“How do I submit to my husband and still maintain a sense of self?” {Advice Fair-EE}

Welcome to The Advice Fair-EE’s
love/sex/relationship advice column!

This is where the lovesick, lovelorn and loveless gather to have The Advice Fair-EE’s pixie dust sprinkled over their broken hearts.

***disclaimer: I’m not a licensed therapist, I’m just a woman who has been with the same man for 16 years.**
**addendum to the disclaimer: I’m not the Pope (duh!). I’m a chick with an Internet connection. Be ye not afraid of these, my humble opinions.**
*p.s. still, I do so enjoy doling out advice. And if past comment boxes are any indication? So do you! :) And all the people said AMEN, yo!*

If you have a love/sex/relationship/friendship question, please email me with the subject line: ADVICE FAIR-EE. (All identities kept anonymous and I also bequeath you with a pseudonym for extra privacy).

: :

Dear Advice Fair-EE,
I’ve been married for nearly 6 years and things have been good. We are happy, have 3 small children and my husband is my best friend.  However, my husband feels that we need to have a more biblical marriage and that I need to be more submissive to him.  I’ve been reading Scripture to find out what that entails. But the Bible only tells me I need to submit and doesn’t give me any practical life examples.  I’m feeling very lost right now!  There are so many different interpretations out there of what submission means (from asking for permission for everything to calling my husband lord/master!!)  How do I balance submitting to my husband in every way and still maintain a sense of self?  I feel like I’m spread so thin already.
Sincerely, Submissively Confused

: :

Dear Submissively Confused,

Your confusion is totally understandable. You have a good, happy marriage and furthermore, you’re best friends with your husband. That’s far more than most people ever get! In fact, I would say a good, happy marriage is a biblical marriage. Why the need to make it “more” biblical?

Confusion, indeed.

As far as submission goes, I have yet to find any consistent answer for what that should look like, practically speaking. Each Christian has a different answer and the suggestions/rules are arbitrary at best. But every healthy marriage–Christian or non-Christian–has three things in common:

  1. mutual respect
  2. honest communication
  3. mutual cooperation.

So, before you start enforcing arbitrary rules of submission on your marriage (how exhausting is that?!), perhaps you can begin by opening a conversation with your husband.

Ask him what he means by wanting a “Biblical marriage.” How does he define that? How would that be different/better than the marriage you have now? Why does he view the current state of your marriage as problematic and/or lacking? Has anyone pressured him to believe his marriage is not holy enough? Ask him what changed and why?

I’m proud of you for desiring to maintain a sense of self—meaning, understanding who you are and what you need. It’s important, then, for you to express your own concerns and feelings.

Tell him you’re confused and that up until this point, you believed you had a good marriage. Be honest with yourself, too. Is this new pressure of needing a “biblical marriage” making you feel anxious, sad, frustrated? If your husband is truly your best friend, then he would welcome your sincere, candid expression of how this is affecting you.

With hopes for clarity,
The Advice Fair-EE

Do you have any helpful advice to add? Do share!

  • Terry@breathing grace

    That is a very interesting letter. As much as I believe in the Bible’s teaching on marriage, I also believe that the commands are things we offer to our spouse from our heart, not things they should (or even could) demand from us.

    In other words, the day my husband starts demanding submission is the day I say to him that he needs to check his own heart first, LOL. Ditto if I start quoting arbitrary verses at him about loving me as Christ loves the church rather than expressing specific issues that I’m having. The verses are a general guideline for our conduct but how they unfold in each marriage is too personal for anyone person to be able to pin that down.

    That said, it sounds like her husband may be getting an earful from someone outside their marriage. That’s not the kind of thing husbands just say as a normal thing. It sounds strange.

     Especially if she thought everything was fine before. Of course, she needs to verify that he agrees with her assessment of the relationship.

    I think you gave good advice, EE. She should talk to her husband and ask for more specificity.

  • Tammy

    I think there is an interesting dichotomy when men marry capable intelligent women and then tell them to be more “submissive”. I have been married for 25 years and have 3 almost adult children 
    Maybe when men say this, what are they really speaking of?   I wonder if her H is speaking of submission in little things or big things. I am not a naturally submissive person, but in respect for my H and desire for family unity and peace…I have been good at giving in about the big things….he has chosen out houses, cars & (uo to recently, long story) where we lived.  WHen I see a lot of young moms, I worry about the messages they send in the small things.  Do you direct him a lot in the small details of how the home runs? If he is making a sandwich or giving a child a bath, do you correct him 3 times during each task?  I have seen a lot of young moms turn very control-freaky  trying so hard to maintain control of every piece of minutiae that they (perhaps very unknowingly) became very knit-picky and anal and I fear that they may win the war of the sandwich but lost the battle of making their husband feel insulted and diminished. 

  • KatR

    I don’t get how someone can be your best friend, but think you should stop having an opinion.

  • Tammy

    Terry, you make a VERY good point. There are things we are called to offer (submission, sacrificial love) that can never be demanded. In the very demand we pervert the original intention of the fact that it can only be given as a free will gift. 

    I was only looking at the practical and you dug down…thank you for your insight.

  • Leila

    I’ve been where Submissively Confused is. Early in our marriage (now 25 years strong) we fell hook, line, and sinker for that ridiculous book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” … and it almost destroyed our best-friend, happy, intimate marriage, because we stopped being the people God created us to be and tried to force ourselves into ridiculous text-proofed “roles.” It was very, very unhealthy for our marriage. It was only when we began holding up what Grudem and Piper had to say to actual scripture (as in, Ephesians 5:21, submit to ONE ANOTHER) that we kicked that ridiculous notion of one-way submission to the curb and went back to our mutual submission, mutual respect, mutual sacrificial loving. 

  • Anonymous

    Great advice EE! I’m also wondering if there is someone influencing the husband about how his marriage should look or be changed. Perhaps a new church, or an elder(s), or a teaching which is making him question his marriage. I’ve found, if both parties, are mutually submitted to Christ, then there is Divine order. I agree with EE, laying down arbitary rules is exhausting and as far as I’m concerned, bondage to legalism. If we’re submitted to Christ, then He’s the Head of the marriage. I don’t know of anyone else who would do a better “job” of it, than Him? I also agree with EE, to try and understand what exactly he means by submission. And I would also hope that both of you could explore ALL sides of any scriptures he may have in mind. I’d look at opposing views, ones that disgree with eachother and talk about them. Is there outside pressure to change? Is there a teaching being introduced? What is the full context?

    And just a side note. The role of the husband in marriage is to lay down his life for his bride, like Christ did for His Bride. Which looked VERY different than MAN’s idea of a King, humbling Himself to the point of death. He also allowed public displays of opposing opinions. He wasn’t frazzled when someone disagreed with him. When a husband gets a revelation of Christ as the Head of their marriage, then there’s a wonderful, mutually, edifiying partnership. What man wants to “father” his wife by making her obey all his rules. What a burden on him too! And a strain on the marriage, when he could have a best friend to weather all the trials and joys of life!

  • Anonymous

    Oh yes Leila! I love that scripture too. Submitting one to another! I discovered that one when in I was in a community which taught that the husband was to make the wife obey, or the congregatation, either way both were to obey hook line and sinker because they were the “authority” and “annointed” by God. I’m sorry, but we still have this flesh and if it isn’t Christ we’re obeying then it’s going to stink! And if we’re truly humble then we are mutually submissive. Humility is one of the biggest areas of Christ-likeness, and this goes for the husband not lording it over the wife, as Christ didn’t lord His authority over His Bride.

  • Sharon

    Great advice!  Perhaps she should also remind her husband that the Bible never says, “Husbands, make your wives submit to you.”  God’s command to him is to love his wife not be an enforcer.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    I agree with EE, TALK about it! My husband and I started our marriage in the “biblical” roles and it was torture. The more we talked and debated and communicated about what each of us desired in marriage and who we were, the better it got.

  • Submissively Confused

    Hello all!  This question to EE was from me.  As you have guessed, the situation is more complicated than it seems!  Isn’t it always?  This change to a more biblical marriage comes after a conversation my husband had with his father (whom I do not like and do not get along with very well)  My father in law believes that as the oldest male in our family he has authority over his family, in laws included.  He feels that I do not submit to his authority and thus I am controlling and arrogant.  Our oldest daughter has been recently diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and my father in law believes that the diagnosis is not accurate and that the real problem is me.  My husband doesn’t believe all that his father said, but it still spurred this apparent need for me to be more submissive.  I am not a perfect wife, but I’ve always felt that I leave the big decisions for my husband to make.  I am not the type of wife who nit picks everything that he does…..I suppose I may nag him a bit when something needs doing, but he is a major procrastinator and I always try to being kind and loving in my requests.  I’m just struggling I guess…..I want him to be happy and I don’t object to submitting I just don’t know how to be everything to everyone.  My kids have such huge needs (you know, because they are kids) and my husband has needs but I have needs as well!  How do I balance it all and still feel like I am my own person?  Or am I not supposed to feel like my own person now that I am a wife and mother??

  • http://shackbible.wordpress.com/ ShackBibleGuy

    In my marriage, my wife and I started out with complementarian beliefs about marriage roles, but we’ve evolved in the last decade to a more egalitarian approach.  But our way of relating to each other didn’t change that whole time.  Bc from the beginning, I knew she was super-smart and wise and that I would be a fool to not listen to her voice.  And that remains true today.  Our way of thinking about “submission” didn’t change that.

  • http://shackbible.wordpress.com/ ShackBibleGuy

    I believe that ultimately, this question is to be resolved in Trinitarian theology, in exploring the inner relations of God as Father, Son and Spirit.  In their way of submitting to one another, is it all one-way top-down hierarchy?  Or does love make it more fluid than that?  Does the Father ever submit to the Son?

  • http://shackbible.wordpress.com/ ShackBibleGuy

    Confused, I so appreciate your opening this up with us.  I feel for your confusion.  I feel for your husband’s desire to be a “man” and to please his dad.

    I am a procrastinator with a long-suffering wife. She has always cared deeply for my needs but not always taken care of her own needs.  After over a decade of this, a crisis spurred us into therapy together, and we learned to re-work our relationship into something with healthier boundaries.  She learned to stop taking responsibility for my foolish choices, and I learned to start being a grown-up.  It was really good for both of us.

    For what it’s worth, the issues you are talking about sound very familiar to me.

  • Joni Boetticher

    I had to wrestle hard with this issue before I got married because I had a lot of baggage about the whole issue of submission. In the end, the book “Just How Married Do You Want To Be?” clarified things for me and showed me a way to be faithful to the Bible and also avoid the hurtful patterns I had seen in others’ marriages.

  • Dixibehr

    \But the Bible only tells me I need to submit and doesn’t give me any practical life examples.\

    Yes, in the NT, women are commanded to submit to their husbands.

    But the very next verse says that husbands are supposed to LOVE their wives. Don’t forget that to the original audience used to arranged marriages, these words which sound so obvious today was revolutionary!

    Frankly, I’d rather be loved than merely submitted to. In this model of  “Biblical marriage,” where husbands have to give love and receive merely submission in return, they are getting shorted.

  • http://continuedwonder.blogspot.com/ annette

    I don’t know, but the whole husband love his wife as Christ loves the church is enough to melt a wife’s heart, isn’t it?! (if it is genuine)  A woman would  have to put the brakes on to keep her heart from SUBMITing to that kind of love.   Seems like it’s the “men” who aren’t interested in the sacrifical part of love that seem to get all loud about submission. just my opinion :).

  • Handsfull

    Hi Submissively Confused,
    Having read your further explanation, all my warning bells went
     off about what you said about your FIL.  Sounds like a very difficult situation.  I have howling kids, so no time, but a blog I read is of a family who have lived through a very similar situation.  It might be some help for you… check out resolved2worship

  • http://shackbible.wordpress.com/ John Stonecypher (Shack Bible)

    I love the idea of “submitting to love”!  It is shocking how hard it is to submit myself to being loved by my wife, or by God or anyone, for that matter.  Thank you for giving me a new angle for thinking about this!

  • Sam

    Submissively Confused, I am glad you clarified. It sounds like it’s your FIL that has the problem and your husband, not as much. He may feel that he still has to obey his father (which I know we are called to do) BUT your husband is the head of his own family. That’s YOU and your children. I think your husband needs to address his father with total respect and say, “I appreciate your input, but…” This is YOUR marriage and not to be dictated by a parent. That’s super unhealthy. All parents can have their opinions and should express them when concerns arise but it can be confusing to be torn between the child and adult role, I have found. I think a truly wise parent keeps his/her mouth shut when it comes to interfering in their children’s marriages – unless there are concerns about abuse, of course, or major inappropriateness happening. 

    And just to make sure you hear this loud and clear: your child’s issues are NOT your fault. NOT YOUR FAULT. Please don’t absorb that message and carry that guilt. My son has a speech delay and is kinda quirky. I often feel that I must be doing a crappy job to have a kid who I can’t potty train to save his or my life, but I also know: I can’t control him. Children are not controlled, but guided with love. You absolutely need and deserve to make sure your own needs are being met. To me, that means making sure you have time to take a shower if that’s what you need, eat a full meal, get adequate sleep, and have time to yourself every now and then. Being a wife and mother doesn’t mean you aren’t YOU anymore. It can be really hard and there are so many conflicting messages out there. Listen to your heart and pray for God to guide you. You sound like you have a willing attitude and that’s wonderful. 

    Forgive me, Advice Fair-EE, for busting up in your comments. But the FIL stuff just drives me bananas. 

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    If my husband said this to me- red flags would go up- and then I would smile and say- ok! How are YOU going to love me as Christ loves the Church????

    But ask him what he means- maybe you have been talking negatively to or about him in public- or maybe you aren’t asking his advice( guys like that)

  • Margaret

    Love your thoughts Terry.

    The Scriptures are directed at us individually.  Neither can force the other to do what they’re supposed to, and when one or both try, you get power struggles.

  • Tammy

    Well after reading that, your FIL is imposing himself into your life like that,  I have a few things to say that wouldnt be considered polite in present company. That is awful…

    What you could consider is to say that you do fully believe n a Biblical union…one straight out of Matthew 19.. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    I’m trying to imagine saying something like that to my wife. It’s hard. I think that’s because I have an aversion to pain and hospital visits. ;-) (Just kidding. Mostly.)

  • Deborah Fromel

    The bible does say for wives to submit to THEIR husband.  Not their father-in-law, pastor or whoever else would like to make up rules for our marriages.  I think EEs advice is spot on.  To figure out what “submitting” should look like for you, talk to your own husband to see what he needs and wants.  Then try to ignore (and maybe encourage him to ignore?) what the FIL or anyone else outside your marriage wants for you.

  • Dixibehr

    \Seems like it’s the “men” who aren’t interested in the sacrifical part of love that seem to get all loud about submission. just my opinion :).\

    St. John Chrysostom said something similar in the 400′s.

  • Emily S

    After reading this and your clarification, you definitely need to approach your husband.

    I live submissive to my husband. What this means, in practicality, is that when there’s a big decision I tell him my thoughts but, instead of insisting we do things my way, allow him to make the final decisions. It means not entering into the emotional warfare that we as women tend to do, bringing up old failures, nagging, doing things grudgingly, ‘i told you so’s’ and all the rest. It’s not speaking badly of him to my friends, or going behind his back and against his wishes, be it in my life or the lives of our children (of course, these wishes have already heard my opinion, or will soon hear my opinion, and be discussed)

    And in return he is commanded to love me more than he loves himself, which includes taking my opinions and feelings on board, and placing my needs higher than his own.

    Men and women need to be loved and respected, but women need love more than they need respect, men are the opposite, they need to know they are respected, unconditionally, just as we expect to be loved unconditionally.

    HAVING SAID ALL THIS

    I know your problem because we had it to. My FIL didn’t cope so well when we didn’t do as he ‘advised’ in our engagment and marriage. In fact, in the end he never even gave his blessing for the marriage to happen. Of course, he couldn’t believe his perfectly raised son would stray from his beliefs, so it had to be my fault.

    My husband was scared to stand up to his father because, growing up, that was NOT done. By anyone. Even in my inlaws marriage, as far as the children were aware his mothers idea of submission was to never give an opposing opinion. So it got complicated for awhile there.

    What my husband needed to do, and what I suppose yours may need to do also, is to look at the bible in relation to adult children. The bible says we LEAVE our parents to join as one when we marry. It also says to honour our parents, honour does not mean obey. The bible does tell CHILDREN to obey their parents in other verses, but not adults.

    Your husband will probably be having a hard time with this. My husband was so afraid of disapointing his family, of the confrontation and consequences of doing so. He needs to learn to stand up for himself, and to stand up for his family. To be able to say to his father that he respectfully disagrees, without compromise or lack of confidence.

    Or perhaps he agrees with his father. This is where discussion, submission, and prayer come into it. Go to him with bible verses and your beliefs and lay it out for him.

    Good luck

  • Lucrezaborgia

    “Men and women need to be loved and respected, but women need love more
    than they need respect, men are the opposite, they need to know they are
    respected, unconditionally, just as we expect to be loved
    unconditionally.”

    This is an anecdote, not a truism.  People need love and respect equally.

  • lovingmylife

    I really believe that unless you are a happy and fulfilled person you can not be a good mother and wife. You deserve to be happy and unhappiness and discontent on your part is likely to affect relationship with the people around you. Please be careful not to loose who you are to please your husband and father-in-law.

    Husbands are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church and Christ loved the church enough to die for us. It should not be hard to submit to someone who loves you this much because you would know that they would never ask you to do anything that would hurt you. If a husband doesn’t love his wife this much, does the wife still have to submit?

    This interpretation works for me – my husband would never make a decision without talking to me – he loves me too much for that. I never need to challenge his authority because he has already talked to me before making decisions. I am happy, my husband is happy and we have a tribe of happy kids – surely that is a Christian marriage.

  • Madame

    Oh dear, Submissively confused,  your story sounds very familiar, not that I’ve heard it before, but that I can relate to meddling in-laws who think you are the problem and want to fix your life (which doesn’t need fixing) in their way. I also have a domineering FIL who tries to control our lives. I have also been labelled as “the problem” and told that I need to submit more. I have also been in the place where I was very confused. Unfortunately, we are still very deep in the mess, but I am able to see that I’m married to my husband and not his dad, and have had the strength (so far) to stand against what FIL would have us do.
    I  don’t think a marriage can truly be established until we are ready to separate ourselves from papa and mama to become a team with our spouse.
    Right now, your husband is partnering with his daddy. He has to go back to partnering with you.
    In the meantime, don’t be afraid of taking care of yourself.
    I hope you work things out!

  • Madame

    Oh dear, Submissively confused,  your story sounds very familiar, not that I’ve heard it before, but that I can relate to meddling in-laws who think you are the problem and want to fix your life (which doesn’t need fixing) in their way. I also have a domineering FIL who tries to control our lives. I have also been labelled as “the problem” and told that I need to submit more. I have also been in the place where I was very confused. Unfortunately, we are still very deep in the mess, but I am able to see that I’m married to my husband and not his dad, and have had the strength (so far) to stand against what FIL would have us do.
    I  don’t think a marriage can truly be established until we are ready to separate ourselves from papa and mama to become a team with our spouse.
    Right now, your husband is partnering with his daddy. He has to go back to partnering with you.
    In the meantime, don’t be afraid of taking care of yourself.
    I hope you work things out!

  • Madame

    I can’t control him. Children are not controlled, but guided with love.

    SO TRUE!!!!!