Part 1: A Broken Neck:
The ladies at church used to say their husbands were the head but they were the neck. Then they’d giggle at each other and smile knowingly.
There was an inside joke I didn’t understand.
I thought they were weird. But, I was a just a kid and they seemed silly. Necks and heads and whatever. So 1954. Women and men are equals. My public school and Hollywood indoctrination informed me that the only thing differentiating woman and men is anopportunity and drive. All women had been denied opportunity to prove how we were going to rule the world and it was our right and responsibility to show up the men determined to oppress us.
But, early in life, I fell in love, married and promptly forgot all the things I had ever heard about marriage or men and women because we “knew it all”. Simply put, we just needed to “figure out our own relationship” and “define our own parameters”.
As time passed, I avoided any discussion about the term “submission”. It seemed archaic and demeaning. Slaves submit. Sexual deviants submit. Weak people submit. It was more than a little embarrassing to hear older women talk of it as though it mattered. Not to me.
I am woman. Hear me roar. Or something.
I equated being a submitted wife to those weak, mousy, subservient women who obviously lived in bondage to antiquated ideas of authority and identity. They meant it when saying, “Yes, dear”, faithfully making sure their husbands lived in tidy, orderly homes. Their husbands, always well-fed and cared for, were men I abhorred. Surely they were domineering and abusive in order to turn my sisters-in-arms into their own personal slaves. I despised these men as aggressive and overly masculine. Too manly. Their unwillingness to serve their wives or do anything to make them happy made them incomprehensible and dangerous.
In retrospect, I was afraid of what I couldn’t control. So I hated it. I hated them. And envied them with all my heart. I imagined their lives were easier than mine, from the comfort of their armchairs and board rooms. I envisioned them looking down on me and laughing at female weaknesses. Mocking my independence by opening doors and offering to carry suitcases.
I hid it well. My small town upbringing kept much of that poison in check. But I’m sure it oozed and poisoned most of my perceptions of men and women throughout the years.
I did everything in my power to control my husband so he would be a version of manliness that didn’t threaten my authority over myself or the little kingdom in our home.
I believed I was a good Christian woman and, over the years, functioned as part of many church groups. When the subject of biblical marriage came up I’d say my piece about submission being a very subjective ideal between two independent parties. Subjective. Husbands and wives should work out their relationship independently. However, anything that treated the woman as a person expected to serve her husband or anyone was nonsense. Outdated. Insulting.
“I am no one’s slave!” was the mantra on both my heart and my lips.
Yet, despite how loud I announced my freedom, I wasn’t free at all. I didn’t serve anyone. Not even God completely. I had determined it was my right to use the brain God gave me to pick and choose which rules to obey and which to disregard as a process of making sense of Scriptural information that clashed with my prejudice or cynicism.
Once my husband confronted my behavior when it clashed violently with his own ideals. In an effort to appeal to my over-stated if not very often demonstrated love for him, he equated a wife following her husband’s lead to Wesley and Buttercup’s uniqueexchange of love in The Princess Bride.
As you wish.
“As you wish” became code for: “This is where you really need to buckle down and follow me!”
I tried for a while to make him happy with a mask of what I thought submission was supposed to look like. But it was a burden. It was too heavy and chafed against all my beliefs about my need to manage my own life, build my own destiny, and make my own rules. I walked two steps behind on the outside in a show that actually ridiculed him far more specifically than I had done in the past. I laughed about his old-fashioned and fundamentalist ways with my friends and we made fun of his outdated ideals of marriage. Inwardly I resented every single thing I did that he didn’t properly appreciate.
Ultimately, “as you wish” didn’t fit. But by this time, he didn’t argue much. He eventually quit trying to work with me and did what he needed to get by while I went on my merry way doing all the things that made me happy. I was striving to be the very best version of a strong independent woman with children to control and a husband on call when she needed a jar opened or an escort to the movies.
I genuinely thought nothing was wrong with our arrangement. We weren’t perfect, but didn’t everyone struggle like this? It wasn’t like I saw anyone around me doing better.
Despite all my manipulations and demands, the man I had been crazy about all those years ago had become a stranger. He was more and more distant and I got lonelier until we argued over the littlest things as they turned into the bigger things until I began to more than resent him, I began to look for reasons why he wasn’t good enough for me. Reasons why I deserved more, well, everything, and why he failed to give it to me.
I resented when he asked me to set a simple budget for household expenses, stick to it, and talk with him about it. Wasn’t it my job to take care of and manage the home? It was unfair that he didn’t trust me. I spat out sarcastic answers when he asked what we did when I went out for the evening with the girls. Did he think I was some kind of reckless woman? Did he expect me to be stupid?
In fact, anything he did which I believed would conflict with my idea of my own autonomy was challenged and spitefully, vindictively, argued down.
Our children were small and I began to see them mimicking some of my more ugly traits. They picked up my anger and they picked up my fear of being caught doing something which I knew was questionable but I had justified it anyway.
Ultimately, our marriage came dangerously close to ending and that, finally, got my attention. Mostly because I realized it was nearly completely all my fault.
Being face to face with my own flaws was painful but coming out of that and realizing the kind of person I had been to my husband, whom I professed to love, was a crushing blow. I was a liar. I couldn’t be trusted. I was ashamed.
For the first time in our married life I turned to God and asked Him to help me love my husband. Without caveats, without excuses for why I didn’t have to. I didn’t know how to respect or follow him. But I wanted to at least love him. Simply, I thought love was enough. Although I soon found out, despite what Hollywood says, Love isn’t enough. It was never intended to be.
I didn’t ask God to help me submit to him, because that would be weird, but I did begin looking for information about good marriages and for tools that would enable me to be a better wife.
I wanted to be industrious, accountable, and, hopefully, trustworthy. But I couldn’t stomach being submitted. Not yet.
We did rebuild. Slowly.
As the years have turned into decades (over 23 years so far), wrestling with bigger and bigger ideas, my views of what it means to be a woman in marriage have changed wildly.
True submission was nothing like what I thought it was.
I was wrong. We were all wrong.
Part two coming up soon.