It would be so easy for me to give a simplistic answer. However, I can’t, as I am not sure what is going on for the woman who has asked this important question. This is a genuine question and it may be one that many women have pondered as they strive to genuinely respect their husband, particularly when difference or conflict raises its head. Here are a few questions I want to ask:
- How do you talk about difference as a couple? When you have conflict, (and let’s face it, every marriage has conflict, even if it is silent): What is the pattern of conflict? How do you communicate difference? Do you feel heard and understood? Or is an issue raised – perhaps harshly and before you know it, you are arguing and saying things you later regret, your heart is racing, you have trouble breathing? Are you are overwhelmed with helplessness and a deep anger? And deep down you feel unknown, unloved and misunderstood, but that you should “just do it his way”.
- Is the issue or opinion something that has come up time and time again? For example your next holiday – you can’t agree and never agree whether to spend money on an apartment or to go camping. Or one of you wants to send your children to the Christian school, the other to the local public school. Or your style of parenting – one of you is more relaxed about rules and schedules whereas the other is very structured and timetabled so when it comes to bedtime routines – you simply don’t or can’t agree. And basically, you never agree. And deep down you think “I should just do it his way”.
- Is the difference something that seems solvable? But, you don’t know how to do this and your conversation goes around and around in circles and deep down, you think “I should just do it his way”.
- Do you feel like your difference is not valued by your husband? Whether it be the way you cut tomatoes, to the types of clothes you wear. No matter what it is, you feel like he has a different way of seeing or doing things and his is the only right way? And deep down, you think “I should just do it his way”.
Because surely, that is what submitting means right? “Doing it his way” or “Agreeing with his perspective and forgetting about your own”. This kind of submitting leads to women burying their true feelings, their own opinions and over time they become a bit like IEDs. An improvised explosive device that suddenly goes off without warning and catches everyone by surprise. Buried feelings overtime will lead to deep seated anger, bitterness and resentment. It may take years, but it will happen.
Is that how God intended relationships to work? Is this why he told wives to submit? When I look at what the bible says about marriage, it is a relationship between a man and woman who are different to one and other coming together and sharing an intimacy and deep connection where they are willing to be naked and unashamed together – not just physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually – a place where both feel loved, safe and secure. Submitting here has more to do with how I speak to him, listen to him, treat him, think about him and love him. It is about not being a nag but being a woman who speaks gently and kindly. In many discussions about submission, we think that it means that a wife is not allowed to express her feelings or opinions when difference or conflict occurs.
In well functioning marriages, couples talk together and can normally work out a way to resolve conflict or manage difference without it pulling them apart. But because God is a God of order, sometimes a couple won’t be able to agree and the husband has the responsibility to make the final call. God’s intention is that this is done lovingly and always with the wife’s best interest in mind.
To return to your question, I would like you to try to answer my questions first.
- How do you talk about difference or conflict? There are three common patterns that couples fall into: firstly, each person blames the other and they fall into a perpetual cycle of fault finding. Second, one person reacts with harshness, criticism or contempt and the other responds defensively and then withdraws. A third pattern is when the couple is so fed up with fighting that they both disengage and there is a lot of silence and coldness.
- Is the difference something that comes up time and time again? Did you know that over two thirds of marital conflict is perpetual. Every couple has their own set of perpetual “difference”. The challenge is to not let these perpetual differences destroy the love and connection between you. You may need to dig deep to understand the values that lie behind the difference and find ways to work with this without it pulling you apart.
- Does the difference look like it might be solvable? You need to be able to listen to each other and understand the other before you reach a solution.
Doing any of this is hard work. I have been married almost thirty five years and I have faced each of these differences. I have felt stuck. I have felt angry. I have also felt deeply ashamed and felt like I have stuffed up as a Christian and as a wife.
If couples can connect together, submitting seems to lose its negative overtone, as each is striving to love, care, nurture and understand each other. It is not just about doing it your husband’s way. One very useful tool here is the ability to listen.
Learning how to listen to each other and understand each other’s perspective is very important. Heed the wisdom from the book of Proverbs about listening “To answer before listening: that is folly and shame” Proverbs 18:13. The ability to listen will help you feel known in your marriage, to be “naked and unashamed” before each other and provide a safe place where this difference doesn’t pull you apart, but draws you more deeply together. Being a wife who submits means being a woman who asks the Lord to clothe her with love, gentleness, kindness, patience and humility. This is a prayer He answers!
I come now to the fourth difference. Do you feel like your difference is not valued by your husband? In fact, you might say to me that he never values your opinion and is not terribly interested in it. If this is the pattern in your relationship, and one where he uses “submit” to get you to comply, this is not the way that God has intended marriages to work. Can I encourage you to seek help. If you have asked this question, because this is your experience, I can’t give an answer other than to get professional help with your relationship, as it might be a warning sign that you are in an emotionally abusive marriage and that has nothing to do with “submit”. This is not a pattern or marriage that our great God intended. If a husband imposes his will without listening or engaging with his wife, this is a form of abuse.
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