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Submission in Marriage. What Does it Really Mean?

By:  Abigale Hassel 

As a modern woman and wife, I have struggled with the concept of submitting to my husband. As a young wife, I had an attitude of independence. I made it clear to my husband that he did not “own me” and I commanded respect. The funny thing was, he always respected me. I never needed to command that. As I matured, as I grew in my faith and as my husband and I worked through some relationship issues over the years, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. It was time for me to learn how to submit and surrender to my husband. I am not going to lie; I had difficulty. Truth be told, my husband still has difficulty with the concept, because he never thought of me as anything other than an equal. Moreover, there were times he looked to me to be the problem solver and to take the lead in certain situations. He never wanted to be the “head of the household”. He wanted the king and queen of the castle to have equal power, and we do. So now let us look at what submission means.

What submission is:

The Bible has much to say about submitting, both throughout the old and the new testaments. I am referencing the Bible simply to give a foundation of support for the concept of submitting and surrendering, which I will use interchangeably, within the marital relationship. I believe that even if you are not Jewish or Christian, you will still find value in this discussion, so I hope you continue reading. I hope that I will also show how submitting can therapeutically heal a marriage.

In the Old Testament, we are shown how to have a relationship with God and part of that relationship requires us to submit and surrender to His will for us. We trust and believe that He loves us and wants what is best for us. According to Friedman of Chabad.org, the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai was symbolic of a wedding day. It was a covenant made between God and His people. God instructed Moses to give these commandments to the people of Israel. He instructed us to have no other god, to honor His day of rest and keep it holy and so on. He also gave us free will, to choose whether we would submit or not. I do not know about all of you, but for me, inside His will is where I want to be and things have a way of working out when I am. When I resist and act too human, that is when things tend to go awry. That dynamic plays out in the couples I counsel. They fight against each other instead of accepting and working with each other’s roles and strengths. The Lord is committed to our wellbeing; He feels a responsibility to us, yet he allows us to choose whether or not we will surrender to Him. This is a very loving relationship. This is the type of relationship we should enjoy with our spouses.

Rebbetzin Twerski, from www.aish.com, says that with surrender, come both intimacy and responsibility. In Genesis 4:1, it says that “Adam knew his wife.” That knowing was not just a superficial understanding of his mate, but a deep spiritual connection. All throughout the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible), the marriage relationship is the focal point of the home. Husbands and wives are to put each other first, yes, even before the children. This is punctuated in Genesis 2:24 where it says that man is to leave his father and mother to be with his wife and they are to be one flesh. The marital relationship is the foundation on which the family is built. This relationship is strengthened with intimacy that is achieved through respect, love and surrender. We can only surrender when we feel love and respected by our spouse.

What submission is not:

Before I continue speaking about what submission in a marriage is, please allow me to explain what submission is not. This is extremely important, because a lot of good people erroneously apply this concept to their marriage and that can have terrible consequences. Submission is not abuse. Let me stress that you never have to stay in an abusive situation. That is not what God intended. Remember, the marital relationship is a mutually satisfying union in which each spouse has different, yet equally important roles. Spouses are to put each other first and have loving concern to meet each other’s needs. The one who has the authority is not to abuse that authority or lord it over the other. In short, love should never hurt! Submission is not the absence of responsibility; quite the contrary! Each spouse has a responsibility. Both contribute to the household decisions and both have a responsibility to make the other feel valued. Finally, submission is not yielding one’s personal power or self-worth. While it is true that both spouses need to let go of ego and self-centeredness, neither must let go of his or her sense of self or his or her sense of morality. Each can have an opinion, but the surrender comes not by giving up completely, but it comes from true love and concern for the other’s well-being, from a desire to maintain peace and harmony, in a spiritual sense, within the relationship, and it comes from the desire to honor one’s spouse.

What submission looks like:

Now that we understand what submission is and what it is not, let us now examine how wives should submit to their husbands and what responsibility husbands have to their wives. Let us look to the New Testament for some instruction and examples. Again, those of you who are not Christian may still find this valuable, or at least, interesting. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul gives examples of relationships in which submission is necessary. He basically says that one submits to another the way one would submit to God. He uses the marital relationship as an illustration of our relationship to God. He says in Ephesians 5:22, “wives submit to your husbands.” Again, he goes on to say that they are to do this as they submit to God. Submission is a loving act that tells the husband that he is trusted, respected and loved. We really could not submit if these elements were not in place. Just as I trust in God, just as I know He loves and cares for me and wants me to have joy, so does my husband. I trust him with my life. I know he respects me. I know he appreciates my contributions to our family. I know he would never take advantage of my love; therefore, I have learned to submit to him. Ultimately, I know he will never put himself or his desires before me, so submitting is my gift to him and a symbol of my trust in him.

Husbands have a big job. They are the head of the household. Do not misunderstand what this authority means. Husbands are to emulate God in this role. Let us go back to God and Moses for a second. Friedman explains that God “came down” from the mountain to meet the people. Although He was the ultimate authority, He made Himself vulnerable for His people, He presented His commandments and He sincerely hoped that the people would submit to Him, because He loved them and wanted what was best for them. He wanted them to trust Him. He showed us an example of humility in authority. Husbands, your position does not enable you to take advantage of your wives. Your authority, according to Miller, from www.todayschristianwoman.com, is meant to be used to serve your wives. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah loved the Messianic community and gave himself up on its behalf”. He wants you to lovingly serve and protect your wives and sacrifice so that she always has what she needs. In many respects, your task is much more challenging.

Benefits of submission:

Hopefully by now you are seeing the benefits of submission and/or surrender in a marriage. It is a loving act by wives to their husbands. It is a choice. As I have said in other posts, men need to feel respected in a relationship. When their wives submit to them, instead of resisting or challenging them, it shows a tremendous amount of respect. Women, on the other hand, primarily need to feel loved. When husbands choose to essentially lay down their lives daily for their wives to meet their needs, wives feel safe, secure and loved. Submission brings the type of intimacy into a marriage that both spouses desire. It is a spiritual and emotional bonding that reinforces the two are of one flesh. Submission frees both spouses from having to be right, from having to win, and from engaging in power struggles. It is mutual, in that, both spouses have responsibilities as one submits to the other. Both spouses benefit from this. Burdens are lifted when both spouses know their roles, their different yet equal roles. Submission is a practical way to ensure harmony in the home. Although the concept of submission is not something we readily see in today’s culture, it does not mean that it is outdated or irrelevant (Miller).

This was a lot to digest and I understand that for some of you, the concept of submission is a difficult one. You may not even be buying into it, but I have shown you all the myriad benefits submission provides. If we look at the divorce rate, which is about 50%, we can see that without a deeper understanding of what marriage entails, marriage is too easily devalued. Remember, marriage is not just a contract; it is a covenant. It is a spiritual and emotional promise that two will be forever joined. Perhaps it is time for society to start looking to ancient ideas of marriage so that marriage is considered to be a sacred union as it was intended to be. So wives, are you ready to submit to your husbands? That is the question. Good luck and God bless!




Friedman, M. (retrieved 2015, Dec. 8). Surrender and Responsibility: Virtues Essential to an Intimate Relationship. Retrieved from www.chabad.org.


Miller, K. A. (2008, Sept.). What’s So Scary About Submission? Retrieved from www.todayschristianwoman.com.


Twerski, F. (retrieved 2015, Dec. 8). A Jewish Wife: Practical Advice on what it Takes to Build a Jewish Home. Retrieved from www.aish.com

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Abigale Hassel

Abigale S. Hassel is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, and individual and couples counselor. MSW, LCSW, OSW-C.

**The advice provided represents the opinions of the author.  It is not to be considered therapy or professional advice of any kind.  If you require such advice, you should consult an appropriate professional.  Refer to the Marriage Rocks Website Terms and Conditions (link in page footer) for other applicable terms and conditions.**

Website: embracingthenow.com


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