Marriage: True Submission, True Love

by Dan Melvin

"Communication is the key to a happy marriage."

"A good marriage is 50/50."

On the surface, both these statements sound like reasonable advice.  And Betsy & I received such advice from some good-natured and well-intentioned people while we dated and during our engagement.  However, it would seem the experts of this world are not so certain.

In his article entitled “The Myth of the 50/50 Marriage” on Huffington Post, Dr. Pillemer, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, explains a study he did of elder Americans who had been married a long time.  In it he said,

What makes for a long marriage? It's a question that social scientists and clinicians have tried to answer for many years, with limited results. We still don't really know why…. 
The common belief that marriage is a 50-50 affair is a myth. You can't spend your time calculating 50 percent in, 50 percent back. The attitude has to be one of giving freely. …if you start keeping score you're already in deep trouble


Something he said might stand out - that "the attitude has to be one of giving freely."  However, there is more involved than "giving freely." After all, when a husband or a wife is more concerned about their own well-being their spouse will be increasingly reluctant to give anything -- except maybe a cold shoulder.

The question remains then -- what is the most important aspect of a long, happy, and blossoming marriage?  Marriage has been around for thousands of years, surely someone has the answer by now?

I wonder if Jesus, teaching today like He did in the First Century, would say, “You’ve heard it said that ‘marriage is 50/50,’ but I say to you submit to one another.”  After all, that is what the Apostle Paul said about godly relationships: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

When the Apostle Paul penned that sentence it was after he had described the incomparable and unbounded grace which God has lavished on His people through Christ and the manner in which God had done so.  Then in the first verse of chapter 4, he says, if I may paraphrase,  "Therefore, in light of everything God has initiated for you, let's discuss what is an appropriate response."  He also says, " ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you". So, out of reverence for what Christ has FIRST done for you, put the OTHER person first. 

Paul, uses three common examples of how submission in relationships should work. For marriage, he says the husband ought to prefer his wife over himself just like Christ did not prefer His own life when He allowed Himself to be crucified to pay for the husband's (and wife's) sins. Paul also says the wife should place herself under her husband's authority just as she has placed herself under the Lord Jesus' authority  (see Ephesians 5).

Sadly, many pulpits have taught that wives should submit to their husband's leadership without also teaching husbands about being a tender servant-leader. After all, a good leader, especially one who says he follows Christ, puts the needs of those following him ahead of his own.  If he does that, the wife should eventually realize he really does consider her in his decisions ahead of his own self-interests, which should make it easier for her to come under, or "submit" to, his leadership.

A man with marital troubles, after hearing me describe this concept, said that he believed that as the leader he would listen to his wife's input, but that he had the final say in any decision. I took his statement a step further and said that if he was leading as Christ led the Church, then his decision, all things being equal, should bless his wife.  For instance, let's say  there was a couple who was house hunting. After a long time they finally decided on two houses with very little difference - both of equal value, equal cost, and equal convenience. She preferred one, he preferred the other. I explained that his "final decision" should be to choose the house she prefers. Obviously, if they could not yet afford her option they would have to decide otherwise, but all things being equal, his choice should be to put his wife's interests above his own.

On the other hand, take the woman whom I once knew who simply refused to come under her husband's authority regardless of the good he did.  He was flawed (who isn't?) but with some biblical counsel he was becoming more tender in how he treated her. But her selfish tirades gradually tore down his resolve to treat her well, and eventually, any hope she had of a happy life.  Indeed, she has since been for me a living picture of the proverb: "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her own hands."

Paul does not say the wife ought to "submit to her husband if he deserves it" or "if it's a good idea that day."  But rather because if she really trusts the God who is her husband's commander, she will trust God to work in her husband's life. Wives, you should know that you can (and should!) go over your husband's head to his Boss in prayer.  It's no secret that God takes the husband's role seriously - after all the Apostle Peter commanded men to treat their wives well or their prayers would go unanswered

In a similar way, Paul does not say the husband ought to love his wife if she's easy to get along with or if she somehow deserves to be loved. The husband's motivation should be to love his wife because Christ first loved him.

I like to say a good marriage is about giving, not getting.  Marriage isn't 50/50 but 100/100 - each spouse giving a 100% of themselves to the other, expecting nothing in return.  In that moment when we are more concerned about getting what we think we deserve, we should take ourselves to task.  We have forgotten how much of what Christ has already given us far outweighs anything we could hope to receive from others, and none of what we have received was deserved. Then, once our gratitude has been rekindled, we can begin to give again and the irritations of two sinners living in close proximity become easier to overlook, and even appreciate.

Here we talked about the motivation in a marriage and in our next discussion we'll discuss some real life examples of how this concept was put into practice, particularly when there seemed to be little or no hope of kindling love again.