I wrote our wedding vows. I researched and found examples and did everything I could to make sure they said just what we wanted them to say. Of course, we both also added our own little flair, but the main vows were simple and based on the traditional Irish and Celtic ceremonies of old. I even used the red ribbon used in handfasting ceremonies, the silver challis, and the concept of anam cara.
The one thing I avoided was the word "obey."
was I to know, as a young bride...a woman who had lived on her own
nearly 12 years...that submitting (something I'd railed against my whole
life) would be, not only necessary, but comforting?
I grew up in a military family. My parents had a "traditional"
marriage. Dad was a soldier from the minute he stepped off his high
school campus. And mom, well...mom was super young and naive and in
love. When they married, they were still "growing up." And they had
their own parents and grandparents as models of what marriage should be.
Unfortunately, that meant...unhappy - with dad "in charge" and mom
simply doing whatever she could to subvert his power behind his back.
They were guided by social norms and expectations, but no one ever
really taught them HOW to be married.
And they said their vows blindly.
husband and I did not. BUT...we also didn't realize just how much we
would influence each other or change (together and apart) over the
We've been married nearly ten years now, and a
lot has changed. We've loved each other fiercely, and lived up to our
vows in most ways. We've also disappointed one another, hurt each other,
and completely lost track of our initial promises to one another.
this many years later, I've come to realize the importance of that word
"obey." I'm not saying I'd put it in the vows, even now. I'm a pretty
strong, modern chick. I am not the wife of old. I do not stay at home
(both because I can't really afford to and because I choose to use my
intellect, training, and passion to do important things in the world
outside my home). My husband supports that, though I know, if I really
wanted to stay home, he'd do what he could to make that happen.
He wants me to be a strong, independent woman. And he respects the work I do. He likes that I can take care of myself.
But, he also loves taking care of me and feeling needed and important. I CAN live on my own. We both can.
However, we've chosen to join our lives. And because of this choice,
there are concessions and modifications that need to be made.
time, I've learned his deepest soul needs. The needs he tells no one
else...the needs that usually remain unspoken. I'm sad to say, that for
years, even though I knew them...I disregarded them, because I didn't
want to accept them or fulfill them. By ignoring them, though, I watched
him begin to wilt like an unwatered plant. And eventually, he nearly
dried up. That's how much he loved me. He was willing to go without, for
years, and deny himself. And I went for years blaming myself.
we're here. Just past an important cross-road. I had the choice to
maintain my righteousness and my independence. He'd have graciously
given it to me. But, I found that I could barely breathe without him. I
could not see my future without him in it. I didn't want to.
past experience, I knew that giving in and letting go of control could
feed his soul. I'd seen it happen. He truly becomes a different person
when I give him the reigns. (Notice the operative word: "give.") He
stands a little taller. His pupils dilate with power and
self-confidence. He rises to the position he's been offered. And,
honestly, I like it that way. He becomes the man I married...rising from
the ashes of the man I created through denial, guilt, and resentment.
It's not completely a situation of obeying. It's a situation of respect. I defer to him. I ask his opinion. I pay attention.
marital submission, it is not that the husband is more valuable or
important, it's simply that the wife has chosen to follow his
leadership. This benefits both partners. It gives both definable roles,
which allows them to feel safety and comfort because they know what is
expected of them. It's not about losing identity. It's about building it
in the sanctuary of another person's protection.
traditional Christian households, where submissive wives defer to the
leadership of their husbands, it is done because, according to their
religion, God has ordained that the man will be the head of the
household. Even if he's a bad leader, she is to accept this because her
submission to her husband is an extension of her submission to God.
These wives honor their husbands because God has asked them to do this.
not saying secular submission is better than religious submission. But,
secular submission is about the relationship between two people who had
chosen to respect particular roles. They have chosen, and they follow
their own design. They are not at the mercy of any deity and do not have
that deity to run to when things don't go smoothly. They only have each
other. That means, when things become uneven, they have to redesign or
modify together. One does not simply pray and hope that the other
will fall into line. One does not manipulate the other into compliance
through action or guilt or religion. One had nothing to fall back on
besides the agreement that was made between the two parties involved.
much more organic. For a religious submissive, I think it is probably a
comfort to know that she has no control. That she can place her faith
and heart in the hands of God and that He will lead and protect her and
help her to accept her husband for who he is...or isn't. She can pray.
She can find solace in her church. And she can encourage her husband to
do the same.
For a secular submissive, I think it is
just as much a comfort to know that she does have control. She has
placed her faith in herself and her husband. She can find solace in
their bond. And she can encourage her husband through words and
requests, as can he encourage her.
Basically...it comes down to this. No one rules over me
besides me. I am not a slave. I am not literally owned. I have chosen
to hand over control to a man whom I love and trust and need, because,
in doing so, I provide us both comfort and calm. Huge amounts of
responsibility for worldly things are taken off my shoulders when I let
go and let him lead. But with that comes responsibility to keep him
happy. I no longer have to worry about the world. I have only to worry
about the lives in my charge. It's quite a weight to brush off.
So...obey? Well, yes...because I want
to. I obey my heart and my love for him by doing what I know he wants
most. I do this because I want him to be happy. And by making him happy,
I make myself happy. It's a symbiotic submission really. And being the
Dominant in this equation requires a similar consideration. What he
does, he does because it is in my best interest, and because it makes
While this isn't an arrangement appropriate
for all marriages. It has and is working for us. Though we have yet to
fully define it and fine tune it - we are well on our way to doing so.
But then, marriage is journey, isn't it? And not all who wander are lost.