I wasn’t raised around very many self-declared feminists. I didn’t even see very many “egalitarian” marriages modeled. I knew strong-willed women, but they never appeared to be the dominant one in their relationship.
When I went to college, I declared myself an anti-feminist, then met a man who served in a church denomination that was founded by a woman and pushes women in leadership. As I’ve talked about many times before, I began searching, struggling, and exploring the role of a woman in society, church, leadership, and marriage.
I’m not going to get into the differences in feminism or where exactly I stand now. But I do want to share some thoughts and practices I’ve uncovered in my journey.
I set out wondering how it was even possible to be strong-willed and a submissive wife at the same time. In fact, in my list of blog ideas, I wrote over a year ago “how to be strong-willed and submissive” but had no clue how to answer that topic.
Although I’m not finished learning and growing, I’ve been able to have conversations with other strong-willed wives like me who desire to honor and respect their husbands. I definitely feel a lot closer understanding how these two things can work together.
Here is a list of some answers I know to be true and some practices that work for me:
1. Remember the Ultimate Purpose of Marriage
Here’s a quote Kyle and I included on both our wedding invitations and our wedding program. My own words couldn’t explain it better.
Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to His redeemed people, the Church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and His Church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream. (John Piper)
Piper is coming from Ephesians 5 where the author discusses marriage then says, “This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”
The reason it’s important to remember the purpose of marriage when navigating how to be both strong-willed and submissive is because it puts the minor marital discussions and issues into an eternal perspective, showing us what truly matters.
I’m not even slightly saying that our strong will must die in order to become a submissive wife. Keeping an eternal perspective keeps our stubbornness in check – because regardless of what gender we are, we all know a strong-will can have a bad side if we let it.
2. Pray for Your Husband
There are some things a wife knows how to do better than her husband. And no I’m not just referring to folding the laundry or cooking. Sometimes, the wife has certain life or work experience in a field her husband doesn’t. This naturally makes us strong-willed wives want to tell him exactly how what he’s doing won’t work and how he should do it to make it all better.
But no one likes being bossed around – especially by their spouse. Praying for God to develop our husbands into the men of God they were created to be is huge. This doesn’t mean praying that our husbands will act how we want them to. It means praying that they’ll be who God wants them to be.
Choosing to pray for our husbands in this way also requires us to submit our own will for our husbands to God’s divine will for them – that means posturing our hearts in a position of surrender and trusting God to be in control.
3. Pray for Yourself
If we’re going to be praying that God makes our husbands into the “perfect man,” we have to be praying the same for us.
Remember when you were single and people always told you not to focus on finding Mr. Right, but on becoming Mrs. Right? This is the married version of that. If we want our Mr. Right to be an even better Mr. Right, we need to allow God to make us an even better Mrs. Right.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in thinking about how we wish our husband would be more like this or do more of that, when he could easily be coming up with an equally long list for us. We need to swallow our pride, asking the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts and transform us into the women of God we’re designed to be.
4. Prioritize Your Values Together
Where do your individual dreams work together? Where or when can they fit in? What needs to be sacrificed for what God has called you to as a married couple? Is it a sacrifice forever or a sacrifice for a time?
I want to go to grad school. ($$$). I also want to adopt. ($$$). I want us to own a house of our own. ($$$). I also want an absolute minimum of 3 kids. (more $$$). Kyle’s income isn’t necessarily “rolling in the dough” status, and I’m mostly at home looking for jobs right now.
I want to be a stay-at-home mom. I also want to work as a counselor and be super involved in my husband’s ministry.
Do you get what I’m saying? We can’t always have everything we want; and even if we can, we definitely can’t have it all at the same time. At least, I know I can’t.
I remember a time right before our wedding when I looked at myself in the mirror and realized the dreams I was sacrificing in order to marry Kyle. I started to cry. Then I remembered that being a wife and mom are the dreams I’ve wanted the longest and desired the most. Now I realize that every single one of the dreams I mentioned involve Kyle being with me.
Marriage involves sacrifice. Even looking at it from what it was patterned after: Christ’s love for the Church – there is extreme sacrifice (you know, leaving heaven; being a baby who poops and pees on himself; being rejected and tortured; death). But Jesus pushed though it all “for the joy set before him” – us! His Bride.
How much more should we expect to sacrifice in our marriages? And how much more should we expect there to be a more than worth it reward for the sacrifice?
The point is, sit down with each other and make sure you both understand the emotions behind what each other is sacrificing. Then look at where different goals and dreams work together, which are shared, and where in your life together they can become a reality.
5. Pray for God’s Will
My mom always wanted to be a pastor’s wife. That was what she felt God specifically called her to be. When she met my dad he was raising money to be a missionary. They got married and went to the Philippines for a year. She submitted to her husband in where he felt called even though it’s not where she felt called, because ultimately her first calling was to be her husband’s wife.
The whole time, she was trusting God and praying they would be able to come back to the U.S. to pastor a church. A year after moving overseas, God led them back to the U.S. to start a church where they pastored for ten years. Her trust in God paid off. They look back now, realizing that if God hadn’t called my dad to be a missionary, he wouldn’t have been traveling to the place he was when and where he met me mom.
God knows what He’s doing.
If you and your husband both don’t know God’s will, pray for it. If you don’t know God’s will, submit to what God’s told your husband. If you feel you know God’s will and it’s different than what your husband is feeling, trust that God is still working it out. Let your husband know your thoughts, then shut up and keep praying for God’s will to be done.
6. Always Empower Him
Kyle and I have definitely had a lot of conversations on how to communicate the differences we have about (I’ll say it plain) how to do his job. Because his vocation is in church ministry where we both feel called, we do believe we’re doing it together without equally co-leading it. But this applies to any partnership issues that come up in marriage or any other difference of opinion you may have with your husband.
Ultimately I want my opinion to be heard and valued at the least – that’s important to me. And it’s important to him to feel respected. Here’s what I usually say in these conversations: “I want you to know that I will fully support whatever decision you make on this; I just want you to hear what I’m thinking/feeling first. Then, you decide.”
I learned this approach through trial and error, but now Kyle tells me it’s one of the most empowering things I do for him. We both almost always end up feeling good with the outcome.
7. Follow Through
Next comes the hard part. You said you’d support whatever he decided… so you have to support it. If you don’t, he won’t believe you next time – it becomes the opposite of empowering.
If he decides on something you disagree with, you can let him know once, but then you need to sit back and let #5 come into play: pray that God would change his heart to make the right decision or change yours to accept God’s will. It’s always possible we’re the ones in the wrong or it’s our heart that needs to be changed.
Just because we’re strong-willed doesn’t mean we’re infallible!
What things work for you in your marriage?