Submission in a Catholic Marriage

wedding rings

In the first part of this series we learned what the Church teaches about marriage, then we talked about some things that make a good marriage, and then we shared some ways to love your spouse. In this final installment I want to talk a little about submission in marriage.

Submission nowadays seems to be a touchy subject, especially in our ultra-feminist, proud society. What submission means, particularly in marriage, is sorely misunderstood. When many people think of submission they often think of being some sort of doormat or subservient to their husband. But that’s NOT what submission is about.

This doormat mentality of submission partially comes from a misinterpretation of Ephesians 5:21-30, particularly verse 24: “Just as the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” That one line is encased within a whole lot of other verses that get ignored.

Look at verse 21, for example: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her…” How did Christ love the church? Completely. By suffering and dying a horrible death. (And by rising by His own power, too.) Our husbands are also called to love us like their own bodes, as it says in verse 28-30: “So husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church,” That’s how our husbands are to love us, and that’s a tall order our men have to fulfill!

Yes, our husbands are called to be the heads of our households, as it says in verse 23, but that doesn’t make them “lords’ or bosses” or make men better than women. Our roles in the home and church are different, but equally important. Both roles are essential for the building up and success of our households.

On a different, yet practical note, to keep order and harmony amongst a group of people someone has to “be in charge” or be the final decision maker. Think about it, there is a hierarchy in just about every setting. At work there is a chain of command, there is a hierarchy within the Church (even Protestant churches), there is even a hierarchy within the animal kingdom.

So, too, in the family there needs to someone who makes a final decision, especially when there is disagreement and a consensus can’t be reached. That doesn’t mean input is given and opinions aren’t expressed. Of course, they should be taken into account. That doesn’t mean that the husband has a right to be some sort of dictator. Absolutely not. And that doesn’t mean that as wives we have no authority. Of course we do.

Remember verse 21 above? We are called to be submissive to each other. Our men aren’t perfect anymore than we are. They have their strengths and we have ours. We use our strengths and weaknesses to complement one another. Where our husbands have their strengths we submit to them and where we have our strengths they can submit to us. How that plays out will be different in each family.

I can write more about this, but for the sake of brevity, I better stop. 🙂 Let me just say that, ultimately, submission is about love, mutual respect, and order. It’s about give and take, communication and helping one another to grow in their relationship with each other and more importantly, with the Lord – NOT about being some k ind of domestic slave or menial laborer.

What’s your take on the whole “submission issue”? I’d love for you to share your thoughts, comments and experience about submission.

(Linked to Saints and Scripture Sunday)


  1. I agree that’s it’s all about recognizing our own and our spouse’s strengths and weaknesses, and submitting to the one who is strongest in that particular area, be it finances, parenting, or just choosing what color to paint the bedroom. After 25 years of marriage I’ve learned that my husband really appreciates it when I ask for his input on a decision, and I certainly love it when he asks for mine 🙂
    Angie…recently posted…Sr. Angela Marie and The Madonna of the StreetsMy Profile

    • SimpleCatholic says

      Congratulation on 25 years of marriage! That’s awesome.

      Absolutely. Marriage is a partnership and it’s so important to give and receive input before making decisions.

  2. To me the heart of submission is listening to each other. That means having the skills to discuss things of importance with one another and arriving at solutions that fit the situation. Sometimes these Bible verses are used to shore of innate misogyny in some men – something that St. Paul and Jesus would have abhorred. We are meant to complete each other, be thoughtful of one another, anticipate one another’s needs, not to compete with each other. Good post.
    Barb…recently posted…Sunday Snippets – A Catholic CarnivalMy Profile

  3. I grew up in a very traditional family, hearing these verses quite a bit, so they actually don’t bother me. I do think you are right that they have to be taken in context; way too many Scripture verses get taken out of context and misinterpreted. When you look at the entire picture that Paul was painting, it’s actually a very beautiful picture of marriage.
    Bonnie Way…recently posted…Praying with GratitudeMy Profile

    • SimpleCatholic says

      So true, that. Taken in its proper context these verses are a wonderful picture of marriage and an ideal to strive for.

  4. I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading over the years about submission in marriage.

    I’m a Type A kind of girl, so it’s hard for me, since I’d like to dictate what kind of leader my husband should be in our family. That sort of one sided power struggle has been hard for me.

    I’d love for him to lead – to take charge, since I’ve been so used to doing that all my life — I’m TIRED of being the one ‘in control’ all the time.

    I’ve read through The Surrendered Wife (Protestant in background), and really liked it, but was frustrated trying to implement the changes in how I operate. Perhaps I should give it another whirl.

    Great job on tacking a touchy subject!
    Dianna…recently posted…Saints and Scripture Sunday: Making a ConfessionMy Profile

    • SimpleCatholic says

      I can understand that. I can be pretty bossy and think my way is better. It can be hard to trust and remember that my husband’s role as leader is God-given. I want him to lead, but I don’t always do a good job. Yikes.

      I’ve never head of “The surrendered Wife” but maybe I’ll check it out.

  5. Men are called to love their wives as their own bodies. When your body says “I’m tired” what do you do? We submit to our bodies, unless our brains tell us otherwise (like when my body is calling for that rich dessert I DON’T need). In short, IMO, if any couple couple sees “Who’s the boss” as anything other than fodder for a good-natured battle of the sexes at a party, their marriage needs help, period.
    RAnn…recently posted…Sunday Snippets–A Catholic CarnivalMy Profile

    • SimpleCatholic says

      Good point. Give and take is important, and so is forgiveness. Our husbands are human, so of course they aren’t going to live up to the ideal.

      Your “Who’s the Boss” comment is spot on. We – both men and women – have to not take things, and ourselves, too seriously. 🙂

  6. I always misunderstood this verse myself, but I don’t consider myself a feminist in the modern perspective, so the verse actually never bothered me! It always made sense to me that there is a particular order of a household and I embraced that idea.

    However, I’ve never known anything but love from my husband, so that probably helps! I can see how some men use this particular verse to dominate their wives.

    The verse for me was clarified while reading Christopher West’s book, “Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching.” There he made it very clear that the verse you mention is about reciprocal love. He also explained the real meaning of the wort submit. Very eye-opening!!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Leanne@ Life Happens When…recently posted…There You Will Find LoveMy Profile

    • SimpleCatholic says

      Yes, I too, have known nothing but love from my husband, so I guess it’s easier for me to understand those words in a positive way.

      Like many other scripture verses, this one can easily be used by some less-virtuous men for evil toward their wives.

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