As I understand, Muslim wives are required to be obedient:
... So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. ... -- Qur'an 4:34
However, the notion of "obedience" is foreign to me; it raises a host of "what ifs" and concerns about exploitation. Interacting with real Muslim couples, however, paints a different picture. I'm not seeing a wife be ordered around like a servant girl, but instead Muslim men seem to treasure their wives.
Question: What does being an obedient wife really mean?
For example, how frequently do Muslim husbands make requests? For the husbands here, what are some requests you make of your wife (if it's okay to say)? For the wives here, what are some requests your husband makes of you (if it's okay to say)?
A related question was asked here So righteous women are devoutly obedient ,Meaning of obedient wife? but I'm left with a feeling analogous to learning to drive a car through an instruction manual.
Which of the following is a better description of a typical Islamic husband-wife relationship? It's hard to tell from the definitions alone.
The husband has a large degree of control over his wife. It is typical for him to order her to do things multiple times a day. Example requests: (a) wearing a niqab/abaya, (b) sexual acts to be performed in a specific way, (c) housework, adequately and timely performed, (d) disassociation with certain friends, (e) refraining from obtaining an education and employment. It's best not to nag, joke, or express an opinion. Her access to money is through him, and he controls her purchases. Disobedience results in her being considered a bad Muslim by the Islamic community. If she asks for help, she will simply be told to obey, and that her obedience is her husband's right. Even if the husband makes a bad request, she needs to comply (provided it's not haram).
A wife has a large degree of autonomy. In everyday life, she's largely free to do what she likes. Nobody is really going to make a fuss if she doesn't feel like cooking. Occasionally the husband may make an important family decision, such as moving to another city for work, but will take into consideration his wife's needs and concerns. The wife is able to pursue a career alongside her husband (or even instead of her husband), and may earn more money than him.
(I'm guessing a realistic impression is somewhere in between these two extremes, and vary with the couple's preferences. I'm after a "feel" for how obedience works in everyday life in spousal relationships in Islam.)
Online, I've seen: (a) Muslim men brag about how obedient their wives are, (b) Muslim men complain about how their wives complain when obeying. It seems obedience is an attractive quality to Muslim men.