“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.” ~Ephesians 5:22-24 (NRSV).
The word “submission” is a trigger word in many Christian households. It is likely that some wives will loath the concept because of what their husbands or their churches have made it. “Submission” was never meant by Paul to be used as a club for a husband or the church to wield against wives.
Being “subject to” their husbands—the NRSV equivalent of “submit to” in other versions—is not at all about male domination or the husband’s superiority. The metaphor Paul is using—Christ the husband, the wife as the church—would be farthest from this crude over-weighted and imbalanced image. Such an image as Paul’s is not rooted in unfairness, but love!
Unfortunately, what the Apostle Paul intended as a unifying concept has become a polarising one—sides are taken, and as such men and women, equally, have grown to detest humanity’s warping of the meaning implicit in such a beautiful metaphor for marriage.
With “submission” introduced, let’s move into the discussion regarding its practicalities: Five reasons wives feel vulnerable in marriage are:
1. Wives Do Not Appreciate Domineering Overtures of Husbands
Who, really, would want to be married to a dictator? Yet, while many wives may at times find this an attribute in their husbands, their husbands may not see it.
When we consider a notional wife who must deal with the domineering husband we can expect one of two common responses. Either she will submit to such marital aggression or she will resist. The latter creates conflict.
Going back to the original metaphor—Christ and the church—we could never picture our Lord lording it over us. His Lordship is consummate of love and of serving the church, as the husband is to love and serve the wife.
The Bible never suggests women submit to aggressive, domineering, loveless husbands. And when the domination moves into the realm of abuse, not disregarding many perceptions that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16), there is ample biblical reason for wives to leave their husbands, if there’s no recourse to change.
2. Some Wives Feel Neglected In Their Marriages
The difference between abuse and neglect is subtle; neither affords love. Where abuse is tangible and problematic in the short term—a bullet through the heart—neglect is like cancer. It tears away gradually and neglected partners are stripped of love in less obvious ways.
It is true that wives have need for affection, conversation, caring, and the nurture of their families. If these vital needs go begging—and there is little care for them in the husband’s viewpoint—the wife’s marital identity will suffer as a result.
One further area where neglect might be noticeable is in the area of finances. The husband is financially responsible for his family. Given that responsibility—to ensure the financial security of his family, as far as it depends on him—the husband needs to be a diligent steward.
3. Some Wives Struggle To Trust Their Husbands
It may not only be an untrustworthy husband attributable, here. Many women, and also men, find it difficult to trust a marriage partner or other important family because of unhealed hurts—the results of familial betrayal, for instance.
But, discounting the above situation there are some husbands who have found themselves untrustworthy—they have not been respectable in their duty as marriage partners. Whilst it’s incredibly important men feel respected in marriage, it’s equally important that women find their husbands respectable.
If trust has been broken, and little is done to restore the emotional and moral imbalance, wives may feel backed up against the wall.
If, however, one marriage partner’s mistrust of the other partner is more to do with their own insecurities, these issues need to be dealt with head on. Trust is the most important issue in marriage. If a partner deserves to be trusted they should be trusted.
Honesty and openness, finally, are key qualities wives need in their husbands and, though these revolve back to trust, there is a deeper need that may go unsatisfied...
4. Many Women Struggle with a Lack of Intimacy In Their Marriages
Men are stereotypically manly and at times emotionally disengaged. This can be disconcerting for women, who are naturally more adept at opening up.
But it’s probably not the macho default that proves the biggest barrier. It’s more likely to be the husband who is proudly or stubbornly distant—one who doesn’t want to see the importance of such intimacy. Again, this could be the many reasons; his family of origin was possibly disjointed or broken or distant in itself.
Notwithstanding how it occurs, a lack of intimacy provides wives marital loneliness.
It’s not that a husband has to fulfil all his wife’s companionship needs, but if there’s a lack of intimacy he fails to connect with her heart.
5. Wives Struggle with Their Husband’s Lack of Vision for the Family
As I mentioned in the earlier article, one important way wives feel loved is through the devotion of a husband and father to his family.
Furthermore, the husband’s identity as a family man can either actualise or limit the family structure. His vision for the family needs to be grounded in the day as well as focused on the near and distant future.
The trouble is, today, many men are necessarily consumed by their careers, their other interests (for instance, sports), or by a myriad form of escapism. Everyone needs time to chase their dreams, but a family man needs to be devoted to the home. This is a balance that can only be struck by individual husbands and wives through negotiation. Who can define family vision satisfactorily but the couple in question?
Still, some wives will find their husband’s lack of vision (and interest) for the family frustrating, and potentially alienating.
This article has been necessarily negative for the most part. It seeks to highlight where problems might exist as a platform for mature discussion.
We started with the premise: “submission”.
We can end this discussion by understanding some of the biggest barriers to wives’ marital submission in love, recalling that a mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) is also what Paul implores.
Wives will understandably find it impossible to “submit” to a husband who is characterised by these types of issues above. Conversely, if we imagine a husband as Paul had pictured him for us (Ephesians 5:25-28) we can foresee his wife willingly submitting where an undercurrent of love, and husbandly sacrifice, pervades through the relationship.
Finally, and very importantly, none of the foregoing suggests women should submit to men more than they would do other women. “Submission,” here, is contextual to marriage only.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.This article is a follow-up to the article, 5 Reasons Husbands Feel Vulnerable in Marriage