This is a guest post by Lucinda Hancock.
Several years ago, Constanza Miriano wrote a book with the title “Get Married and be Submissive.” I was intrigued by the headline, and I watched a news interview of her. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful and fashionable she was. The second thing that struck me was, “Well, maybe it works for her, because she’s a kind of woman super-hero, but I can’t see it working for me.”
“Submit to him (as long as you think he’s right)”
Like many people, I grew up in a home lacking in important aspects of marital harmony, mostly because of bad decisions made by my father. When I was young, my mother talked to me about how a wife is under obligation to submit to her husband insofar as her husband is righteous in his commands. This made sense to me, and I wondered why anyone would think a woman had an obligation to submit to requests she found unrighteous. I mean, that just sounded dumb.
So when I myself married, my understanding of my covenant obligation was that my husband and I would be a team, and we would counsel together in everything. It should surprise no one that we had many arguments over the years about who was right. Indeed, when your submission is tagged to your understanding of rightness, how can you not fight tooth and nail over every little decision about who has “rightness” on their side. After several years, I came to the unhappy realization that my husband, for all intents and purposes, was endeavoring to submit to me. He had wearied of argument, and felt I wasn’t to be reckoned with.
I was upset at his betrayal of our “team” understanding of marriage, but I could understand since he was not raised to debate, and I had been trained in logical argument by my education in mathematics. So at that time, I decided to just “sleep in the bed I’d made” and try not to insist on our genuinely agreeing about decisions. Counseling with each other had been tried and found wanting, and it was fine for me to just be in charge.
But it wasn’t fine. It was extremely taxing on me to feel the full responsibility for every family decision. And to avoid tensions, I mostly found ways around having to confront the disunity in our marriage. For example, I went ahead with ‘family’ scripture reading when my husband was at work because it was too stressful to involve him, and it made me feel so naggy, and besides, while we shared broad goals about scripture-study, I had my own ideas about HOW to go about it. I read the entire Old and New Testaments with my older children. Now I could check that off my list of righteous deeds. But as the teachings of the Bible sunk in, I was forced to realize there was something really off in my approach to my marriage.
One of the problems was that I had conflated respect for my husband with submission. My husband and I had a perpetual disagreement about whether I respected him. He wanted me to be more respectful, but I felt that, even though I didn’t do things the way he wanted, he should believe and trust in my love for him anyway. One day we’d been arguing about my respectfulness around my brother, who managed to offend us both by pointing out that my husband was wrong to demand respect instead of endeavoring to be respectable, but then went on to say he should expect submission from me. Submission is action-oriented, whereas respect is opinion-oriented, and he pointed out that submission was an easier task, since it only requires action, but it doesn’t actually require you to change your mind. I found this an intriguing idea, and thought it might be a good idea to be more submissive.
Only I still carried this idea of submission that was entirely provisional, that it was no transgression of my marital covenant to expect to be convinced in advance that my husband’s decision was based on a righteous foundation. And this concept really dogged my initial attempts at submissiveness. At around this time, I began to write an essay called “Paradoxical Patriarchy” defending the paradigm by which fathers rule, not only in the home, but in society. Now I was in for it. Not only was my personal happiness contingent on me being better at my marriage, but also my credibility as a thinker!
Provisional submission is not meaningful submission.
I like things to make sense, and as I pondered on the idea of submission, I began to realize that as long as I carried on with the idea that I was only obligated to submit when I felt my husband was right, that it was indistinguishable from just doing what I felt like all the time, with occasional ideas provided by my husband. I don’t have a definite idea in my mind about when I came to see my idea of submission on my terms as problematic, but at some point I began understanding my husband’s requests of me as binding before God, even if I didn’t understand his reasoning. There was no point where the day before I was self-willed, and the next, willingly obedient. I can’t even be sure that I am objectively more likely to do what my husband asks, mostly because before my husband took for granted my self-willed actions, and now he is more willing to state his preference. But I do seek to repent specifically of wifely disobedience, and I do pray at moments here and there that I will have the will-power to follow his lead.
And my experience attests to the viability of this principle, and how it has really made life as a wife easier and happier in unexpected ways that I would like to share.
There are two components of marital security, one is confidence in your spouse’s commitment and the other is confidence in your own commitment. And both of these points were improved when I began to take my husband’s expressed desires seriously.
Before, I was quite nervous that my husband would eventually tire of me and find someone more compatible. I always attributed this fear to the fact that my father’s adultery led to my parents divorce, and therefore I believed it would be a fear I would have to struggle with for the rest of my life. But now I don’t worry so much about it, and I might even say, I don’t really worry about it at all. I have two conjectures about why this is so: Maybe I feel more confident as a wife because I’ve personally repudiated habits that made life a little bit miserable for my husband; Or maybe, and I think this is more likely, after I gave up on my need to feel my husband was right before submitting, I was able to shrug off much of the feeling of doom associated with always being in charge and fearing making extreme miscalculations.
On the other side of things, before, I maintained a secret plan of divorcing my husband when the children weren’t so young anymore. I used it regularly as a coping mechanism for when I was really upset by serious arguments with my husband. I knew it was terrible, and I wanted to stop, yet I felt powerless. But now it doesn’t have any grip on me. I would like to say it was because of my self-discipline that these undesirable fantasies left, but actually, it’s like it just evaporated from my mind and heart. I have no conjecture about how this happened, since the feeling of destroying my marriage and my children’s family always defied rational analysis, and yet, I can not deny this profound shift.
A principle worth examining.
Wives, may I submit that when marital unhappiness looms, part of the problem might be our unwillingness to accept the call to submit to our husbands. Effectiveness in this relationship is of utmost importance because marital strength has the power to bless broadly in society, and deeply into personal lives. I realize that there are a good many husbands who have proven themselves untrustworthy, but I believe that there are also many who haven’t even been given a chance to prove their ability to lead in their families. Even more, I believe many wives are giving too much power to the worst elements in men’s nature by making their submission provisional from day to day because it creates a false sense of complacency and irresponsibility in men when they can reasonably believe particular decisions, and their results, were not their own. This tends to make masculinity into a drain on a marriage, rather than the essential contribution that it should be.
If you are looking for solutions in your marriage, like I was, maybe you can give it a try.