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If you’ve ever been in an argument, you know it can escalate quickly. Before long you both can resort to bringing out the big guns–meant to finally win the battle. If you find yourself using the biblical roles of headship and submission to make your point, realize that you could be using the nuclear option.
Demanding that your spouse submit or sacrifice for you isn’t a healthy way to resolve conflict.
Some conversations attempting to resolve conflict are messy arguments and some are civil discussions. Sometimes an honest discussion can be heated, and that’s okay, provided you know how to repair any collateral damage.
All healthy discussions need to be based in reality. There is no perfect wife and there is no perfect husband. The Bible sets the bar high for how to treat your spouse, but God doesn’t intend for anyone to “weaponize” the scriptures.
God commands the husband to lay down his life and the wife to submit, both in service to the common good. The command comes from God. It doesn’t work when it comes from your spouse.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.Ephesians 5:22-27 NIV
Healthy Headship and Submission Preserve Unity
Headship and submission allow a marriage to work. They are needed to find the way out of a stalemate (no pun intended). They are really meant to be a last resort to preserve the unity in your marriage.
You can resolve a large majority of conflict by using good communication skills. If you have good communication, you shouldn’t have to mention the words headship or submission. If you can’t resolve most of your issues with a win-win result, you have a different problem. Playing the “you’re supposed to submit” or “you’re supposed to sacrifice” card won’t help you find a win-win.
Healthy Headship and Submission Avoid Sin
If your issue isn’t life or death, then likely you don’t have to make an immediate decision one way or the other. Instead, move forward when you both have peace. God cares more about how you get along than whether you decide to buy a new car or not.
For a wife, there’s a difference between submitting to your husband’s healthy ideas and his sin. For example, God doesn’t require a wife to submit to a husband who wants to rob a bank. The same applies to a husband and his sacrifice. God didn’t want Adam to follow Eve into her sin.
You sacrifice or submit when your spouse has reached their limits. When your spouse’s maturity level blocks the conflict resolution, you yield out of compassion for them. You bear the consequences of their sin, forgiving them.
This requires healthy discernment. Both husband and wife should be committed to growth, but God allows you to yield to your spouse when their distress is too high.
Healthy Headship and Submission Encourage Equality
It would be wrong to give in to your spouse all the time just because of God’s command to you. Promoting ongoing selfishness in each other is its own sin. You will reach peak marital satisfaction when you are both happy most of the time. It’s okay to get your way some of the time. But you might also need to hear that it’s okay to not get your way some of the time.
However you resolve your conflict, it’s important that you return as quickly as possible to the sense that you are equals. Headship (love) and submission (respect) give you the opportunity to meet some of your spouse’s deepest emotional needs.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.