Mutual submission in marriage is like a dance floor. It is an open space where you have the freedom to move. It requires that the man and woman, each in a relationship with Christ as their Lord, come to each other not to take control but to serve. Each one asks, “How can I help you be successful? How can I express my love for you?” In this dance, the issue is not who takes the first step. It’s the beauty of the movement itself.

However, for the dance of marriage to be beautiful, God gives men and women different roles and movements. Those roles and movements have nothing to do with either partner being more important or whether the partners are equal. Rather, they have everything to do with function. The man’s role in the dance of marriage is as the one who leads.

The Bar Is High for This Role

For many men, it will take a lot of practice and retraining to step into leadership. But when you do, the woman in your life will feel loved, cherished, and completed.Click To Tweet

For many men, it will take a lot of practice and retraining to step into leadership. But when you do, the woman in your life will feel loved, cherished, and completed. You will enable your family to move in the right direction at the right time for the right reason. Your children will grow up thinking you are the greatest man in the world, and they will have a healthy self- image and strong moral values. You will create a context for your loved ones to grow into their true selves as God designed them.

Sometimes a man’s first reaction to this standard may be one of guilt. When I was taught the concept of true leadership early in our marriage, my response was, “Are you kidding? How could I ever possibly live up to this?” That is not the intention here. God’s instructions are meant to instill hope, not regret. The point is not to cover us with shame or give our wives yet another reason to tell us what we should be doing.

One of the reasons we men have difficulty being successful leaders in our homes is that we can be very insecure about our role there. We don’t always come across that way, but beneath the surface, we struggle with how to care for a woman’s heart. Many of us do not navigate the inner world very easily because whenever we encounter a problem, we want to fix it, and some of the deep inner workings of the human heart are not quick fixes.

Sometimes that isn’t even the goal; women often want to have a conversation not for the purpose of problem-solving but just to be heard. We don’t always know what to do with that. We know how to do our jobs, shoot a basketball, and fix a faucet. We’re comfortable in those worlds. But to help our daughters grow in their femininity? Discipline a child with sensitivity to whatever is going on inside him? Pray with our wives? Those are different matters. They pull us into areas where we are unskilled, untrained, and most insecure.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. As we learn to make these things our priorities and get to know God and understand how he has designed us to serve our wives and families, real change happens.

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Five Diagnostic Questions

Answering these questions will tell you who is leading your home.

Again, the purpose of these questions is not to induce guilt. It is to make you aware. In the first two years of our marriage, my answers to most of these questions would have suggested that Theresa was the leader in our home. I needed to become aware of my lack of leadership and by God’s grace take responsibility.

That’s the point of this exercise— awareness that leads to change through a process of growth and grace. Read the following questions with that purpose in mind.

  1. Who initiates spiritual growth in your home? Who says, “Let’s sit down and talk about this. Let’s see what the Bible says about it. Maybe we need to spend some time praying about it”?
  2. Who handles the money? This question is not about who makes the most money; that isn’t the issue at all. Some wives make more than their husbands, and that is no indication of who is exercising leadership in the marriage. But which one of you is assuming the responsibility for making sure bills get paid on time? If the wife is managing money and writing checks, is she doing that as a function of her gifts or because her husband is neglecting his responsibility and leaving it to her?
  3. Who disciplines the children when you are both at home? Each parent will need to discipline a child at various times and in different situations, but when the problem behavior is relevant to both spouses and you are both present to deal with it, which one of you takes the lead?
  4. Who initiates talking about problems, future plans, and areas to develop? For example, how do you decide how many kids you want to have? What school they should go to? What kind of jobs you and your spouse should take? When you should retire? What the course of your life together will look like?
  5. Who asks the most questions in your home, and who gives the most statements? Who is the one who is always asking what to do for dinner or about the decision you need to make about next week’s plans? Whichever person is asking those questions is the one who feels the weight of responsibility for them.

None of these questions are meant to prompt a legalistic standard in your marriage. Women will often see issues that men don’t see, so they will naturally be the ones to bring them up first. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many women are gifted with making plans and orchestrating schedules in ways that their husbands are not, so it is perfectly normal for them to contribute their gifts in those areas.

What is the Real Question?

The real question is, Who is carrying the weight of responsibility in the marriage? Many women have to initiate discussion, make plans, and ask the big questions because their husbands do not. These men don’t want to shoulder the responsibility for making life work. They let their wives carry the burden. When this happens, wives do not feel cherished, nurtured, and protected. In other words, they are not getting what God designed for their husbands to give them. That is what these diagnostic questions are getting at, and if they reveal a pattern of neglect, some of the dynamics in the relationship need to change.

Adapted from Making Marriage Work. Copyright © 2019 Chip Ingram, published by Baker Publishing, used with permission, all rights reserved. 

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