Submission is indeed key to a successful marriage Partners should give in on a case-by-case basis

July 12, 1998|By Ken Garfield

In all the hubbub over whether wives should graciously submit to their husbands, we've lost sight of a crucial matrimonial fact.

Submission is one of the keys to a successful marriage.

In other words, somebody needs to master the fine art of saying "Yes, dear" if a household is going to be happy.

Whether you think Southern Baptists are sexists or saints, they ought to be thanked for provoking us into a summer-long debate over marital roles. From Jay Leno to your preacher to the person in bed beside you, it seems as if everyone's joking, talking, debating or at least thinking harder about what makes a marriage prosper.

I cover a lot of faith groups. I don't know of another that has provoked us to look this deep inside our hearts and homes.

Southern Baptists, as most of the free world knows by now, agreed at their annual convention in Salt Lake City that wives giving in graciously is the way to go.

Many of those who have lined up to blast the Southern Baptists believe that sharing the power is the key to a successful union; that a marriage must always be a partnership of loving equals.

I'm all for love and equality. But the Southern Baptists have inspired me to work harder at viewing submission as a thing of grace. They've got me looking to see the beauty in one person deferring to a loved one.

We're taught in this society to value independence, celebrate competition, stand up for our convictions, never give an inch. Anything less and you're a wimp.

That might work at the office. But maybe the key to contentment at home comes in knuckling under. I don't think it's as clear-cut as one gender submitting to another. But I do think the importance of harmony and the reality of life compel giving in on a case-by-case basis.

These frantic days, who has time to reach a compromise?

One expert, in fact, affirms the importance of husbands submitting. After studying 130 newlywed couples for six years, psychologist John Gottman of the University of Washington found that the marriages that worked well had one thing in common - a husband willing to give in to his wife.

"We found that only those newlywed men who are accepting of influence from their wives are ending up in happy, stable marriages," Gottman reported in the Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Gottman's report for the National Council on Family Relations also found that husbands who reacted to their wives' needs with stonewalling, contempt or belligerence (or all three) were doomed from the start.

Personally, I've never found contempt to be a very valuable marital tool either.

I know my wife, Sharon, will probably spray her morning coffee when she reads this, but I'm trying to learn how to say, "Yes, dear," and mean it. It's not easy after 19-plus years of "But on the other hand." I'm really trying, though.

That doesn't mean I will surrender entirely to her determination to sell our house and buy a bigger one. This submission thing doesn't always apply to a couple's most important issues.

But I've come to believe that a big part of loving a person ought to mean giving in to that person.

The Southern Baptists call it submission. I call it trust.

Ken Garfield is the religion editor at the Charlotte Observer.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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