Better than Bitterness: Submission Without Strings

I had developed a strategy, a near perfect strategy. It worked like a charm.

I had noticed over the years that I was more likely to get my way if I played the submission card up front rather than fight it out.  If my husband and I were trying to come to agreement about something, anything from what to do for dinner to whether to enroll our daughter in preschool, I found that if I said something like, ‘Well, my favorite is this one, but it’s your decision,’ he was much more likely to go with my inclination. It worked even better if I reminded him of the potential pitfalls, like, “Well, I think we should do this, and remember that this or this could happen if we don’t, but it’s your decision.” I could almost see the weight of responsibility landing on his shoulders and the certain knowledge that I would be there to remind him of it if his choice went array.

I was explaining this ‘it’s your decision’ approach at a Bible study once, and a sweet sister reacted. “Whoa, that sounds manipulative to me,” she said.

Manipulative? I had never thought about my strategy in that light. I’m not being manipulative, I thought, I’m just trying to survive! After all, it’s hard being the one who always has to give in. We can’t really be expected to want out husbands to get their own ways all the time, right? To not care about our own opinions and desires?

But her comment stuck with me and eventually forced me to consider my tenuous relationship to submission.

Here’s the thing – if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t like submission. In my flesh, I hate it. I would rather get what I want all the time- no limitations, no hesitations, no convincing someone else.

My strategy sure was about survival, survival of this fleshly part of myself.

But God never intended submission to feel like chains. In fact, He intended it for our freedom. Not freedom to do whatever we want, because that’s actually slavery to our flesh and its desires. Rather, true submission produces the spirit-enlivening freedom of letting go of control and living in a world that’s bigger than us. It’s the freedom of an open grip.

You see, my strategy was submissive, but with strings attached.  Manipulative submission has hands clenched around a desire, but offers up a token authority to the husband, intending and willing him to acquiesce. If he doesn’t, there might be anger to pay, or bitterness, silent stewing, or general unhappiness on the part of his bride. 

Genuine submission, in contrast, allows love to take precedence over our wants.  Genuine submission does not ignore its own desires, but recognizes that happiness does not depend on them.  When it says, “It’s your decision,” it means it, no strings attached, because it acknowledges that our spouses have legitimate desires too and that their perspectives bring important wisdom to the table.

Putting this lesson into practice requires brutal honesty.  It requires that in any decision-making interaction we women must examine whether our goal is to get what we want or to offer up our perspective and then genuinely submit our wills to the rule of our God expressed in the leadership of our husbands.  Granted, sometimes we really do want what we want and will feel a host of negative emotions if we don’t get our way.  But that’s what prayer is for. Ask the Lord to re-order your heart’s priorities and make you ready for godliness in your interactions with your husband.

Genuine submission also requires that we refuse to feel bitterness. Yes, husbands can make decisions that have negative impacts on their wives. But our lives are ultimately not governed by our husbands – they are governed by our God, who is more than able to provide us with the grace and joy to navigate through any tactical blunder on our husband’s parts.

Of course, let’s remember that God has provided his own three-person self as the perfect model of submission. Imagine if Christ meant that prayer, “Not my will but yours be done,” to mean, “Sure, your will be done, but if you really do force me to do this I’m going to be very unhappy.” We’d have a bitter, angry savior!

No, Christ submitted his own will completely and freely to that of the Father and just think, how blessed we all are as a result!


Jacky has been a wife for over a decade and is now also the mother of two baby girls. She worked for 7 years in two different classical Christian schools, first teaching in the elementary grades and then shifting to upper school literature and logic, before retiring to take up motherhood full time. She is passionate about Christ and bringing His Truth to bear on our lives, especially in the context of Christian marriage and family. You can read more of Jacky’s work at her blog.

  • Thank you for these important insights, Jacky. Blessings to you!

    • Jacky Hicks

      Thanks, Tami!! And to you 🙂

  • Ernest Damalie

    This is so great! Thanks for sharing this! In light of your submission, I believe genuine submission should go the same way as an approach on the part of the man or husband. The scriptures that really point to wives submitting to their husbands actually preceded with a reciprocity relationship of submission to each other. Then the ultimate instruction to wives. I trust when husbands have this principle at heart, we can easily kill our ego, uphold the bond of unity to make our homes a delight for living. Blessings!

    • Jacky Hicks

      Ernest, thank you for commenting! I completely agree that there is reciprocity in a relationship. Husbands are equally responsible before the Lord to not force their own way (they don’t tend to use manipulation if they’re in the driver’s seat, but all the more important for them not to abuse their position!) I do personally hold that a wife’s submission to a husband is different in kind than the idea of “submitting to one another,” but I believe that a husband submitting to the Lord will end up meaning that he often gives up his own desires for the sake of love and unity with his spouse (just like his wife should be doing!). So, love rules, in other words, and everybody wins.

Copyright © 2014 Start Marriage Right. Disclaimer