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What Does it Mean to Be a Submissive Wife?

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A submissive wife. Are you kidding me? You want me to be my husband’s slave? You want me to do everything he tells me to do and bow to him? I hear it all the time from women in online groups and forums. Whether it is assumed that the wife is to be a passive participant while her husband bosses her around or that she is to wait on him hand and foot while he does nothing and barks orders at her, it’s a common misconception. Being a submissive wife does NOT mean that you are your husband’s slave.

Have you ever wondered what the submissive woman means?

To better understand what it means to be a submissive wife, let’s take a closer look at the submissive meaning.

The word submissive is defined as: inclined or ready to submit or to put oneself under the authority of another.

Now, let’s take a look at what a submissive wife biblically means.

Bible.org says The Greek word Paul uses here in relation to submission is a military term meaning to put oneself in rank under another. God has ordained the principle of authority and submission in a number of different spheres: Citizens are to be subject to civil authorities (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1); slaves to their masters (Col. 3:22; Titus 2:9); church members to their leaders (1 Cor. 16:16; Titus 2:15; Heb. 13:17); children to their parents (Col. 3:20); and wives to their husbands (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1). Every time the New Testament speaks to the role of wives, the command is the same: “Be subject to your husband.”

image of couples hands praying over Bible for the post What Does it Mean to Be a Submissive Wife?

Notice that describes submit as to be subject to. It does not say to be a slave to. Biblically, the submissive meaning is to put yourself under the authority of your husband. In Ephesians 5:25, husbands are instructed to, “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” and in Ephesians 5:22, wife are told to, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord”

When a husband loves his wife as he loves the church and when women focus on their role to love and be subject to their husbands, according to scripture, marriage is loving, kind, and harmonious, not abusive or a slave-to-master relationship.

Submission is a voluntary action by the wife. It is a God-driven desire to please your husband and act under his authority, just as Christians are to act under the authority of the church.

While the husbands are to be the head of the household, the wife is not commanded to keep her mouth shut and never give her opinion on matters. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26 ESV) The wife can and should share her thoughts on important family and household topics with her husband, but she should do so in a way that is pleasing to God. How? Choose your words carefully. Don’t argue or try to prove your point just to be right.

In a biblical marriage, the wife is the helpmate of her husband. She should support him and give counsel. Ultimately, he is to make decisions based on sound biblical knowledge AND his wife’s wisdom and faithful instruction. The wife is to support her husband and back his decisions even when she doesn’t agree.

While the Bible instructs women to confront their husbands regarding their sin:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,

1 Peter 3:1 (ESV)

It does not say that women should be quiet and use only their actions. The key is HOW women use their words. True submission is demonstrated in both words and actions. Wives are to submit to their husbands as husbands are to submit to God. Submissive wives are not doormats!

To dive deeper into Ephesians on a level you haven’t before with Kneel Before the Throne, Exploring Ephesians.

cover of Exploring Ephesians Bible study

Often, I hear women lamenting that being submissive doesn’t work in today’s world or that the Bible was written thousands of years ago and that those same principles don’t make sense today. I say “nonsense”! While the division of labor in the home has changed drastically throughout history and varies from home to home and marriage to marriage, the Bible, and God, are unchanging. Husbands are still to be the authority in the home and act as the spiritual leader.

Submissiveness is not timidity. It is not servility. It is not subservience, it is not docility, it is not degrading, it is not a sign of weakness.

Submission is a sign of strength, not of weakness, and a greater degree of submission requires a greater degree of strength of personal character.

Being Submissive To Your Husband Means:

  • Supporting his decisions even when you don’t agree
  • Following his spiritual lead
  • Having a heart toward satisfying your husband

Being a submissive wife does not mean:

  • Being physically or emotionally abused
  • Being forced to do things that are illegal or immoral just because your husband told you to
  • Going against God’s wishes over that of your husband (For example, if a non-believing husband tells his wife that she cannot attend church)

How to be a Submissive Wife to Your Husband:

1. Serve Him First

Whether putting dinner on the table or putting his needs above the others in your family, serving him first, demonstrates to him and your children that your husband is the head of the household. It is showing your husband the respect that he deserves.

2. Make an Effort to Take Care of Yourself, Physically, Spiritually and Emotionally

Hey, I know that life is busy, but I also know that when you are not looking or feeling your best, you can’t give your best to your husband.

Get plenty of rest, spend time in God’s Word, and make an effort to look your best. I’m not saying that you need to be in makeup, a dress, and heels, every day. I’m just saying that when you make an effort to look and feel good for your husband, he will notice, and your marriage will reap the rewards. (See this post on Beauty is Fleeting).

What can you do to ensure that you are taking good care of yourself and making an effort for your husband?

3. Make His Home a Haven

When your husband comes home after work, does he come home to you and your kids, clamoring for his attention? Toys are strewn about the living room? Noise and chaos? Or does he come home to a smiling, welcoming family that is relatively neat?

Yes, your day may have been stressful, too, but I promise you that if you make an effort for your husband to come home to a calm home, it will give him time to “decompress,” and he will react accordingly.

Your husband has been pulled in all directions at work, when he comes home, his home should be a place of refuge and refreshment, not more stress.

Studies have shown, too, that a disorganized home can foster stress.

What does your husband come home to?

4. Listen, Pray, THEN Respond Lovingly

Many men find communication to be difficult. When your husband does talk to you (be it about the weather, his favorite sports team or an issue at work), listen to him. Don’t interrupt. Don’t give your advice. Just listen. Then ask God how you should reply.

Just having a sympathetic ear will foster comfort in your husband to communicate more often.

He may want your opinion, or he may just want to vent. Allow him to do that, safely. Then lovingly respond.

5. Give Your Opinion, but Accept His Decision

All marriages face decisions from which restaurant to dine at or major decisions like whether or not to relocate.

Calmly share your opinion on the matter, including your rationale for it, but ultimately, these decisions are your husband’s responsibility.

Allow him to understand your feelings, but when he makes a decision, respect his decision– even if, especially if, you don’t agree.

God has given him authority over your home and marriage for a reason. Respect him and respect God.

He may fail, but don’t use the old “I told you so”. Instead, support him and repeat the process (listen, share, pray, and accept).

6. Let Him Protect You

Men are natural warriors and protectors. Your husband wants to do that for you, too. Are you allowing him to?

God created men to be hunters, providers, generators/producers, fighters/warriors, and to achieve, succeed and win.

Are you letting him fight for you? Provide for you? Or are you, like me, a naturally strong woman and struggle with this?

I’m a get-it-done kinda woman. I see a need, I want to fill it. I see a wrong, I want to right it.

My husband, on the other hand, avoids conflict and is much more laid back than me.

When someone hurts us, I have to pray and ask God to help me let my husband lead and protect us and NOT take action, myself.

How do you do in this area?

7. Put Him Above Your Children in the Family Chain of Command (and Importance!)

There is no love like that of a mother for her child. I adore my children as I’m sure you adore yours. That is a beautiful thing. Until that love becomes an idol or displaces the role of a husband to a wife.

I know. I know. This may seem harsh, but bear with me for a moment.

We are going to address two biblical realities here. First, God designed marriage to be a three-cord strand, not a four, five, or six or more cord strand. In biblical marriage, God comes first, then our husbands and ourselves.

While we are to love and care for and nurture our children, we are not to place them before our husbands.

In 1 Peter 3, we read:

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,1 Peter 3 (ESV)

This means serving your husband his dinner first. It means buying his favorite snacks at the grocery store. It means respecting his needs and his wishes. It means choosing his wants over your children’s wants.

This practice not only pleases God as it is how He designed marriage, but it is modeling a good, God-honoring marriage for your children to see.

When we put our children first, they learn to be self-centered. They learn that, even though the Bible says that the husband should be the wife’s first priority, Mom doesn’t put much stock in that.

I encourage you to pray and ask God to shine a light on any area of your marriage and motherhood that is not pleasing to Him. It may be uncomfortable, but it is only through discomfort that we can grow and live a life that honors God.

8. Let Him Be Your Champion and Warrior

This is related to allowing him to protect you, but it goes much further. I look to my husband as my warrior, my hero. He comes right after God on my list of priorities.

In movies, the champion is adored. People seek him out for advice, action, and protection. I seek my husband out the same way. He is my champion and my best friend.

Is your husband your champion and warrior? Do you put him first? Or is he just another mouth to feed and a pile of laundry to wash?

Respect him in his role of champion and warrior. Your marriage will be blessed for it.

Apply the Biblical Principles of a Submissive Wife to Your Marriage

Grab the download “30 Ways to Submit to Your Husband Each Day of Your Marriage” (from my course The God Centered Marriage) and then complete the 10 Ways to Submit to My Husband.

30 Ways to Submit to Your

HUSBAND

WAYS TO COMMIT TO YOUR SPOUSE

10

PLUS

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submissive wife printables

Prayerfully answer the following questions below.

  • Do you agree or disagree with the above about being a submissive wife? Why or why not?
  • Do you consider yourself a submissive wife?
  • What does being a submissive wife mean to you in the context of biblical instruction?
  • Is there an area of your marriage that you struggle with terms of being a submissive wife?
  • What can you do to change that?
  • What is God telling you about submission?

Prayer for the Submissive Wife

Dear Lord, please help me to understand what it means to submit, to You, Lord, and to my husband. The world tells us that submission is a bad thing. In a day where Your ways are not accepted, please help me to remain strong and live as the wife You created me to be. Show me what it means to submit to my husband in marriage.

Help me to remain humble and gentle. Please help us to submit our hearts to you, Lord. Thank You for the gift of Your grace that lives in me so I can live as You’ve called me to live. Your Word says that I’m to submit to my husband as to You (Ephesians 5:22). I need your help with that, Father.

Shield me from others who say that it is weak to submit. Remind me that submission is strength and that I need Your help to live that way. Please give me the grace to face adversity and help me to look to You when I am faced with the opinions of others in this matter.

Father God, help me to use words that build up and not tear down and to be a positive, godly influence in my husband’s life. Remind me, though, that I am to submit and not battle him. Allow me to see the beauty in submission and following what You say about marriage.

Heavenly Father, help us to keep our eyes fixed on You and to always place You at the center of our marriage.

Amen.

Do you agree or disagree with the above about being a submissive wife? Do you consider yourself a submissive wife? What questions do you have about being a submissive wife?

In the comments below, share what that means to you in the context of biblical instruction. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Here are my recommendations for books on the subject if you would like to learn more about being a biblically submissive wife:

Submission Is Not Silence Paperback by Elisabeth Julin

The Submissive Wife: Breaking the Strong Arm of Jezebel Paperback by Tiffany Buckner

Or listen to them on Audible Plus with a free trial!

You may also enjoy this brief video by Pursue God:

In His perfect love and my imperfect love,

Sue

To read about what it means to be a Proverbs 31 woman in today’s world, check out the post HERE

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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Lue

Monday 27th of May 2024

I want and try to be a submission wife. My husband does believe. However,in my relationship with my husband even the most simple submission turns into a frustration for me. Example eating out. Him: where would you like to go for dinner?Me: this place or that one. Him: which one do you want? (I like both of them equal) . I want him to decide but the control always comes back to me. How can the be changed or how can my heart heal knowing that I am not with a man who does not respect a woman being submissive to him?

Susan Nelson

Sunday 9th of June 2024

Hi Lue - my husband does the same thing. It is fine not to consider this submission - he is giving you control in this area, which truly is an act of submission. I would worry more about submission in the big things - big purchases, moving, which church to attend, etc. My husband is also a believer but has difficulty, at times, accepting my being submissive to him.Pray for him and pray for your own submission. I'll be praying for both of you. God bless you, sister!

Amee

Tuesday 20th of February 2024

When you choose to make yourself feel good? Sometimes that is NOT a choice. I don't choose chronic pain over making myself feel good for my husband. The rest of the article may have been great but I couldn't get past this statement.

Ashley

Saturday 7th of January 2023

I'm pleased to find your description and ideas about what it means to be a submissive wife. The Google search results were disheartening as the overarching view seems to be that submissiveness is equivalent to a woman who enables an abusive husband. This is so wrong. Like you've described, a woman can be strong in herself, still able to discern a loving relationship from an abusive one.. AND be submissive, fully committed and supportive to her husband. Thanks again for your thoughts.

Susan Nelson

Monday 9th of January 2023

I’m so glad to hear that my post blessed you! thank you for stopping by and have a blessed day! God bless you!

Lee Woodward

Friday 4th of November 2022

This is the stupidest, most backward thing I've ever heard.

I am more educated than my husband. I have a much higher paying and more prestigious job. I work longer hours and my job is much more stressful. In our marriage, we are equal partners in everything. Full stop.

"Make his house a haven" - oh, please...

Susan Nelson

Friday 4th of November 2022

Income, prestige, education, hours worked, etc., have zero to do with being a submissive wife. I am in the same situation as you with my husband but biblically my husband is the head of the home. We are equal partners, as well. Submission is not downgrading IF you are viewing it biblically. If you are a believer, I recommend you read what the Bible says about submission and perhaps, you will see that it is a blessing. God bless you.

Ashleigh Dutton

Wednesday 23rd of March 2022

I wanted to know how working women that are the provider bc their husband is hurt or etc are suppose to be submissive in the relationship

Susan Nelson

Thursday 24th of March 2022

Hi, Ashleigh - thanks for writing. You can still be submissive by words and deeds. Deferring to him, serving him first, etc., as mentioned in the post. Working or not, we can still find ways to be submissive. I'll keep you in prayer, sister!

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