Marriage is an art; a dance that people of all cultures, countries, and communities have engaged in, in some form or capacity, since the beginning of time. Sometimes the journey is painful and awkward and sometimes it's flawless.
There is a gross misunderstanding in our culture that seems to state that it is shameful to be submissive. Au contraire! Nothing could be further from the truth! The one who leads is not greater than the one who submits. They are simply different. And within their different identities, they must work perfectly alongside each other. The irony is that the greatest indicator of a person's success will be in the other partner: the husband's talents will be made evident by the 'performance' of his wife and the wife's abilities will be made evident by the success of her husband. If a husband seeks to build himself up by making his wife look incapable, he himself is revealed to be incapable of leading, and vice versa.
A true leader doesn't aspire to greatness alone but seeks to share greatness with the one he leads. Does not the dance partner display as much talent and receive as much praise as the Lead? And does not the Lead share the dance equally with her, knowing that without her the dance is wholly incomplete?
So what does this look like?
A healthy leadership/subservient model in marriage is not a blanket that covers the marriage, but more of a subtle current upon which the marriage rides. Not the face of the marriage, but the backbone. It's subtle. Underlying. It's the strength of the marriage, not the defining characteristic. It's the, almost hidden, foundational principal upon which a lifetime of love, admiration, respect, joy, and beauty are all built. The roles are delicate and gentle, obvious only to the couple themselves. The outside world may catch glimpses of the husband's leadership or the wife's submission from time to time, but the couple's defining characteristics will be respect, love.....harmony.
In contrast to this description, an unhealthy leadership/subservient based marriage will be much more obviously defined by one partner of power and one of submission. If it's obvious to people outside of the marriage relationship that the couple models these rolls, than more than likely, one of the partner's in the marriage is domineering. If the marriage contains a domineering partner, he/she has already stepped outside of the Biblical view of marriage.
My act of submission to my husband is never about him. It is always, only about me. What I mean by that is, my husband has never demanded that I submit to him. In the heat of an argument or disagreement, he has never said, "I'm your husband, I make the decisions!" On our wedding day, I vowed to honor and submit to my husband. When I make the choice to honor my wedding vows and submit to him, it's just that....my choice. God granted husband's a love-based headship over their families. He did not grant them absolute, domineering authority over their families. My husband never makes me submit. Never attempts to use guilt or coercive reminders. My submission to him is between me and God alone.
How does it work?
The 'How' will look vastly different in each marriage. Each unique couple needs to find their own way of implementing these roles. I can't give you a formula for how this works, but I can tell you how it works in my marriage. I am a strong-willed woman. I want my own way. Every Time. It's just the way I am, so naturally, submission does not come easily to me. After nearly a decade of marriage, submission looks different for me now than it did when we were newly-weds.
In the beginning, I exercised submission only in the 'big things'. We argued constantly. All the time. About everything. Both of us willing to fight to the death on any subject, from where to put the couch, to where to go for dinner, to how warm to keep the thermostat. But having been raised to understand the value of a wife's role of submission (and subsequently, the value of the husband's role of leadership), I, however difficult, would (eventually) submit on the 'big things' (i.e. Do we start a family now, or wait? Should we buy a house or rent? etc.), while still always fighting to the bitter end on 'small things'.
Over the years, however, we've fine-tuned our 'dance' tremendously. Now, I submit more easily to smaller issues. But he also is less hasty to take a stand than he once was. When we discuss our differing points of views on a subject, he's more likely to let me have my way than he was 10 years ago. You could maybe even say that he actually chooses to submit to me. He does this a lot these days. Probably more than 75% of the time, he lets me have my way. But when he does take a stand, I know that even a 'small thing' has suddenly become a 'big thing' and, no matter how strongly I disagree, I choose to respect his authority in those moments. Knowing that I will submit to his decisions has, over the years, made him far more discerning about what issues he will take a stand on. And this fine-tuning, this understanding that we've developed for each other, has become the roots to the forest of respect and harmony that we've cultivated.
Let's make it really concrete with two examples. The first will be a 'small thing' - just a silly argument that could crop up at any time. The second will be a 'big thing'.
1. The 'Small Thing' - It's Friday night and neither of us feel like cooking, so we decide to go out for dinner. My husband loves Chinese Buffets, and would chose to go to one every time we go out for dinner, if I didn't clearly voice my opinion about it. I don't really care for Chinese Buffets, I'd rather get Chinese take-out...but what I really want is Italian. We argue back and forth for a bit and he doesn't back down. So I say (rather heated), 'Dude! Why does it always gotta be about you?!" At this point, one of two things happens... 99% of the time, I get my way ;) But let's suppose that he's having a bad day and he snaps back, "Look! I had a rough week. I make the money. I want to go to the Chinese Buffet. Period." (Note, again, my husband never plays the 'husband card'). At this point, a little thing has become a big thing and I will choose to submit. Will I say to him, "Are you kidding me!? I had a rough week too! You try being home with 3 kids by yourself all week!"? You bet I will! (I have not yet learned the art of controlling my tongue. ha!). Then I make the decision that will set the tone for the rest of the night. I will either stew about his attitude and my submission, and ruin our evening. Or I will (on days marked by grace), realize that I made the choice to submit to him, and cover him with grace by understanding that he's just in a bad mood (it happens to me too. Shocking, right!?) and choose to have a good attitude throughout dinner. The latter usually results in an apology from him later in the evening after the kids are in bed. And then he dotes on me the whole next day. Win!
2. The 'Big Thing' - We have the opportunity to invest a large sum of money into something that I really believe in. My husband....does not. I present this opportunity to him and his immediate response is, "No."
"But wait" I say, "just hear me out. I think this is really important." We sit and talk about the pros and cons for 2 hours. We just don't see eye to eye on this. It might even get a little heated. But I know that my input is valuable to him and I know he's listening to my arguments. Probably 65% of the time he will end up agreeing with me or, at the very least, decide to humor me. But if he still feels strongly enough about it to say "No." I choose to submit to his leadership.
My voice is rarely, if ever, not heard. My opinion is always valued. I am never the weaker partner, I simply choose to give him the authority.
Why does it work?
Why does it work between dance partners?
Because two people simply cannot live in such close proximity to one another and not have clearly defined roles. Even between business partners, it is always recommended that one partner hold 51% of the business. Although both partners have equal value, both cannot have equal authority. It just won't work.
When I joyfully give that extra 2% authority over to my husband, we eliminate gridlocks without one partner feeling defeated. He didn't win. I didn't lose....I chose to give him the final decision. When he can predict, based off of history, that I will submit to him if he pushes an issue, he becomes more gentle and discerning about which issues he will push. Knowing that I love and value him enough to submit to him, causes him to love me with more tenderness and appreciation. And as his love for me becomes more perfect, the automatic response of my heart is to honor and value him more. It's a beautiful, harmonious cycle of love, respect, value, and peace. Instead of life issues dividing us, they strengthen us because we've learned how to dance together. We've learned how to 'feed' love and respect to make them grow, instead of getting hung up on the things that have potential to divide us.
Remember the Waltzing Couple?
As we, together, imagine this couple dancing...they know that one is the Lead and the other, the Follow. But to the spectator, are they not so perfectly in sync that it's almost impossible to tell one body from the next, let alone the Lead from the Follow? Yet, between themselves, they know that these roles exist. And if they act within their positions, one leading...one following...understanding each other's hearts, dreams, attitudes, and goals, they will deliver the most spectacular performance the world has ever known. Not a dance to music, but a dance from which the music flows.