It's going to get juicy up in here. What is submission when it comes to normal healthy Christian marriages? How do you feel about Randall and Beth's situation on This is Us?
Marriage & Dating

The Submissive Wife Talk: Beth and Randall Pearson

Anyone else watch the most recent ‘This is Us’ episode and have the “submissive wife” conversation? 

I know I did! Every week I walk over to my sister’s house (she lives across the street) and we watch ‘This is Us’ and then talk about “all the things.”

And if you aren’t caught up on the latest ‘This is Us’ episode, you might want to stop. If you don’t know who Randall and Beth Pearson are or what ‘This is Us’ is..it’s a TV show in which they are main characters.

Ah, Randall and Beth. Is there any couple that better embodies the balance that exists between martial bliss and marital discord in most healthy marriages? Not matter how hard you try, you cannot seem to have complete martial bliss without a little marital discord, right? 

And in Randall and Beth’s case, the ebb and flow of their marriage woes tend to make us married people nod our heads, because their issues are so very real life. Neither husband or wife is officially “bad,” but nor are they official “off the hook” in their actions either.

Let me explain what I mean. 

Randall is the overthinking, adoring, completely committed father and husband who bends over backwards to make sure that his tribe have everything they could ever think about. Beth is the strong, self-sacrificing, no-nonsense mom and wife who keeps the entire family grounded. Each personality has their flaws; they each have their perks.

In the latest episode we see the backstory of Randall and Beth’s relationship. He proposed one million times, she said ‘wait’ one million times*. The storyline tells us that Beth waited to say ‘yes’ until she felt secure she wouldn’t “lose herself in Randall” because of Randall’s “all consuming-ness.” After a heartfelt convo with Rebecca (Randall’s mom played by Mandy Moore), Beth realizes that she’s ready, takes him to her favorite restaurant and says ‘yes’ to his proposal.

*We will strike from the record any conversation about how they were shacking up for 7 years without being married, which I oppose but isn’t the point of this blog.

From there ensues all the flashback memories of times in their marriage when Beth felt steamrolled by Randall’s intense personality.

Let me stop there.

Steamrolled. This is the word that Beth uses. This is what the writer’s have painstakingly try to convince us of for the past few episodes leading up to this one. We’ve started seeing more of what makes Beth…well, Beth. We know she loves dancing and that after her father’s death, her mother made her quit. As wives, we’ve felt her pain of wanting to pursue a dream at what feels like the wrong time in our husband’s lives. I wrote an entire novel on the conflict that exists when two of our own dreams collide. Personally, for me the struggle is very real. I want to be a famous writer AND I have seven kids, a house and a husband. I want both these things, but sometimes it can feel mutually exclusive.

And for the sake of the ‘This is Us’ writers and creativity, I’ll bend a little for Beth and Randall’s current conflict, but I’m not buying Beth’s “woes” hook line and sinker because for three seasons we’ve seen Randall say “yes and amen” to every single one of Beth’s demands. Outside of Jack Pearson, Randall is the epitome of the perfect husband (as perfect as we can get in this broken world, I mean).

Beth is pretty amazing too. She’s picked up the slack when Randall had one of his panic attacks that made him temporarily blind. She’s said ‘yes’ to nearly all his crazy ideas, like buying an entire building just to see it renovated for the low-income residents there. It wasn’t until Season 2 when we started seeing her stand her ground when Randall decided to run for city council and it was taking a toll on the well-being of their tight family unit.

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And this is where the submissive wife conversation starts.

Let’s be clear on the outset:

  • I’m a complementarian. That is, I believe we have separate but equally important roles as husband and wife.
  • I believe wholeheartedly in submission to your husband.
  • I don’t believe women should be doormats or slaves…that’s dangerous.

Caveats:

  • This is easy for me to say because my husband is like Randall Pearson and isn’t a jerk. For wives with unbelieving and douche-baggy husbands, I still hold to submission but I realize that it is WAY different for you than for me. 
  • Also, this is a TV show. I get that. Real life is way messier. But I think ‘This is Us’ does a pretty substantial job at trying to make everyone’s story as real as possible.
  • In no way does This is Us hold to a Christian world view. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use popular culture to have Christian conversations.

Those things said, This is Us has me asking questions:

  • How far does godly submission go?
  • Do a wife’s desires matter when they are direct opposition from the husband’s desires?
  • Does working outside of the home = bad mom/wife?
  • When is it okay to stand up for yourself as a wife?

Submissive: A Popular Unpopular View

Depending on which church you go to, how you were raised and how much you believe our left-leaning media. Submissiveness can have a whole host of connotations.

In general, Christians understand the Bible does call a wife to be submissive to her husband…but are quick to remind the husband he is supposed to love her like the Christ loved the church — that is, he loved us so much that he died for us.

If you want to read the verses (or refresh and just skim them) here they are from Ephesians 5:22-33.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.  Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,  that He might [a]sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33

For argument’s sake, let’s generalize that there are three types of Christian wives.

  • Super-submissive: A wife who never questions her husband’s authority.
  • Submissive: A wife who follows the lead of her husband but is allowed to steer the husband with his consent and respect.
  • Unsubmissive: A wife who rules the home, everyone does what she says.

From these definitions, we can easily see that the middle ground (aka ‘Submissive’) is generally the healthiest place to land according to Scriptures. 

Of course, real life isn’t so easily defined because we know that people aren’t that black and white. We also know that situations aren’t that black and white. There might be times and seasons where, as a wife, you fall into some sort of gray area of super/submissive/unsubmissive. But, in the place where we can help it…it’s best to aim for the middle ground.

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Increasingly I see that even the church holds submission as the popular practice…practical application of what it means to truly submit is growing less and less popular.

Super Submission

While I love the idea of a woman being submissive to her husband, there is a place where submission can take a nasty turn into dangerous ground. 

I believe CHOICE is the KEY TERM to be concerned with here.

For example, I am a head covering Christian woman. I love to cover. I’m not forced. As a head covering woman, I often run into blogs/videos/photos of Muslim women who CHOOSE to wear the niquab (the face cover). Despite my moral oppositions to Islam, I think CHOICE is a beautiful thing (except in the case of abortion where I’m PRO-LIFE without exception). If a woman wants to wear a face cover as a sign of her submission, so be it. Let her wear it without fear or condemnation.

But if she’s forced..this is not love. This is not beautiful.

Christ died for us, giving us a choice to accept his free gift (read my testimony here). God didn’t force Adam and Eve to obey (even though sometimes I wish He did). God doesn’t force us to join Him in Heaven. He allows us freedom.

So…what I mean is that if a wife CHOOSES to never question her husband’s authority and be super-submissive that’s fine. It becomes dangerous if the husband is abusive or she requires it of her children to an unhealthy degree.

Balanced Submission

A submissive wife understands the balance between her obligation to obey and respect her husband, but recognizes her true worth and value. She understands that her opinions DO matter but willingly accepts to lay them down if faced with enough opposition from her husband.

True submission from a wife works best when the husband DOES, in fact, value his wife’s opinion.

There is a natural push and pull between a husband and a wife. We balance each other out. Sometimes the wife gets her way, and sometimes not.

But in the case of conflict, a balanced and healthy submissive wife understands that just as Christ did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6), she will lay her own desires down to serve the greater good of her head (aka husband according to 1 Co. 11).

In simple terms: she does what her husband wants if it starts to be an issue.

Does this hurt our feelings sometimes? Yes. You better believe it.

Is that okay? Yes. Because if we continue to read the verse in Philippians, we know that in the end God exalted Jesus to the highest place. When we are like Christ, we too, as wives, will be exalted to a high place.

Women who are comfortable (and not combative) about their submissive role, understand the “first shall be last” concept applies to them as well. Adam was created first, and Eve second. Eve was literally THE LAST thing created, after all creation, after all the animals, and after Adam. Do not think for a second that Eve plays some subservient or demeaning role.  

And, as my brother-in-law always says: The woman is the crown. Kings have lived, fought and died to preserve a crown!

Unsubmissive

An unsubmissive woman is one who disrupts the divine order set by the standards of Scriptures.

Like Eve, she assume she knows best. Sometimes this comes in subtle forms. Sometimes not. She’s assertive but not in a positive way. She demands her own way. She dismisses Scriptures and redefines her role based on her own feelings and knowledge.

In today’s society, many men have been brainwashed to believe women should dominate the home, they support her rights because they don’t understand (or aren’t allowed to understand) the beauty of divine order. God-forbid they assert they have the rightful role as leader of the family.

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In the book For Men Only, a group of men were polled whether they would rather feel loved or respected. An overwhelming majority of them raised their hands for “Respected.” But in a household where the the wife is generally unsubmissive, he does not feel respected. Roles have been reversed and he feels dominated. Many men might defend their wives’ unsubmissive behavior, but that does not negate the fact that their roles are biblically unsound.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, in Christian circles, the growing popularity of redefining the word “ezer” as warrior instead of helpmeet stinks grossly of a woman not understanding the beauty of this divine order.

The Overlap

It would be remiss to believe that somehow every woman falls squarely into a specific category of super-submissive/balanced-submissive/unsubmissive.

To say you are always perfectly submissive makes you a liar. No one is perfect.

Given the right day, time of month, situation or whatever, all wives have had their ugly moment of unsubmissiveness. Therefore, it behooves us all to extend grace to everyone. Likewise, it’s important to remember (like I stated above) that not all of us are married to knights in shining armor. If you are, you are blessed. If not, you have your work cut out for you…and there might be more bumps in the road for you!

Readers of my blog know that I like Created to Be His Helpmeet because I found it practically applicable. But I am aware of the controversy, so I’ll recommend Love & Respect which upholds the same basic concepts without all the controversy.

The aim is for healthy submission.

Personally, if I’m going to err on one side or the other of submission, I’d take the super-submissive role because I truly believe that the rise of Christian feminism in the church is dangerous.

But that’s another post.

Back to Randall and Beth Pearson

Earlier I asked these questions:

  • How far does godly submission go?
  • Do a wife’s desires matter when they are direct opposition from the husband’s desires?
  • Does working outside of the home = bad mom/wife?
  • When is it okay to stand up for yourself as a wife?

Theoretically, in Randall and Beth’s case, I’d answer them this way.

How far does godly submission go?

Randall should recognize Beth’s need for space and dreaming. He should recognize (but not necessarily heed) her call for him to step down in his race for city councilman which is impeding on his ability to run his family smoothly.

THAT SAID: Beth’s job isn’t to force him to do these things. She can express her desires, but not force her will on him.

Practically speaking, this would really look different in every family. Beth and Randall should talk and strike a balance they both can lives with. But if no middle ground can be found, Beth should put off her desire to have a dancing career or scale it down. Not a popular stance, but #sorrynotsorry.

Do a wife’s desires matter when they are direct opposition from the husband’s desires?

Of course they matter!

But the husband’s will is supreme and a wife should trust that he has been given the authority over her. Just like the law of the land states we shouldn’t speed, obeying that law (whether or not we like it) is, in the end, in our best interest…and the best interest of those around us.

Unity should always trump self.

Does working outside of the home = bad mom/wife?

Honestly, this one is a difficult one for me to answer. 

I don’t love that Beth works outside of the home. I like the idea of a mom staying home with her kids. But I don’t think it makes you a “bad” mom/wife if you work outside of the home.

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I understand that women have dreams outside of their children. I mean…c’mon I run like 5 blogs! I’m not one to judge a working woman!

I know that the “ultimate woman” is the Proverbs 31 woman who works and takes care of the home. But I also recognize Titus 2 gives woman a clear command to be “keepers of the home.”

There is a dangerous trend of women pursuing careers outside of the home at the expense of their children…but let’s be honest here…there is an EVEN MORE DANGEROUS trend of stay-at-home moms spending countless hours on their blogs and making their entire lives available on social media. I have a serious thought that in 20 years there will be many biographies about these “InstaKids” whose lives were miserable because their moms made their online lives look perfect while there offline lives wreaked havoc!

As a blogger, I’m not going to throw stones…because I’ve ignored my kids for my blog BUT I fight furiously to NOT do that!

On the flip side, I worry about a woman who loses herself in her children and teaches her female children to do the same. 

We have value outside of our roles as wives and mothers just as much as we hold value inside our roles as wives and mothers.

For the first two seasons of This is Us I think Beth has found somewhat of a balance in her role as wife and mother. She errs a little too much to the left for me…but it’s all very understandable. In Season 3, she’s pushing harder left and I hope the relationship between Randall and Beth returns to solid ground again.

When is it okay to stand up for yourself as a wife?

I think women should lean into their roles and allow the man to take the lead 95% of the time.

There are a few times when a woman should stand up for herself including:

  • Abuse of any kind, though I would caution against liberal definitions of abuse. Many women seek divorce because a man is being “verbally abusive” when in fact she’s being JUST as abusive in her tone/words. Verbal abuse would be more profound that common bickering.
  • Infidelity
  • Addiction
  • Illegal Behavior
  • Safety of herself or children

Personally, I think most women don’t fall into the above categories. If you do, please please please understand that this post is NOT intended for you. 

Many people might read this post and think “but what about [insert exception to the rule].”

Let’s not. Let’s think about normal marital situations. Not Jerry Springer, okay?

I think it’s okay for a woman to express her opinion to her husband, and hopefully he’s not a jerk and they find a middle ground for their marriage.

If he’s a little bit of  jerk, the wife submits. Sometimes he might be LOT of a jerk, and she submits. The more a husband acts a like a jerk, the more a wife might feel like being unsubmissive. A good husband should recognize and realign himself to scriptures that call him to LOVE like Christ loved the church and put his wife’s needs first because if he doesn’t he’s partly to blame for the vicious cycle that will ensue of:

He’s a jerk > She doesn’t want to submit > So, he’s more of a jerk > She submits even less (etc).

But unfortunately, if this cycle is already in place, and a wife knows her husband isn’t going to make the first move (yes, it happens)…then, for the sake of the marriage, she must break the cycle by submitting when it’s the last thing in the world she wants to do.

Unsubmissive behavior usually isn’t going to inspire a man to change his tune. It’s just not like that.

Feel free to try it the other way, but in 15 years of marriage, I’ve found that most of the time when I submit, he realizes his “jerk-ness” and things return to a healthy push-and-pull of normal marital bliss/discord.

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