Last week I had to call the exterminator as we have mice in the house. Seeing the big dinner I was preparing (to celebrate a special feastday) he asked me if I was Filipino. According to him, Filipinos, Hispanics and Ethiopians make the best wives since they know their place and how to treat their husbands right. He then went on to denounce his own culture (African American), where the women have become too Europeanized, engaging in a power-struggle with men, and where marriages and families almost always end up broken or dysfunctional.
This disillusioned man would have been amazed to learn about a certain European woman and her book of advice to newlyweds of her own sex. I was astonished myself when, only the following day, I read about Costanza Miriano’s “Marry and Submit to Him”, but in a positive way. Frankly, I found it refreshing. Her advice to her old college roommate is witty and entertaining, with a delightful candidness that one can only find in a letter to an old-time friend. Perhaps this is what gives her message of submission, albeit a provocative one, such a strong voice.
Judging from the excerpts available in English (and I’d love to see the frenzy if her books were published in the Anglo world, where even the idea of them has caused a stir) she also displays much practical wisdom, especially regarding men’s natural tendencies, and a profound understanding of the traditional Christian teaching on marriage based on Paul’s controversial words, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.”
My father loves to argue about controversial issues, but even he dared not tackle Paul’s words when he gave a speech at our wedding. Perhaps he did not want wedding cake to be thrown at him, or he did not want to incur the wrath of his in-laws. But what he did say at our wedding was a bit of a twist on the apostle’s advice. He said, “Marriage is a vocation of service. Mary, you will be the servant of your children. Chris, you will be the servant of Mary”.
I was thinking about this as I was running around preparing lunch for my kids, fetching my two-year-old’s pacifiers and preparing her milk, and cleaning up a mess my four-year-old had made in the bathroom. Truly, I am my children’s servant. But service and authority are two sides of the same coin. It is through my service that I have authority over my children. They must obey me and submit to me, whether or not they wish to. Of course I try to make obedience easy for them with love, respect and cheerfulness. But nonetheless, they must still obey.
No one seems to have a problem with the idea of children submitting to their parents. At least, adults don’t. (Children and teens sometimes do, but I do believe that rebellion can be abated when the children understand that their parents’ directives are made in love, and are meant for the child’s well-being.) Almost universally, parents realize that children ought to obey. And when children are habitually disobedient, the ramifications are often disastrous, creating great tensions in the relationship between the child and parents.
And I doubt most women, even the most liberal feminist, would have a problem with the idea of the husband being the servant of the wife. And yet, through his service and his daily work done for the family, the husband has a certain authority over the wife. And vice-versa. In my service to my husband, I gain a certain authority over him. The problem is, many women willingly admit their authority over their children and husband, but cringe when it comes to submitting to their husband’s authority. And this leads to great tensions on the relationship between spouses.
Service and authority — they are indeed two sides of the same coin. Yet, isn’t it better to focus on service, which so often means submission? Of course it’s not easy. It takes so much more humility, maturity, and generosity to choose to serve rather than be served. It takes strength of will to say “no” to our own desires, and “yes” to another’s. It takes courage to trust in the face of doubts. The submissive wife is not a simpering, weak, insecure doormat. She is a daring and resilient woman, ready to serve those whom she loves.
Consider Mother Teresa. “But she was not married!” you say. In her mind, she was. Mother Theresa espoused the poorest of the poor. And if you think it is hard at times to serve your husband, try cleaning the wounds of an abandoned leper, or cleaning the toilets at an orphanage for the handicapped day after day. All Mother Teresa sought was to love and serve the destitute and the dying. Yet it was through this very humble, and what some might consider degrading service that she came to a position of world-wide influence and acclaim, and won the hearts of millions of people.
I have recently finished reading a wonderful little book by Mike Aquilina called Love in the Little Things. In the chapter entitled “The Spousal Secret”, in which he writes about marriage, Aquilina talks about the need for “profound self-sacrifice”. We women are always wanting our husbands to make great sacrifices for us. We love those romantic stories where the hero endures great danger and suffering for the sake of his beloved. In fact we expect our husbands to be ready to make great sacrifices for us, because then we know we are loved. And that is our great emotional need, isn’t it? To know we are loved. When our husband does not make even the small sacrifice to take out the garbage or pick up his dirty socks, we often feel unloved.
But what is a husband’s great emotional need? It is to win the respect, admiration, and trust of his wife. That’s what makes him feel loved. Our profound self-sacrifices are not to do fantastic feats for our husbands. Our profound self-sacrifices will mean satisfying this great emotional need. We need to prove our respect and trust by submitting and deferring to his ideas, opinions and decisions, even when we are convinced he is wrong. But if we habitually do this, like any habit it will become easier. And the happy results? Well, I love how Miriano put it:
You’ll see, I can swear on it, a man cannot resist a woman who respects him, recognizes his authority, who makes a sincere effort to listen to him, to let aside her own way of seeing things, who tramples on her ever-biting, teasing, failure-highlighting tongue (we’re very good at that, no doubt), who accepts to walk on paths that are extremely different from those she would naturally choose, just out of love.
Day by day, he will start asking you what you think, what to do, which way your family should go. And this respect you achieve through respect, this devotion through submission.
From the lives of my parents and my in-laws, both couples happily married for more than 40 years, I can attest to the truth of Miriano’s words. When a man is willing to make sacrifices, great and small, for his wife, and when a woman is willing to serve and submit to her husband, their love and marriage endures. It’s a model that really, truly works.
Personally, I have no problem with the idea of submitting to my dear husband. Although he teasingly tells me that is not always the case! But his years of constant self-sacrifice and self-denial, day in and day out, for the good of the family have really won my deep respect and admiration. He is my hero. And when he tells me every day to go upstairs and rest after dinner while he and the kids clean up, how can I not submit? And thankfully, too, because I know he is tired after a long commute and a long day at work and yet he is making this sacrifice. It makes me feel so loved. And I, in turn, am happy to defer to him as often as I can, because I know this makes him feel loved.
But let’s get back to the title of this controversial book, “Get Married and be Submissive” (not forgetting that its companion volume for men is “Marry her and Die for Her”) — many women find these words unbearable. Why?
Far too many people come from broken homes and unhappy marriages, and have not seen how this model can possibly work. In many homes, the husbands have been too authoritative and domineering. In others, the wives, buying into the whole “women’s liberation” movement, have gone on a power struggle with their husbands. Oftentimes, resentment builds up when couples start keeping track of who did what; when the wife starts feeling as if she is doing all the work, and when the husband starts feeling as if he can never please her. Lacking a good example of how a strong marriage works, newly-wed couples enter marriage at a great disadvantage.
It doesn’t help that the media almost always portrays men as stupid, untrustworthy, and lazy. In contrast, women are almost always portrayed as smarter than their doofus husbands. And this repeated idea of dumb dad, smart mom is sinking into the minds of the upcoming generation.
While there is an increasing number of women graduating from college, the number of male graduates is decreasing. More and more young men are simply unmotivated and are floundering without any sense of direction. In the push for women’s rights, have we trampled upon the dignity of men, lowering their stature and self-concept? How difficult it can be then, to trust our husbands, to admire them, and thus to submit to them!
Constanza Miriano has much needed advice for newlyweds of today. I really do applaud her work – such courageous words in these times. If her books were in English, I’d give them as wedding gifts. That would probably enrage some of the wedding guests, but let them throw cake – my kids would eat it all up.
Mary Cooney writes from Maryland.