Submission in Marriage

Maggie and I had known each other since our high school days. She was one of the most talented actresses I knew at the time. She could make scenes in a play so real it could bring tears to the eyes of the audience. Acting was like a second nature to her.

Our ways parted after school since we ended up in different universities. But I remember clearly the day she acted at Kenyatta University during the arts week, as part of a troupe from the University of Nairobi. Her acting had only got better with time.

I did not get to think much about Maggie after that incident, until years later when she contacted me through Facebook. She had watched me speak on TV about my journey with depression and decided to reach out.

Maggie had battled depression for years and had been on antidepressant medication. She said that she had so much to share with me that we needed to meet. We set a date to catch up over coffee.

Meeting face-to-face after over a decade was nice, but it turned out to be painful too. Maggie was a shadow of her former self not just in physical appearance but in personality too. She lacked self-confidence and had become a real pessimist. The story she poured to me that day made me both angry and sad at the same time.


The former acting queen fell in love with someone in her final year at campus. He worked for a local bank and was active in youth leadership in the church both of them attended. The two were married less than a year after Maggie’s graduation. By that time, she had landed a good deal to act in a local TV series.

All was well in the marriage until she got pregnant and needed to take a break from her acting roles because of the pregnancy. She was to resume after delivery but when time to resume came, her husband said that the baby was too young to be left under the care of nannies while she pursued her acting career. He told her to stay at home and take care of the baby until a later date.

The journey to resuming her acting career became a rocky one as her husband would not hear of her going back to acting even after the baby was 2 years old. She tried to explain that she could get a good daycare nearby where she could be leaving their daughter when she had to work but he would hear none of it.

One day the issue degenerated into an argument and Maggie got the shock of her life. Her husband told her that an acting career is not for decent women and he would not allow his wife to do that kind of work. He had a good job and was providing so it was not necessary for her to work. She tried to reason with him that acting is what she loved and wanted to do, but he would hear none of it.

Career dies on the altar of submission

She sought help from different people; her pastor at church and his wife, her parents and the couple that served as the best couple during their wedding. The advice was all the same; she was a Christian woman and was required to obey and submit to her husband in all things.

Maggie’s acting career died on the altar of submission and that is how she ended up as a stay-at-home mom against her will. She was miserable and gradually went into a depression. By the time she contacted me, she had been on antidepressant medication for 3 years and was one miserable woman.

Understanding Human Behavior

Human behavior is the sum total of physical and emotional behaviors that an individual engages in. It covers the intellectual, social and biological aspects of the person.

Many factors shape an individual’s behavior ranging from nature (genetics) to nurture (life experiences). Values like cultural and religious beliefs are normally passed on to the individual from a young age and so are attitudes. Persuasion, coercion, education and exposure are some of the methods used to shape a person’s character.

Many people are not their own person since they just maintain the status quo and have never asked questions about the values that have been passed on to them over the years by parents, teachers, community or religious leaders. Many just echo the words of others without as much as taking a critical look.

What an individual believes about dressing, money, faith, marriage, family and other human behaviors has largely been shaped by others, mainly those who had some kind of power over the individual.

People who get exposure from different cultures and beliefs are normally more open minded than those who are exposed to just one value system.  Individuals who were brought up being encouraged to question things and to think for themselves are also likely to be open minded.

What Submission in Marriage is and What it is Not

People who practice Christianity are familiar with the teaching about wives submitting to their own husbands (Ephesians 5). Submission means yielding to authority. For submission to take place, it means that there is authority in place and that the authority and the followers all subscribe to the same value system.

I believe that you want to become successful and for that dream to be realized, your marital relationship needs to be in order if you are married or have plans to do some some day.

I like to use formal institutions to bring out what authority is. An organization has a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or a Managing Director (MD) as the head. There are people at different positions who serve the organization under the leadership or guidance of the CEO or MD. The organization is operated through a set of rules and regulations which are not the whims of the person at the top.

The normal practice is that before an individual accepts a job with a particular organization, they take the time to find out about the organization in order to decide if they will be able to fit in or not. As with all other situations in life, one cannot know everything about an organization until they actually work there for some time. Some people discover after joining an organization that all is not as they anticipated.

When it comes to marriage, two people are supposed to take time to know one another to understand the beliefs and values of each other. Ideally, they should undergo some kind of premarital program in order to address issues that could cause problems in the marriage.

1. Submission is Not Taking Over The Wife’s Life

Exercising authority is not equal to taking over another person’s life, throwing out their value systems and replacing them with your own. Every individual has been shaped by very many factors over the years and trying to make that person something they are not, only results in destroying them and ruining the relationship.

There is a reason why one has certain hobbies and not others, why they thrive in a public career rather than a private one, why they are passionate about their line of work and would not exchange it for something else.

For one person to decide that values and practices that are important to another are not permitted has nothing to do with submission but control and disrespect. When a husband commands his wife to give up her values, hobbies or career for what he believes in, he is communicating the message that the factors that shaped his character (genetics and experiences in life) were more superior to those that shaped his wife’s character, which is not true.

What if a husband had a less than ideal upbringing and would actually  benefit from help in order to become a well balanced individual? Does submission in marriage mean that the wife is obligated to adopt the imbalanced value systems even against her better judgment?

A wife is not inferior to her husband. Neither is she a toddler who cannot make even simple decisions. She is her husband’s helper. She is like part of her husband’s board of management, the team that the head of the organization involves in decision making.

2. Submission Does Not Mean That The Husband is The Ultimate Authority; God is

Does nature not teach us; there are yellow, red, pink, purple and white flowers. None is better than the other; they are simply different.

“You are passionate about painting or desiging clothes. From today henceforth you will no longer be permitted to engage in those activites.” That has nothing to do with submission but control and selfishness.

You love a certain colour and that is part of your every outfit. You get married and your husband dictates that you shall no longer be permitted to wear clothes of that color. He is supposed to give guidance to his family in obedience to God. He has no authority to make you someone that you are not.

In a well balanced marital relationship, the two partners have permission to live a full life and to thrive. They are members of the same team and their relationship is not based on one individual’s selfishness.

“You are passionate about acting. I have always believed that acting is not a respectable career but I will now be more open minded and learn as much as I can about it. I will also learn from you, walk with you and support you to realize your goals.”

“I have never believed in nannies taking care of our babies. How do we handle this issue since your career is important to you?” That is how a healthy marriage ought to run.

Two people who are in a marriage negotiate and strike a compromise about many things; where they will live, what sort of lifestyle they want for their family, their careers, dressing and personal image, hobbies, relationships with friends and family and much more.

Submission does not mean that the husband is always right and the wife has nothing to contribute to decisions.

3. Submission Does Not Give The Husband Freedom to Abuse or Manipulate His Wife

When someone is forced to do things against their will either through threats or manipulation, that is abuse. If a husband forces his wife to do things against her will and makes her suffer consequences for not complying, that is abuse. She is actually in an abusive marriage.

Submission is not something that is forced on a wife; it is something a couple does in joy as they submit to their Lord. They pray together, read the word of God and trust in God’s leadership. In all this, each maintains their individuality.

The love and sweetness of the Spirit of Christ leads the family. Pride and chest thumping have no place in a Christian home; “You will do it because I said so.”

Abuse does happen even in Christian marriages and unfortunately it is sometimes veiled as submission. If you suspect that you are in an abusive marriage, seek help from a competent person.

3. A Competent Leader Provides Leadership Based on Laid Down Rules and Regulations

A good leader provides direction while listening to the input of his team. He does not lead through selfishness; “What I  like is what I will impose on those I lead.” No.

A genuine leader is constantly learning and improving himself and also involving the rest of the team in decision making. He ensures that he leads the organization according to the laid down rules and regulations. He is answerable to authority above him. Decisions are not about him and what pleases him but about what is good for the team.

A healthy marriage has a lot of consultation and compromise. Communication is critical for the growth of the relationship.

Do you have something to share with other readers about submission in marriage? We would like to hear from you.

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This article is written by Susan Catherine Keter, life coach, personal development coach, freelancer and blogger.

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