The Submission-Leadership Conundrum

Chicken and the Egg. Or, give and take.

In every relationship there is a give and take. Sometimes you give more and sometimes you take more, and it’s never good to keep score. It just is what it is.

When it comes to control and surrender it’s a bit more of a sticky wicket.

I’ve been aching to surrender to a strong leader-husband. Most men with whom I’d ever had a relationship that lasted more than a nanosecond, would eventually throw up their hands and say “I can’t handle you,” or “You are too high maintenance!” I don’t know that I was ever truly insulted by these accusations, nor did I take them personally. I generally thought “well, apparently YOU are not strong enough to handle  me, or you’re just not brave enough to take me on.” Truth be told, these men never gave me a good reason to completely and utterly trust them. And, yes, to a degree I admit to “fitness testing” them, possibly even challenging them.

My husband “took me on.” And sometimes I truly worry that he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into!  We had a long-distance, whirlwind type of relationship, where each of us maintained our single and independent lifestyles right up until the wedding day. And nearly every day after it became a grab for power. Clearly that did not make for a very happy marriage years 1-20.

SJ and I do not remember whether we left out the “obey” part of our Christian wedding vows, but given it was 1992 we probably did. What SJ DOES recall vividly is during the rehearsal, when we were told to hold hands, I took his hand, and had to be instructed to allow him to take my hands into his… to take me in hand…  and how this appeared to be something I struggled with.

Throughout my Christian walk, which began in earnest in my late 20s, I’d heard about husband leadership and wife submission. I’d rarely seen it in practice in healthy and happy ways, but I had not grown up in a biblically-led household. My parents and many of my relatives just followed the stereotypes of a 1950s marriage, where husband was “in charge,” and the wife “followed.” Often the power struggles were palpable. Sometimes it bordered on abuse. Rarely had I witnessed a husband loving his wife as he loved his own body, or as Christ loved the church. But my new Christian friends were now instructing me on wifely submission. It just didn’t compute for this professional, baby boomer, yuppie woman. I couldn’t imagine trusting anyone that much, even my extremely trustworthy husband. And my husband also hadn’t witnessed many models of Biblical marriage and Christ-like leadership. His goal was to keep the peace and avoid arguments. We were both clueless, stumbling fools, buying into the “equality” and modern marriage myth, against our true natures. When he didn’t step up in strong and confident leadership (so as not to seem a chauvinist or a bully), I tended to just grab control away, often leaving tire marks as I ran over him in the process. He led in so many quiet ways that I didn’t acknowledge or recognize until much later, when God gave me eyes to see. And while I thought I wanted the control, I wasn’t happy with it. I think I was internally begging for SJ to just take back the control, to take me in hand, to lead us.  But what self-respecting modern woman would openly admit that?  The struggles were real.

Perhaps to lead me he needed a wife willing to submit. Yet perhaps in order to submit, I needed to feel strong and confident leadership.

Chicken and egg. Does one “take”control, or does one need to give submission first? It reminds me of the fall-back-I’ll-catch-you exercise. What if they aren’t ready to catch you?  What if they aren’t ready to lead? When is it “safe” to give up control and trust?

Sometimes you just need to step out in faith, and pray.  I had to tell my husband that I trusted him and coveted his leadership.  I told him I’d try my utmost to honor, respect and submit, but that I really, really needed his help to break my control-freak habits.

For my husband’s part, there were some paradigm shifts.  Of course initially I think he inwardly cheered (somewhat skeptically of course) at my resolve to get things right in our marriage.  What guy doesn’t fantasize about a wife who submits, doesn’t argue, doesn’t try to wrest control, doesn’t pout?  He trod very, very carefully.  At times I think he wondered if he wanted to shoulder this burden of leadership… it takes work!  Especially if you’ve been accustomed to capitulating to a nagging wife!

Biblical submission to my husband has become a day to day thing for me. It’s not automatic or even always comfortable. It certainly isn’t my default because in life I am a take-charge person. Submission is a conscious choice I have to make every day, and sometimes from moment to moment. My way, or submit to his leading?  And, gasp, could his leading become “my way?”

Likewise, dominant leadership may not be his “automatic or comfortable mode.” It also might need to be a conscious choice he has to make every day: I’m going to be a strong and trustworthy leader for my wife. For her own good and the good of our marriage, I need to take her in hand. Image result for gentle leadership

The balance is tricky.  He doesn’t want to be a despot; I don’t want to be a doormat.  We both respect and appreciate each other’s intelligence, accomplishments, abilities and strengths.  It’s a matter of harnessing all of that to work for our good, rather than to steamroll each other!

To follow, I need that kind of deliberate leadership. To be happy and peaceful, I need his undaunted leadership. To trust he’ll not falter as my leader. I believe I can get behind that and be the wife I want to be, the wife he needs.


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5 Responses to The Submission-Leadership Conundrum

  1. drmattsgirl says:

    Loved this one! We should visit some more, email when you have time.


  2. C for now says:

    But he will falter. Part of his strength in leadership lies in knowing you will still support with him and be with him as he leads you (both) to recovery.

    This is an ever evolving lifestyle just as any other path would be.

    As always, good luck ma’am.


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