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Should the husband be submissive to the wife?

The traditional gender roles in marriage dictate that the husband is the head of the household and the wife should be submissive to him. However, modern relationships are evolving and becoming more egalitarian. So should the roles reverse and the husband submit to the wife instead? Let’s explore this complex issue.

Quick Answers

– A completely reversed power dynamic where the wife dominates the husband goes against biblical principles and can harm the marriage. Mutual love, respect and compromise are ideal.

– Research shows that marriages fare better when both spouses share decision-making power and have an egalitarian relationship. Complete dominance by one spouse often leads to unhappiness.

– In practice, most modern marriages adopt a collaborative approach where neither spouse fully dominates or submits. Spouses may take turns leading based on their strengths.

– It is reasonable for a husband to submit to his wife’s leadership in areas where she has greater expertise. But overall leadership in the family should be shared.

– Marriages work best when both partners are flexible and willing to adapt to each other’s needs. Strict gender roles can restrict this flexibility.

Does the Bible Support Wives Leading Their Husbands?

The Bible prescribes hierarchical gender roles for marriage, with verses instructing wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:1). There are no biblical examples of reversed marital authority, where the husband submits to the wife.

However, the Bible also instructs husbands to love their wives selflessly like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). A loving husband should be willing to compromise and acquiesce at times rather than insisting on supremacy.

Modern biblical interpretations emphasize mutual submission in marriage based on verses like Ephesians 5:21. Here, both husband and wife submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. This mutuality allows for flexibility in leadership rather than rigid roles.

Key Points

  • The Bible explicitly states wives should submit to husbands, not vice versa.
  • But verses also tell husbands to love sacrificially, implying compromise.
  • Mutual submission is a modern interpretation that allows for shared leadership.

So while the Bible does not endorse wives dominating husbands outright, there is room for mutual authority and flexibility depending on the situation.

Does Research Support Reversed Marital Roles?

Research insights on marriage roles and dynamics reveal:

Egalitarian Marriages Have Advantages

Study Key Findings
Gottman Institute (1999) Egalitarian couples had lower divorce rates and better problem-solving skills.
Amato et al. (2007) Wives in egalitarian marriages reported higher marital quality.
DeMaris et al. (2012) Husbands and wives in egalitarian marriages had lower odds of considering divorce.

These studies indicate that marriages with shared power and egalitarian roles are often happier and more stable than those with dominant-submissive dynamics.

Wives Leading Can Cause Marital Imbalance

A National Marriage Project study found that husbands letting wives take charge correlated with higher divorce risk. Analysis suggested overly dominant wives contributed to marital imbalance.

This implies reversing gender roles too extremely may undermine marriage success. The researchers emphasized that spousal flexibility and shared authority are still beneficial.

Key Points

  • Research shows egalitarian marriages have advantages like greater happiness.
  • But wives dominating husbands excessively can also create problems.
  • The ideal is flexibly sharing power rather than complete role reversal.

How Do Modern Couples Share Authority?

While traditional marriages had hierarchical roles, most modern couples adopt a collaborative partnership model based on equality and sharing.

Joint Decision-Making Is Common

A Pew Research survey found that:

– 64% of married adults report making decisions jointly with their spouse.

– 26% say the husband makes more decisions.

– Only 9% say the wife makes more decisions.

This shows equal collaboration is now the norm in family decision-making.

Spouses Play to Strengths

Partnership marriages allow spouses to leverage their individual strengths. A wife may take the lead on decisions regarding child-rearing if she has greater expertise. A husband may guide financial planning if he is skilled with finances.

Leadership Can Shift

Rather than having fixed dominant and submissive roles, spousal authority can fluidly alternate depending on each partner’s capacities. For example, the wife may guide the family while her husband completes his education, then authority may shift after he starts his career.

Key Points

  • Most couples prefer making decisions together equally.
  • They also take turns leading based on individual abilities.
  • Neither spouse is permanently dominant or submissive.

Can a Husband Relinquish All Leadership?

While flexible shared leadership is ideal, permanently ceding all dominance is generally not advisable for husbands.

Abdication Can Breed Resentment

Research shows that wives often resent having to “wear the pants” and make all the decisions if husbands abdicate leadership completely. This burden strains marriages.

Some Gender Differences Remain

Despite growing equality, studies show that most women still prefer some decision-making contributions from their husbands, valuing their opinions and insights.

Marriage Calls forUnity

Marriage is meant to create unity between husband and wife through harmony and togetherness. One spouse dominating totally undermines this, while mutual submission fosters it.

Key Points

  • Wives often resent dominating all decision-making.
  • Most still value their husband’s input due to innate gender differences.
  • For unity, husbands should maintain some authority.

So it is wise for husbands to retain some leadership duties to prevent straining the marriage.


Research and experts agree that modern marriages thrive when spouses share power and decision-making. This allows them to play to their individual strengths while enjoying an intimate partnership.

Occasionally relinquishing authority to the wife in certain areas, or temporarily letting her take greater leadership during life seasons, is reasonable and beneficial. But men completely abdicating headship to create a permanently reversed marital dynamic is not ideal, and often breeds unhappiness.

The most harmonious and biblically aligned approach is for husbands to embrace headship while focusing on loving, valuing, and serving their wives. Wives should similarly support and respect their husbands. With this mutual understanding, couples can flexibly adapt marital leadership to suit their partnership rather than sticking to rigid gender roles.