A few weeks back, a small viral firestorm was raised around a blog by Seth Adam Smith called “Marriage Isn’t For Me.” If you didn’t see it on your Facebook wall, you doubtless saw one of the many responses it received. The general gist was a common enough one— “Marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy,” as the article says—but it set off a little debate. Isn’t marriage at least a little bit for us? How far is too far when it comes to laying down your own will and desires for marriage? What is submission anyway?
It’s generally accepted in today’s Christian culture that the man is to be the leader of a romantic relationship or marriage (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, etc.), We’ve heard here and there and a thousand other places that the wife is to submit to her husband and the responsibility of the family’s wellbeing and salvation falls to the man of the house.
While this is both accepted and appreciated in a setting of marriage, it can be a daunting scenario to those of us who are still single or unmarried as of yet, especially if our view of submission is not quite clear.
Firstly, dating and maintaining a relationship in today’s culture—Christian or not—is hard enough without adding the pressure of unrealistic expectations. Men are not magically made into leaders full of wisdom at the drop of an invitation to dinner, and women are most certainly not beholden to a man simply because they happen to be dating.
Secondly and more importantly: yes, a wife is to submit to her husband as the Bible instructs. But this command is not limited to wives. Submission is something all believers do. Before the instructions to wives in Ephesians, Paul urges us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” On its own, Paul’s call for wives to submit to their husbands sounds stodgy and outdated. Taken in the context of a larger picture of how we ought to all submit to each other, its one part of a very lovely mosaic of selflessness.
A romantic relationship—marriage or dating—is at its healthiest and happiest when both partners view each other as equals in respect and importance. When both the man and the woman come together to lean upon one another in equality, a relationship is given the opportunity to flourish and grow in the most ideal of situations.
But this type of allegiance in romantic equality doesn’t just automatically happen once a man and woman are pronounced as husband and wife. Rather, it’s in the dating stages of a relationship where this equality is founded. Once we begin seeing our partner in a romantic way, it is our responsibility to make a concerted effort to forge a partnership that is equal in responsibility, trust and respect.
So how do we take our interpretations of romantic submission and leadership and apply them to our modern day relationship? And more importantly, what benefits do we gain by being part of a relationship that is more closely founded on equality than old world ways of a man lording over his woman in importance and opinion?
A woman’s worth is not built around the kind of man she marries, but on who she is as an individual person and female entity. And when a woman has an equal say in a relationship, that coming together of bodies and souls is strengthened in ways that far exceed that of a man doing his best to lead alone.
So what if we’ve had it wrong? What if a man isn’t supposed to be the master of his home and final decider every decision? Perhaps a man shouldn’t be leading alone, but rather striving to seek the counsel of the woman God blessed him with who has also put forth the time and effort to help make him into the worthy person he’s becoming. Maybe a man is to grow close to God in prayer and supplication so that his some day wife and family may see the example he’s set and replicate it to the best of their abilities. If this is the case, then a man shouldn’t rule over his wife, but she should be standing beside him in prayer and faith, for better or worse; both partners equal in all ways and decisions.
We can call it gender equality or feminism or whatever you’d like; but the truth is that a relationship built on the foundation of one partner ruling over another is a relationship that will most likely always have an uneven and unhealthy existence. But the relationship that’s built on a solid foundation of equality and mutual respect between partners is a relationship that has the potential to be both healthy and happy for a very long time.
Cory Copeland is a writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Bri. You can follow him on Twitter @Cory_Copeland and read more of his writing at CoryCopeland.net.