My Writing

Friday, April 22, 2016

To Love, Honor, and "Obey"?

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."

How 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?

See, 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, 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.

My 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 years.

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.

And 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.

Over 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.

Now 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.

From 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.

With 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.

In 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.

I'm 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.

It's 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. 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 him happy.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. Thank you for writing this. I understand the wilting desert of the soul. Building in the sanctuary of another's may not be a religious person in the doctrinal sense, but that line is very much the Jewish theology of marriage in some way. It's not just the command to be fruitful and multiply, but to nourish ones spouse physically, spiritually, emotionally, and sexually.