What Christians Get Wrong About “Women Submitting” To Their Husbands

In Advice and Encouragement, For the Guys, For the Ladies, Marriage by Debra Fileta57 Comments

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

For more on Christian relationships, as they pertain to healthy dating, pick up a copy of True Love DatesCheck out what the Amazon reviews are saying!

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57 Comments on "What Christians Get Wrong About “Women Submitting” To Their Husbands"

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Hillary
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Love this Deb. I need to read and understand this a bit better. It has always turned me off as I am not really a submissive person in general. I realize the nuances and deep importance to our marriage of submitting in the biblical sense but as others, I think I intertwined that thought with the simplistic “woman be homemaker while man rule” (in a grunty caveman voice) concept.

Matt
Guest
I may step on some toes here, but if the bible (canon) is the accurate, inerrant, authoritative very word of God, then how can you take a command (not a suggestion) and try to weasel out of it. This sounds like rebellion to me. Remember, it’s not the man that commands you, but God himself. He created all this and His order is higher than ours. This applies to all of scripture not just what we want it to apply to. I’m preaching to myself here as well. Either Jesus is Lord or He is just another spiritual teacher. We… Read more »
Cathy Jo
Guest
I am wondering where you see submission as a command to the wife only? If we read Ephesians 5 as the letter it is, we see that Paul is teaching us as disciples of Christ to submit one to another and he is showing us what that looks like. I think Ephesians 5 is a beautiful definition of what submission is to look like for Christians. What I see here is what the whole New Testament is about: it is to love your fellow Christians and identify with them just as Jesus did while here with us, for this is… Read more »
Ken
Guest

Amen! We tend to skip right past verses 1 and 2 of Ephesians 5. And we especially skip past verse 21, which is what should lead both men and women into the following verses!

Appologetic
Guest

Actually, the way I was taught this there was a tradeoff…

women should submit to your husbands like the church to Christ.

if you don’t see where I’m going with this…

men should die for their wives like Christ to the church.

now this is a bit figurative (i.e. you die to yourself, hopefully he doesn’t actually get killed off)

now roles can be reversed, but they still remain.

Chloe
Guest
Hi Debra! This particular set of verses (Ephesian 5:25-27) are so key and are often forgotten in the whole submissive wife debate, so thank you for including them! How did Christ show his love for the Church? Dying for her on a cross, stripped naked and beaten within an inch of his life. That’s huge. Giving in your marriage is a two way street – a wife called to love her husband coupled with a husband called to lay down his life for his wife. If marriage is a cross, you’re doing it right. Another thing that always gets me… Read more »
Matt
Guest
Straight from Proverbs 31 She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭15‬ ESV) She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭27‬ ESV) I pulled two verses out instead copying half the chapter. It’s clear that a woman of noble character looks after the household. Why is it that for almost two thousand years since Christ died and rose again, did the gender roles stay the same throughout most of history. It’s been rather recent in the light… Read more »
Tina
Guest

Hi Matt!

Try reading the book that Cathy Jo recommended, “Why not Women” by Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton. I´m reading it right now, and I am learning a lot, it might also shed som new light in your heart, as it does in mine.

Kind regards and God bless

Matt
Guest
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭10‬ ESV) This talks about an excellent wife, it’s the leading passage of that section on a woman of noble character. I can see your point of view, but can we really separate character and spiritual issues? As far as the different lifestyles of today’s culture, stay-at-home dads and such are fine as long as the husbands leads. Leading doesn’t mean you make every decision and that you can’t work together with your spouse to decide things. I believe it means that if you come to… Read more »
Kim M.
Guest
Trying to use verses from Pr 31 to support a rigid gender role for women is very short-sighted because many of the core characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are mutual, collective and congregational. In other words, many of the characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are for men too – not just women, so trying to depict them as distinctively feminine is very short-sighted and problematic. Mutual Traits/Duties Listed in Pr 31: A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies (v.10). The phrase translated as “virtuous woman” or “woman of… Read more »
Jasmine Ruigrok
Guest

This is a brilliant breakdown, Kim. Thankyou for that incredible insight.

NoSplitHairsHere
Guest

Looks to me like you were speaking truth the whole time, speaking equally for both roles that were talked about in Ephesians. Matt came on making accusations about your trying to weasel out of something, and quite frankly, none of it was accurate at all and you’ve continued to uphold the WHOLE issue from a biblical standpoint while he continues to try to split hairs about stuff you never said.

Luke
Guest

Great article, Debra! I think so often we get caught up in the semantics of what the “biblical” husband-wife relationship should look like, that we miss the introductory statement of the Ephesians passage: “Submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ” (that means both parties). While what this exactly looks like differs between cultures and even individual relationships, the themes Paul highlights — love and respect — still apply for both husband and wife. Thanks for tackling this tough topic.

Diana
Guest

I definitely agree that submission has a lot more depth to it than what some christians portray it to be. I also liked reading the comments because it gets even more insightful when you hear both sides of this topic.

Amanda
Guest
Hi Debra, I found this article really insightful. I was reading something on a different site recently that spoke about whether two people from very different denominations/theological traditions should get married. Many of the commenters seemed to think that if they get married, the wife should give up/change her beliefs in order to submit to her husband’s spiritual authority. This struck me as a weird application of submission, because is submission really about believing the exact same things? On the other hand, I can see the issues that would arise when determining how to raise kids, for example. Do you… Read more »
Mandy
Guest
Thanks Debbie, this is an excellent article. I was always brought up with the idea of submitting to one’s husband as being the right and Biblical thing to do but unfortunately in my personal experience I was also in a relationship (not even married) with a man who severely abused this verse and abused me emotionally, mentally and physically. I have come to a realization that when these verses are practised together (i.e. the husband loves the wife and the wife submits to the husband) that it becomes easy to submit because you know you are loved and ‘he has… Read more »
Deymi
Guest

Thank you Debra!
Hugs from Dominican Republic!

Adam
Guest
Hi Debra, Thanks for the article! It was definitely an encouragement to me as a single guy about what marriage and leadership look like. I also want to say that I could not agree any more with Chloe about marriage as a 100/100 thing. My Grandpa said the exact same thing to me last year. He was happily married for over 50 years before my Grandma went to be with the LORD so his thoughts on marriage carry a lot of weight with me as a single guy. It also occurs to me that love, respect, and selflessness are all… Read more »
mercy
Guest
I raelly like this post cos, in most of d churches around us here, there are always programmes every now and then to teach our women our to submit to their Husbands without questioning which is good. But they have solely refused to teach our men what the kind of love for their wives should be. It has always left a kind of question in my heart, who says it is only the wife that has to submit while men are left to do whatever pleases their selfish seves?, nd then when i speak to people about it especially thse… Read more »
mercy
Guest

Am from Nigeria. You are really doing a great job here. More grace IJN.

Noel
Guest
Thanks for sharing this! I think you’re right that we’ve tended to superimpose our own preconceptions onto these verses. Also, to impose the part about women being submissive (especially the subservient interpretation) while ignoring the part about men loving their wives sounds like a recipe for abuse. Besides that, verse 21 says to “submit to one another,” which to me suggests a mutual submission, not a completely one-sided submission. Also, in a recent article, you mentioned that one of the characteristics that men are looking for in a woman is confidence. I would wholeheartedly agree with that. I would never… Read more »
chris
Guest
The word for “submit” doesn’t appear in verse 22 in the original Greek. It appears in verse 21 where Paul is addressing all Christians. Thus v.22 actually reads, “…wives, to your husbands as to the Lord…” It is part of the massive run-on sentence that starts with verse 18! Thus wives’ submission is an example of the mutual submission all Christians should practice. It is not meant to be more extraordinary than what a Christian should anyway. Husbands are given a higher standard. They are supposed to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…”… Read more »
Scott Allen Taylor
Guest
It’s so much more (and so much simpler) than all of what has been mentioned here. To fully understand Paul’s statement, his guidance, his statement MUST be considered in the context of “the mystery” of marriage he eludes to…which is NOT between a man and a women AT ALL, but between Christ and the church. The message? We are to submit to Christ…and…live it…in our own relationships. Men should portray Christ as the head, and women should portray the church (the bride). Period. …And yet, if we make it all about our own relationships (which it is NOT), we have… Read more »
Ludmila
Guest
I agree. We all are trying to be like Christ, men and women. But relations between us are based on love and submission which is a natural thing when in love, and the both examples are given by Christ, also sacrifice. And we know that in Christ no gender has its role, but only love. But being in fight with our sins and demons we must obey the discipline. That is why it is important to submit. Also there are gender differences. Men protect their family while wives give birth to new members, though today many things are not obviours.… Read more »
Jeff Goodwin
Guest
You claim that the Bible doesn’t teach women to be homemakers? 1 Timothy 5:14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. It is God’s ordained role for women to be homemakers. It is also the wives duty if she is to honor Christ to honor the head of the relationship, her husband. Just as the church submits to Christ’s will, or aught, so should also wives. Also, it’s not the woman’s job to try to change her ‘lousy’ unloving husband, just as it isn’t the… Read more »
Scott Allen Taylor
Guest

Jeff Goodwin,
Whereas all that is true, the bride would rather hear:
“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and[d] sin no more.”

Reannah
Guest

So many good conversations above! Thank you for bringing up this tough issue Debra! I was just talking to a friend about this the other day and came across this article that speaks on the comparison between the secular and biblical views of submission.

Esther
Guest
Hello Debra! I always love your articles (and I have your book – It’s great)! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this point. I have to say that I’m very rebel against this – I grew up with an abusive father… so I have a very negative view of “submitting to husband”. It’s still hard for me to accept that this is what God wants us to do. At least it’s good to know that it’s not submission in everything but as we submit to the Lord. I’m glad to read also that the most important thing is love.… Read more »
Luke
Guest

It’s great to know that it’s not something that we have to do on our own but God gives us the ability to do with his power. “Submitting” to each other is only for the benefit of our marriage and for our relationship with God.

Terry
Guest
So I read this article with interest, and appreciation. I read the comments and the discussion between Matt and Debra. Then I continued scroll thru articles on FB and Crosswalk.com post this as part of an article. It is a fitting addition to the discussion. ” 3. “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10 This one isn’t so much just the verse as it is the whole chapter. We know this virtuous lady as the Proverbs 31 woman, but for many wives out there trying to live up to the… Read more »
Harkiran
Guest
What if a woman absolutely hates, loathes menial housework? Let’s say she has a high IQ, well educated, maybe even more than him. Should she be relegated to doing menial servant work in the house her whole life where she will NEVER feel fulfilled? What if she is a born leader and feels hurt, degraded, demeaned, just by the simple position of being put into the subordinate role below her husband based on what’s between her legs alone? Where her merits and voice, her experience, her opinions mean nothing? Foot ball and her show are on at the same time…and… Read more »
Jessica
Guest

such a good read! thank you for your insight 🙂

Garrett
Guest

Thanks Debra for posting this again. You’ve done a wonderful job of summing this up and echoing my personal thoughts on this matter as well. I’ve never understood how people can get this concept of submission so wrong so often, as I recall being of the same opinion that you expressed above about the biblical concept of marriage since I was a teenager. Thanks again for a great read!

Art
Guest

When I think of submission, the best imagery is of a dance-think waltz, salsa, or even tango. In salsa and tango, one is taught that the man has to lead. The purpose of the man’s leading is so that he provides the frame where his partner can dance. He becomes the canvas, she is the paint. They both adapt and trust each other. They work together to create art.

Clare
Guest

This is fabulous! !!!!Thanks Debra.

Laura H.
Guest
A couple thoughts to add to the discussion. * As others mentioned, love and submission (or in Eph. 5:33, respect) are not mutually exclusive to the genders. Both male and female believers are created to live in mutual love, respect, and submission, for that is who we are in Christ. The reason the Bible specifically reminds women to submit / respect and men to love is because our flesh tendencies inherited at the fall are for women to control or usurp and for men to be harsh and domineering (see Genesis 3:16). But both men and women are called to… Read more »
Harkiran Kaur
Guest
I am not Christian but, I really don’t think this is about who gets to have final say as that setup ALWAYS places one person’s preferences over the other. In the end, the second person really has no say at all – because any time they (she ) would have her own preferences met is ultimately only if he agrees. So she really has no say at all in the end. This is NOT mutual submission and love! At least not in my thoughts! The language used might be slightly different, but don’t you think a wife should also love… Read more »
Travis White
Guest
I’m at a loss as to why these discussions ever start with vs 22: “wives submit..” Then the arguing begins. Just because some translations have a section heading between vs. 21 and vs. 22, they ommit the verse that comes FIRST: 5:21 “(all of you) submit yourselves to one another.” Then there would hardly be any argument spouses submitting to each other. First 5:21 states that all Christians must submit to each other, THEN 5:22ff goes on to explain about wives and husbands submitting to one another, with separate instructions for each. We should NEVER start this discussion with 5:22.… Read more »
flower
Guest
well first off lets think scruntenly for a sec knowing the bible has been through many hands before reaching it s readers and it says study the SCRIPTURES NOT BIBLE ONLY to show yourself approved as well as ALL SCRIPTURE is good for correction reproof etc If the husband represent christ and christ served and sacrificed himself for the people isnt that what the husband should be doing for the wife therefore a honorable wife would have no problem then submitting (because the husband is infact putting his wife before himself in subjection) because he being the head so being… Read more »
Messenger
Guest
Why hasn’t anyone brought up the fact that to love self sacrificially, is the same exact thing as submission? If you are submitting to someone you are deferring to them because you love and trust them, and if you are loving self sacrificially you are submitting to someone e because you love them. That means the husband who is loving SELF SACRIFICIALLY can never order around his wife, remove her autonomy and liberty as a person and in a stalemate he would do the self sacrificial thing and give his wife her wish. If he chooses his own way and… Read more »
Shawn
Guest
It is not just that wives are morally obligated to obey their husband. Husbands are morally obligated to make their wives obey. This was recognized in the past, but because of political correctness and unjust “laws” against “domestic violence” which falsely makes punishment=abuse. Fortunately, there are ways that husbands can discipline their wives without physical means. Granted that it still could be called “cruelty” (and it is certainly it is possible for husbands to be cruel), but just because a punishment can be on occasion (and sinfully) cruel does not mean that their should be no punishment. No punishment leads… Read more »
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