Many women struggle with following the leadership of their husbands because their men seem to be controlling, manipulative, or inconsiderate. When is it proper to submit to such “leadership” and when is it appropriate to respectfully draw a boundary?
Well, according to the Bible, a godly husband will love his wife in a selfless way (Ephesians 5:25) and will treat his wife with consideration and respect (1 Peter 3:7). These verses give us a pretty clear picture of what a godly husband looks like. As a result, it seems pretty clear that a controlling husband, one who bullies or intimidates his wife and children, is NOT behaving in the way that God intended.
I believe a wife can respectfully confront a husband who is trying to control, intimidate, bully, or manipulate her. She may need to lovingly, but firmly, establish boundaries on what she will tolerate. This might mean simply walking away when he begins to start bullying or controlling. If he continues to follow you, it could mean even leaving the home for awhile. I would add that it would be very wise to consult with other godly women, a pastor, or a counselor before moving forward in establishing boundaries. It’s always best to make sure that you are evaluating the situation clearly.
I don’t claim to be the authority on the Bible’s instruction for wives to submit to their husbands, but after spending considerable time studying God’s Word, here’s what I have come to believe on this controversial subject. God definitely plans for all of us to live under authority. I would imagine He knows this prevents chaos from breaking loose! So, in a family unit, God has placed the man as the authority, and the wife and children are under his authority. If we used a business analogy, it’s rather like your husband is the general manager who must make the major decisions on the policy and ground rules for how the business will operate.
So what does this look like for a wife? This means choosing to treat your husband respectfully and allowing your husband to lead you and your family. Instead of you jumping into to take over leadership, and instead of you deciding how everything should go, you allow your husband to lead. However, just as in a business, a wise husband will value the input and sage counsel of the wife who is usually more intimately involved with handling family matters each day.
Now, where “submitting” to your husband can go haywire is when the husband veers off course morally or Biblically. When the husband starts leading the family (or requesting the family) to engage or support wrong behavior, then the wife need not submit to such decisions. Her first allegiance is to God and His commands. God is the ultimate authority. I believe that is why the Bible includes a “qualifier” in one of the instructions for the wife to submit to her husband. It is found in Colossians 3:18, which says “the wife must submit to her husband, as is fitting in the Lord“. If your husband is asking you to do something that is not “fitting in the Lord”, I don’t believe you must submit to such leadership. I believe a wife can respectfully draw the line. In addition, it’s my belief, from studying all of God’s Word, that “submission” does not mean the wife must be a doormat who tolerates disrespectful or even abusive behavior by her husband. Such behavior by the husband is not “fitting in the Lord” either. Submission is not being a doormat.
Are you bewildered by the amount of time your husband spends surfing online to check out the latest, fastest motorcycles available, or talking about quitting his job to open a risky new business, or dreaming about buying a huge boat and sailing around the world? Apparently, you’re not alone! Many wives report being frustrated, bewildered, and maybe even scared about their husband’s “crazy” ideas to spend way too much money on a hobby or to take a gigantic risk on some new money-making adventure or wild life-style change. So, what’s a wife to do? Let me give you two thoughts:
1) Since a wife is to show respect to her husband (Ephesians 5:33), avoid the tendency to ridicule his plans, but instead come to him gently and with a true desire to understand how his idea would work. You can simply say, “Tell me more about your idea…” Then, you can ask gentle, respectful follow-up questions, such as, “How are you thinking we would handle the financial part of that idea?” or “Do you have some thoughts on how we would pay our mortgage while your new business is getting started?”
2) Also, ask your husband if he will take the matter to God in prayer to seek God’s guidance on his dreams and plans. By the way, it will be super helpful if you’re humble and ask your husband if he has any concerns about the way that you spend your free time or about the things you tend to focus on. When we are humble, our husbands are much more willing to accept input and gentle correction. Colossians 3:12 says “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
I often talk and write about how wives were created to be their husband’s helper, and while that’s true, I feel it’s necessary to make a clarification. Yes, a wife should help her husband by showing him respect, allowing him to lead the family, and assisting him as he seeks to follow God’s promptings in his life. However, that doesn’t mean a wife should give up her own individual identity in the process.
Submitting to your husband’s leadership does not mean that you become a doormat which has no value. Helping your husband does not mean you sacrifice doing the things that bring you great joy. Respecting your husband doesn’t mean he’s always right and you’re always wrong. If you go too far in that direction, you will become an empty shell. It’s as if your heart doesn’t matter. God doesn’t intend that for you. In fact, He says in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
Spend some time in prayer with God and ask Him to reveal if there are any areas of your life where you have lost your true identity. Have you stopped doing some things that bring you fully alive? Is it time to sit down with your husband and talk about how you can both live in a way that brings joy and fulfillment? Don’t allow yourself to disappear in the relationship.
Even though you may have accepted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you and I will still encounter trials and hardships in this life here on earth. They are inevitable. In fact Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33..”In this world you will have trouble.” Sometimes, the trouble is inside our marriage, and when that’s the case, we often find the need to practice great patience, endurance and “longsuffering”. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:2 that we should act “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love…” (KJV). Other translations use the word “patience” in the place of longsuffering.
However, the Bible doesn’t always advise us to just sit on our hands and settle into a long season of quiet endurance and longsuffering. Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17 that we’re supposed to confront someone who is sinning against us. We always need to be respectful and loving, yet he tells us to confront that person.
So yes, there is a place for patience and longsuffering in relationships. However, it occurs to me that perhaps the best time for longsuffering is when you’ve already confronted the person sinning against you and they are working to turn away from that pattern of sin. I guess my question to you is this: Have you lovingly and firmly confronted your husband if he is sinning against you or your children? Have you drawn clear boundaries on what you will accept and have you followed through with appropriate consequences when necessary? If you haven’t, then there’s a chance you are longsuffering outside of God’s will. Pray about it and see what God reveals.