Q: I’ve been taught that in a Biblical marriage, when difficult decisions come along, the husband should have the “final say” as the head of the home. What are your thoughts concerning this?
A: I feel the need to start this post with a disclaimer: when it comes to my theological views on marriage, I find that I do not identify with either the egalitarian side, nor the complementarian side. There are people I respect on both sides of the spectrum, so I consider myself somewhere in the middle of the conversation.
With that out of the way, I’m thankful that someone had the boldness to ask this question, because it’s a topic that’s can be tricky to navigate, yet really important to discuss in considering what it looks like to engage in a healthy Biblical marriage relationship.
The Godly “Submissive Wife”
For years, I too sat under similar teaching as the person who asked this question: through sermons I heard, books I read, and ideas that came my way when the topic of relationships came up.
For many people living within the Christian culture, there was (and often still is) this mentality that presented the godly “submissive wife” to look like a housewife from a 1950s sitcom. And for years, I too, bought that belief. Looking back, my idea of marriage was shaped by the beliefs that I needed to marry a man who would “lead me” – and I would simply follow. No matter what that might look like.
But as our marriage unfolded, the “leader-follower” mentality didn’t play out as cut-and-dry as they said it would in the books. We looked at our relationship as two equal individuals, with two equal callings, equal talents, and equal abilities, equal opinions, and equal perspectives.
There came a point in time where my husband and I both really dug deep to find the answers of what it really means to submit to one another in a godly marriage. We studied scripture, we read different books, and we talked to mature married couples that we looked up to and admired along the way.
And through time we’ve come to believe more than ever that in OUR marriage, we’re both followers…followers of God’s Spirit, God’s leading, God’s love, and God’s direction in our lives and in our marriage.
We’re both followers of Jesus Christ, and that’s exactly how it plays out in our relationship. He leads…and we follow.
Biblical Marriage: Side by Side, Hand in Hand
So, to answer this specific question: when a hard decision comes along, we make them together. When there’s a big job, or a big move, or a family decision, or a financial question – we work through it hand in hand.
And if we can’t land on a mutual decision, we agree to disagree for a while – and then we wait…we pray…we seek counsel…until we both agree to move forward one way or another.
There’s no such thing as “his way” as the highest. There’s no such thing as “my way” as the highest…we walk together, side by side, hand in hand.
We are convinced now more than ever before that this is what a Biblical marriage looks like, and this is what it means to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). I believe there is power and truth in God’s word. Yet, I think Ephesians 5 has been used and abused in ways that have hurt many marriages and the people in those marriages. It’s a passage that’s been used to oppress women, keeping them stuck in a gender role that is neither biblical nor healthy.
The Traffic Light Principle
Healthy marriages are made of two equal parts, and when it comes to decision making, that’s exactly how we let it play out in our marriage. My friends Tim+Anne have an incredible ministry where they tackle some of these hard subjects in a practical way, and I really challenge you to take the time to read through their thoughts. One of my favorite principles they teach is called the Traffic Light Principle, and I believe it applies to the egalitarian perspective of marriage just as well as it applies to the complimentarian perspective of marriage. Check out what this looks like in a Biblical marriage:
“The Traffic Light Principle is a tool to help couples advance in intimacy with God—and with each other. It begins with a husband and wife choosing to include God as they I.O.T.L. (Inquire of the Lord). If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16, Romans 8:9). Purposefully including God provides couples with wisdom, power, and protection as the synergistic biblical “chord of three strands” [God + a wife + a husband] principle comes into play (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
The Traffic Light Principle includes implementing three simple steps:
Step 1: Couples individually I.O.T.L. They purposefully invite God into their decision-making process and ask for wisdom. The Bible gives a great promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5 NIV).
Step 2: Couples share what they sense the Lord may be saying. Figuratively speaking, are they sensing a “green light” (GO), a “yellow light” (SLOW), or a “red light” (NO)?
Step 3: Couples make the decision after both the wife and husband have “green lights” from the Lord.
Personally, in our decision making process, if we do not both have “green lights” from the Lord, we agree to wait because for us unity with God and each other trumps disunity. If our lights remain different while we are waiting, we continue to pray and focus on listening to God. The Bible says, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).”
In all honesty, I love this concept…and my husband John and I have applied it to our life and marriage. We make decisions together. We wait for the green light to move forward. We inquire of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us AS ONE when we’re struggling to find the next steps.
At the end of the day, our marriage is richer, deeper, more intimate and meaningful because we not only claim we’re “one”…but we actually live as one.
The leader in our marriage is Jesus Christ…and it’s working incredibly well for us. So we’re going to keep at it.
There’s a lot of conversations about marriage that we need to start having in the church. Because when we can acknowledge – and then work through – the hard things of a Biblical marriage, we find ourselves invited into the great things. I’m excited to have these conversations with you. Check out my latest book, Choosing Marriage: The hardest and greatest thing you’ll ever do, for more on marriage and relationships.
**EDIT: This great follow up question came up minutes after this post was published, and I have a feeling I’ll see it again so I wanted to address it here:
Q: So what do you do in your marriage when the decision has to be made now and you both don’t agree on a course of action?
A: Such a good question!! In those cases, we’ve decided to default to the person in the marriage who is the more experienced in the subject — so if it’s a financial decision John typically leads the way…if it’s something concerning our home or children for example, I lead the way (since I’m primary care giver and educator)….so it just depends.
But often times, we wait until we both feel led – and God gets us both to the same place.
A few weeks ago we had differing feelings about a ministry opportunity that we had to decide on, I felt like we shouldn’t go, he felt like we should go. So John said: forget what we think or feel, let’s pray and ask God to help us decide…and without exaggeration, that same day God gave me CLEAR affirmation that we were supposed to go, and it was incredible to watch God work through each of our hearts and in that situation. God is faithful my friend! And we’re going to keep trusting Him with big and little decisions. Hope that clarifies our position!
MORE BOOKS BY DEBRA
Get busy learning what you need to know about healthy singleness, dating, and marriage. Check out Love In Every Season: The Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship, Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me or True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life.
And Check out Debra’s Love + Relationships Podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts!
DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates, and Love In Every Season. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twi