that a rabbi said that Eve wasn’t made from Adam’s head to be superior nor his feet to be inferior but from his side to be beside him in all things.

    I’m definitely a natural-born wife, somewhat to the consternation of my feminist husband. He’d always expected that his wife would have a career but I’m happiest running the house smoothly. I’m leaving to visit my family soon and I cooked extra today to give him leftovers– not because he can’t cook for himself, he’s quite a good cook and in fact does the cooking when we entertain– but because I know he’ll come home from school and not want to start dinner from scratch or he’ll get busy on a project and not think to cook until he’s too hungry. Things like that are second-nature to me and I take pride in having a clean house and a healthy diet. I think that anyone — male or female — who looks down on “women’s work” is missing the point of feminism and buying into the “dreaded patriarchy’s” value system.

  22. I think JKS’s point is a good one. It’s one thing to talk about how we can tactfully “help” our husbands preside when they are basically willing to do so, but what about those of us who have husbands who just won’t, no matter how sweetly and gently we prod? Any practical suggestions for us?

  23. Powerful statement regarding the resonance of both sides working together and the effects being amplified beyond what they could be otherwise. Rather than creating the equivilant to distructive interference (which would make sense with the equality of the partners)

    Thank you. This makes the term “help meet” resonate with my own feelings.

  24. Every family is unique, and the specifics of what works will be too. There could be so many reasons why a husband is choosing not to preside. Is he struggling with faith? feeling overwhelmed? Resentful about some other issue? My experience and observation generally is that trying to do his job for him doesn’t help. Loving him, believing in him, focusing on his good points, and trying to do your part to improve your marriage are better bets. This is an issue that is between him and God, and turning it into a power struggle between husband and wife is likely to distract from that and to prolong resolution.

  25. If one simply quotes “help meet” one hasn’t understood the intent of the Hebrew behind the KJV translation (as most people, understandably, don’t.)

    If we repunctuated the kjv as follows, it would be a better translation. “I will make a help, one that is meet for him.” Meet in English at the time meant “appropriate, fitting, equal” as in Jesus’ words
    Matt. 3: 8
    8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

    Matt. 15: 26
    But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

    As also in the Book of Mormon- 1 Nephi 7:1

    it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone;

    As for “help” the Hebrew word here applied to Eve is applied to no one else in the Hebrew Old Testament but God himself. Clearly, the phrase “help meet for him” means something like “divine aid equal to him.”

    For more on this, see the references here (particularly #’s 1, 2, and 8)

  26. I know this is an old post, but I just have to comment and add my thanks. I am not a wife – still being in the category of “young single adult” – but these are actually questions I’ve been mulling over all month. Yours is the most realistic, spiritually-guided perspective I’ve come across, Angie. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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