The idea of submission within our relationships is associated with many loaded meanings. Many think of a master and slave. Others may think it has to do with some weird sex. And for others, it may conjure up some ancient religious patriarchal laws between husband and wife.
Rather then leaving meanings to chance, let’s take a look at how Oxford defines submission:
The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.
Accordingly, it’s very difficult to divorce the word “submission” from ideas such as being forced to do something, or that when we submit we are saying our partner is superior or that they have authority over us. It definitely is a difficult word to use in our modern-day 21st century relationship lexicon.
However, I’m going to challenge that belief.
In my opinion, submission does not imply that the object of our submission is superior to us. Nor does it mean that they have control over us or even that we are being forced to do something against our will. It does not have to imply coercion.
In truth, we willingly submit to others, all the time. We submit to our bosses, our teachers, our airline-pilots all the time. As a matter of fact, we oftentimes engage people – such as doctors or personal trainers – to whom we actually pay for the privilege of submitting to.
Recently, when redoing our bathroom, my wife and I were lamenting over our poor decision not to hire an interior-decorator, to whom we would gladly yield our authority over, submit to his will, and let him make all the decisions.
When we submit, we believe – not that the person is superior to us – but that they possess an aspect of superiority that we don’t. That they are superior to us in some way – be it knowledge, skill, wisdom, or strength. In such cases, we are happy to cede control, and willingly subjugate our will to their will, because we know that we will be better for it.
The issue with submission then, isn’t when we can clearly see the benefits – when that’s the case, it’s a no-brainer. The issue and difficulty with submission is when we can’t see the benefit, or worse – when we don’t believe there will be a benefit. When we don’t trust the person.
Why should I submit to your will, when I can do it better myself?
My first lesson in submission was at age 26. Newly married, my wife & I would walk our newborn baby to temple every Saturday in his little carriage (we don’t drive on our Sabbath). Inevitably, at some point on the way home, he would start to cry, and the same argument would ensue each week – should we just hurry our pace and get home so he could nurse? Or, repeatedly stop and soothe him multiple times along the way, delaying his ultimate happiness (and ours!). My wife was just not comfortable with allowing our newborn to shed any tears. As a new mommy, she just couldn’t bear to see him suffer, even for a moment. The second he piped up, she would stop the stroller (for what felt like hours!), put in his pacifier, and make mommy-cooing noises until he calmed down. But I felt that the faster we could get him home, the quicker relief he would feel. I wanted us to ignore the whimpering as much as possible so that he could be taken care of properly, much faster. I felt strongly that all the stopping and starting was just delaying his relief. I don’t know if you can hear it in my writing voice, but twenty-five years later I still think I’m right.
Due to the ongoing nature of this argument, we decided that would call our Rabbi, and “submit” to his decision. Whatever he said, we would agree to. And while technically asking the Rabbi itself is a type of submission, his words to me are the point of this story:
Rabbi: “Dovid, does this involve your new baby?”
Rabbi: “And your wife has a strong opinion in this case?”
Rabbi: “Do you trust your wife as a good mother?”
Rabbi: “Then you must always listen to her regarding your infant children. She is in charge, and she has the final say.”
To encourage me to compromise? OK. To encourage me to not make a fuss (even though I was clearly right!)? OK. To suggest we work it out peacefully or make some other arrangement? OK. But to tell me that I must submit to my wife? Huh? Wasn’t I the “man” of the home? Isn’t Judaism a “patriarchy”? Don’t I even have a voice? 50% at least?
And while the Rabbi wasn’t telling me never to voice my opinion, he did put me in my place. Because he knew what I didn’t know: that in our relationships, we have different dimensions of power – gifts and strengths that G-d bestows upon husband and wife, male and female. And unbeknownst to my younger, more naive self was that my wife is superior to me in her innate understanding of her baby’s needs. And that it is in my best interest, and more importantly in our baby’s best interest, for me to yield my will to her will and authority in this area. Basically, to submit to her.
I’ve written a deeper analysis of gender-differences & spheres of influence before. My purpose here today is to dispel the myth, the connotation that “submission” is a dirty word. It’s not. It’s a statement of trust and recognition of superiority in some aspects of life that you grant another. And that it is a privilege for you to have such a person in your life – such an expert that you trust – that you can submit to.
Should you submit to your spouse? That’s for you to decide. But in my book, you would be a lucky person if you could.