What does submission mean within a marriage?

submission:

1a:  a legal agreement to submit to the decision of arbitrators

b:  an act of submitting something (as for consideration or inspection); also:  something submitted (as a manuscript)

the condition of being submissive, humble, or compliant

an act of submitting to the authority or control of another

This is ‘merica, and under our banner of freedom and manifest destiny-driven self-realization, we don’t let others tell us what to do. We don’t let them tread on us.

We don’t submit.
But submission can be a demonstration of ability. You go to work – you submit to the expectations of your employer – and you have the ability to earn a living. You study for a class – you submit to the academic demands of your professor or teacher – and you become proficient in knowledge and skill.
Submission can even be power. You come home to your spouse, who has had a rough day and needs a hug. You submit to their need for a hug, and you make them feel loved. You change the direction of their day from meh to yeah!.
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What does submission mean within a marriage?

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. – Colossians 3:19-21

There are plenty of good articles about this subject. Try this one, this one, or this one.
If you’re still with me, submission as a newlywed has meant making space for my husband in my life and our marriage. I’ve spent the past year stepping down from a lot of activities I participated in when I was single. This time last year I was ushering at church and on the boards of two social organizations. In July I took on a third board position, but gave it up in December, along with ushering and another organization, because it all took away too much time from my husband. (“You cannot take your husband to church and then leave him in the middle of the service to go volunteer with your friends,” my mom has scolded me.) I felt overwhelmed, and husband wasn’t happy about getting the dregs of my free time, even though he never said so. In that way, he was submitting to me, but it was not a sustainable submission. Eventually he would have grown resentful enough to get angry, which would have made me resistant, which would have devolved into a downward spiral of an argument about priorities and time management. Neither of us would have won.
Submitting to him by making more time for him and giving myself more margin has been liberating. We have more time to enjoy ourselves doing whatever we need or want to do. We’re able to respond better to his family’s needs, which gives us more peace. We’re able to move forward with big plans like moving into a house or learning a new hobby together, which keeps life exciting. (Although I flipped when he suggested starting the Whole 30 diet as a “team building” exercise last week. That diet is no joke, and I will not submit to no cheese or coffee creamer.) I have slowly learned that what is good does not always align with the priorities God wants for my life.
Submission means reacting more slowly to his ideas and putting his desires above mine some of the time. He recently pointed out that I get his jokes better and tolerate them, when a year ago I would flat out tell him he was not funny. He says I am more patient with him when it comes to completing household chores, whereas last year I would start yelling if he didn’t do something right away. It’s hard to continually bear with someone, and some days I still want to yell at him for continuing to play his video games instead of cleaning up the dishes right after dinner, but I am glad we have created an overall tone in our marriage that messing up, forgiving, and moving on is necessary.
Submission means coming to an agreement about financial plans and goals. It took Husband and I eight months to hash out a household budget we could both live with because we have very different views on financial responsibility. He spent his money on meals out, beer, and movies; I spent mine on groceries, clothes, and travel. He was counting on the future sale of his business for his retirement fund; I’ve had an IRA to which I’ve contributed monthly since I was 24. While we both agreed on basic financial values — prepare for the future, put basic needs first, stay out of debt — agreeing how to save and spend our money on a monthly or even daily basis was a huge clash of beliefs. It became a power struggle as well because we each contribute roughly the same amount of money to the household, so why couldn’t we spend (or save) our own money as we pleased, as long as we preserved the roof over our head and kept the lights on? Slowly, in steps going forward and backward, we realized that working together on finances and moving forward with one united plan, rather than two roommate-like plans, would yield a better life. We have each submitted to certain requests and ideas regarding money the other has made, and life moves so much smoother now.
(If you’re struggling with conflicting money habits, I cannot stress how much Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University has helped us, especially the idea of having monthly personal spending stipends. Our petty arguments about fast food expenses or new clothing purchases have evaporated.)
Two weeks ago, submitting in finances and desires to husband meant reacting thoughtfully to his suggestion that we buy a motorcycle. He’s been saving for an Indian Motorcycle for years. Instead of calling him crazy for wanting to drop thousands when we just departed with a significant amount of money for a house, I considered the deal Indian was offering, how much he has been wanting this bike, how this event was going to happen someday anyway, and how we could afford it. And I chose to say, Ok, I love you, and you love this bike, so let’s get it. He’s so happy riding it, and I feel an odd sense of peace about the whole thing. We’re not rich or impulsive, so the only way I can explain this peace about buying a house one month and a motorcycle the next is submissive love.
We still disagree on some financial items. I believe in being generous with my time and money, and would like our household to tithe, but husband’s father, who was a CPA and observed the financial dishonesty of a few church clients, taught my husband not to trust churches when it comes to finances. (That makes me sad – there are usually a few bad apples in every bushel, but I believe most churches are good financial stewards.) So we don’t tithe, but we do give to our church, as well as to a couple charities whose missions we believe in and support individually and as a couple. We submit mutually in this area.
Submission means keeping my mouth shut about sore topics. As much as he agrees that others in his family are failing his mother and her home care, and knows that the rest of his family has their quirks, he doesn’t like it when I bad-mouth them. My loyalty is to him, but they’re still his family. So I toe a fine line between supporting him, and agreeing with him that certain family members are pieces of work.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:21
Submission means honoring my spouse’s past, even if I don’t understand it. He serves in the Army reserves, and has served in Iraq. He has seen and experienced unimaginable things that he doesn’t want to talk about. I may never understand some of his fears and values that tour shaped. But I respect his experience and the ways he continually makes new sense of it. He developed certain habits growing up. Some are great: Both he and his father are/were Eagle Scouts, and if we have a son, Husband would like that tradition to continue. Some are weird: He loves to have extras of everything on hand. I submit to his need for material items (see above, re: personal spending stipend) but ask him to be mindful of my need for a clutter-free home.
I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ. The head of the woman is the man. And the head of Christ is God. – 1 Corinthians 11:3
Submission means bearing with one another and forgiving one another. It’s not in our nature to continually bear with and forgive someone who keeps messing up. It is in my nature to walk away from someone who only causes me stress and loss. But marriage requires this continual cycle of understanding, forgiveness, and starting over that makes you a stronger person. I kind of wish Paul had added to his instructions, “Be resilient! You’re not giving in to others when they disappoint you by forgiving them so much as you are becoming more resilient!” We might be more apt to truly live out those instructions when people rake you over the coals when the personal benefit is obvious, than we might considering how they are currently stated, which is essentially, “Be nice.”
But the more we think about that individual-centric approach to Paul’s instructions, the more we realize his words read exactly as they should. They’re instructions about how to conduct yourself for the glory of God. If you say, “I’m working hard to make myself better,” that’s nice, but forgettable. But if you say, “I’m working hard, and submitting to you, for the glory of God,” that’s going to make someone pause and at least ask why. Paul’s words keep our focus on God.
Colossians 3 begins with God: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,” and ends with God: “It is the Lord Christ you are serving, … And there is no favoritism.” These words that so solidly state our reason for being cannot be diced to put us in the spotlight. Our purpose begins and ends with serving God by serving others. She Reads Truth recently published a devotion about the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” The author says the hymn is so good because the words force us to subjugate ourselves and put God first:
“Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee! How great thou art, how great thou art!”
To sing that hymn you must forget yourself and focus on God. You can’t read it without being awed by Christ, and how He made us new. It follows that whatever He wants us to do, we’ll do it because of how great He is. We will submit.
I love serving others, and I have come to love serving and submitting to my husband. He is a wonderful reason to show the love of Christ. Where we are today in our marriage, because we have both chosen to continually submit to the other, is beautiful. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always fun being the submitting vessel. But in the end, submission is always beautiful.
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