There was a programme on last night about the 'joys' of being a submissive wife. I caught the tail-end of it, and could hardly believe my ears. Apparently some women have discovered that being 'an obedient wife', makes for a good marriage. I think it can also make for a domineering husband, if they are not very careful. Just as a submissive husband can be the result of a domineering wife (a not uncommon scenario in the West of Scotland).
Husbands who happen to be followers of Jesus are encouraged to 'love their wives, as Christ loved the Church'. That will be with sacrificial love, putting the bride first, not dominating, but encouraging. Not pushing, but gently leading. That's the only context in which a wife's submission can possibly flourish. It's a partnership of equals where it's recognised that men and women are different, but where there is mutual respect, listening, support, care and above all else, love. Desire for power has little place in any marriage, whether from a husband or a wife.
All this is in my mind this week because we start a five week marriage preparation class at the Rectory on Thursday night. We have nine couples taking part this time (where will we put them all when it comes to discussing with one another?). I also seem to be listening to a lot of couples who are struggling to stay married right now. If you pray, please do remember all these people.
Being married is a wonderful privilege, but it's also a very tough gig. I've been married to Ms GadgetVicar for twenty two years, so I can only speak of the many years of marital bliss that we have enjoyed together. She on the other hand can testify to how difficult being married to me really is!
Marriages change, because people change. We met when we were 17. We married at the age of 21. We grew up together. We've grown older together. We've both changed. No-one told us this would happen. Perhaps we should have realised it would happen, or perhaps we were simply too naive, or overcome by love?
No one told us that when children came along, our relationship would change, because the focus and time we had for one another would get transferred to the ankle-biters. We then had to make more time to listen to one another and enjoy one another. Some couples fail to do this, and they slowly drift apart until the children leave home and they then realise that they no longer know, let alone love one another. Love and perhaps even friendship is allowed to die. The marriage ends.
We can commit adultery in more ways than just with people who aren't our spouses. Work can become our mistress. Or blood family (some people don't do 'leaving and cleaving', and remain too attached to parents). Or friends. Or money. Or a myriad of other things can take the place of the one that we have vowed to share everything with.
I used to emphasise that one needs to work at keeping a marriage alive. That perhaps reflects a time when it was particularly true of my own marriage. I now emphasise two further things which make a marriage work well. One is having a partner who is your best friend. The other is making sure you go on having fun together.
As a Christ-follower, I've also found that it helps if you can keep Him involved in your marriage.