Question: “How is a woman’s desire for her husband a curse (Genesis 3:16)?”
Answer: As God pronounces judgment on Eve for her part of the transgression in Eden, He says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). This verse causes some puzzlement. It would seem that a woman desiring her husband would be a good thing, and not a curse.
The Hebrew phrase in question does not include a verb and is literally translated “toward your husband your desire.” Since this judgment is predictive, the future tense verb “will be” is added for clarity: “Your desire will be for your husband.” The most basic and straightforward understanding of this verse is that woman and man would now have ongoing conflict. In contrast to the ideal conditions in the Garden of Eden and the harmony between Adam and Eve, their relationship, from that point on, would include a power struggle. The NLT translation makes it more evident: “You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”
God is saying that Eve would desire to rule over her husband, but her husband would instead rule over her. Replacing the mutually interdependent relationship the Lord had created was a desire for one spouse to lead the other. Sin had wrought discord. The battle of the sexes had begun. Both man and woman would now seek the upper hand in marriage. The man who was to lovingly care for and nurture his wife would now seek to rule her, and the wife would desire to wrest control from her husband.
It is important to note that this judgment only states what will take place. God says that man and woman will live in conflict and their relationship will become problematic. The statement “he shall rule over you” is not a biblical command for men to dominate women.
In the New Testament, God affirms His ideal relationship between man and woman in marriage. Christ-like qualities are emphasized. What the curse of sin created, believers in Christ are called to correct by living according to God’s Spirit. Ephesians 5 says that the wife should willingly submit to her husband’s authority in the home, in essence, refusing to scratch the curse-fueled itch to seize control (verses 22-24). Husbands are to love their wives unconditionally and sacrificially, just as Christ loves the Church (verses 25-30). The whole passage begins with an emphasis on mutual submission to one another: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (verse 21).
From the beginning, God’s focus has been love and respect between husband and wife. Though sin has tainted the original beauty of this relationship, God commands believers in Christ to pursue this ideal relationship between husband and wife, an ideal perfectly illustrated in Christ’s relationship with the Church.