Let’s suppose that just before my daughter was to be married, she came to me and asked for a father’s blessing. Let’s further suppose that when I laid my hands on her head, I gave her the following blessing: “I bless you that you will always feel a desire toward your husband. You will long to be with him in eternity. Your heart will stretch out to him in love, and you will yearn for his companionship. I further bless you that he will preside over your home in righteousness and honor.”
After receiving this blessing, would she feel loved by her father and truly blessed by her Heavenly Father? Of course she would. Surely every woman in the Church desires to be married to a husband she can love—and who will love her—in that manner.
This is precisely the blessing the Lord gave Eve at the time of the Fall. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband,” he told her, “and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Unfortunately, some people have difficulty understanding this statement or correctly applying the principle it expresses to their own lives. They feel the statement demeans women, and some men incorrectly use it as an excuse to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Part of the reason this verse troubles some people is that they place the emphasis on the word rule instead of on the word desire, which is actually the key word of the phrase. The root origins of desire give added meaning. Desire means “to long for, to stretch out towards, and to yearn for.”
President Spencer W. Kimball offered valuable insight regarding the phrase “thy husband … shall rule over thee.” He said: “I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family” (Ensign, March 1976, 72).
We should remember that the man the Lord was talking about when he said these words to Eve was her husband, Adam. Adam was the great Michael—he who had helped Jehovah create the earth—and the great first prophet of the Lord on earth, a righteous son of God.
Those who interpret God’s blessing upon Eve as a punishment have not understood that the Lord was telling Eve she would be watched over, cared for, and protected by the righteous love of a noble husband as she entered the fallen world. In the misunderstandings typical of mortality, many men take this verse and use it as license to exercise unrighteous dominion over their wives instead of treating their wives in a manner that encourages a spouse’s desire toward them.
In October 1993 general conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “Should a man ‘exercise control or dominion or compulsion … in any degree of unrighteousness,’ he violates ‘the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.’ Then ‘the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved.’ Unless he repents he will lose his blessings” (Ensign, November 1993, 22; see D&C 84:39; D&C 121:37).
In a general Relief Society meeting held prior to general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard also of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “God has revealed through his prophets that men are to receive the priesthood, become fathers, and with gentleness and pure, unfeigned love they are to lead and nurture their families in righteousness as the Savior leads the Church (see Eph. 5:23). They have been given the primary responsibility for the temporal and physical needs of the family (see D&C 83:2). Women have the power to bring children into the world and have been given the primary duty and opportunity as mothers to lead, nurture, and teach them in a loving, spiritual environment. In this divine partnership, husbands and wives support one another in their God-given capacities. By appointing different accountabilities to men and women, Heavenly Father provides the greatest opportunity for growth, service, and progress. He did not give different tasks to men and women simply to perpetuate the idea of a family; rather, He did so to ensure that the family can continue forever, the ultimate goal of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan” (Ensign, November 1993, 90).