A lot of things change when you get married and a lot of things change when you’re getting ready to get married. Suddenly you have a new home, new furniture, a new routine, a new person whose feelings you must consider in all of your decisions. But, when you’re getting married, how does the power structure change in a relationship?
“Wives, submit to your husbands”. This command can be found in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. It’s a command that’s easy to disregard and easy to hate. It’s easy for me to shy away from this command because, at a surface level, it is counter to the way I view the value of men and women. But because I love God and because I value the bible and because I believe that God’s universal commands to humanity are good, this is a command I have to consider and figure out how to apply.
I started my search for answers, as I do with most questions, asking Google. I read the bible passages this command came from, I read stories of specific women in the bible, I read blog posts, I read articles, I read commentaries. Many of the articles and blog posts, unfortunately, confused me. The majority of them described the change in how the writer viewed submission (ex: I hated the idea when I got married, but came to terms with it eventually and now I see it has benefits), but I had a lot of trouble finding an article that actually defined submission and how that concept influenced a couple’s every day decisions and dynamic.
After talking to friends and, of course, talking with Cameron, I’m confident in saying that submission for Christian women in marriage today will often look vastly different from how a Colossian or Ephesian woman might submit to her husband. I’m also confident in saying that in modern, western culture, what submission looks like is largely dependent on the couple’s personality and life experience. Basically, submission can look like a thousand different things.
In my relationship with Cameron, we decided that submission means maintaining a 50/50 balance of power. Submission for us does not mean he tells me what to do, it does not mean he gets the final say on an issue, it does not mean he always knows best. It does not mean that I will look at him and say “What should we do?”, rather it means I will look at him and ask “What do you think we should do?” Submission means I won’t make decisions for us, but we will always work together to make decisions. It means that I won’t boss him around and he won’t boss me around. It means I will always consider his opinions and treat them with respect as we work together to decide what our life will be like. Submission means I view my husband’s opinions, thoughts, and needs as significant and that I allow those to influence my decisions, as he does for me.
For some, the use of the word submission, even with that definition, may sound oppressive. For others, what I’ve said may sound watered-down and weak. Luckily for all parties, this is not the only form submission can take. It is okay to have a relationship where, on a confusing issue, the husband has the final say. If both husband and wife are okay with that, then that can be a healthy dynamic.
It is okay for submission to mean that a husband and wife defer to each other’s area of expertise. If a wife is great at finances, then it’s fine to let her make the majority of financial decisions. If a husband is an excellent interpersonal communicator, then let him advise how to handle a tense situation with the neighbors or the in-laws. As long as husband and wife are both okay with it, I think submission in practice can look vastly different from couple-to-couple (and of course culture to culture) and be healthy.
However you think submission should be expressed in marriage, it should always involve respecting your spouse, treating them with care, and valuing their needs above your own.
In my relationship, submission means that we are equals and that neither will try to take away the other’s right to make decisions. It means we will always treat one another’s opinions and concerns with respect and it means that we will make decisions together. As a person who could happily be overly-controlling or micro-managing, this sort of dynamic does take effort on my part. Ultimately, understanding submission in this way leaves me feeling relieved that I don’t have to let my husband control me in order to be a good Christian and happy that our cultures and personalities can mold the practice of this command into something very different than what it looked like 2,000 years ago in Ephesus and Colossai.