About this time last year, I tuned into a show that was turning some heads. It’s title: “Submissive Wives’ Guide to Marriage” and it aired on TLC last spring.
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 shows 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. I ended up writing the following blog post, to express some of my concerns regarding the whole “submission culture” that we see in Christian communities, and posed a few important questions for all of us to chew on: *In full disclosure, after the following article was published, I was contacted by BOTH of the main characters from this TV show, asking if they could defend their perspective by writing a response post for TrueLoveDates.com. I politely declined, as I never intended for this to be turned into a debate, just an opportunity to sift through and question our personal “tradition” vs. “scripture”.*
Have we focused too much on submission and too little on love?
As a Licensed Professional 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. And 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 conversation after conversation about a “submissive wife”, but why is it that we’ve focused so much on submission, yet so little on the idea of establishing a loving marriage? Don’t the two go hand-in-hand?
As I look through Scripture, and even zoom-in on the Ephesians 5 passage where all this content stems, 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 looked over. We PREACH to the women about submission, yet all-the-while neglecting to TEACH the men about love.
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. I’m just going to say it: 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 show was the idea that “submission” meant that a wife learn to be a good homemaker. I can confidently say I don’t see that anywhere in Scripture. Now granted, with reality TV, I am aware that there are limitations to what is portrayed and displayed (a.k.a edited out) on the screen, but 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 (often including cooking, cleaning, laundry and sex). And in fact, I LOVE doing those things for my husband! 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? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding and absolute: YES!!!!! THERE IS A DIFFERENCE!
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 even offended by the thought that the reflection of their willingness to submit to their husbands is measured by the cleanliness of their house, the pile of their laundry, or the quality of their cooking. Which leads me to my last thought…
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 woman’s ability and willingness to TRUST her husband in the give-and-take relationship of marriage.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
As a woman, 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 a wife was learning to let my will fall into the will of my husband’s, 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. This is where trust was SO huge. 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 for the first time:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
What I’m trying to say here is that there is so much more to this concept than what we sometimes present in Christian culture.
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.
And the thing about real love is this: you don’t have to constantly have your own back, when you know that someone else has your back better than you ever could! In the biblical sense of the term submission, you learn to let go, knowing that your husband loves, nurtures, and cares for you just as much as he loves himself and that your desires, opinions, and preferences will be heard! 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 impact our relationships, our marriages, our families, and even our world.
Comment below: How do you react to the concept of submission in marriage?
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, 21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray for Your Love Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!