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What We Get Wrong about Women Submitting to Their Husbands

What We Get Wrong about Women Submitting to Their Husbands

The other day, I tuned into a show that’s turning some heads. It’s called Submissive Wives’ Guide to Marriage and it aired on TLC in mid-May.

The show follows three couples who claim to be living the life of a “submissive wife” and vouch that this has been the saving grace to their happy marriages.

The show’s main character, submissive wife Tara, says that the motto of a submissive wife is to: “Help her man, serve her man, submit to her man and sleep with her man.”

While I’m all for helping, serving and sleeping with my husband, the show left me feeling empty and wrestling with some serious questions I’ve struggled with in light of this really important, yet delicate topic, often only partially discussed in Christian circles.

As a counselor and relationship specialist, the truth of the matter is that I’ve seen this concept of “submission” defined and redefined in so many ways. Sadly, I’ve seen it used to fulfill selfish agendas and aid in manipulation, and at times, even abuse. As a Christian, I’ve grown up in conservative circles hearing conversations about being a “submissive wife,” but sometimes not as much about establishing a loving marriage.

As I look through Scripture and even zoom in on the Ephesians 5 passage where this idea comes from, I see so much more about love than submission. In fact, the word “love” is used in some way, shape or form more than twice as much as the word “submission” in the referenced passage. There is a significant umbrella of love that is foundational to this concept, but so many times, it gets overlooked.

Training a wife to submit to an unloving husband is like training a child to swim without water—it simply misses the mark, because there’s so much more to it than the superficial strokes. It’s so much deeper than that!

Too many women have been bogged down in unhealthy and dangerous relationships yet answered with the simple concept of “submission,” rather than getting the real help they need to tackle and heal the root problems in their marriage.

There’s more to a healthy marriage than submission, and that more is found in the unconditional, life-giving, marriage-nourishing love of Christ that has to be both given and received by husband and wife. Maybe it’s time we zoom in on that.

Have we placed our own cultural gender roles on a spiritual concept?

Another thing I found myself questioning throughout the TLC show was the idea that “submission” meant that a wife has to learn to be a good homemaker. I can confidently say I don’t see that anywhere in Scripture. 

One theme that kept shining through this particular show is the idea of creating  “a happy husband” through cooking, cleaning, laundry and sex.

I won’t deny that most men, my husband included, love and appreciate the things their wives do to show them love. But isn’t there a difference between acts of service toward our spouse and biblical submission? Could it be that we have placed our own cultural gender roles on a spiritual concept?

I truly believe we’ve done the concept of biblical submission a terrible disservice by lumping it into the category of simply being a good homemaker. Not only so, but I believe that many women who aren’t necessarily gifted in this way may feel slighted and offended by the thought that the reflection of their submission and love is measured by the cleanliness of their house or the quality of their cooking.

Have we focused too much on the superficial without tackling the heart of the issue?

I won’t deny that biblical submission is a real and important topic, but I revolt against the mentality that it’s measured by a certain list of superficial things. I think deep down, at the heart of biblical submission is a person’s ability and willingness to trust another person in a give-and-take relationship.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now, as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24).

I know the tendency I have deep in my heart to just “take control” of any and every situation. But part of learning to be married was learning to let my will fall into the will of my spouse, as the two of us became one. And in order for me to unite with him, whether it be in lifestyle choices, decision making, intimacy or parenting issues, I had to learn to trust him in a way that, up until marriage, I had only done with God.

I had to learn to let go of my control issues by learning to take into consideration someone else’s will, desires and wants. And it is only because of my love and submission to Jesus, paired with my husband’s love and submission to Jesus, that I was and am able to continually trust in his love and actions toward me.

Just listen to the unbelievable and challenging call to husbands in these next few verses, right after the concept of submission is presented:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25-28).

As we see in the verses above, there is so much mutual respect, mutual love and even mutual submission that has to exist in a relationship in order for this process to truly work. It’s not about the laundry, the dishes, the finances, the sex or the “last word” on decisions. More than anything, it’s about learning to trust, to respect, and ultimately, to love one another, as Christ has loved us.

True biblical submission is never one-sided, but, in fact, it’s always triangular: Christ pours into us as we pour into one another, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. How beautiful is that?

Imagine what could happen if we as a culture focused less on the term “submission,” and more on learning to become like Jesus through our actions, our habits, our communication styles, our finances, our sex lives, and even our emotional intimacy? Imagine what our marriages would look like if we learned to be the closest reflection to Jesus our spouse would ever see?

I don’t know about you, but I’m all for that model of biblical marriage. May the Lord teach us to love, just as we’ve been loved by Him. And may that love influence our relationships, our marriages, our families and even our world.

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