The Key to Successful Marriages: Submissive Wives?

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Marriage isn’t easy. And there are a million books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble telling us that marriage is easier if we recognize that men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and we need to be multilingual in love languages

We also know that celebrities are really good at using their fame to share their own life stories, including the trials and tribulations of marriage. They write books about their personal brink-of-divorce revelations and the wisdom they reached on the other side. Whether or not those stories provide tips that are actually based in any sort of clinically proven theory practiced by marriage counselors doesn’t seem to make a difference.

One such book has recently popped up in the news, mainly for a particular comment made by the author. In her book “My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper,” volleyball star and model Gabrielle Reece shares the marital challenges she faced with her husband, professional surfer Laird Hamilton, and how they were able to work their way back to each other after filing for divorce. She believes that her marriage improved in part due to the fact that she and her husband adopted more traditional gender roles.

So what is Reece saying that’s causing so much buzz?

To be truly feminine means being soft and receptive and look out, here it comes, submissive.

Submissive. That’s not exactly a word I would use to describe the role I expect to play in my marriage. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership, and I’m not so sure how a partnership can be successful when one half of that duo is submissive.

In an interview with Natalie Morales on the Today show, Reece claims that being submissive in a marriage is a sign of power, not weakness. My first instinct when I read this was, wow, everything about the word submissive implies a relinquishing of power. How is that good for a marriage when a wife is being “unresistingly or humbly obedient” to her husband? Shouldn’t man and wife have equal footing? Why should either partner have power in a relationship?

Watching the actual interview gave me a better idea of what she was trying to get across, but I’m still not sure I’m completely on board with her theory.

“I think the idea of living with a partner is ‘How can I make their life better?’” Reece said. “So if I’m the woman and he’s the man, then yes, that’s the dynamic. I’m willing and I choose to serve my family and my husband because it creates a dynamic where he is then in fact acting more like a man and masculine and treating me the way I want to be treated.”

Okay, I’ll buy into that reasoning. Don’t we all want to help make our spouses’ lives better? And don’t we want that in return? But does that necessarily mean that women have to be the ones to be submissive and serve their husbands before they can get their needs met?

Maybe it all boils down to the fact that marriage is about figuring out your spouse’s wants and needs and trying to fulfill them. Maybe Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton realized how they best compliment each other, and they’re both cool with the roles they’ve created in their marriage, including the submissive wife and the husband who communicates “through food and through sex.”

That clearly works for her. Would that work for you? What do you think of Reece’s statement about being submissive?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at Military.com, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.

31 Comments on "The Key to Successful Marriages: Submissive Wives?"

  1. My husband and I always consider ourselves equals and partners.One of the readings from our wedding even stressed that Eve came from Adam's side, they should walk together, not one in front and the other behind… and we have stayed true to that. Even when I was unemployed due to our PCS our marriage was never on uneven footing and I love him for that. We try our hardest to be a team, not stereotypical gender roles. If that works for you, great, no one can determine what works for every marriage, but I am grateful to be in a partnership!

  2. Dear Heather – You have forgotten who invented Marriage, and what He said the purpose was. It was NOT so that people can "have their needs met", or so that they can form a "partnerships". In fact, you can do that all you want without ever getting married can’t you?
    Marriage, by Gods design, includes much more than labor sharing, mutual pleasure, etc. According to God’s definition, self sacrifice and submission are key elements. It is a Covenant – two unilateral unconditional promises (I will, regardless of your actions, for better or for worse), not a bilateral conditional contract (as long as you do X, I'll do Y).
    What’s more, Marriage is not about you, or your spouse – it is a model of how Heaven works. Christ loves the Church (the Bride of Christ) and gave Himself fully for her. The Church loves Christ (The Head of the Church) and submits fully to His leadership. (Ephesians, Chapter 5.) A marriage without submission is not a “marriage” at all – it’s a misnomer (like a sandwich without bread).

  3. Admittedly, most husbands don’t model Christ (laying down their lives for their wives) very well, which makes it that much harder for wives to model the Church (submitting fully to their husbands). But our failure to follow His model does not mean that the model is broken. WE are broken. Marriage is the most idealistic, noble thing most of us will ever attempt in our lifetimes. It is HARD! It will break you before it rebuilds you. If you’re not ready for “submission”, forget it. Stick with “partnerships”, “mutual agreements”, “arrangements”, and “civil unions”.
    Next time, before you start writing about what Marriage “should be”, please do a little home work. Feel free to ask whether submission is a necessary element for successful “partnerships”. But the question of whether it is a necessary element for successful “Marriage” was settled long before either of us was born, by the author Himself.

  4. sabrinacking | April 16, 2013 at 10:22 am |

    Ephesians 5:21 is left out here….it starts: Submit fully TO ONE ANOTHER. Men love to leave that part out. Marriage is about symbiosis, partnership, yin/yang. Truth, as a Catholic I have often questioned whether soldiers could have an Ephesians marriage at all…being submitted fully to the military before all other things. As a Catholic wife, I often feel I make do with what I can get from my Catholic husband soldier…that is the truth. Ephesians marriage in the Bible is about two people being fully devoted, before all else, to God and their family…it's hardly a reality for military couples but in lip service. Yes our husbands can philosophically be Ephesians husbands…but really we all know the military is the only thing that comes before all other things, and the only thing they can fully submit to.

  5. Lots of people get hung up on the specific words for this. I finally found a more modern language to describe this to my single friends: my marriage seems to work because both my husband and I realize and treat each other with the understanding that I am his lover, not his mother.

  6. sabrinacking | April 16, 2013 at 10:34 am |

    Cont'd
    The Ephesian man is to devote his entire life to his family and mutual sharing of the burdens of marriage. He is to not just cherish but teach and be a 100% partner to his wife. I got an A+ in Old and New Testament at a Catholic University…we can argue this all day. Does this sound like military reality to you? Yeah right. We can all have philosophical cores, but let's be REAL here….no service member is an Ephesians husband, any more than any service members wife is an Ephesians wife. It is an antiquated idea that has virtually no bearing on our military lives. Submissive wives in the military are the ones driving us crazy as FRG leaders. They are the one's calling me 20 times a day because they need continual guidance and reassurance. Military life requires partnership. Partnership requires present day reality, not a Biblical anecdote.

  7. I am a Christian, so let me begin by saying that, lest I be attacked for not being a Christian. (Do not judge lest ye be judged, may I remind all of us Christains!) In that same vein, I am almost certain Heather did not mean for this to BE a religious conversation. This article is based on an interview about being submissive. I read both the article and saw the interview that Ms. Reece gave, and at no time did she mention religion either. Yes, this is Christian language, and for those of you attacking Heather for taking on this subject, you are only proving the point that this is a topic of discussion that military families find troublesome. If I am condemned by other Christians for not being submissive to my husband, how does that make me feel within my own Christian population?

  8. CONT from Holly G Again, however, I thankfully belong to a Christian popultaion that does not call out others for not living as they do. I live in a world where we LIFT those up in love and prayer, without judgement! Jesus, I am sure does not want His words to be used to judge others, and sadly, some of you, claiming to be Christians have spent a lot of your time doing just that. (Just food for thought) That being said, I have to agree with the comment from sabrinacking. Military life does not lend itself to being a "submissive" wife.

  9. Cont from Holly G How can I be submissive when I do not see my husband for months and months at a time? How can I ask my husband what he would like me to do in any given situation, when we may go weeks without any type of communication? Should I curl up in the fetal position and wait for him to give me direction? No, that is not a reality that I live in, and as a mother with two young children, I have to be a strong woman who makes decision based on my reality. As a Christian, who loves and supports his wife, my husband sees me and respects me as his partner, and as a Christian I respect and honor my husband in the choices that we make TOGETHER for our family! We have been married 26 years and this has worked beautifully for our family! We love one another, we love our children and we honor and love those around us, which truly, I believe is the message of Jesus…however, AGAIN, NOT the message of this article…stop judging the author..this is not a Christian discussion, this is a military-marriage discussion….on a military site…about military families…read by military spouses….about military marriages.

  10. Interesting how so many Christians act and talk as if they invented marriage and therefore have all the proprietary rights to define it for others. The article did not even mention religion: it discusses gender roles, which historically transcend and predate religious definitions of marriage. And yet most of the posts hijack the discussion to go on about the poster's particular religiously defined opinions on the subject. Marital feminine submission is only present in relationships where there is violence, real or implied violence, or the likely potential for it.

  11. Japan Sounds nice... | April 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm |

    Back to the subject… I think in order to have a successful military you must not only practice submissiveness you must also be comfortable with it. Which is hard for people with a independent mentality. I hear often home is where HE places his boots, you change your schedule to accommodate his, he can't do that because lets face it even though he married to you the military comes first.

  12. jeffriesboys | April 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm |

    I practice this in my own marriage, but we approach our marriage with a definite Christian worldview. I can see if you don't approach life with this view point how this would be a challenge to understand. Yet, I still agree it is a place of power. Christ calls us to all to be willing to lay down our life for our brother. How much more does that apply to our marriage. I find it somewhat amusing how people get all bent out of shape when they talk about submission in marriage, yet it is present in every other aspect of our lives and no one thinks anything of it. At work, at school, growing up. Even in friendships. If you have a friend for any length of time, there has been an instance where you have done what your friend wanted, even if it wasn't particularly what you wanted to do because it made them happy. Same thing. When big decisions come up and we can not agree (which rarely happens), I submit, I agree to go along with my husband's wishes and if it turns out poorly, then it is his responsibility. I disagree with gunergoz above me that marriage predates religion. How do you know that? Where do you see that. I would argue that since God and religion have existed since the beginning of time, there is no way to prove that marriage predates religion. But, hey, there is free will. God gave you the right to be wrong, so who am I to take that away from you?

  13. We received good advice before we married. We were told, "Marriage isn't 50/50. It's going to be 60/40, 80/20, 90/10. Someone is always going to be giving more; and the other will be taking. So long as the same partner isn't always doing the giving, it'll work." We were told, "If both of you are always trying to do what's best for the other, you'll always have someone watching your back." I do think the word "submissive" gets a negative rap. If it were replaced with "supportive" or "uplifting", maybe people wouldn't have such trouble with it?

  14. one that cowers in the presence of her spouse?
    Not in my world
    Marriage is not based on someone dictating and demanding but in
    a partnership…………..

  15. conradswims | April 16, 2013 at 6:04 pm |

    Not since Adam and Eve!

  16. My wife and I have been married for…let's see…26 years now. Through it all there have been ups and downs, disagreements, fights, and the inevitable make up in the end. She is quite bossy, but I have finally figured out that when I listen to her, life goes happily along. She does her routine, keeps the house running smoothly, and I bring home the paycheck. We have our roles well defined by now. I fix what needs to be fixed when it breaks, and she does almost all the housework. After the deployments and the long absences, she is still hanging in there with me some how. The point is, she has her place in being the boss, and I have mine. We both submit, we both are the boss.

  17. priceisright | April 16, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  18. It appears that it should be very obvious at this point in this post. Submissiveness in a relationship by either the husband or the wife is dependent upon ones own person beliefs whether they be from a religious background or from a non-religious yet loving caring background. I feel the need to point out the obvious here in saying that ALL of us can see the broken military marriages that are happening and dare I say that many of them are from one person not being submissive in some way. Whether Christian, non-christian, a good person or a bad person. All of us in these military marriages male or female need to be submissive to our mate at some point …IF WE TRULY LOVE THEM. Christians do this from the example Jesus gave to them. Even tho the people did not deserve or at times even want His love and treated Him unjust, He loved them anyway. The same could be said of a non-christian that is just a really good person. they love their mate with all their heart and many times that mate does not deserve that love at all but the other continues in love. We do things for our spouses because we love them. Sometimes that means NOT doing things (Being submissive) Because we love them. The Bible does show ALL types of Biblical help and guidance on marriage . It goes so far to even say God hates divorce. So, the people saying the Bible has nothing to do with it might want to pick it up and read it all before bashing it. But if you have not read it and want to do this marriage thing on your own, it may help you and your mate by getting all the help you can to achieve a happy , united , mutual loving relationship that will require us all to become submissive… Not just the Wife. And many times, even tho you may always be submissive and be the loving, caring one, the other mate may never be that way. The Christians will continue to love their mate and serve them just as Jesus did towards the sinners. He LOVED them yet did not let them walk all over Him. He did things out of love and non-selfish actions. Many non-Christians will do this as well when they act the same way. The problems comes when ONE spouse becomes selfish and does things not out of love any longer and only looks out for themselves. That is typically when people just walk away from the marriage. Christian or non.

  19. I suppose it depends on the individuals in a relationship, but in my case the answer is no. What drew my husband to me was my independence, intelligence, strength and ability to challenge him. Maybe because in his job he was surrounded by people who complied with his every order and didn't question his authority, so he welcomed those things in his personal life.

    In Gabby's case, it seems she's grasping at straws, and I'll bet her marriage doesn't last. Being submissive (or dominant) is a personality trait. It's who you are as a person, which cannot (and should not) be changed. It's one thing to do nice things for your spouse to show them you care; it's entirely different to change who you are in a desperate attempt to hold onto someone with whom you're not truly compatible.

  20. It seems odd all this opposition to leadership in a marriage and all the disdain for willing submissiveness. Just a thought regarding Military families – proper chain of command, submission to the role you are placed in, performing duties assigned you for the success of the whole unit and their mission… That is what we do… God, in His wisdom has His order and assignments for our lives and families as well. If those behaviors create a working successful body of service members, how much more the all important family unit?? Remember, if those in leadership positions have no one who allows them to lead and no one who cooperates in their vital roles, they can not lead. It takes all involved to know their important role and stay within that role so that the whole unit functions to maximum success… Think about it.

  21. Injecting a note of frivolity here….

    All the Coastie Chicks have decided the military is the wife and we are the mistress.

  22. Susiehomaker | April 18, 2013 at 5:57 am |

    I have no problem submitting to my husband although I am a strong opinionated woman he values my opinion and I can trust that he takes my thoughts and feelings into consideration before making the final decision in situations requiring it. The problem a lot of women have with submission is a lack of trust for their spouse or having a spouse who is untrustworthy I feel.

  23. A military Marriage is extremely difficult It is more so than any other profession. More than police or fireman. The military marriage has a year of more deployments, 30,45 or 90 day TDY, and most of the time it is in hostile areas. Whom ever is left behind loses that support system marriage is suppose bring. If you are the one who is constantly deployed, it is unrealistic to expect to come home and interrupt what your spouse has going on. A military marriage only works if both of you are willing to adjust to the ways of the military.

  24. ETCM(SS) (Ret) | April 18, 2013 at 9:51 am |

    She missed the mark. It's a bit more complicated. Being submissive i one area does not require being submissive in another area. A good marriage is give and take, with husband and wife exploiting the strengths they each have, and minimizing their own weaknesses. My wife and I have been married for 37 years, 24 of them on active duty, in the submarine service, where divorce rates are especially high. When we were young, we adopted fairly traditional "roles, " which meant I was the dominant decision maker within the household. Over time, and as our family grew, the fallacy of this arrangement became obvious. I was frequently deployed for long sea patrols, with no contact to the outside world. My wife had to do everything at home, make all decisions, handle all the finances, and so on. Whenever I'd come home, I'd try to slip right in, picking up where I'd left off months before, which to me, seemed natural, as my memories of home were completely intact from months earlier, with no changes accounted for. Of course, that was silly. Everything had changed. The cycle led to repressed anger, resentment and frustration, which finally boiled over one day, when I was exerting my manliness as the head of the household, with my wife's quip, "You just visit. We actually live here." I was thunderstruck, and after considering her statement at length, I realized the need, for both of us, for me to subordinate my control in most matters domestic. It was difficult, as she often did things, or made decisions, that I didn't agree with, but I bit my tongue, and let her run her house. It worked. Our children have all grown into fine, well adjusted, responsible adults, all well educated and gainfully employed. After retirement, my wife gradually abdicated much of her domestic dominance to me. She never really liked handling the bills, anyway. She just needed to do it for continuity, so things wouldn't fall apart when I would be gone for months on end. Today, we share most decisions, and are as happy together as we've ever been.

    In my case, it was necessary for me, the husband, to become more submissive, to ensure a long and healthy marriage.

  25. Robert Burkholder | April 18, 2013 at 11:54 am |

    The Sacred Writ (see Roger Sherman Sept.25,1789-as cited America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations ,Wm. J. Federer Ed. p.163 n.196. clearly addresses the role of the husband and of his wife in"marriage" he "progressive" the unbeliever kicks against the prick but the facts remain factual. The wife is to submit to her husband –and he is likewise to submit to her. As with Christ and the church.In everything? No! that is Not what scripture says. But the unbeliever—the world cannot understand this.(see John 3: 5-21)The controversy is Only stirred up by those stiff necked and rebellious children.

  26. I think, simply put, most people just don't take the time to truly understand what the Bible says about gender roles in marriage. The Bible is clear, wives are to submit to their husbands. But, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the a church and died for the church. My father in law always explains that a husband should lead in a way where the wife wants to follow. That takes time for both partners to learn. I am still learning. One of my most favorite quotes is from the book Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney when she writes, "Submission, in its simplest form, is trust in God." another GREAT book that helps explain what the Bible says about gender roles is God, Marriage, and Family. But the fact remains that God knows best and He decided how marriage should be set up, not us. And I am thankful for a his wisdom and guidance and protection.

  27. What I think is interesting, is that one can leave out Christianity and still have marriage. Marriage is as one poster put it, a covenant. If you are not interested in the Christian view then you are not interested in marriage, period. Go about your life and live with whom you like, but don't call it marriage. Marriage is designed by GOD whether one likes it or not, believes it or not. Truth is just that regardless of how you feel about it. If you do not believe in GOD then go about your life without trying to change his precepts.

  28. This article has good points, bad points, and uncovered points. Take for example a Marine: he's out because of a service-connected injury. Has a wife plus one child. While the wife could be submissive: it is disadvantageous to be such. This is the real thing in a marriage: it is not a union of un-equals (read: complementary contradictions). Any really significant disparity before the marriage will end the marriage. Marriage is a union of two individuals of opposing genders making workable a future for a next generation. The Marine: yeah, he is down, but not completely out. Wife: she can step up to the plate and make a hit or two.

  29. The Bible says marriage is based around self sacrifice and submission… and so many people tack on such a negative connotation to those words! but when you think about it, when you love someone, you are naturally submissive. you put dinner on the table for your husband simply because you love him and he deserves to come home to a nice meal, even though that may require some 'sacrifice' because you have to take some time out of your day to make those arrangements. same if he did laundry because you were really stressed out from work, he sure as heck didn't want to do laundry, no one does… but he loves you! marriage is work and if you don't sacrifice a piece of yourself every day, it's like anything else, you'll be disappointed in the results!

  30. rockstardom17 | August 16, 2014 at 4:06 am |

    Submissiveness doesn't necessarily apply to every day life. It applies to being humble–as man should be as well. Husbands don't automatically know the right answer; a lot of times, the wrong one. However, men are thee dominant gender. So it is in the bible, so it is in life. I had to nearly pick up my wife and carry her in the room tonight because she was drunk out of her mind (God bless her she was debilitatingly and angry the whole time–hard to combat that kind of anger and aggression) and walked out the door to go driving God knows where.

    We just recently went to church and learned about humility and she was displaying mass amounts of the opposite. In that state though, she does not comprehend what she does. Hey, I'm not perfect, I'm writing this drinking myself. However, I never NEVER, get like she does. She gets WASTED. Every time… I guess I need to destroy my good time really govern this family and make us healthy and really have a chance, cause right now, these things make me want a divorce. Just wanna go away and be by myself.

    I doubt this will post.

  31. This sounds like a small minded woman's way to get through life in a LAZY way! It's also SICK! Good grief, be your own person! Only weak women would do this, and those who need to grow up! How can you hope to have any self-respect if you act this way? Any who do this will have none of that, and I pity you.

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