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Gentlemen Speak: The Real Deal On Submission In Marriage

submission-slider

Is it backward to expect a wife to be submissive to her husband?

Former Full House star Candace Cameron Bure sparked this debate with a line in her new book:

“I am not a passive person,” she wrote, “but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work. . . . I submit to his leadership.”

There’s plenty to debate in Bure’s view, and the idea of a husband as the head of the household is a complex and controversial one. But submission in marriage can be understood separately from questions of equality or leadership.

Submission is a broad term that includes lots of things you might otherwise do but not think of as “submitting.” In my view, submission in marriage is a two-way street, and if both husband and wife adopt it, it’s an attitude and habit that can strengthen the relationship.

DEFERRING TO AUTHORITY

We defer to authority in many aspects of our lives. In marriage, even one grounded in radical equality, sometimes one of the spouses is the natural authority on a given issue.

I have my own fashion tastes, but I know that they aren’t very good. My wife’s fashion sense is impeccable. I almost completely defer to her on what clothes I should own. For dinner parties, I usually ask her to pick out an outfit for me.

On the other hand, I am our household authority on money. For other couples this role could just as well belong to the wife, but it just so happens I’m more financially minded. On a recent purchase decision, Katie made her case, I considered it, but I ended up nixing the purchase. Katie didn’t demand an explanation from me—she was confident I had thought it through and that I had the family’s best financial interests in mind, and so she accepted my decision.

DIVISION OF LABOR

Even where natural skills and interests don’t make one spouse a rightful “authority,” dividing up decision-making can create efficiencies.

Adam Smith, the intellectual godfather of capitalism, wrote that “the division of labor” has created “the greatest improvement in the productive powers of labor” in human history.

Submission in marriage is often little more than the division of labor. Couples always divide up chores, but we also divvy up decision making—and this is another form of submission in marriage.

I have very little control over my own social calendar. Katie decides which parties we’ll go to, whom we’re inviting over for burgers, what Church events we’re attending, and so on. I appreciate this; in fact it frees up time and room in my brain. The alternative is constant back-and-forth committee process. But continuous debate and consultation wastes time, and can even lead to marital tension—which leads to the third reason to submit.

SEEKING PEACE

Sometimes neither spouse has any expertise or a special claim. Sometimes there’s no reason why one spouse’s preference should matter more.

The other day, I called my wife and suggested we go together for a walk with the dog. It was a rare morning without the kids around, and Katie hoped to spend the morning lounging in her pajamas in a quiet house. But she could tell I really wanted to go for a walk—with her—and she said yes. She simply set aside her preferences. She knew I would want to spend the time with her, but that if I stayed cooped-up, she would have to deal with my restiveness. The path of least resistance was giving in.

BEING NICE

On our daughter’s second birthday—also Super Bowl Sunday—we popped into the local bakery to pick out a cake. There were two smallish cakes with chocolate frosting. One was in the shape of a football. The other was plain round. It was obvious to me that these small cakes would feed the whole party that night.

My wife preferred the largest cake there, which was decorated with party blowers, plastic footballs, and even a mini football player figurine. It was more expensive, and it had no chocolate. It was obviously the inferior cake.

Katie pointed at the big white cake and said, “I really want this cake.”

So I submitted. “As you wish.” It wasn’t that different from how I might defer to a friend or a stranger—or generally try to be a gentleman.

In all of the above circumstances, there are logical reasons to submit without ever having to invoke “submission.”

But do this enough, no matter the intentions, and it becomes a habit. “As you wish” has become a refrain in our house. If you make submission a habit, all of the above practices become natural. And these habits—deferring to your wife’s wisdom, acknowledging her different needs, trusting her judgment, seeking marital peace, and selflessly seeking her happiness—are the habits that constitute love.

By: Timothy P. Carney

Timothy P. Carney is a senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Timothy lives in Maryland with his wife of 7 years, and their 4 children.

11 Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Married 36 years. A man, a good loving man, should not have POWER over a woman in a marriage. That’s what gives submission a dirty name. Money is power. Money is NOT an area where there should be submission. Women MUST have control over their financial fate, in small things and in large. A woman in a marriage needs her own money, and her own car. She must be able to leave if she wishes, and have the financial means to do so. These things protect and preserve her autonomy, and that preserves the balance of power in a marriage. A loving spouse will encourage and assist his partner in developing financial skills despite her math phobia, or lack of experience. I give in, or submit, to my husband many times in all areas, even sometimes when I think he’s making a mistake. He does the same for me. We are a unit. All money goes into the same pot, we pay bills together, decide on major purchases and make all important decisions “by committee”.

    • Sheila says:

      My husband is the chief financial officer of the family. Doesn’t make him the boss. Any big purchases have to be discussed and agreed on by both of us. Small purchases, I let him know so we don’t overdraw the account by accident, but it isn’t a matter of “permission.” He lets me know if the money is in there.

      My own car? My own money? Financial means to leave if I wanted? Those are luxuries for people in a different economic class, I think. When we have money to spare, we spend it on things we need for the family and for our future. Or we put it into our joint savings account. I am not robbing from our present marriage to plan for my future divorce.

      My parents always did it the opposite way, my mom handling the money and checkbooks even though my dad earned the salary. Whatever works. But it’s completely appropriate for the spouse who isn’t in charge of paying the bills to check with the one who is before taking money out.

    • CJ says:

      I always handled all the money, investments, and bills in our household. The only financial requirement my husband had was that when he stuck his debit card in to withdraw $200-300, that the money be there (it always was). Other than that, he left it all to me and never questioned a cent. Sure made things easy.

  2. Michael says:

    I would “submit” that rather than trying to create equal treatment under this passage that is directed to wives who have a specific role that they bring to the marriage bond we direct men to focus more on the passage that follows 5:22 that is directed specifically to husbands, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her”. Christ submitted himself to a brutal end on the cross for the sake of the Church. If men took this call to die to self more seriously I think most women would gladly embrace their call to submission as a complement (not as a chauvinistic plot) to their husbands call to sacrificial love.

    • Sharon Letchford says:

      Michael – yours is a typical comment made by many complementarians. It isn’t necessarily untrue either. Where it is at odds with egalitarian thought is when it is used as a case for one-way submission: that is, when people try to say that Paul advocates loving headship by the husband, and loving submission by the wife, BUT NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. That is, I believe a dire misinterpretation of the passage, and Paul’s intent in writing it. It also leaves the way open for abuse. That is not to say that all husbands will abuse it (some wives do too: they sit on their laurels leaving everything to the husband – then it’s HIS responsibility when things go pear-shaped).

      Many men will not abuse the position you describe. That fact does not make the interpretation correct, however. Marriage is a relationship of two partners, mutually submitting to the other, not one leader and one follower – or whatever other euphemisms one wants to use.

  3. Erika says:

    This article makes me sad as I feel that it plays into the way that many Christians misunderstand marriage (namely by focusing on submission, especially on the part of the husband). If marriage is truly a “two way street” then financial decisions should be made jointly by the husband and wife, not vetoed by the husband (which is concerning to me as it implies a dangerous element of control in the marriage). And it seems a bit condescending that in this example fashion and social decisions are left to the wife while financial matters are left to the husband.

    I think what this article is lacking is a focus on true sacrificial love for each other. That means that healthy discussions should be had about day to day decisions whether that be financial, social, or otherwise. The husband or wife should not ‘submit’ to each other in these instances but rather come to mutual agreement and understanding which is rooted in a sacrificial love for each other and for God. The focus should not be on submission, but rather on sacrificial love. That is what my husband and I are striving for in our own marriage.

    • luoxiaojie says:

      I think you missed the point. Those examples he gave were mere facts of his life. Are they stereotypical? Sure. But the the articles expresses that this is just one way of doing things. I know women who head the household financially, stay-at home dads, etc. It’s not like he gave himself the role of financial authority. He just happened to grab it since he was better at it and his wife had other interests and things she was better at. And it’s the wife’s “problem” if she doesn’t want to take part fully of those things. I’m pretty sure if she wanted to she would. Also all marriages are different. Everyone is different. What is important is that things aren’t imposed on eachother, like say, patriarchy, or more specifically that the man handles all the handywork, financial decisions, etc. A healthy relationship is where people are allowed to oganically fall into their best way of functioning together. That is the “submission”, by both men and women. That is the “sacrificial love”. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet: in this article they are one in the same. As for people who believe it is the duty of just the woman to submit, well that “submission” is a one way street and a whole ‘nother issue and NOT what is presented here.

  4. A. C. says:

    If the wife chooses to be submissive, this lays a big responsibility on the husband to take his wife’s desires and needs into consideration, and incorporate them into decisions he makes. That means consulting her on decisions, and where they disagree, explore compromise search for middle ground, and settle for that. Decisions or choices she doesn’t like need to have rationale she can accept. Just as a good leader will accept and act on suggestions from subordinates, a good husband will accept suggestions from his wife.

    This is very hard to foresee before marriage, though. It must be discussed.

  5. But I thought a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle? What happened? Did the bicycles decide they don’t need fish, either?

  6. Greg says:

    Unfortunately when we look at the word submission, it’s the same as obey in the new testament. We are to submit one to another in the Lord, which would seem to be give in and show love one to another, serving each other as Christ. That’s the mutual submission angle. However as a model of roles in authority, the head of the church is Christ, and the wife if acting as a role model submitting to authority unfortunately needs to submit to the husband in “all things”. That seems to be biblical and I find really few passages that can overcome this. Submission is based on three authority models and reasons according to the Apostle Paul. First the order or creation, Adam was created first, that’s a model without society and group subcultural status. Second, Eve was deceived in the fall of man, but Adam took knowingly. This unfortunately actually makes Adams sin worse in my opinion, because he didn’t have deception as an excuse, but was in rebellion. However because of the fall, God declared that her desire should be toward the man, that is desire in the sense of authority and he would lead. Desire didn’t mean sexual roles, for that same word for authority or desire to be to the other happened between Cain and Able where one would rule over the other because of a better sacrifice. The third reason (for Christian marriages) is that a Christian woman be a model of authority where the church submits to Christ and his will and leading, or headship. The church is to be the bride of Christ and submit to HIm. That expression and role is found in a marriage that models the church and is an example to the church. That is that the woman would submit to her husband in all things. Now the woman should do this because it’s the submissive role as the church should submit to the Lord. If you don’t have Lordship in the church, then the church is not a bride and not following Jesus but another. If a wife wants to model that kind of church as a professed Christian then she should be a feminist and try to take the lead and make excuses. She then models a church in rebellion against her Lord. Unfortunately if “roles” are taken into account by the logic of the Apostle Paul, then the reasons are based on: the order of Creation, the fall with Adam, Eve and the serpent, and Christ and the church. There are no cultures in those reasons, because there is no society and family group in creation, the fall or Christ and the Church. It’s not a society thing, it’s a role for authority which is lawful and a pattern of our obeying God. I’d go as far to say as far as I can tell the wife may have no authority rights greater than a daughter would have over her father. The only exception would seem to be that a man should not abuse his wife physically or beat her like a child. Because he is supposed to love his wife as his own body. That’s a strict biblical interpretation as far as I can tell. Maybe I’m missing something. Now men can delegate and realize the strength of the wife and allow her to make the decisions and this happens by nature in the relationship. That doesn’t void the authority of the role in an ideal marriage. In both Christian and non Christian households, the bible states the same thing, even between believers and non-believers. The Christian wife is to submit to the unbelieving husband as well, not just to convert him, but obviously due to the nature of marriage roles. This may be wrong and I’d love to have some point out how I’m wrong from the scriptures. Some say Proverbs 31 show that a wife can do a lot of things and be very industrial and make independent decisions and run her own household, especially when the man is away. This is true, he is delegating authority to her when he is gone. If you think about it, actually Proverbs 31 speaks spiritually toward Christ and the Church as well. Christ Jesus as the head of the church goes away from the city of this world out house, and sits in the gate with the elders, as the husband does while he is away in Proverbs 31. While he is away he deligates authority to his wife, the church while he is gone. Power to bind and loose are granted to the church and we are to occupy until his return. So this is not only a model of a good wife and her ability to take charge of the household when the husband is away but how the church is to take charge of the Gospel and run the house while Christ is in heaven and away. Contracts and even buying decisions were given to the Proverb 31 woman who is virtuous because she will not harm her husband and he can trust her. This same power exists, by authority granted to the church as the bride of Christ while he is away. While Christ i away in heaven, the church has his authority on earthly matters here. This is a spiritual truth and the parallel truth of Proverbs 31. When Christ returns he is in charge. When your husband returns home he is in charge to. He is either the head of the church and your husband is the head of the household when they are home or they are not.

    That has nothing to do with cultural context but spiritual modeled authority.

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