A Christian woman on making peace with the Bible's command that "the wife shall respect her husband"
10:20 pm. I emerged from the garage entrance to the house, setting down my computer bag and purse, and walked into the kitchen. Six hours earlier, the crock pot worked preparing a meal for the family while I left to teach my business communications training class downtown. Now it sat in the sink, filled with soapy water, soaking. Dirty dinner dishes lay on the counter. The pan with the cornbread sat uncovered on top of the stove. I heard snoring. I gazed across to the living room, where my husband lay on the couch, television playing in the background. Tears of exhaustion, anger, and hurt welled in my eyes.
I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and went to work cleaning up. With each dish, I grew more resentful. "How could he not see these?" I stewed. "I work all day, I prepare a home-made dinner for him and the kids before I go teach a class, and he can't even make sure the mess gets cleaned up," I fumed. The slamming of the dishwasher roused the sleeping husband. "I was going to get those before I went to bed," he mumbled, sensing my irritation. "Well, you already went to bed, didn't you?" I responded, wondering how long he'd been blessed with sleep, when both of us had been up since 5:00 am. "Here, let me help," he offered. "I'm nearly done now. I don't want your help," I lied. His brow furrowed. "Fine. Suit yourself. I'm going upstairs," he said.
I had no idea he really did plan on doing the dishes, but accidentally fell asleep on the couch because he, too, was exhausted. I didn't know that he had lovingly spent time with each of our kids, reading them stories before tucking them in and praying with them before bed. He went to bed that night feeling disrespected. I went to bed feeling unloved. Small interactions like this occurred often enough to create a growing chasm between us. These little conflicts went unresolved or were dealt with in unhealthy ways and resulted in a barren relationship on the road to destruction.
I grew up as a product of second-wave feminism, having learned from the media that men were oppressive, foolish, and incompetent. Perhaps as a result, I spent nearly the first decade of my own marriage "fighting for my rights" with my husband. I criticized him and bossed him around. It wasn't that he was such a bad guy, but rather I was trained to spot potential oppression and domination by the male gender. I took personally his lack of attention to detail around the home or with the baby. I made a practice of letting him know his failings on a regular basis, expecting his behavior to change.
My methods made him feel defensive, and damaged our relationship. I soon found myself in a marriage with a man who stopped sharing his thoughts and feelings with me.
Being a practicing Christian, I eventually ran across a Bible verse that at first angered me: Ephesians 5:33, "and the wife shall respect her husband." Another verse suggested I "submit" to my husband, and I had the same reaction. I couldn't believe God expected me to pay homage to a man who was, in my eyes, uninterested in working on our relationship.
A decade later, I can say that those two concepts--"respect" and "submission"--saved my marriage. And it wasn't because I became a doormat or no longer communicated my feelings. I learned that Biblical submission, boiled down, is basically "don't be a contentious competitor to him." After learning that, I argued with him less. I stopped rolling my eyes with disgust when he had something to say - even if I thought it was not such a great idea at the time. I started practicing the Bible verse which reads, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to become angry."
I started asking him questions about his life. I started being interested in him again as a person. I decided he was more important to me than whether or not a dish made it into the dishwasher or his socks were left on the floor. There were even a few things he did that could be considered big mistakes that just didn't seem to matter as much when I viewed him as a person of worth. I could forgive him - and I saw my own flawed nature clearly.