Sunday, October 21, 2012

Submission: the secret to a happy marriage

I wanted to test the waters a bit on a next book topic (the former, The Other Side of Charity, will be published by Deseret Book sometime early next year - contract has been signed!) I am contemplating--one on submitting--and would love any commentary here from willing readers.

The book would be divided in half, the first section on submitting to the Lord's will, the second half on women submitting to husbands.  The latter half I anticipate being somewhat viscerally shocking, so before you storm out the door (or click "next"), allow me to explain my understanding of doctrine and its application here.

First, let me say that submission of wives to husbands will *not* work where husbands are abusive or exercise any kind of unrighteous dominion (see D&C 121:34-through the end), including and perhaps especially where they insist on submission.

Submission, if not required by husbands, then becomes a free gift of the wife.  She chooses to hear the counsel of her husband and to be obedient to it.  The righteous husband, feeling respected, then turns in love to his wife and asks what she thinks they should do.  It is my belief that this process is a secret to happy marriages and makes the husband and wife more equal than they would otherwise be.

I'm sure some readers' heads are spinning by that last paragraph.  I write this only because I have learned this lesson the hard way.  I include below an excerpt of the bit that I've written so far to explain my experience with *not* submitting to begin a discussion of how submission can work to bring greater happiness within marriage.  I would love feedback on this and the concept generally:

“I’m not comfortable moving to Philadelphia unless you move to Primrose Hill.”

My husband moved to London for me in 2009 so that I could complete a doctorate at Oxford.  Once my research changed focus during my masters at Oxford, I had, upon the encouragement of a former critic at the University of Pennsylvania, applied and been accepted to a doctoral program there.  I would be leaving in September to begin nine months of required residency in Philadelphia.  Now it was July and I wanted to move my husband to a more livable area of London so he could have better access to certain facilities while I was gone. 

I had much trepidation about forcing the issue, but I had prayed about it, and not only was I being honest with my feelings, I was convinced I was right.  Because my husband felt starting my doctorate now was important no matter what the cost to him personally, he moved.

Yet though I felt it the right thing to do, and we did it, the Spirit left almost instantly.  It was undeniable.  
As I labored under its loss—frantically moving things and husband cross-town—I began scrutinizing my actions for the cause of the Spirit’s departure.  Finally, I realized my error: I had done the right thing, but in the wrong way, and thus it became wrong. Quite wrong.

However sincere I was about my comfort levels in moving to Philadelphia sans husband, I could have communicated it in a softer way and without manipulation.  Instead, trusting in his unyieldingly noble character, I had manipulated my sweet husband into doing what I wanted.  Worse, I had broken promises I had made to obey the counsel of my husband in righteousness.  The Lord was not pleased with me, and I struggled for days and weeks to regain the Spirit and the Lord’s pleasure.

In my days of repentance after what I will call the "Moving Mistake," I was taught about my opportunity as a wife to submit to my husband.  Although I was familiar with the doctrine of submission to the Lord, the doctrine of submission in marriage was entirely new territory for me: I am not your typical Mormon housewife (although I don’t believe anyone truly is).  I married a bit later than the average 25-year-old LDS bride (that’s the national average, although in my home state of Utah it feels like the average is more like 19) at 29 after a mission, a law degree, and a career as an organizational entrepreneur.  Those near 30 years of singledom had made me quite independent and, dare I say, headstrong and opinionated.  I was and am used to planning and controlling my own life.  Tellingly, a friend had offered the toast at our wedding dinner, “to Lance who shares the pants!”

After five weeks of marriage, my sweet husband dropped me off at Cambridge University in England to start a summer program followed by a Masters at Oxford University.  Many visits and his miraculous move across the Atlantic ensued, but we did not begin living together full time in London until after a year plus of marriage.

In July of 2011, we had an additional year of living together full time under our belts.  You’d think I was a pro at the whole wife thing!  Yet I still had not learned one of the fundamental lessons of wifedom.  As I repented of my mistake—one that would cost him an hour plus in commuting time every day—the Spirit gently taught me what it meant for me to let my husband lead and be the patriarch of our little family. 

I am still learning these lessons as I write, but each time I submit to the Lord and my sweet husband (if husbands are righteous, this can be the same thing), it is difficult to describe the peace, joy, and charity that have distilled upon our marriage. The learning process has brought us closer together, to understand our covenants more fully, and to access and call upon ourselves the power and blessings of our Lord’s Atonement on a more consistent and powerful basis.


  1. i'm not sure. i know for me a lack of selfishness does not necessarily equate to submission. but i really appreciate you sharing your feelings.

  2. I think a roadblock with submissiveness is a real understanding and appreciation of priesthood power. It's that power that we allow to lead, both husband and wife. The husband has the obligation to "carry" that power and as long as he is respectful to it, he would never consider himself (a man) as the dominating force. So in a marriage we are both challenged to remain humble and obedient to God's power. It seems so simple yet so difficult to fit into modern standards...
    Good thought provoking post!

  3. If submission implies relinguishing all decision-making power in a relationship, I feel it's more harmful than helpful.
    Not only for the submiting spouse but for the one left with the full burden of decision-making and responsibility for the well-being of the marriage. I've been married for over 13 years, and we've had to make some of the hard choices you've made, ending in a long-distance relationship for over a year at one point. It's unfathomable for me to have left on his shoulders all the stress and worry of what it might do to us.
    I firmly believe a truly equal partnership is essential to our marriage.
    Also, while I understand the concept you're trying to communicate, I agree with Yvette Monston in that selflessness does not equal submission.
    On the other hand, you'll probably sell many more books with such an inflamatory initial presentation. Shock definitely sells.

  4. I would very much like to read such a book.

    I also think it's a problem with semantics. The word "submit/submission" has come to have such a negative connotation in modern American English, that it may not be the correct word to use any longer.