Kathy and John Harris: “There is Simply No Need for Hierarchy in Marriage if Each Partner Loves and Respects the Other.”

We’re kicking off the Equally Yoked series with Kathy Harris’s reflection on 25 years of shared life and ministry with her husband, John. There’s an amazing amount of wisdom here, and a heaping helping of Aussie common sense. Enjoy!

My husband and I came from very different family backgrounds, but both entered our marriage with the view that our partner was made in the image of God, gifted by God, skilled by learning and experience and someone we were called to submit to (Eph 5:21). We had met at university, so from the get-go we had treated one another as equals, and marriage never changed that.

Throughout our 25 years of marriage our roles have changed depending on life-circumstances – each new stage of life and new living circumstance (we’ve moved at least 11 times and over three countries!) would require re-negotiations of how things would get done in the home, work, ministry and family. Throughout the whole time we have both worked, been involved in ministry, shared the parenting and even the home-schooling of our sons for five years. We find ourselves now in the situation where we not only live together (of course!) but we work together as trainers and also pastors meaning we are together 24/7. And we both love it!

In 25 years we have never found that we needed a “tie-breaker” to make decisions. We work on the premise that for small decisions the one who feels most passionate or whom it affects most, makes the decisions (therefore my husband makes all decisions on technology in this house and I generally set all the menus and cook what I want to eat!) In the “big” decisions we have come to the conclusion that we only move forward when we are both ‘on the same page’. We discuss our options, we pray together, we allow each other the space to think and decide and then we only move forward when we both feel in agreement. This has helped us to step into some amazing adventures with God but also avoid some other less desirable situations.

I also feel that the “love and respect dichotomy” is very overrated and in my case (and I suspect for many other women) is actually quite false. Obviously everyone needs to feel loved by their partner – men are no exception to this – but also I have a strong need to be respected for the gifts, talents and skills that I have. I feel most loved when my husband says things like: “I love working with you – we are such a great team”; “Great job on that sermon –I saw that you really began to own it and speak with confidence”. I believe the ‘love and respect’ concept is like many generalizations that can be true for some people but can lead to many problems if one assumes it is always true.

If our two teenage sons grow up to be half the man that my husband is they will make great husbands for two lucky women! Recently our oldest son (19) said that it was a relief that he didn’t have to buy into all that male leadership pressure! He firmly believes that women are his equals and he readily acknowledges the debt he owes women (mother, teachers, girlfriends) for his own spiritual growth.

As we have matured and our marriage has developed we have found that for us the key has been to love and respect one another as amazing (yet flawed!) people made in the image of God, gifted by God and loved by God. We work, live and love each other as a team. This has served us well and given us a very happy marriage despite some very, very difficult years of insecurity, sickness and ‘adventure’. There is simply no need for hierarchy in marriage if each partner loves and respects the other partner completely.

Kathy grew up as a missionary kid in Papua New Guinea as the daughter of Australians. She and her husband, John, went into missions themselves in 2001 starting in Ukraine and for the past 5 years in the Netherlands. They serve their organisation as team trainers, member care workers and are also part of the Pastoral Leadership Team of an international church in Hilversum, Netherlands.

Next week’s Equally Yoked post is from Morgan Guyton.

Want to contribute to the Equally Yoked series? Email Jenny at

Leave a comment for a chance to win How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Winner announced Feb. 1st.

19 Responses to Kathy and John Harris: “There is Simply No Need for Hierarchy in Marriage if Each Partner Loves and Respects the Other.”

  1. Meadow Rue Merrill January 7, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Great profile! Love it!

  2. Suzanne January 7, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    I love the paragraph that starts with “In 25 years we have never found that we needed a ‘tie-breaker’ to make decisions.” This seems to be what most concerns most of my friends who champion the complementarian model. This is a lovely, simple answer.

    • Kathy January 7, 2013 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks Suzanne. It does seem to be a big ‘fear’ with people but the reality seems to be that it is just a better decision if you are both in agreement and have totally ‘bought into’ that decision. And to be honest we’ve never found it incredibly difficult to get ‘on the same page’ and we’ve made some BIG decisions in our time! :)

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 7, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      I agree–that was my favorite paragraph of the whole post. And waiting prayerfully until both partners is on the same page just seems like a good practice, that could head off so many problems. And like Kathy mentioned, it’s never seemed incredibly difficult to do–although it does sometimes require sacrifice.

  3. Scott January 7, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Thank you for this series, Jenny! Thank you for kicking it off, Kathy!

    Ephesians 5.21 is an excellent starting place for marriage, and for such an article and series!

    The comment about the limitations of the love and respect framework are also very helpful.

    May this series be widely read!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 7, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      Thanks Scott! I thought this essay was the perfect way to kick it off. :-)

  4. Tim January 7, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Kathy, our decision-making seems to be identical to yours. My wife has vetoed some things, I’ve vetoed others, and we’ve each come to see the wisdom of the other doing so. Same with submitting at times to the decision to go ahead on one thing or another.

    And on that whole tie-breaker thing, who ever said that marriages are subject to parliamentary procedure anyway? Sheesh!

    Nice job here, Kathy. And thank you Jen for giving her a spot on your blog today.


    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

      I agree, Tim–unilateral decision-making just seems like a very, very unwise idea, particularly when that decisions impacts others so intimately.

  5. DrieCulturen January 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    How interesting and they work in the Netherlands that’s where I live! Kathy is a third culture kid too just like I am. Greetings Janneke

    • Kathy January 7, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

      We’ll have to connect! I’m sure we have mutual friends!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 7, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

      Yay for third culture kids! And yay for the Netherlands. :-) I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth–but maybe that’s just because it’s the first place I ever was in Europe. :-)

  6. Meagan January 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Thanks, Jenny–and Kathy and John!
    When my husband and I decided our marriage would be decidedly mutual over 37 years ago, we were simply reading scripture, especially Ephesians 5:21 which we included in our marriage vows, “I vow to…submit to you as you submit to me.” (“As” here implying the coinciding of our wills and submission, not as a condition of the other’s submission). We would concur that we’ve never had a decision that called for a “tie-breaker.” We too have waited for unanimity and have found it comes graciously when our spirits are gracious as well.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 7, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

      I love your last sentence, Meagan–that’s certainly been the experience Aaron and I have had, too. Gracious spirits, the willingness to wait until both are in agreement–yes.

    • Kathy January 8, 2013 at 1:15 am #

      I agree Meagan – waiting for unanimity does take grace but it is so worth while!

  7. Karol January 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    So true, Kathy! Thanks for sharing this.

  8. erin a. February 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this example for us, Kathy. Beautiful! I love that you can see the beauty of the mutual respect and submission for each other, being soaked up by your boys, too. I love that your son doesn’t feel the need to break free of “strong women” as he becomes a man.

  9. marie June 29, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    Appreciate your article. My husband and I have been married for over 29 years and have never had to have a so called tie breaker. Our church does teach that the husband gets to cast the tie breaker vote and I cringe every time I hear it. I cannot get pass the idea that they are encouraging the husband to insist upon having his way. Also this teaching is in direct contradiction to love does not insist upon its own way found in the book of Corinthians. How is it not selfish to insist upon final say? The reality is that it will foster resentment from the wife over time. Far better to value the relationship over having final say. Fortunately, my husband agrees with me.

    Final say teaching has been taught for decades and many continue to blindly accept it. There is not a biblical passage that endorses this selfish behavior from the husband. I have heard some say well she must submit to me to which I say God clearly defined what a wife is to be submitting to and it isn’t you selfishly getting your own way. She is to submit to being loved as Christ loved the church and gave up His life for. Plus Ephesians 5:21 says to submit to one another.


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