Why it makes sense to me to be obedient to my husband

August 12, 2009 | Background, Motherhood | 90 comments

One of the more surprising aspects of my conversion is that I’ve come to agree with the long-held Christian belief that the husband should be the head of the household. This is a surprising move for a former feminist atheist. When I was in my early 20’s I almost walked out of a wedding in which one of the readings was the line in Chapter 5 of Ephesians in which Paul says that “wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” I could have never guessed that I would one day come to agree with him.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the decision-making process that led me to such a radical change of mind, and I thought I’d share my thoughts in case anyone is interested:


Ironically, it was my background as a career woman that first led me to see the wisdom of Paul’s infamous line.

When my husband and I were engaged I was working on starting a tech business, and I spent a lot of time studying successful organizations to see which practices helped businesses thrive. What I discovered is that one of the most essential components for any human organization is clear leadership. This immediately resonated with me. I had once worked at a company where they tried to have a more egalitarian setup where the four vice presidents were “co-CEO’s” rather than having one leader, and it was a disaster. Few concrete decisions ever got made, the employees were frustrated that nobody had final authority to address their concerns, and the VP’s ended up wasting time in endless quibbling. This also jibed with what I knew from studying anthropology in college: when you look at human organizations — whether it’s an ancient tribe or a community club or a huge business or a local church — it becomes clear that there is a natural human yearning for leadership, and that leaderless organizations don’t thrive. Nobody ever changed the world by committee.

After we got married I decided to abandon my business project, but I quickly found that these lessons carried over into family life as well. And while our goals as a family would be far different from the goals of a business, focusing on things like forming a group of people who love one another and are forces for good in the world rather than selling X number of widgets, I began to think that a clear leader would be required. Although I did have some concerns about what that would involve…


Based on this background of appreciating hierarchy in human organizations, when I first began to seriously explore Christianity I was somewhat open to the idea that wives should let husbands be heads of households, as long as the men’s authority had reasonable limits. After all, one of the key things that differentiates a licit system of leadership from an illicit system of leadership is that there are conditions under which subordinates do not have to obey the leader (e.g. an employee would never be expected to obey a boss who told her to embezzle money).

Though I’d heard plenty of stories of men who used lines from the Bible to become tyrannical rulers, abusing their families while insisting that no objections to their authority could be allowed, I wanted to know if this was based on actual Christian teaching or just individual misinterpretation. As my research into Christianity led me to Catholicism, I began to look closely at whether that belief system advocated for absolute authority for husbands, or for more traditional leadership roles that included conditions to their authority.

Though I’ll admit that I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and never did pore over every word of Mulieris Dignitatem or Familiaris Consortio, I read enough to know that God revealed through the Church that those lines in Ephesians about wifely obedience were not meant to be taken as all-or-nothing, black-and-white statements and that the nullifying conditions I would have expected to see were there. I.e., a husband forfeits his leadership role if he abuses his wife in any way, tells her to do something sinful, arrogantly lords his power over her, etc. In other words, it is not Christian teaching that wives must blindly obey their husbands under all circumstances.


Another concern I had, particularly about Christian thinking on the subject, was about equality. Did this teaching mean that men were thought to be more intelligent or of higher value than women?

Once again, not only did I find that that was not the official teaching, but looking at other hierarchical systems quelled that concern. It’s not assumed that bishops are more valuable than parish priests, just like a CEO is not assumed to be a better person than the vice presidents.

One thing that is different, however, is that in almost all other systems the leaders are in their positions by merit rather than inheritance, while in the family men are assigned the leadership role by gender alone. As a woman who was once certain that her life goal was to be CEO of a large company, this is something I thought a lot about. I think I’m a pretty good leader. Why should I be assigned a subordinate role just because I’m female?

A lot of thought and research has led me to believe that there is a wisdom to a universal recommendation that the male take the leadership role in the household. For one thing, it is we women who give birth to children, and that requires periods in which we withdraw from the world, such as during childbirth and in the early postpartum period (Jessica Snell once wrote about that here). For that reason alone I think it makes sense for the husband to be the default choice for the household leader, since his biological makeup allows him to be physically available to deal with tough decision-making situations and act as the public face of the family at all times. Also, again from studying anthropology, it just seems clear to me that human evolution has led both men and women to thrive under male leadership, especially in small, intimate organizations like tribes and families. (Which is not to say that I don’t think women can ever be good leaders, of course; I’m just talking about general trends and the ideal situation for certain types of human groups.)


Another concern I had was that husbands in this setup would get a sweeter deal — after all, in this system isn’t it the case that husbands get to do whatever they want while only the wives have to make sacrifices? After having lived in a family where the husband is the head of the household for a few years now, I have not found this to be the case.

Yes, there are times when I think that I am right and my husband is wrong and it’s frustrating not to have things my way; yet these moments are balanced out by the times that I am relived not to have the burden of leadership. When tough decisions have to be made, I don’t envy my husband for being in the position of having to face the consequences of his decisions if things don’t work out. Of course we discuss everything together and I’d support him no matter what happens, but being the head of the decision-making process also means being the head of dealing with the fallout from bad decisions.

Also, in order to hold up his end of the bargain, he is called to sacrifice his own desires in the name of doing what’s best for the family and loving me as he loves himself. He doesn’t get to do whatever he wants any more than I do.

Motivation and tradeoffs

I used to think that having both spouses as equal partners would be a great system because everyone would get what they want. What I’ve seen from human history and life experience, however, is that leaderless systems just mean that nobody gets what he wants.

The theory is that having a co-leader system encourages people to talk about the pros and cons of their views and work together to find solutions. What I’ve observed is that, in those systems, since everyone knows they have veto power and will not have to personally deal with the consequences of a bad choice, when heated disagreements arise nobody is really motivated toward humility and compromise, and the whole group ends up bogged down in a morass of argument and indecision. In systems with a leader, however, the dynamic is different. The leader knows that he will personally have to bear the brunt of a bad decision, so he’s motivated to be humble and seek feedback; the person in the subordinate role knows that it’s not ultimately her call, so she’s motivated to compromise as much as possible to make her ideas appealing.

This is not to say that either system is totally good or totally bad, and both, of course, can be abused if people enter into them with bad intentions. But I’ve found that the advantages of a one-leader family structure outweigh the disadvantages.

The way I’ve come to think of it, the wife is the Chief Operations Officer and the husband is Chief Executive Officer. If you’ve ever seen a COO and CEO interact in a good company, there is not the vibe of a powerful ruler lording his power over an unthinking dupe. In fact, the vast majority of the time they operate as equals and the hierarchical differences are unnoticeable. The only times you might see the CEO use his power to make an executive decision is if he and the COO are stuck in gridlock and a decision has to be made to move the company forward. Sometimes it will be the wrong decision; there will be times where the COO was right and the CEO was wrong. But being able to just get those decisions made and move forward is worth the tradeoff of the fact that the CEO will occasionally be wrong.

The supernatural element

There has also been a part of my conversion on this issue that cannot be explained in terms of logic and reason. It’s nothing I could prove to a skeptic, but I have seen God work in my life in a big way on the occasions when I’ve sacrifice my own preferences in order to let my husband have the tiebreaking vote. Even when I am just sure that I am right, when I am positive that the fabric of the universe will tear apart if things don’t go my way, when I step aside and turn the decision over to my husband, things have this uncanny way of working out for the best.

Love, not laws

My motivation for writing this post isn’t to tell other people what they should do, but only to offer a glimpse into how my own thinking has changed on this hotbutton topic over the year. I don’t deny that there are very real challenges that come with letting your husband be the head of the household — especially for women who are married to men with challenging personality types — but would only suggest that such a setup has more advantages than it may seem at first glance.

I’ve found that submitting to my husband’s authority is not about power and control, but about freeing up everyone’s mental energy to live and love and focus on what really matters. As with so many other things, these ideas about household structure that I once saw as oppressive and cold rules I now see as just part of a prescription for living a life of love.



  1. veniteadoremus

    You're right, another boring, non-controversial subject 🙂

    I have skimmed over it and am hooked, especially on the part of equality. I was raised almost comically feminist, and must admit that I have some residual urges that can use stomping out…

    …but why I didn't give this even the benefit of a proper read before rushing to comment, is that I would love to hear your husband's take on this. On things like leadership, responsibility, and how it feels when your wife is obeying you but not agreeing. Any chance?

  2. curlyheadedtuba

    I really loved this post! You did an excellent job of stating things clearly, as usual.

    However, I am astounded that I am the first commenter… it's been up for a whole TWO HOURS and there's no ravenous comment war raging!

  3. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    The one place where I struggle with this: my husband is not Catholic and I am. I absolutely do not feel right submitting to attending services with him instead of Mass or I tried to go in addition to Mass for a while but it was too much. I pray a lot that our family can be truly united in worship someday.

  4. Berji's domain

    Very nicely put. I would add that if you look at the words of Paul to husbands,their charge is much greater (I think): love your wives as Christ loved the Church. You don't get any more sacrificial, humble and loving than Christ.
    If only all marriages showed the relationship perfectly!

  5. Fencing Bear

    I think there is a difference between being subordinate to your husband and subordinate to your marriage. I'm not sure whether my husband or I is the one who makes the decisions in our marriage, sometimes it is one of us, sometimes the other. The critical thing is that we make the decision for the sake of our marriage, which means that both of us are responsible and both of us at times have to give. That said, I agree with you about the importance of leadership in other human communities. I'm just not sure marriage is best compared with a business.

  6. Anonymous

    This is another one of those frustrating posts you see on the blogosphere where everyone is trying to out-christian, out-catholic, and out-conservative each other. The argument you make is a pretty bland repitition of what these other bloggers say, with nothing new or original added. You say that submitting to leadership of the family by husband makes sense for your family because it works for large companies. Think about that. It doesn't make any sense at all. A marriage is a relationship. Think about the friendships you've had in your life. If you were friends with someone and one of you were designated as "leader" in the relationship, and that person always got to choose what restaurant to eat lunch at, how to observe birthdays, when and where to spend time together, etc., would that be a healthy relationship? And yet you think it makes sense for a marriage.

    You're wrong for another reason as well. You say that a corporation functions better under a powerful single leader. That's baloney. We have a very sick corporate culture. The healthiest and most successful companies are dynamic small companies headed by two or more founders working together equally. Startups founded by a sole proprietor tend to struggle and fail.

    The bible contains many instructions that are out of date or only make sense within a particular cultural context. There is nothing about Catholicism or Christianity that requires you to "submit" to your husband, and yet you obviously feel that you are being a particularly good Catholic by doing so. Let me tell you it is not a competition and going beyond the requirements for good moral and Christian conduct does not get you "extra credit." Instead, think about your family and your relationship and do what makes sense, not what you think the bible tells you. Christianity is not about giving you a practical manual for living a better life. Catholic Christianity is the "suck it up" religion and you know darn well that in Ephesians Paul was telling women to suck it up, not how to have more fulfilling marriages.

  7. Anjali

    I don't get the assumption you make that a partnership is leaderless. I suppose an ineffective partnership is leaderless. But many partnerships work quite well, either in marriages, businesses, or other communities.

  8. MacBeth Derham

    Thanks for this, Jennifer. It made me smile. When my husband and I were married, the priest asked if we might want the "O" word left in my vows. I opted to leave it out. A few years ago (we were married in '88) I was reading St. Paul, and turned to my husband and said, "I'm sorry that I did not trust you enough to promise to obey." He smiled and said, "I trusted you enough not to require you to say it."

  9. Laura @ Our House of Joyful Noise

    Although I know it's God's Word, I admittedly DO cringe at hearing "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands". Being honest again, that cringe comes right after a reflexive audible chuckle. I've always rebelled against authority. Ask my mother!
    I think, having difficulty in giving up my self-authority, is a weakness of mine.
    That being said, although I have ultimate respect and love for my husband, and DO always seek to follow his wishes/decisions, with intentions to follow what he says, he is not really the leader type. He happens to have that kind of personality that is just really laid back/go with the flow. I am always pressing him for his opinion/perspective/decision about things, but really….he's most comfortable leaving most things up to me. I have to push him, to think long enough, to have an opinion. lol. But he often just says "Whatever you think, Honey. I trust you." And I say, "Well, OK! You're the boss!" : )
    Seriously…I do believe God meant for us to find our way to each other. We truly are a team with everything, and always have been. It's how we tick; the way we roll. Butg if my husband ever did decide to put his foot down on something….(I'm trying hard to even imagine this, and I find my brow crinkled…), I intend to obey. I think. Well it depends. I probably will. I better, right? ; )

  10. Roxane B. Salonen

    I, too, have come to peace over the teaching, but it is fairly complex, and as you fairly hinted, cannot apply evenly across the board within individual families. However, I have found a way to look at it that makes sense to me and requires few words. Our roles, as husband and wife, are complementary. We, with all our different strengths, skills and unique contributions, complement one another, and that is where the order comes in. I'd say, though, that this is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible — not in its essence, but in how it's been misinterpreted. Case in point, the person who commented before. Only prayer can soften hearts another to truly hear what you are trying to share, Jennifer, but I applaud you for sticking your neck out and trying, time and again, as you continue to grapple with your new life as a Christian. In the end, the paragraph that sticks out is the one in which you talk about logic taking a backseat. But, since you cannot argue that, you simply have to state it, then let go, and pray. Blessings!

  11. Martha

    So why do you think it is that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on couples to "mutually submit" instead of calling on the wife to submit?
    I agree that at some point, SOMEONE has to make a decision. And at times it makes sense for it to be the husband. Just not sure always.

  12. drustee

    Anonymous, the post obviously touched a nerve.

    You basically said "Let me tell you"…you're "sucking it up" not "having a fulfilling marriage".

    Interesting, as Jen is obviously actually enjoying her marriage. As presumably do the bloggers who agree with her.

    Why does that apparently pain you?

  13. Bethany Hudson

    This was great, Jen. Thanks for a peek into your journey on this subject. And, thanks for the link 🙂

    Lenetta- My husband is also not Catholic (though he is a devout Christian). We have struggled over the past three years with how exactly his authority looks in our household, since I am not able to compromise on certain things (like attending Mass and raising our children Catholic; this was part of the vows we took when we convalidated our marriage). It took a lot of time, conversation, and prayer (so much prayer!) but we have come to a point where we are able to worship together–at Mass. None of this was done because of my nagging or demanding; my husband simply decided that this was best for our family, and we now all attend Mass together. It is my prayer still that, one day soon, my husband will join the Church. Until then, I continue to pray for and with him and yield to his leadership, but to God's first. Blessings in your own journey. Interfaith marriages are tough.

  14. Therese Z

    Well, THAT was a far-above-average explanation of why husband headship is correct. Thank you, you clarified a lot of free-floating disorganized thoughts I've had for some time. I think I have a chance to explain it to someone else now, with this as a resource.

    A+ for you.

  15. Joy

    Martha, my understanding US Conference of Catholic bishops decision was based on the idea that as marriage and society becomes less male dominant, both members of the marriage are called to "Love as Christ loved"

    I love my husband and know that when his choices are based on putting the marriage first I can trust them completely, as he can trust me.

    However no mortal can always love as Jesus did and I should not put that expectation on my husband and ignore the intelligence and wisdom God has blessed me with.

  16. Marcy K.

    "the wife is the Chief Operations Officer and the husband is Chief Executive Officer." I think this is pretty correct. Most of the time in our day to day lives my husband and I are in agreement on issues, but there have been times that I have let him make a decision I don't necessarily agree with because I think it is important to have one person be the leader. I trust my husband to make the right decisions or I would not have married him. My mother and I have discussed this, and her and her husband have done the same thing, and have had a very successful marriage, as we have had.

    I think that women who keep trying to prove they are just as good as men, and that they can do everything just like a man can, do a disservice to themselves and their marriage. It becomes an adversarial relationship with people fighting for power. Men and women are different in so many ways and men are, for the most part, natural leaders. This is common sense and it should be used to the family's advantage.

    I found it interesting to read an article lately that explored how men and women react to stressful events. Men tend to go into action mode to fight. Women tend to go protect the vulnerable (such as children) and seek safety for them. These are natural reactions and should not be looked upon with scorn. We are created male and female and have different vocations because each spouse brings something important to the marriage to make it a whole.

    I think society denigrating both marriage and raising children encourages this misguided feminist attitude of "Women should do/act/be just the same as men." This is different from wanting healthy feminist goals such as encouraging women's education, equal pay, equal dignity, etc.

    Thanks, Jennifer for this politically incorrect article.

  17. Rebecca

    What a great post – you always put things so well, I long for such a way of putting feelings into words.

    I actually read all of the comments to this post before commenting(usually there are so many), but I have to say I can so relate to Laura's situation.

    My husband is very, very laid back. We approach all decisions together as a team, and on occassions when he lays out a strong opinion one way or the other, I do agree and follow his lead…it just doesn't happen very often. As fencing bear put it – it seems we both submit to our marriage, but if it comes to a point at which we disagree, I tend to submit to my husband most often.

  18. Christine

    Well, I must say that even as a Baptist, I am familiar with that "suck it up" mentality Anonymous speaks of. I agree with Fencing Bear and Anonymous. I think it is harmful to compare the intimacy and sacredness of a fulfilling marriage to the business hierarchy, albeit a healthy business. When we love & respect each other, when we bring our servant's heart into the equation, when we truly listen without the ego, that's how we decide. Why take sides? If one doesn't bend, you will break. and I certainly have never met anyone who was always right. We are ONE in marriage. We put the best foot forward together. We take chances. If it ends up being a bad call, don't look back, don't hold grudges learn & grow…

  19. Rebecca

    I forgot to mention also:

    Thanks for making it clear that men can 'void' their right to be submitted to in cases of abuse, I think that is so so important, and is often skimmed over.

  20. That Married Couple

    Are you living in my mind? The topics of submission and Christian femininity have been bouncing around my mind for several months now. Thank you for addressing this issue in a different and unique way!

    When I was debating entering the Catholic Church, I read a book called "The Catholic Mystique" in an attempt to understand why priests are only males. The one thing that stuck with me was one woman's story – she began submitting to her husband and that changed their family dynamics, for the better.

    Interesting and challenging stuff!

  21. La gallina

    Another former rad fem here saying, I couldn't agree more, Jen.

  22. Carrien

    I was raised by the former, a man who believed it was his God given right to dictate to his family, the way his father did. (He says now that he was very immature and insecure as well which didn't help. He's not like that any more TBTG.)

    So, it was a very hot button topic for me when I married. But I had some wise counselors. One who pointed out that the Ephesians passage is telling everyone in the body to submit to each other, not just wives. Another who showed me this verse, "For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." 1 Peter 3

    Interestingly enough, Abraham was a total loser and a coward when it came to his wife. He told her to pretend she was his sister, twice. He was too afraid of dying to defend her honor. That phrase about not being afraid but trusting in God is for all wives. You can trust in God, even if your husband makes a wrong decision, etc. Don't be afraid to submit to them, God is with you. There's more the passage I know, but that was key for me. I"m not trusting my husband by submitting as much as I am trusting in God when I submit.

    I am married to a very good man. So I have been blessed. His consistent reaction when I do submit is something like flabbergasted that I would do such a thing, he knows he doesn't really deserve it. He takes his job as head of our household very seriously as well as my opinion.

    In my case, I think one of the reasons it works better with a man in charge is that we women tend to be less respectful of authority than men. I know my daughters have a much harder time with obeying authority than my son. There is a lot more arguing. I think God made it that way because that's an area we are more in need of learning to submit than most men.

    I know, it's a generalization, based on my own experience, so I could be wrong. Has anyone else observed this in themselves, or is it just me.

    Also, it makes my husband so happy when I treat him with respect. And when he's happy he turns his natural ability for encouragement toward me and then I feel great because he's always praising me, and our relationship just works better.

    To sum up, I agree with you. 🙂

  23. Jordan

    For some reason, this made me think of the time a door-to-door salesman tried to act all condescending when I said I wanted to talk to my husband about something. "You make your own decisions, don't you?" he insinuated.

    I knew he was trying to subtly rile me, but I smiled sweetly and told him while I do make my own decisions, I wasn't going to make that decision without consulting my husband.

    (I didn't cite scripture to him, nor did I rattle of the stats about money discussions and divorce. Next time you talk down to me that way, dude. Right before I sweetly slam the door.)

    Like Laura, I do chafe against that scripture, which is odd because I've definitely made that promise myself. Pride dies hard, I guess.

  24. Jessica

    This reminds me of a conversation in one of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter books (I think it must have been "Busman's Honeymoon") where they are deciding whether or not to have "obey" in their vows, and Harriet insists that they leave it in. She says, reasonably, that if Peter commands her to do something – like to get out of a burning building – she'd of course trust that what he was commanding something both urgent and in her best interests. I thought that was an interesting context to think of the "obey" vow in.

    I've thought about this a lot (and thank you for the link), and I have trouble knowing how to apply it across the board. I think you've made a good start here.

    And then I think longer and realize that it's just my duty to know how it applies in my marriage, and given the man I'm married to, it isn't that hard. I know not everyone has the option, but there's a lot to be said for choosing well, if you can.

    Also, I do think it's important to realize that the "submit yourselves to each other" is the beginning of the "wives, submit to your husbands" verse (the verb "submit" is actually in the first phrase, not the second), so there is an element of mutual submission.

    But then again, you have to look at passages like the one that says that the husband is the head of the wife as the wife is the head of the church. So the leadership of the husband is really in there.

    Again, though, you look at the other places St. Paul uses the body as a metaphor, and you realize it's not necessarily demeaning not to be the head.

    I suppose what I'm saying is that you can't have JUST husbandly leadership or JUST equality in a Christian marriage. You have to have both, and you have to have them not as opposing forces, but as a synergy.

    By the grace of God, of course. 'Cause I'm pretty sure it's not actually humanly possible.

  25. TwoSquareMeals

    We studied Genesis in our Bible study this year, and one of the things we kept noticing is that the men often sinned from inaction and the women from trying to take control and work God's plans out on their own. Especially in the stories of Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah and Rachel.

    From my experience, inaction and shirking responsibility seem to be particularly common sins for men while controlling seems to be a real temptation for many women. Perhaps this system God put into place of a man leading is also a way to hold in check those particular sins common to each sex. Just a thought…

  26. katherine

    while i've participated in quick takes fridays, i'm not sure i've ever commented here. but, i HAD to this time 🙂

    i loved your explaination — i grew to appreciate this type of family set-up, in a way that i could articulate, shortly before my husband and i got engaged. i had never before heard the arguement about a woman not being a good fit for leadership because of childbearing, but it makes complete sense (especially as i am due with our second child in two weeks :).

    i also really appreciate the CEO/COO analogy. my husband and i have often joked that i'm the COO for the K*** (our last name) corporation. it keeps me feeling vitally invovled and remembering that my role IS important, it's just different from his. my husband is a great leader and definitely gives me areas to make decisions for our family, but i still want to make sure he believes my decision is wise. at this point, it just feels like a good "check" to make sure he agrees with me for whatever reason.

    hope all that rambling makes sense 🙂

  27. Amy

    TwoSquareMeals wrote:

    From my experience, inaction and shirking responsibility seem to be particularly common sins for men while controlling seems to be a real temptation for many women. Perhaps this system God put into place of a man leading is also a way to hold in check those particular sins common to each sex. Just a thought…

    That's an interesting thought. However another possibility would be that those tendencies might have been reactions to or rebellion against the Hebrew laws rather than intrinsic qualities of men and women. I wonder if those tendencies would still have existed had it not been a patriarchal society (say, in Amazon society, might these tendencies have been the reverse?). Difficult to rebel if there is nothing against which to rebel.

    And I'm not saying that is the case (like I would know), just that there might be other causes for that tendency, if in fact it does exist. And of course this line of thinking is coming from an admitted control freak with serious faith issues;-)

  28. Christine

    Excellent post. I wholeheartedly embrace the proper hierarchy in our home, though it is not always easy for a loud, argumentative Italian such as myself. But there's real peace in humility. Especially when I'm biting my tongue to get to it. God always blesses my frail attempts.

  29. Courageous Grace

    Jen, thank you for this timely post. You see, my husband got laid off today. He is very upset, obviously, and I was wondering if you or your readers had some advice about obedience to one's husband during a difficult time as this.

    He does not want to talk (yet) and I'm kind of in a daze wondering what I should do to show him how supportive a wife I can be.

  30. Meika

    This topic has been one I've wrestled with since long before my marriage. I love what you had to say about the COO-CEO dynamic – very helpful visualization for me.

  31. Wonders for Oyarsa

    Courageous Grace,

    In the second year of our marriage, I was laid off from work. I remember going to dinner with my wife and telling her about it. She held on to my hands, and told me that she admired me, respected me, and was confident in me and my leadership. It meant the world to me then, as it still does.

  32. jen

    Thanks for this post – I respect your thoughts on this subject because I know you previously came from a completely different world view.

    Also, as someone who hears a lot of biblical explanation on the subject, I really appreciate the glimpse into your logic as your world view began to change.

    I didn't view your CEO/COO thing as a 1:1 comparison to marriage, but rather an analogy based on your past experience. That was the track you were on, so it's natural that's how you would process through your conversion.

    I also wanted to mention how much I appreciate the commenter who wrote this:

    Interestingly enough, Abraham was a total loser and a coward when it came to his wife. He told her to pretend she was his sister, twice. He was too afraid of dying to defend her honor. That phrase about not being afraid but trusting in God is for all wives. You can trust in God, even if your husband makes a wrong decision, etc. Don't be afraid to submit to them, God is with you. There's more the passage I know, but that was key for me. I"m not trusting my husband by submitting as much as I am trusting in God when I submit.

    I've read that story a million times since I was a child, but hearing it told from this perspective flipped on the switch for me.

    So true that submitting to our husbands requires a huge leap of faith that God is our ultimate provider and protector.

  33. Becca

    I agree! I have never thought it out as thoroughly as you have (nor have I thought out most of the things you do) but I always agree with almost every single thing you say!

  34. Anonymous

    I'm a Catholic, a woman, and a feminist. I've also spent a church career counseling married couples, those about to be married, and those whose marriages have failed.

    "Obedience" in a Christian marriage is fundamentally obedience to Christ. If both parties see that neither is 'in charge' but that Christ unites them and guides them, their marriage will succeed.

    To be honest, what I am hearing here is a lot of rationalization for 'men being in charge' come hell or high water. If that works for you, fine. But it works for a minority.

    The image of Christian marriage is mutual submission, mutual accountability, mutual love. (Only one doesn't give and the other only receive any of these. They have to be mutual actions.)

    Where it is a mutual relationship, and founded on Christ, you have something that can't be broken.

  35. Luke

    As a guy who is rather sensitive to this topic, this post is wonderfully encouraging and reassuring! And somehow this has worked out for my family even with my mom being the president of a rather successful company [smile].

    Great thoughts, as usual! Thanks for posting.


  36. Kendra

    Disagreeing with the first commentator, I think this is a controversial subject when misunderstood. Although I appreciate the harmony in your major and understand the CEO-COO analogy, in Ephesians 5 (as note in JPII's Theology of the Body, particularly as explained by Theologian Christopher West) "wives, be subordinate to your husbands" takes on the meaning of wives and husbands being sub- in this sense, more like the prefix "co-" to one another. They're both called to obedience and to be co-operatives…much more comparable to the checks and balances system of government.

    Additionally, I think it worth mentioning that you need not be former-feminist to be former-atheist. Fighting for women's rights does NOT conflict with the Church (feminism is not like Catholicism, you can pick and choose which tenets of feminism you agree with).


  37. Emily a.k.a. Smoochagator

    Jennifer, I have long had an issue with the idea of wives submitting to their husbands. When I was a fundamental evangelical Christian, I paid the doctrine lip service but didn't live according to it – my first husband can attest to that! After leaving the church and divorcing my first husband, I vehemently rejected the idea of masculine leadership in the home (as well as the leadership of pastors over their congregations – not surprising considering how wounded I was by a mentally ill and abusive priest).

    Now I am remarried and have found myself – amazingly, unexpectedly, wonderfully – turning back to God. And I am reexamining all my ideas of what it means to be a woman and a wife and a mother. Most surprising to me is the joy I get from being a "domestic goddess" – some feminists would likely cringe at this thought, but I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing how much my husband appreciates it when I bring him a fresh drink or prepare a plate of food for him. He depends on me to have the fridge stocked and the laundry done, and I'm (usually) glad to do it.

    What I love about this post (and this is something that shows up throughout your blog) is the refreshingly different approach you take to each of these subjects. It had NEVER occurred to me to consider that a woman's unique biological gifts and responsibilities make it necessary for her husband to step up to the plate. Nor had I ever looked at the family from the business model point of view. But you are quite right – nothing works when everyone is in charge.

    Thanks so much for constantly thinking, and constantly sharing. I benefit so much from your blog, and look forward to each new post eagerly.

  38. Kingdom Mama

    Jen, I think this is one of those areas where you might actually have an advantage (as an adult convert). So many of us who grew up in the church have been abused by the "submission doctrine". However, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've said here and I love that you were about to come about your conclusions out of logic rather than emotion.

  39. Anonymous

    I have been pondering this over the last year and have come to the conclusion that there is truth here. However, my husband and I do not have the healthiest relationship and I would like to read some equally thoughtful articles on how, practically speaking, a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the Church. Maybe if I understood that part better, it wouldn't be so uncomfortable to submit to my husband. Is anyone aware of a thoughtful writing on the husband's side of things? It would also help to hear some examples of decisions to be made by the husband on behalf of the family and decisions that fall to the homemaker. It seems that if there are no decisions that fall to the homemaker, she will feel stifled and micromanaged. Since Jen started using corporate analogies, I cannot imagine a very happy employee whose superior dictates every little thing all day long. Don't we all need some autonomy to use our gifts and create something of our own design (for better or worse)?

  40. Anonymous

    In the end, in the rare case that we don't agree on something important, my husband makes the final call, and I am happy that I can trust him to do that.
    I think the most important thing to remember is that we are equal before God, but different. I am not created with the same vocation/calling and gifts as my husband, and he is not equipped with the same gifts and abilities as me.
    In marriage we are called to serve each other fully, quite a challenge to be self sacrificing isn't it!
    I think the biggest distortion in the world of Christian marriage is that somehow the spouses are not equal beings before God, and the male has more value or the woman is more sinful or whatever. It gets really tiring seeing all the distortions out there.

  41. Anonymous

    Courageous Grace:
    My hubby lost his job last summer and it was a long hard recovery. Being there for him and letting him know that you still love and respect him, listening to his rants and idea's, loving him and being patient with him. Just be prepared to wait it out, it may take a few months for his confidance to come back.

  42. Marie

    Gosh, third rail of mommy blogs, nice job!

    Dorothy Sayers has some good stuff to say in her essay, "Are Women Human".

    Also, regarding tribal organization, I believe there is a "first among equals" principle that often applies?

    I am surprised to see the submission passage from Paul becoming so important to Catholics — not that any Bible passage should be looked upon as unimportant. I think this comes back to us via the Reformed churches, which look to Paul so often and so deeply. As such, I think it is very open to a Protestant interpretation, so I often take issue with that. Paul says a lot in that section, which begins with "Give way to one another in obedience to Christ." Context doesn't change that Paul said what he said, and we need to take that seriously, but that one submission line can be used poorly if it is used alone. I have had Bible church friends who seem to be taught that if they just agree with everything their husbands say they won't be abandoned — there's a desperation to it in these times.

  43. comingoutcatholic

    This CEO/COO concept makes a lot of sense, but I must admit, this is something I've struggled over a lot because I've always conceptualized (perhaps wrongly) as the CEO/Secretary relationship. As a former secretary, I can tell you there is a BIG hierarchical difference between the two, and it practically IS servitude. I think I much prefer the way you've conceptualized things. 🙂

  44. Randy

    I wonder about cases of abuse. You say the husband's authority is voided in those cases. But who decides what is abuse? You cite arrogance. So all a wife has to do is declare her husband to be arrogant and she does not need to obey?

    This of it as priests and bishops. What would happen if a priest could disobey his bishop if he thought the bishop was arrogant? How well would that work?

    It seems there needs to be some outside judge of when the husband has crossed the line and the wigfe no longer is required to obey. I would suggest the parish priest but many of them don't beleive in Eph 5 at all.

  45. Upon-Request.com

    I have to admit, when I read the title I was ready to dismiss the post – but you've done a great job with this one! Thank you.

  46. Purplebears

    For the first three years of my marriage I thought I was in an egalitarian marriage – well imagine my surprise when I found out my husband really was the leader!

    Like you, I would never have guessed I would be ok with this while I was in college.

    Over the last 17 yrs, it's become even more apparent that he is indeed the leader, and this is the way it works best for our family. Thank you for articulating the "reasons".

  47. Elizabeth K.

    While I appreciate what you're saying here, I must say that your description of marriage strikes me as less Catholic than, for example, evangelical Christian. The comments that have pointed out that Catholicism requires mutual submission are right on–a careful study of the catechism and as well as John Paul II's writing supports that point. I'm not trying to criticize what obviously works for you in your marriage, and the meaning you've brought to these terms–but I do need to respectfully point out that on this issue, you're not actually putting forth the Roman Catholic viewpoint on marriage–specifically, Catholic wives are not required to obey their husbands.

  48. Jess

    My marriage has always worked like this, even prior to my conversion. It seemed obvious to me that my husband is a very analytical and responsible guy and has our collective family best interests at heart and we can't both be in that top leadership role and I trust him. I think this is the key to the entire household structure – trust. If I were fearful of my husband or thought he had terrible judgment and I couldn't trust him to make sound choices for our family then our marriage would be very weak. It is a small way that I can show that I trust him and I really believe that trust is as important as love in marriage.

    And while it is not a popular idea in our modern culture, I do believe that men like to feel needed and necessary to their wives and children, and a lot of wives manage to make their husbands feel like a bystander who is assigned chores and tasks with the children, etc. A lot of those feeling of necessity are wrapped up for men in offering and finding solutions. And if that role is removed or undervalued they feel emasculated. I actually have to specifically tell my husband when I just want empathy or emotional support because he will just slip into fact-finding/solution-finding mode and not realize that I really just want emotional nurturing!

  49. Harrison Jones

    I think you just hit a hornets nest with a stick!! But they are evil hornets and it was a very holy stick. I love seeing something like this online. By posting things like this you really give me hope for the future! Thank you!!

    To give something as far a guys point of view, I don't feel anything like superciliously proud or superior in a relationship when the lady defers to me. The main things I feel are nervousness that I am going to get things wrong, honored that she would bother to defer to me, and a desire to please her. Actually, more than anything else I get that google-eyed, melting, weak-in-the-knees feeling. You know, the one that makes you feel like you are drunk, with butterflies in your stomach? The one where, when you try to talk, you blather like an idiot? That's mainly what I get from it.
    The tyrannical dominance feminists claim I would exercise and feel in this case is a lie and would be completely unnatural.

  50. Monica

    Great post!

    I was wondering if anyone else out there is struggling with obedience to one's husband in mixed marriages (Catholic/non-Catholic).

    When we first married, both my husband and I were agnostic (although both of us were born into "Easter and Christmas" Catholic families, and we both attended Catholic school for a portion of our education).

    A few months ago I went through a rather radical conversion and returned to the Church. However, my husband did not – he is still firmly agnostic.

    I am having a hard time with obedience to him regarding subjects like birth control, Mass attendance, religious instruction for our 2 sons, etc.

    My husband is a wonderful, amazing man, and I love him with all my heart. I want very much to be obedient to him. However, I also want to live my (admittedly newfound) religious beliefs.

    Does anyone else struggle with this? Any advice?

  51. Kathleen

    I was the discomfited bystander during an unpleasant tiff between husband and wife. It went something like this:

    He: There is a big problem here! [I don't recall what it was–maybe something about a sump pump.]

    She: I could have told you this would happen!

    Me (thinking to myself): This is what non-submission looks like! She should have "submitted" all her knowledge and insights so that the best decision could be made.

  52. Mary

    Well thought out Jennifer, as usual. I could not agree more.I have been married for 21 years and it is only in the last six or so that I have truly surrendered to this idea. Let me tell you how awesome the transformation has been. God is good. Now if we would just listen to his directive.

  53. Ethel

    My understanding (applies especially to mixed marriages) is that the wife is submissive FIRST to God, SECOND to her husband. Because of this, we are not required to submit to our husbands if they are asking us to sin (go against our submission to God). I'm in a mixed (agnostic / Catholic) marriage myself, and this fortunately has rarely been an issue for me, as my husband understood before we were married that I was aiming to serve God first (and supports this). When it has been a conflict, I just stood my ground as charitably as possible, and tried to do a little something extra to reunite us after the division due to faith.

    I think one thing that can be confusing for some people is that leadership and submission can look very different, and in some families "traditional" leadership, where one person is the boss and makes ALL the decision, just wouldn't work. I have far better decision-making and management skills than my husband, so it looks like I'm leading the family because I make most of the decisions. Maybe I am leading, but if so, it's because my husband told me to 😛 Because of the way our skills are balanced, I generally make the decisions and plans, and run the important decisions by my husband so he can veto them, approve them, or improve on them. Usually, if he disagrees, he doesn't forbid something but asks why I did things that way and not another way. Once we understand each other's reasoning, decisions almost make themselves – since we both want what is best for the family. It's very hard for me to think of a decision that needed to be made where we didn't come to a consensus, although one comes to mind.

    Another point is that submission doesn't mean never disagreeing. A good husband will cherish his wife's disagreement and take her reasons for disagreeing into consideration. I think a lot of people get confused about this, too.

    A good explanation that I heard was to break up the word submission into two: "sub" and "mission". Submission doesn't mean being a doormat. It means supporting your husband's mission – part of which is to love you even unto death on a cross. So, if your husband isn't loving you as Christ loves the church, it can be part of your submission (support of his mission) to help him learn to do that. And if he *is* loving you as Christ, supporting his mission should be pretty easy!

  54. Chryseus

    TwoSquareMeals wrote:
    "We studied Genesis in our Bible study this year, and one of the things we kept noticing is that the men often sinned from inaction and the women from trying to take control and work God's plans out on their own."

    I recently watched a lecture on YouTube of a priest giving a talk on the basics of the Latin Mass. The priest explained that one of the reasons why women wear a mantilla (veil) at Mass is for humility, because of a woman's tendency to defy authority. And the reason men should make an effort to dress up for Mass is because of a man's tendency to laziness. Interesting.

  55. Bridget

    Great post, and strangely poignant to my situation when I read it. Just sat huffily down by myself to read "my blogs" after a heated argument with my husband, of which the topic escapes me now. Something along the lines of not getting my way with money or choices…anyway, your blog popped up and I thought, "Dang! That's a sign. I'm listening, God!" Hilarious, and humbling. Thanks again.

  56. Alyssa

    I have to completely disgaree with this entire post. How can you be submissive to your husband (or anyone, for that matter) and still respect yourself as a woman, and, most importantly, as a human? You should be an equal partner to your husband, not subservient. Your ideas and opinions are not of any lesser importance simply because you are a woman.

    I don't believe this matter has anthing to do with being Christian. I am Catholic, and was to believe that this manner of thinking is archaic and disgraceful. Declaring yourself subservient has no bearing on whether or not you have faith in God. While I respect your right to live and believe any way you wish, I simply don't understand how your thought process makes sense to you and allows you to hold your head high.

  57. Kim from Canada

    Great post! However the comment thread holds alot of interest, too! I have to say it is very obvious that one cannot be a feminist AND a christian. The self serving feminist theology will always rebel against God's plan for having authority in our lives.

    As a former executive, it is a given fact to me that a leader is necessary – how can a man be a leader if his wife won't follow? How can a wife state she believes in God's Word, if she argues against the very basics of biblical authority structure? If a wife argues against her husband's responsibity to lead his family, how can she believe she is following under God's authority?

    No doubt the feminists have answers for these that suit their purposes. I know, because I used to use them!

  58. Marie

    Have you seen the movie Fireproof? Highly recommend…

  59. Dawn Farias

    Excellent post.

  60. Anonymous

    My husband is inconsistent in terms of his motivations in making decisions. Doing what is best for our family is his conscious motive much of the time, but there are unconscious motives that can lead to bad decisions. Sometimes he considers only economics, which may seem prudent, yet sometimes negates the legitimate deeper needs of family members. Very often, he is motivated, perhaps unconsciously, by his own selfish wishes: he doesn't want to do a thing, so the thing itself becomes "bad"; this distorted attitude is hurtful to other family members whose needs and wishes are judged based on Dad/husband's whims. Sometimes he is motivated by a sort of harsh austerity that is inappropriate to family life. This approach to leadership often means I am denied my own role, gifts, and contributions as the heart of the home, because they are always subject to veto. In short, his is a sort of negative leadership–primarily saying "no" to things, or basing decisions on his personal preferences. He can be a wonderful man in some ways. But not every husband makes decisions that are best for the marriage or family. The mother often knows her children's deepest needs far better, and has a thing or two to say about the needs of the marriage as well. I think obedience works best when the husband makes truly Christlike decisions; then BOTH partners are really working together and sacrificing to strive for a holy and happy family life and marriage. Maybe I could become a saint through blind obedience. But instead, I'm hoping to become a saint by creating a happy home for the WHOLE family– not just hubby.

  61. Amator Catholicorum

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I think that the comparison between business and family works, but we've lost the meaning of a good family, the origin of a business model, and have to go to business to recover some key concepts. As a young Catholic male, I can see how this is a difficult topic, but a necessary one. It really does proceed from our very natures as man and woman. I love the image of man as the head of the family, woman as the heart, for without either, there is no real family. Ultimately, mutual sacrifice (mutual "sucking it up," if you will) is the only path to happiness. If we can't give, we cannot receive, and the more we give, the more we open ourselves up to receive. That was the lesson I learned from my parents, who live the relationship of husband and wife much as you described.

  62. Katie

    Ah, I wrote about this briefly on my blog not too long ago. You totally outdid me, of course 😛

  63. Anonymous

    Hahaha, I find it hilarious that so many of your readers think that you are being "protestant", I grew up in the conservative Evangelical movement and let me tell you, you are nothing like that. The conservative Prot's are crazy.

  64. Kate

    Another great post Jen!

    Anonymous on August 13th, 7:39 pm said: "Obedience" in a Christian marriage is fundamentally obedience to Christ.

    How true that is. Christ has always referred to Himself as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride. And just as we the members of the Church (Bride) should submit to Christ (Bridegroom), so should wives submit to their husbands. And just as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her, so too should the husbands do so for their wives. (Ephesians 5: 25).

    One of my friends, when she got married, said of that verse, "I only have to submit. He has to lay his life for me."

  65. Mary

    Anonymous, your statement,
    ("Obedience" in a Christian marriage is fundamentally obedience to Christ. If both parties see that neither is 'in charge' but that Christ unites them and guides them, their marriage will succeed.), is the simple and complete truth of submission in marriage. Thank you for sharing it.

    Marriage is not a championship, but a partnership between two people who listen to each other with out ego, respect each other for their differences and love each other with a servant's heart.

    We were all fashioned in the image of God and hold that image within us here on earth. God's image is within us to know Him, to love Him and to show Him. God wishes to shine His light through us to all mankind.

    When we live in Christ we are using His image within us and showing His character to others. When we are not living in Christ we are hurting His image within ourselves and those around us. As members of the church of Christ, when we submit to one another, we are submiting not to the one we see in front of us, but to our Lord Jesus Christ.

    If all of us looked at each other as images of Christ instead of husbands and wives then it would be very clear what St. Paul meant.

    If all of us looked at everyone else as images of Christ instead of who we assign them to be, then the world would have a new attitude. Man would be reluctant to do the ugly and disrespectful things we do to each other now in the name of justice.

    God made Eve not from Adam's foot to hold her down, nor his head to rule over her, but from his rib to hold her under his arm, close to his heart,to love and protect her.

    This is God's truth which we must stop fighting. Our wanting it to be otherwise and trying to make it so, will not bring us happiness. Women are not weaker or less intelligent than men and men are not stronger or more capable than women. The differences are not negative they are complementary. When man and woman come together, "the two shall become one", implies that, as a married couple, there is no longer difference, but recognition of types of difference. The differences should lead to a relationship of respect for one another's abilities, things that they have control over and things that they do not, appreciation for what each partner does, freedom to question or disagree with each other in a loving manner, and be supportive of one another in times of need.

    Pride and ego have entered into the sacrament of marriage and have driven a wedge between partners who wish to live life on their own terms, not God's. They prize self-sufficiency, being the best, having the best and doing the best as the most important aspect of living. While it is nice to be a responsible individual and have nice things, it is important to remember that it will be our families that we will be asking for as we lay dying not our life's accumulated stuff.

    I believe we all know what to do about submission and a whole host of other things, but instead we just want to keep talking about them hoping that we can find a loop hole.

    Beware, the enemy prowls the earth looking for prey and loves all the doubt and questioning, because as long as he can keep you doubting he keeps you on his side of the road instead of Christ's.

  66. MotherGoose518

    Your blog is my new favorite. As someone who was raised in the faith and has known of God their entire life and walked with Him personally for most of her life it is very fascinating and exciting to hear your perspective. Especially coming from someone who formerly held such a humanistic world view! It is amazing how God can take a heart of stone and soften it into something He can mold for His purpose. Thank you for being a vessel for His glory, and may your testimony draw many hearts to our Savior.

    ~ Melodie

  67. Sarah

    I have a hard time with this after my dad used "head of the house" jargon to lord it over my family in a frightening and abusive way (he had definitely not worked out the obedience/servitude distinction) — while my mom and us did our best to obey(/serve).

    Early in my marriage, I think I vacillated between "submission" in the form of sacrifice, and paranoid, semi-paniced resistance to perceived threats on my self-worth/personhood (this latter usually in the context of debates, not deliberation). When we did deliberate, my contribution to decisions was a rational calculus of how I could accommodate my husband's wishes. As for my wishes — I made sure to state them, but then I would let them go. I don't think my husband even understood that I was really disagreeing, I stated disagreements so fleetingly. Despite the fact that the differences between our desires were very slight, something about the way I "submitted" crushed my personality and really hurt our marriage (my husband couldn't understand why marriage had transformed me from a confident, opinionated companion into such a lifeless shell of compliance, and was convinced he was horribly harming me in some way). Now he regrets the sacrifices I made for the sake of his mere preferences, and we're still trying to figure things out.

    I'm having a sort of parallel experience with the church — I had wanted to convert to the Catholic church for years, and I think the parish we attend is a really beautiful, sincere, Christian parish. But, upon actually converting, somehow the feeling that rules and mandates were governing everything from beliefs that I should hold to what time I ate breakfast before Mass completely killed any joy that I had in my faith or in the church, and any sense of confidence, belonging, or security. This is even though I already previously believed the same things! Ever since it all became obligatory, those beliefs don't seem to be mine anymore. For a while, both with my husband and with the church, I found myself espousing contrarian opinions I sympathized with but which I know I didn't really hold — in some kind of attempt to stake out my ground.

    I'm sorry to go on for such a long while. It's just clear that I just have no notion of what obedience really is, and my attempts to produce it have really made a mess of things in my life!

  68. Mary

    Sarah, you are describing what many couples feel when asking themselves what submission means in their marriage. The fact that you both are interested in identifying what is right for you is a sign that you are on the right track.
    Don't confuse Catholic Religion or any other religion for that matter, with what God would wish for you to do. Historically, Religion has been a set of rules and laws written by men, who at the time, were called to direct the large population of people who did not have access to the written word of God. In fact, they were forbidden to do so. No 'ordinary' citizen was given nor could own a personal bible. Buildings were built so that people could ssemble to hear God's word there. Actually, some of the early Christian churches were Islamic mosques taken over when Constantine declared that the Roman Empire be united under Christianity under his rule. Christians assembled and clergymen preached and read from the bible to them, as direct and unquestionable spokesmen for God. As the years went on the church cannon became more specific and restrictive. As the saviors of their people it was important for you to adhere to cannon rule or be called a heretic. The marketing of fear to recruit members and thyes became a popular theme that continues to this day.
    All of this to say that the Word of God, not the religion of man, is the only law you need to guide you.

    Anonymous summed up very nicely by saying ("Obedience" in a Christian marriage is fundamentally obedience to Christ. If both parties see that neither is 'in charge' but that Christ unites them and guides them, their marriage will succeed.)

    Each of you have come to your marriage with baggage, we all do. It is time to unpack your bags and put the things away for good. Allow God to break the chains that have been holding you in bondage to beliefs that do not serve you any longer. Beliefs that bring you away from what God wishes for you both. By knowing God and believing that what He promises, He will do, you will be set free from any doubts. Each of you must find the God within you and become one with Him; understanding all that He is in character; the biggest hint we have came here in Jesus Christ who served His fellow man, when they should have served Him.
    For every belief you have about submission, ask our Heavenly Father to show you His truth and create the awareness for it in your heart so that you can show it to others.

  69. monica_divineoffice.org

    I do not agree or disagree with the concept of obedience. I understand where your coming from but I think that every relationship is different because we are different. I believe in partnerships and I don't think I'm less of a Christian because of that.

    Liturgy of the Hours

  70. Chryseus

    God had provided us with the ultimate model of submission and humility…His own Blessed Mother. A submissive, loving wife, mother, and daughter…now Queen…QUEEN of Heaven and Earth.

    There is a book written by a noted Catholic theologian Alice von Hildebrand titled "The Privilege of Being a Woman" (I highly recommend – especially for women – it's a small book and only about 100 pages). In it, she speaks about the beauty of the feminine nature; her last chapter is "Mary and the Female Sex." Essentially, Hildebrand writes that Mary's power comes from the fact that she is so humble. It is also the first great lesson that Mary taught us.

    What is interesting is that humility is a trait that society (today's society especially) often mistakes for weakness when, in fact, it is an extremely powerful virtue. Humility is truth — of our own strengths and weaknesses, no exaggerations, and also submitting to proper authority.

    I found this part fascinating….Hildebrand quotes a French spiritual writer who says, "Satan fears Mary not only more than all angels and men, but in some sense more than God Himself. It is not that the anger, the hatred, and the power of God are not infinitely greater than those of the Blessed Virgin, for the perfections of Mary are limited; but it is because Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God, and her humility humbles him more than the divine power."

    (So Satan hates losing to a girl!!! You rock, Blessed Mother!!!)

  71. Anonymous

    Sarah, I can really relate to your struggle. For us to make big sacrifices for someone's mere preferences is painful and can cause damage. I have this same issue; I think my husband often does not realize how very, very important something is to me, or one of the children, and will expect us to go along with his contrary decision, which is often just a whim or preferemce, not something inherently better. I don't think he means to be abusive; I just think he lacks the insight to see the true cost of his expectations of obedience. Like you, I enteerd this marriage confident and happy. My husband used to praise my wise decisions, my love of children, my parenting, my creativity, etc. Somehow, when he entered the husband role, I wanted all of that harnessed to do his bidding. It has happened in very subtle ways: undermining me, invoking his "God-given role" to press for something he wants, ridiculing me in subtle ways, disparaging comments about women in general and myself in particular. Now, instead of being confident and happy, I feel cowed and insecure, like I am walking on eggshells. Ironically, though I feel I am constantly bowing and adapting to him, because I do not say yes instantly to everything, he perceives me as controlling everything. It's as if he wants no remnant of independent thinking left in me– and yet despises me for how crushed, depressed, and unconfident I have become.

  72. Anonymous

    Hi, Great article want to share a cute old saying on this subject.
    "My husband is the head of our house but I am the neckthat turns it." LOL

  73. Mary

    Submission Joke told at a bible class recently:

    A husband comes home from church and says to his wife, "The minister says that I am the head of my household and you are not. In fact, you are to say nothing and do nothing unless I say so. Since you are nothing without me, and I am the head of this house, you must serve me and do what I say."

    His wife looked at him and replied, "Congratulations! How wonderful for you my dear, you are now the head of nothing", and walked away.

  74. Anonymous

    I've heard such different takes on this topic over the years. I WISH I could just be obedient without analyzing different situations; it would be so much easier to not have to think things through, or discuss or argue, or press for something I know is right. I WANT to be that peaceful, submissive woman. But here's where I get stuck: it's ard to be that peaceful, submissive woman when one sees one's husband making decisions in which the rest of us always have to give something up. Women are admonished in the Bible to respect and obey their husbands. We are also told to "fear" our husbands, which has been explained to me as fearing to offend them. Okay, good enough. But husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, including if necesary laying down their lives for us. But how many husbands really do love that way? It would be easy to obey a man who was that loving and self-sacrificing. In fact,. a man who was truly Christlike wouldpresent few occasions in which a wife had to be submissive, because he would be sacrificing for her. But while a husband might lay down his life if such an occasion ever arose (as would I for my husband, and probably every wife who reads this), I don't see many men laying down their lives on a daily basis. It is very, very hard for me to obey my husband when his decisions often seem selfish, not sacrificial. Most often, it's the rest of us–myself and the children–who are expected to sacrifice so that he does not have to provide or make more of an effort. This places me in a very difficult situation; do I blindly obey even though his decisions make everyone unhappy? And is that a good example for my children? If I never stepped in, his choices would almost always be to refuse whatever is asked. These articles on obedience are so difficult because they presume marriages in which the husband doesn't make selfish or hurtful decisions but is always wise and self-sacrificing. The unfortunate danger is that such men read these articles, don't recognize themselves among the selfish and unwise, and feel affirmed in their authoritarianism. My husband has used several articles on obedience against me. Somehow he presumes that because he's a man, he makes good decisions, and that because I'm a woman, I make bad ones. This isn't how God created us.

  75. 'Becca

    Mary, your advice to Sarah is excellent. Sometimes in trying to follow rules for God, we forget to seek God's Will ourselves.

    Remember all that Jesus said about how the first shall be last, how he washed the feet of his disciples. That's what husbands are supposed to be emulating: Be the leader at the most fundamental level, but put other people first and humble yourself to care for them.

    I've been in an intentionally unmarried partnership for 15 years. (No, I'm not Catholic.) One of the reasons we aren't married is to avoid the various (somewhat conflicting) stereotypes of marriage in our own minds and the wider culture; instead of falling back on "what a wife is supposed to be like," we have to work out, "What is the right way for us to relate to each other?" and of course the teachings of Jesus and insights from prayer are my primary sources of information on what is right.

    We have an equal partnership in which nearly everything can be worked out either by reaching consensus or by deciding that this decision is more important to one of us than the other so that person is going to take charge of making and implementing the decision. I have to disagree with Jennifer's statement that nothing ever gets done by two or more people working as equals! But it only works if each person is willing to accept that what most appeals to me individually may not be what is best for the family.

    We've had many experiences of an interesting phenomenon in which we argue about something and seem to have two different positions with no opportunity for compromise, but if we just keep explaining to each other, suddenly light will dawn and one of us will agree with the other's position–not some kind of compromise, the original position. For example, we disagreed about our son's middle name; each of us had one in mind and reasons why it was the best. We argued. A nurse offered to send the birth-certificate person to my room when my partner wasn't there, but I declined, knowing that such a sneaky maneuver would harm our relationship. Finally we had a long discussion in which we said and wrote both names over and over again…and I just started to hear and see that his choice was right. Ever since, I've been very pleased with our son's name and can list 8 reasons why his middle name is the right one! If my partner had said, "As the man, I am the leader, so I get to make this decision," the middle name would be the same, but I'd feel that he'd won and I'd lost. As it is, I feel that we both won *and* we strengthened our relationship and learned something in the process.

    However, I agree with Jennifer that there are times when somebody has to be the leader. It's like when you're walking through a narrow place and somebody has to go first because you won't fit side-by-side. Sometimes it's right for the leader to go first…and sometimes it's right for him to hold the door for everyone else and put himself last!

  76. Rachel R.

    Thank you for addressing this topic from a logical/rational perspective. I particularly appreciate the metaphor of a CEO and COO, which I think fits beautifully.

  77. Mary

    Anonymous and Sarah, we are women and as women we are inherently people pleasers. This should be no surprise to you. There are many of us out there in many forms, mothers, sisters, wives, and friends. The one thing that unites us all is the need not to make waves, whether it be to not make others angry, prevent arguments, keep quiet, do what everybody says without question, be a good girl, always listen, etc., etc., it boils down to the fact that we are suppressing something. That something is ourselves. We have given up who we are for the sake of someone else. Why?

    I believe it is because the woman who gave us life taught us that this is how life is lived. She showed it to us in her words and actions. We grew up learning and taking it all in, as sponges to water. Moving on into our own lives and marriages we carried those lessons with us expecting that by placing our husband's needs and preferences before our own, was our role in the marriage relationship. Our role model moms were really not equipped to show us what to do in a world that was, still is and will always be, in transition.

    So, who can we depend on to be a good role model for our children? There is only one role model, teacher or manual and that is the Word of God.

    God never asks us to suppress who we are, but to find out EXACTLY WHO THAT IS AND TO LIVE IT FULLY. Because who we are is the very image or character of God.

    Our journey in this life is to walk with ourselves to get to the truth of who each of us is individually.


    Suppressing the image of God within ourselves for the sake of someone else leaves us in the hands of the mercy of mankind and his ego needs for power,control and winning or due to his lack thereof, in his use of abuse and abandonment.

    You cannot find out who you are in this suppression or submission of yourself to another. This is why you are resentful, bitter, angry and unhappy. The other person is preventing you from finding yourself and expressing who you are. You continually hold down your emotions; suppress your anger and resentment; become depressed or ultimately explode. In whatever way the dam breaks,it will happen,
    there is no way to stop it. God will allow your situation to escalate to the point of breaking to get your attention, so that you will be forced to change and turn back to your purpose.

    By continually searching and striving for the image of God within all of our hearts and living that image fully, can we then live within the love of God and His hands of mercy and grace; forgiveness and compassion; kindness and committment to one another. This is what Jesus meant when He said that He had come to give us life, so that we may live it fully.

    Marriage is two people living as one in the right thinking of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and compassion, kindness and committment to one another submitting to each other's needs; a partnership that places God in the center of their family; that recognizes and understands how each contributes to its welfare; that allows for personal growth and privacy; the haven for family peace, fun, safety and solace; finding happiness in one another's joys and accomplishments; being supportive when times are hard; listening without judgement or solution; showing love and being loving to each other.

    Children learn respect for authority and moral principles from watching their parents interact. They are the mirrors of our own relationships and often mimic what we do. What are your children showing you?

  78. Mary

    I have come across a commentary by Chuck Smith which I think may be helpful for some here:

    "But I would have you to know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of every woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head (1Cr 11:3-4).

    Now, Paul is establishing here sort of a chain of command. The word head here being the idea of authority. And so the husband the authority over the wife. Christ is the authority over the husband. And God is the authority over Christ.
    I do not believe that the Bible has ever taught that God favors the man over the woman. The Bible does teach that God made man first, and then from man formed the woman. When God looked at man and said, "It is not good that man should live alone," and so He made the woman from man that she might be a helpmeet for him.

    Now, some people misinterpret that. The helpmeet, the word meet is an old English word fit, a help that is fit for him, created for him. No way does it signify a subservient position. God saw that man by himself could never make it, and thus, the woman created, as God said, "for the man."

    The authority over the man is Christ, even as the authority over the woman is the man. And I feel that if the man, the husband, is not under the authority of Christ, then the woman has to jump the missing link. I do not believe that God intends that a godly woman be under the authority of an ungodly man. Under the authority of man only as he is under the authority of Jesus Christ.

    God never meant marriage to be a slavery kind of a situation, or a tyranny kind of a situation, where some big oaf rules over his wife with force, or whatever. And I am totally opposed to that kind of an interpretation or understanding of the scripture that a woman thinks, "Well, he is my husband. I have got to be in submission to him." Yes, as he is in submission to Christ.

    Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord (1Cr 11:11).

    In other words, as far as the Lord is concerned we are all on an equal par. And the woman is not without the man and the man is not without the woman. We are both necessary for each other.

    For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God (1Cr 11:12).

    I was born by my mother is what Paul is saying. My mother was necessary for my existence being here. The woman was taken out of the man, but yet, it is reversed now. God has established them male and female and they are all a part of God's divine order.


  79. Carrien

    Alyssa Said, "I have to completely disgaree with this entire post. How can you be submissive to your husband (or anyone, for that matter) and still respect yourself as a woman, and, most importantly, as a human? You should be an equal partner to your husband, not subservient. Your ideas and opinions are not of any lesser importance simply because you are a woman…
    this manner of thinking is archaic and disgraceful… I simply don't understand how your thought process makes sense to you and allows you to hold your head high."

    Two things.
    1.I think Alyssa misunderstands submission. I submit to my husband's authority. I also make 95% of the decisions in our household. Where we go, what we eat, how we spend our money, what we do with the time when my husband isn't working, etc. I make these decision with the happiness of my entire family, including myself in mind. Just as my husband makes decisions based on what's best for all of us. I am far from subservient.

    Occasionally he says something to the effect of, "That will not happen in my house." And we submit. The last instance I can think of was when one of the children was talking back to me and he reprimanded them and then turned to me and said, "I will not allow them them to talk to you that way." And so now I don't let them talk to me that way either. I teach them to speak to me respectfully because that's what my husband wants.

    2. By your criteria, how is it Alyssa that you can hold your head high while submitting to the laws of the country you live in, put in place by a government that you had only a very small hand in choosing and may not even like? Do they listen to your ideas when you call congress every day? You submit to authority everyday whether you like it or not, agree with it, or not. I chose my husband. I chose him carefully. Well, actually I think God had more of a hand in it than I, but anyway, I listened. My submission is voluntary, just as yours is. And I knew the man I chose to submit to very well before I made that choice. I am his closest confidant. He values my input very highly. He asks my opinion in everything. He trusts me. And I trust and respect him.

    I hold my head very high indeed. Because I know how much strength it takes for a woman to lay aside her pride and choose what is best for her marriage, even if it ultimately turns out to be the best for herself as well.

  80. ceej

    Amen, amen, and AMEN!

    I too felt that women were at least as good as men and shouldn't be discarded in family authority, so I decided I'd never get married. God had other plans, and I married a wonderful man. Although the Church doesn't have "obey" in the vows, I voiced it under my breath, between God and Hubby and myself.

    What I noticed in modern marriages is that people spend so much time and emotional energy in POWER STRUGGLES, that it looked easier to me to suck it up if I didn't agree with a decision and at least have unity in the family. Some of Hubby's decisions brought me a certain amount of angst and irritation, but that amount of distress would have been exponentially increased if we had added in the dynamic of struggling over who had the final decision.

    Granted it would be way more difficult if God had not picked such a pleasant and wise partner for me. But as I watch everyone get divorced, I notice that a lot of the time it's because they never finished wrestling over whose way would be followed, so they went their own ways.

    Thank you for this insightful article.

  81. ceej

    Oops. I admit that, due to time restraints, I wrote a comment w/o reading all 81 previous comments.

    So I used the phrase "suck it up" before noting that "anonymous" used the same words. Too bad, because that is exactly how it feels to my emotions, so that's how I describe it.

    But I stand by my comment that harmony results and that if more people did show respect by "sucking it up," ie, putting others' feelings ahead of theirs, things would run more smoothly and in a more charitable mood.

    Thanks for letting me elaborate.

  82. KayT

    I'm always amazed of what I, as a cradle Catholic, learn from you amazing converts who have such zeal for our Faith.
    I would have NEVER agreed to being a submissive wife. Being always stubborn, and hate to say it, controlling, I have done everything in my marriage to be sure my husband does everything MY way (because I am always right afterall!;)) I have begun to see how this has been causing so much pain in our marriage. Your post really opened my eyes to exactly what my marriage is in need of, and, what I and my husband are so badly craving. I really need to know my husband's love and my husband needs my trust and belief in him that he is capable of taking care of things. For so long I have taken care of so much only to be bitter at him for having to do it. I always thought him not capable of running our household. By not believing in him, I've never even given him the chance.
    I am thankful for the posters who disagreed. The idea of being a submissive wife used to make me so angry. Reading the opposite point of view made me realize how I never really inderstood what this concept fully entails. Now I see how full circle this "husbands love your wives, wives submit to your husbands" is…it really is a win-win situation.

  83. Un Corazon in Tampa

    Go Martha….

    Yeah why in the blooky fart do you think the bISHOPS made a point to SUBMIT TO EACH OTHER

    GOOD POINT ABOUT Catholics trying to out blah blah each other. Yeah there too.

    tee hee. The only thing I DO BETTER IS try to love God and live in Florida. I MESS EVEN THAT UP, BUT GOD STILL LOVES ME.

    Jesus act of salvation is proof and the things we live with is the other.

    Pray for us here I have a parental unit who is living in sin with a guy as a senior citizen.

    Hubby and I are intelligent enough to see eye to eye and we try to have a sense of humor and laugh at stupid stuff.

  84. yana

    I really enjoyed reading this well written post.

    When I began reading, I was thinking of leadership as only a means of domination and I think you changed my starting point on this issue in that respect. Leadership can of course be abused to become domination, but that is not what we are talking about here.

    I think the argument for a designated leader within a family is one with a lot of merit and with reference to your career you make the point very well.

    However, I really cannot get past the assumption that the male in the relationship should ALWAYS be the leader. The fact that a female cannot be the leader because she may give birth and breastfeed a child seems a very weak argument. If an infertile woman were married to a man with some kind of recurring health issue that lead to his periodic "withdrawal" from society, should he still then be the leader? And the fact that men have always been leaders in society is the result of the fact that until fairly recently in history, most societies were of the view that women were not equal and really ought to be dominated (as opposed to lead).

    I would really like to hear your opinion on whether the leadership can be the other way around or whether it really ought to be the male in charge.

  85. TaraS

    Isn't it just amazing how one can have that kind of a change of heart? I've come to feel and behave in the same way (well, TRY to behave in that way) since being married. My husband is also Catholic, but pretty liberal as well, so I haven't even told him that I feel this way…I'm afraid he might think I've gone mad!

  86. Un Corazon in Tampa

    But doesn't this mean that we communicate the right way with our hubbys?

    We are not children but adults. Go to the the languages that it was written in….. you will get the meaning.

  87. Dylan

    I have to say that there’s a lot of things that have been said in this article and in the comments that very greatly disturb me. For one, I feel like there’s an implied assumption that women subscribe to feminism primarily because of self-serving reasons. What if that’s not the case? What if they hold to such a philosophy not because they want to serve their own egos, or because they want to be politically correct, but because they honestly believe that’s what God wants them to do? For the record, I’m not a feminist – I’m an equalist. But I think it’s dangerous, and frankly, unnecessarily divisive to claim that someone is selfish for not agreeing with one’s religious dogma. I also don’t think it’s wrong for a Christian to challenge the traditional model of marriage in which a husband is subservient to his wife – as long as they are doing it out of an earnest desire to pursue what they believe to be just, good and holy.

    Also, I can’t help but mention that as much as I revere the Bible as a Christian, we need to take into account that it was ONLY written by people who saw the world through a patriarchal lens. If it was written today, it could have been written by people who saw the world through a feministic lens. But would that mean that feminism is necessarily the “ideal” way to approach marriage? Not necessarily. They’d be just as mired in their feministic worldview as the people who lived in a patriarchal age would be in their patriarchal worldview, and they’d probably want to defend their philosophy of marriage as the “right” and “holy” view every bit as much as Paul and St. Peter did. But this still wouldn’t give them a monopoly on sexual morality, or on morality in marriage.

    If being subservient to your husband honestly makes you feel happy and fulfilled, then that’s fine. But I don’t think we should speak on something like morality in marriage as if we’re coming from a position of certainty, because we aren’t.

  88. Heather

    This is very well written. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  1. Men, die for your wives « Prodigal No More - [...] Remember, friends: Christ was spit upon, stabbed, whipped, crowned with thorns, mocked, and nailed to wood we have no…

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