If you’re in the mood for a controversial topic, let’s talk about wives submitting to their husbands. Yup, I said it. Biblical? Yes. Popular in today’s feminist society? Heck no.
So why would I even bring up such a dismal topic? Because I don’t think it’s dismal at all. I think it’s life-giving, liberating. Am I a crazy woman, the only girl in the world who could every find that submission to a man could bring life? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
So first let me first clarify what submission is not, in my opinion. And then I’ll talk for a minute about what a wife submitting to a husband might look like, and how it is transformative for a marriage.
Submission is Not…
What submission does NOT mean to me is being a doormat or in any way suppressing who I am. When I disagree with my husband, he knows. I tell him.
Submitting also doesn’t mean to me that I’m cool with him making decisions for our family without consulting me. There are rare moments when I feel like I have to fight to have a voice, but fight I do. Because I know that he needs me as much as I need him. And once I feel like he truly hears me and respects my voice, I ultimately honor him as our guide, our leader.
So why in the world did God use the biblical authors to encourage a family structure with the husband at the head? I think it’s because there’s something inherent in the nature of men, women, and covenantal marriage that reflects the nature of God, the church, and our union with Christ. Ephesians 5 leads off with this idea, saying, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
Later in the same chapter appears the controversial passage in which Paul says to wives,
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Eph. 5:22-24)
I see submission as much broader than mere obedience. I think submission is a mindset we have towards our husbands that parallels the sort of trust and respect we have for God. And I think when we approach our husbands this way, it creates a type of health in a marriage and family that profoundly impacts them.
I submit to my husband in the sense that 1. His place in my life is sacred. I am his girl, the one in his corner at all times. That is a space only he occupies. 2. When he offers spiritual leadership for our little two-person family, I count my blessings. I celebrate every move he makes towards Christ. Even if he doesn’t get it perfect, I take every opportunity to affirm him as the spiritual leader of this family. 3. When it comes to major decisions, such as budgeting or where to go to church, we collaborate to make these decisions. But ultimately, he gets the final say.
I think trusting, respecting, and submitting to our husbands feeds their souls. In Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs discusses how the respect of his wife enlivens a man, inspiring him to grow and become all he can be.
Submission for Influence and Growth
Submission isn’t based on the premise that our husbands are all-competent or all-wise. All of our husbands have legitimate sin issues as well as areas in which they are weak or need to grow.
As wives, sometimes we just want a job done right. For example, if Nick is dicing an onion or cooking up some rice, it’s just not going to turn out perfect. These jobs take practice over time and he hasn’t mastered the skills yet. If he’s going to do it, the onions might take a year to chop and the rice might burn.
I could respond by always taking over these tasks myself, or by cracking little jokes about his onion-cutting skills that would feel a little humiliating to him. These responses might help me get the job done right this time. But when I think about my husband’s long term growth, not just as a cook, but as a person, I don’t mind sacrificing a perfect dinner for the sake of him knowing I believe in him.
What I desire most in every aspect of our relationship is growth.
I’ll let you in on a little irony – I think submitting to our husbands actually empowers us as women. In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula Portokalos complains to her mother, “Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. ‘Ah, the man is the head of the house!’”
Her wise mother responds, “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
A husband who feels your respect and admiration is going to be a lot more open to hearing your ideas and taking you seriously. He is also a lot less likely to check out on the marriage or in parenting.
If your ultimate goal is to have a healthier, wiser, kinder husband, and a sweeter, more connected marriage, submit to him. Humble yourself and look for reasons to admire him and ways to praise him. When he messes up, be gentle and do your best not to shame him.
When we submit our husbands, we begin to create the ideal atmosphere for growth.