Submission Is Never The Main Problem In Marriage

Submission Is Never The Main Problem In Marriage

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When discussing submission problems in a marriage, we should equally scrutinize the submission and leadership constructs. It’s not an either/or proposition. For example, a half analysis focuses solely on the man’s leadership or the wife’s submission, leaving holes in the reconciliation process. We must examine both sides of the one-flesh coin. Typically, I start with the man’s leadership since he’s the functional leader of the home. I’m not suggesting I neglect the wife’s role in submitting, but the correct starting point is vital if the goal is to help couples work through their problems.

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Two Sides, One Coin

I realize submission is a hot topic within Christianity, but civil discussions can proceed if we refrain from engaging the two extreme camps participating in this debate. Those who find the idea of submission repulsive and those whose authoritarianism discolors biblical sense. Between those two groups is an ongoing, unending charitable discussion about how much a wife should submit, which always includes two talking points, not one: her responsibility to submit and a husband’s requirement to lead well.

Suppose a couple is genuinely interested in working through a wife’s lack of submission problem in a marriage. In that case, they must flip the coin and discuss the husband’s responsibility in their one-flesh covenant. We cannot divide and isolate a wife’s submission and a husband’s leadership as though one does not affect the other. It is dangerous to only talk about a wife’s lack of submission while not giving equal time to the husband’s leadership role. If the goal is to resolve a legitimate submission problem with humility and courage, we must discuss the entire issue, not half.

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No Behavioral Modification

Another instructive observation about the biblical submission issue is the lack of discussion about root causes. This incomplete approach to the problem is unfortunate because it leads to spiritual bondage at best and irreparable physical harm at worst. No Christian discipler worth their salt would hang out at the surface of any problem, especially this one. It should be evident that if a woman is not submitting to her husband, there is something under the surface of her life that is hindering her. Here are ten possibilities.

  1. She is afraid to submit because of sexual abuse as a child. The lingering effect of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, requiring the utmost care from her disciplers, particularly her husband.
  2. She grew up in a verbally or physically abusive family. With no template for biblical submission, her future husband must know how to create one for her, which he can do through his gentle and courageous example.
  3. She struggles with habituated patterns of fear because of fallenness. This Adamic shaping influence is not her fault but an outcome of being born in Adam. Some image-bearers struggle more with fear than others. We’re totally depraved but uniquely fallen.
  4. She has a tiny soul (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Similar to the last point, there are folks with feebler capacities, making them susceptible to things that a studier souled woman would never fear.
  5. She does not know what submission looks like or how to do it. If she is similar to how I was reared, she has no template for being a wife or mother. Not growing up within a biblical family is a deficit for anyone after they marry.
  6. She is a new Christian. Even an excellent desire to do right takes time and proper mentoring to grow up into Christlikeness. How long did it take you to become a mature Christian?
  7. She imbibed feministic, egalitarian teaching. It can be a challenge to swap faiths. If her religion was feminism, you know that their worldview is rooted deep in the psyche, and it can take years for the washing of the Word to cleanse her from those fallen perspectives.
  8. She became self-reliant. (Self-sufficient people have difficulty relying—trusting, submitting—on others. Suppose her dad was a ruthless man. She learned early not to depend on him but on herself. Her ingenuity became the path to freedom, but now her husband requires her to trust and follow him.
  9. She watched her dad abuse her mother and swore it would never happen to her. It’s common for a child to jump from one ditch into another. In this case, she fears what might happen to her, so she doubles down on her resistance to authoritarianism.
  10. She is on medication, which keeps her in cycles of erratic behavior. The majority of our culture takes meds. If you don’t, you’re rare. Once a person goes down the medication route, finding the proper medication will be a continuous process as the body acclimates to the last meds.

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Plus the Husband

This short list about the woman should imply a comparable list of what a husband brings into the marriage that would inhibit her from submitting to his inferior leadership. Without question, he has his baggage that gloms on to their marriage. We all do (Romans 3:23). I think about all the problems I brought into our marriage. When you mix the baggage of a man and woman into one flesh, you’ll have a season of complexity. Most of the things from the above list that apply to the woman could also apply to the man, making it wise to examine the entire one-flesh union, not just mandating a wife’s submission.

If our only answer is for her to submit, we have not honored God or served the wife. We will “cliche her” by gaslighting her into behavioral submission without addressing the inner complexities of her soul or whatever complications the husband brings to the marriage. If we go down that road of forced submission without helping them, we might as well tie a millstone around the marriage and toss it into the ocean. If our first impulse is to talk about her lack of submission, it begs the question, do we want to find out why she is not submitting and his role in the marriage problems, or is the goal merely to get her to submit?

Call to Action

  1. Why is it essential to address both sides of the one-flesh union when discussing submission problems?
  2. Do you have a wife not submitting to you, or are you helping a couple like this? If so, will you talk comprehensively about this problem rather than just focusing on the wife?
  3. What are some of the complicating factors in the wife that hinder her from submitting?
  4. What are some of the complicating factors in the husband that hinder him from leading well?
  5. As you address the historical shaping influences and the current heart issues, what is your practical plan to help them resolve the past, find peace in the present, and work toward a restorative future?

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