The Marriage Dilemma

Laura at Mommy-Miracles has been running a summer time #WrittingVows marriage series and asked me to contribute. My thinking about marriage lead me in two directions. I sent Laura the one that fit her blog better. But I am not ready to part with my other line of thinking. Here are some of my other thoughts about marriage.

Wedding Photo

In Christian circles a bible passage that comes up often when talking about how marriages ought to work is Ephesians 5:21-25. It reads like this;

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”

Paul, the writer of Ephesians is actually giving some useful advice here. Advice that is lost on us because this passage has so often been misused to assert patriarchal authority over women who are struggling in difficult, damaging, and sometimes all out abusive relationships.

We have used this passage in such a way when people now read it they see something like this, ‘Woman your husband is your boss and you have to listen to him and do everything he says. If you do that he’ll love you. If he isn’t being very loving to you, well you must be doing something wrong,’

But that is not what Paul says at all. That first sentence is what he is telling both husbands and wives to do. He is saying that we have to mutually, out of love, submit to one another. Submit is a hard word to interact with. Submitting feels like we being defeated. It feels like we have lost something. In a battle submitting is likely a defeat. But maybe, just maybe in marriage submission can bring victory.

Let’s lift this discussion out of the bible for a moment and move it into social science. I think Paul has described the ultimate objective in the famous thought experiment, ‘The Prisoners Dilemma’. If you are not familiar with the prisoners dilemma basically it is a scenario the pits self interest against shared interest. And that is not a bad way to imagine a marriage.

In my marriage I am constantly trying to balance the things that are best for me against the things that are best for my marriage. On any given day I can choose to be selfish and aim to simply please myself. Or on any given day I can choose to be self-sacrificing, and choose to please my wife and family. The same is true for my wife. On any given day she can choose to be selfish or self-sacrificing.

Think of it like this table here;

Your Marriage- Prisoners Dilemma

Paul is telling us to aim for the upper left corner. That if we both choose to put the other person first, if we both decided to give the other person everything in the end both of us will end up with everything. By submitting we don’t lose we win. In fact it is only by both people submitting to each other that both people win. Otherwise someone, or possibly everyone suffers.

This is the marriage dilemma. To be selfish, or to be self-sacrificing. By choosing to put your spouse first you risk being swallowed up in their selfishness. But what is the real alternative? Two selfish people cannot co-exist happily together. Their selfishness will eat away until there is nothing but bitterness and resentment left.

Even though Paul’s advice has been misappropriated and misrepresented he is right. To make a marriage work both people need to consider their spouse ahead of themselves. This advice isn’t easy, and it is definitely risky. But I think it is worth the risk.

I am with Paul on this one all the way, if you want the best out of your marriage “Submit to one another…”

3 thoughts on “The Marriage Dilemma

  1. I find this difficult to read- the patriarchal aspect of Paul’s statement is just so glaring. I also am not certain that the phrase “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church…” actually means “submit”- particularly after the statement of the husband being the “Head of the wife”- which indicates, leadership of. Sacrifice and submission aren’t the same…
    That said- I DO agree (except for the prisoner’s dilemma) with your overall statement- that when both partners treat the relationship equally and respect each other equally- then that is an important part to a happy and complete marriage. It’s a tough balance to achieve.

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