Do You Maintain a Submissive Spirit When Feeling Threatened by Authority?

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John Gottman, the foremost quantitative researcher on marriage, wrote, "In the research literature on marital interaction that has used observational methods, women's marital interaction . . . has been consistently described as more confronting, demanding, coercive, and highly emotional . . . than the interaction of their husbands." Why is this? Why does she resort to this covert form of power?

Oftentimes a wife feels she is more vulnerable and more easily victimized than her husband, so she rationalizes her demands and emotional reactions toward a nonviolent husband of basic goodwill. She sees her behavior as a way of keeping things even, because in her mind she feels her husband controls her emotionally.  

Unfortunately, in relationships like the ones Gottman observed, when she knows that she is bullying him, she expects him to accept this because she is more delicate. She feels she has a right to react, though he has no right to react to her.

In the end, she doesn't see herself. Instead she rationalizes that her views and methods fully sanction her behavior because his authority over her is either unfair or misdirected. If her husband complains about her “wearing the pants” or “provoking a fight,” she takes offense.

A woman wrote,

"In my work it demands that I go to people's homes as an independent agent. In doing this work I have been in 4000+ homes and lending offices in four surrounding counties. . . . In all but six or seven of these 4000+ couples the women are the authority in the home, running the financial matters, applying for the loans, bossing their husbands, even being disrespectful in his questioning points on the documents (i.e., 'just sign it!'; 'don't worry about it!'). In some homes the husband has sat in total silence, only signing the dotted line, while his wife chatted away. In a couple instances I had to ask for legal purposes, "Does he speak English?" The answer was: yes, he just wasn't speaking. I have seen the wife's authority in every single race, be it American, Vietnamese, East Indian, Philipino, Korean, you name it—the wives are the authoritarians and bossy, and often downright disrespectful."

Gentlemen, though I illustrate this with women, what is your reputation at work, in the neighborhood, at church, when getting a ticket, or wherever there is authority over you? Are you any different in a different setting? You may be passive in the home, but is that true across the board? These wives, who represent all of us, exemplify what we are apt to do when we feel others have greater authority over us. Feeling less powerful, we do not display a submissive or respectful attitude for fear that it will empower the authority way beyond what they deserve and cause us to lose power and our identify. So, we confront, demand, coerce, and get highly emotional to prevent us from being mistreated.  Some husbands go from job to job, or rarely experience promotions because they have a contentious and even rebellious spirit. Their antagonistic and uncompliant demeanor keeps them stuck in a rut.  But of course it is management’s problem!

Though most of these folks have good hearts, they are overreacting and overreaching.

Their unsubmissive attitude runs contrary to the respectful countenance God instructs, and which He honors and favors. Sadly, such people think they are fools and lose power if they act on 1 Peter 2:13-15, which says: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority. . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

But there is no incongruity with a submissive and respectful demeanor and strength of character that humbly speaks what is true. We don't have to talk in a rebellious fashion to protect our interests. This only harms the relationship and our reputation.

-Dr. E

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you noticed in your marriage or in marriages close to you what the above researcher noted—that the female’s marital interactions were “more confronting, demanding, coercive, and highly emotional . . . than the interaction of their husbands”? For what reasons do you explain these findings?

  2. Thinking back to the woman who wrote explaining about the 4000+ couples she has observed where the wife is the overwhelming authority in the home, how does a relationship get to this point—where the husband is silent, allowing his wife to boss him around in all matters, etc.? Does he care about being the authority? Is he merely trying to avoid conflict, even if it means losing his voice in the home?

  3. Whether at work, at home, or elsewhere, have you noticed in yourself a tendency to feel threatened by authority, resulting in a disrespectful attitude in order to try and assume some authority yourself? How has this harmed the relationship?

  4. What does it mean to “submit yourself for the Lord’s sake”?