This is the third post in my Should Christian Wives Submit to Husbands series. You can read Part One HERE and Part Two HERE. At the end of Part Two I asked a question that we’ll be answering in this post:
What if you are a wife, and your husband is not asking you to sin; he just doesn’t agree with you on things. How do you come to a final decision on something when you’ve reached an impasse?
Common Sense and Mutuality
I want to first come at this from a common sense standpoint. Let’s set aside the husband/wife thing for a minute and just pretend we are talking about two human beings. They can be two girls or two boys or a boy and a girl. They can be a variety of human colors. They can be roommates, siblings, co-workers, board members, or two Sneetches, one with a star on his belly and one without.
Let’s say that the two humans (or Sneetches, as the case may be) don’t agree, but a decision must be made. There are only two of them, so a majority vote cannot be taken. They are equals, so there is no “bigger or better” human that gets to make the decision. Oh. My. Word. There is no simplistic, clear-cut, quick answer to this. It is a Conundrum. Is there a wringing of hands? Are we in a panic yet? What to do?!
A positive outcome is almost always a possibility when you have mutuality. Mutual respect. Mutual interest. Mutual goals. Mutual honor. Mutual concern. Will there be compromise? Most likely. Maybe after talking it out, thinking about it over time, and coming together to talk again, there will be a meeting of minds. But if not, compromises can be made, and things can move forward. Sometimes one party will defer to the other. But which party will that be? It won’t be the same party every time. Why? Because of mutuality.
Here’s a great definition of mutuality:
“Mutuality is a way of being with another person which promotes the growth and well-being of one’s self and the other person by means of clear communication and empathetic understanding.” Patricia Evans – The Verbally Abusive Relationship.
In my opinion, that should (but sadly, doesn’t) describe every single Christian marriage. If Christians can’t get that right, who can? We’ve got the perfect model for this in the Triune, Relational God Who is unified in all decisions. God the Father doesn’t over-ride God the Son or God the Spirit. They are One.
In a similar way, a husband and wife are One Flesh. Heirs Together. The ideal situation is to discuss major decisions using “clear communication and empathetic understanding” and make them together. When one person takes on the burden of making all the decisions unilaterally, they miss out on opportunities to truly know and love another human life. To give and take. To capitalize on one another’s strengths and knowledge and experience. To experience real intimacy and oneness.
(By the way, when I first wrote this post, I was still married to an abusive spouse under complementarian rules and regulations. Now I’m remarried to a wonderful man who treats me as his adult equal, and our relationship is incredible. There is no one-sided submission and one-sided power-over dynamic. I finally get to experience the truths I taught before I ever met my current husband. They work. You know why? Because THAT’S what the Bible teaches.)
Some Verses are Not More True than Other Verses
Verses about marriage do not trump the rest of the Word of God. All the verses about relationships apply to marriage as well. The verses on marriage ADD to the picture. They don’t make a SEPARATE picture. So when you read this:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9)
That doesn’t just apply in all human relationships outside of marriage. It applies in marriage too. Partiality is a sin. Period. Or what about this one:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
I don’t read any qualifiers here. It doesn’t read, “open to reason (unless you are a husband dealing with your wife), full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” I could make this post very, very long if I just copied all the passages in the New Testament alone that spoke about human relationships. They far outnumber the ones that just focus on marriage.
When we read verses like Ephesians 5:22-24, we ADD that to the wealth of wisdom already given in the rest of Scripture.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
And we read this in context, of course. These verses precede, presuppose, and dovetail with the following:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5: 25-30)
A Christian couple will strive for mutual respect for the interests of one another. Neither one trying to change the other into their own image – but appreciating the differences. Respecting boundaries. Honoring the other person. Being One and also enjoying the uniqueness of one another.
Trouble in Paradise
Rigid ideas about how things “ought to be done” can create all kinds of trouble in a marriage relationship. Let’s say a wife’s friends all homeschool and wear skirts. Plus all the blogs she reads say you aren’t godly unless you do. But the wife’s husband doesn’t want her to wear skirts and wants the kids to go to school. In homes like this, it often goes one of two ways:
1. The wife, decked out in her skirt with long hair up in a bun, nags, blames, shames, whines, complains, rages, and morphs into a martyr. The husband, feeling like a louse, succumbs to her toddler tantrums and lets her have her way.
2. The wife wants to talk. She nervously brings up the subject and timidly asks if there’s a possibility she could be allowed to homeschool their kids. She is met with silence. So she ventures forward with more information about the benefits of home education. The husband coldly says, “Why do you always make such a big deal out of everything? What is your problem? Why can’t you just let me lead our family? You always want to make all the decisions. You want to wear the pants. Are you being obedient to God’s Word? Why do you have to nag me about this? I’ve made the decision, as I should. It’s final. Why can’t you just trust God?” The wife, shame-faced, slinks into her corner wondering why she even brought it up.
A Real Christian Marriage
Neither of the above scenarios is healthy. I wonder if God intended for a marriage relationship to look more like this:
3. A husband and wife who set aside time together every week to discuss life, the kids, how they are doing as a family and as a couple, etc. have a mutual discussion about home education. The husband would like to put his kids in public school. The wife would like to try homeschooling them. They hash things out together, respecting one another’s input and ideas. Over the course of a few weeks, after talking together and thinking through everything separately, they decide to try homeschooling for a year with the option to change course the following year if either one doesn’t feel it is working out.
In this last scenario, there was mutual care and concern for the other person. There was an interest in what the other person was thinking and feeling. Both parties honored one another as precious human beings, made in the image of God. Both parties showed love toward one another by listening, sharing openly, being vulnerable, and being willing to bend, if necessary. They both desired to make a decision that was mutually satisfying to each one, knowing they could always revisit the issue the following year and make changes, if necessary.
Compare this last example to what one blogger believes is the only proper way of dealing with decision making in a marriage relationship. She says…
He is to make these decisions, not us. This does not matter if he is saved, actively attending church, etc. Unless he is asking you to do something that is morally wrong, you need to honor his decisions. He is responsible for determining your children’s education and training your children at home. He is responsible for whether you are a keeper at home or not.
While this idea is a simple formula to apply and measure, it leaves out the application of wisdom because it dismisses so much of Scripture. It also puts women in the child/slave position. That’s not where adult women belong. That’s not good for them or their adult husbands. Or the kids, for that matter.
But What if My Husband and I Can’t Even TALK?
I’m going to wrap this up by saying that we don’t want to be like the wife in scenario #1 above. That’s not God’s plan for women. We also don’t want to be the frightened woman in scenario #2. That’s not God’s plan for women either.
So the question that I think might be still swimming around in some heads is this:
I’ve tried having mutual conversations with my spouse, but we never get anywhere. He’s always right. My opinions matter little to him. He tends to dismiss and minimize any of my concerns. Every attempt on my part to engage in a meeting of the minds is met with either hostility or laughter. I often leave conversations feeling guilty. Like I did something wrong to even bring up an issue. I often feel confused and stuck. What do I do?
And that, my courageous friends, will be the subject of my next series.