Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My wife just won't bow down and submit. What do I do now?

Going against the cultural grain, Allison and I decided to pursue a marriage with old school gender roles - the kind that are getting a really bad rap these days. That means we adhere to the Bible's words that say:

"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord... wives should submit to their husbands in everything." Ephesians 5:22 & 24

Feel like you're going to puke yet? Please bare with me (if you're a woman, bare feet are not necessary in baring with me). This is actually going somewhere helpful.

Of course I obtained Allison's permission before posting this picture of her making a sassy duck face.
So in our minds, it is Allison's job to follow me and let me lead our family, which is actually what she told me she was looking for when we were dating. We still talk about pretty much everything together, and make every effort to reach a consensus on decisions. But with many things, she simply says, "This is your call baby." Then she trusts me to lead.

Now, if you actually know Allison, this may come as somewhat of a surprise to you but she doesn't always do things exactly how I think she should. Sometimes letting me lead can be uncomfortable for her, and occasionally she even disagrees with me. #gasp! And when that happens conflict typically arises in our marriage, which is her fault, right?
We husbands could make an argument that some disagreements and conflict are the fault of our wive's unwillingness to submit. And a lot of us do, especially when we're not getting what we want. For instance:

          -You're not having sex with me. You're being unsubmissive 
          -You're not cleaning the house right. You're being unsubmissive
          -I told you how unsubmissive your unwillingness to have sex is, and in this moment we're still not                     having sex. What gives? You're being unsubmissive! 
          - You're not meeting my expectations. You're being unsubmissive
          - Why are we still not having sex. Didn't I tell you that's unsubmissive!?

We feel frustrated and angry. And because we're 'biblical husbands' we've got the right to be, right? After all, she's not keeping up her end of the bargain!

Maybe so. But does that mean that our anger is righteous? Not exactly. The Bible has something to say about our response to our wives. Church guys, you know where this is headed - to the verse that everyone uses to say that everything is your fault.  

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Ephesians 5:25
 This is the verse that, quite frankly, guys feel like everyone uses to schluff off every ounce of burden on the backs of men. We read this and think Great, this is where they tell me that the whole marriage is my responsibility. And everything bad that happens is my fault. We'll that's not really true either.The reality is your marriage, as well as mine, is made up of two imperfect people. So the 'love your wife as Christ loved the church' verse doesn't mean that everything is your fault all the time.

Instead, that verse is meant to bring to mind the image of Jesus, a family leader who threw himself under the bus for the sake of forgiveness rather than point at his followers and say "You're being unsubmissive." To be like Jesus is to be a husband who says, "You don't want to have sex right now? Well, I don't want to stop loving you for even one moment."

Easier said than done. 
I know. It's a tall order. The tricky part is, there aren't 10 tidy tips for loving your wife like Christ loved the church or anything like that. Our 'righteous anger' is nearly always driven by unhealthy beliefs and attitudes that we've cultivated our whole lives. And they're the types of things that we'll have to wrestle with for the rest of our lives. But wrestling with these things is the first step we have to take to offering our wives a sacrificial, Christ-like love.

These are the attitudes and beliefs that keep most guys from loving their wives well.

Your confidence about your own strength is called pride, and it's a weakness. Men are supposed to be strong. That's why God set us up as the leaders of our families. The danger comes when we forget that we are not God. When I begin to try to be God, I quickly become irritable, restless and discontent.

The best way to face this attitude is to do the one thing Christians are terrified of - pray for humility. Most of us are afraid of doing this because we believe God will destroy our lives to teach us to be humble. And He might. But I've got some news for you, if you're a prideful man, the stuff in your life already isn't worth anything.

You don't really believe Jesus loves you. If it seems impossible to wrap your mind around loving and forgiving your wife when she's not submitting, it almost certainly means you don't believe Jesus loves and forgives you. That was my battle for a long time. I knew Jesus was powerful enough to forgive my sins, I just didn't believe he wanted to. And because I believed I was unforgivable, I was unable to forgive others.

If that resonates with you, then I've got some bad news. Until you confront your own shame (through counseling, coaching, recovery, a church community group, or something), you'll not only be unable to love your wife well, you won't be able to love anyone well.

You feel hurt or afraid of getting hurt. This is the most significant one for me. When I begin to get angry at Allison for being unsubmissive, it's usually because I'm really just afraid of getting hurt. I'll use sex as an example. When we first got married, if Allison didn't want to have sex for any reason I would become visibly emotionally distressed. My mind would become flooded with bible verses on submission. But in reality, it was really just that I equate sex with love (which is nuts). And if she didn't want to have sex, I felt rejected and scared that she didn't love me.

If you've ever quoted the verse that says, "do not deprive each other of sex" (1 Corinthians 7:5, italics added), then you may very well have some fear about love and rejection. Should your wife work to accommodate your sexual needs? According to the Bible, yes. Does it give you the right to be a d-bag if she denies? According to the Bible, absolutely not.

Question of the day: One of the best things about the day we're living in is that people have the freedom to apply gender roles however they feel is appropriate in their marriage. How do you and your spouse do gender roles? Please leave your comment in the space below. 


  1. The preacher at my brother's wedding made the very good point that the reason why Ephesians 5 says SO much more to husbands than to wives is that he is really talking about Jesus. And because Jesus loved the church and gave Himself up for it, husbands have the freedom and strength to do that for their wives. How cool is that!?

    1. It's an awesome freedom. Sounds like your brother had an awesome wedding. :)

  2. Here's one practical consideration that is supported by Scriptural examples: Attempting to launch your wife on a guilt trip for something she has done or not done will not bring the results your want as her husband. Christ set the example for this in how He treats His bride, the Church (us). We are shown grace, more grace, and yet more grace. That turns us toward Him, not away from Him. It works that way in marriage too, and i'm speaking from 41 years of experience.

    1. Grace, more grace, and yet more grace. That's almost the perfect mantra.

  3. Something I have been thinking about since reading it on Monday - sin is not an offense against a principle. It's an offense against a person. That may make it all the more damning, but the plus side is that people can forgive. Principles can't. So as we fail each other (daily) in our marriages, the marvelous upshot is that we can ask, receive, and give forgiveness to and from each other. It's not "being a bad wife" or "being a bad husband", it's "I did you wrong specifically here, will you please forgive me?". Only forgiveness (which is of grace) allows forward motion.

    Pretty sure that's where the Lord's prayer is going with the debts and the debtors. We love because He first loved us.

    1. Succinctly put Mark. And I like what you said, "only forgiveness allows for forward motion" That's exactly the kind of thing I need to keep myself reminded of. Thanks.