Identity in Marriage
On this subject, I’ll write primarily to wives and try to weigh our expectations for our marital roles from both Biblical and cultural perspectives. My conclusion is applicable to both men and women, though: that fulfillment in marriage is predicated on fulfillment in Christ.
With trepidation we approach the subject of marriage roles because we know we’ll have to grapple with what may seem an odious and antiquated idea: submission. So let’s grapple quickly!
It’s important to analyze why the idea grates on modern women. Besides the fall and our grasping little natures, are there cultural values that undermine our pursuit of godliness as wives? Maybe it’s a matter of definition. Individual happiness is, perhaps, the highest cultural value today. In marriage, though, you vow to give up watching your own back as you instead watch your partner’s. He vows to do the same for you. Marriage is antithetical to individualism. Submission of one’s will to anything external defies the ideal of My World, My Way. There is a definitional conflict. And so these vows are a choice; we know that at various points, each of us will fall back into self-preservation mode and upset the balance.
But what if we stay in self-preservation mode? Eventually, the pursuit of individual bliss, the cultural imperative to never be uncomfortable, must trample on relationship, which requires compromise. So in marriage, we choose between self and selflessness, and only one route leads to satisfaction. Happiness itself is just a weak destination.
But so far, this sounds mutual. Why do women draw the submission straw? Well, we shouldn’t underestimate the amount of give required to love and respect, as men are commanded to do. But practically speaking, maybe it’s also the wrong question. Does it matter why we get green pinnies or blue if it makes the scrimmage work?
In the obvious analogy, ballroom dancing doesn’t flow when everyone’s the leader. Yet the man is also a frame for the purpose of displaying the skill of the female dancer. It’s an interesting duality of purpose. Submissiveness, rather than veiling the woman’s identity in the man’s, yields a partnership that fosters the development of a woman’s BEST identity. If you’ve ever tried to follow, you know it’s not passive. It’s extremely difficult, and the more gracefully it’s done, the more grueling the dancer’s effort has been.
Is our status then just that of hard-working subordinate? I think that subordination is more of a choice than an identity. Even in marriage, our primary identity must be that of Christian, and the requirements of Christians in any relationship are both practical and sacrificial.
So part of the secret to satisfaction in our marital roles is the development of our identity in Christ. This means that even if your spouse is not a Christian, or if he is less bold in leading your family’s growth than you’d like, you’re not off the hook. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Peter exhorts all believers (2 Pet 3: 18).
Salvation is like starting blocks. Your race and your spouse’s will be judged one day, and if your spikes are still in the blocks, you won’t stand up to fire-testing. You’ll still be saved, “but only as one escaping through the flames,” (1 Cor 3:15).
The good news is the transformative power of identifying with Christ. As we deepen our knowledge of him, our desires will reflect not the ideals of our society, but the role God has designed for our good and his glory. Submission and noble character and sacrifice, and especially the harmony they produce, will look more appealing. We will find that yielding to the demands of partnership frees us up to be our best selves.
For a more in-depth treatment of submission and what it is and isn’t, GirlTalk blog happens to be running a series on that subject. Here’s the first installment with links to the rest.