Everything I know about submission in marriage, I learnt from ballroom dancing

It seems I’m going through a bit of a stage of attacking the big topics.

One thing we don’t really like to talk about is the part in the Bible where it says that the man is the head of the household, and that the wife should submit to the man.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands  in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of His body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:22-33

We like to come up with all sorts of ways to explain how that passage is not really saying that wives must submit to their husbands. How it’s actually saying that wives should submit to their husbands, and husbands to their wives. Or we like to say “Yes, but look at what it says to husbands!” as if to draw the attention away from ourselves.

Now, I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I think that passage is pretty clear. Wives, submit to your husbands.

The problem with this is when it is misused. I have heard of husbands using this verse to abuse their wives, often without ever having read the passage, or it’s surrounding context, themselves. So, I must make it very clear that this passage does not say “Husbands, control your wives.” This passage is not giving husbands permission to treat their wives as doormats.

As a young wife, I can only comment on my own marriage, and my own role as a wife. I must admit to having had trouble with this passage as well. It seemed so archaic and wrong. And then I began taking ballroom dancing lessons.

My husband is a dancer, too, and a very good one at that. So it was really powerful for me to see how we interacted when dancing, and to draw the parallels between dancing and marriage.

Here is what I have learnt:

1) When I chose to marry my husband, I chose him to be the head of our household
In ballroom dancing, when a man wants to dance with a lady, he holds out his hand to her. If she takes it, she wants to dance with him. If she doesn’t take it, she doesn’t want to dance with him. Now, because marriage is a far bigger decision then who to dance with, you’re going to consider who to marry a lot more seriously. But when my husband proposed, he was asking me to dance. When I said yes, I was taking his hand. I could have said “no.” I could have said “no” right up until “I do.” If a man asks me to dance, who I dont want to dance with for whatever reason (maybe he’s creepy, or he smells bad, or he just can’t keep time), I don’t dance with them. When deciding to marry my husband, I considered several important things. Is this a man I can respect? Does he make wise decisions? Will he be able to provide for me and my children? The answer to all those questions had to be yes, for me to say “Yes.” It was his decision to ask me, but it was my choice to say yes. I chose my husband as the leader of our household.

2) His leadership is instigation, my submission is response
When dancing, the man takes a step, and the woman takes a step in response. If she doesn’t want to take that step, she doesn’t. If she doesn’t take that step, the dance doesn’t work. If she does, the dance does work. He instigates a step, a respond by either stepping or not stepping. If I choose to just do my own thing, and not worry about what he’s doing, we’re not going to dance well together. It will be disjointed, and we won’t reach our end goal.

3) He needs to wait for my response before moving on
My husband is an extremely good dancer. He has been dancing, on and off competitively, since he was a small child. There have been a few times, especially while waltzing, where he has taken steps that are far too long for me. I was still getting my mind caught up on the movement, and my feet caught up on dancing in heels, and he was ready to charge off and be strong while I was beautiful. Usually this ended in one of us standing on the other, and me reminding him that he needs to stay at my pace. If my husband makes an instigation that I am uncertain about, he needs to wait for me to be certain, or it wrecks the dance.

4) I can see behind his back
In ballroom dancing, the partners often dance facing each other, meaning they can see what is happening behind the other person. If we are dancing, I may see that we are about to crash in to someone or something. If I stop dancing and pull him out of the way, we have an argument. If I tell him that I can see the obstacle ahead, he adjusts his steps so that we do not crash. Now of course, there may be times where he ignores my warning. I don’t have enough life experience to really know what to do about that, I’ll come back to it in 30-odd years. But I have learnt already that sometimes you just need to let men make their mistakes. I’ve heard it said, “If I let him lead, he’ll just lead us in to ruin.” I don’t know about big stuff, about ruin, but I do know about the little stuff, and I don’t think it’s healthy to micromanage everything because you’re worried that he won’t do it right. Let him learn from his mistakes with the little stuff, and he might have learnt his lesson when it comes around to the big stuff. In dancing, couples tend to only go crashing to the ground once or twice, before figuring out how not to do that again.

5) He can see behind my back
On the flipside, he can also see what is going on behind me. That’s why I need to trust him.

6) It takes practise to get it right
There was once a man who was having trouble dancing, and this was being made worse by other beginners who hadn’t quite got following down yet. My teacher sent a competitive ballroom dancer in her 50s over to him and said “She’s like a well-oiled machine. She’ll follow you.” The couples who have been dancing together for years do this leading and following thing so seamlessly, that it looks like they’re doing choreographed moves even when they aren’t. It takes practise to learn how to follow. I am not going to submit to my husband perfectly, and he is not going to lead me perfectly.  It doesn’t really come naturally. But over time, as we get more and more practise, I think it will become a lot easier.

7) An interesting point: In a ballroom dancing hold, the man is under the woman
I always just thought this was interesting, as I was drawing comparisons between dancing and marriage back when I was engaged. The man holds the woman from underneath – her hand is on top of his, his other hand is under her armpit. I don’t have a big spiriutal application for this one, but I can see how my husband supporting me has enabled me to become so much more of who I am.

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3 thoughts on “Everything I know about submission in marriage, I learnt from ballroom dancing

  1. This was a great article. Someone pointed out to me a few years ago that the husband makes the greater sacrificevin the bible passage, but your examples are wonderful. Also I never thought about being able to see behind the other person. Interesting point. :)

    • Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it :) I definitely agree that it’s actually the husband who is called to make the bigger sacrifice – he may one day actually need to lay down his life for his wife. But I see a lot of people just focus on the unfairness of it all for the woman, and concentrate mostly on that, so it was that which I wanted to address. Not being a husband, I can’t comment too much on how husbands should be, but I can look at my own life, and my own role as a wife. Thanks again!

  2. Pingback: Top 12 of 2012 | Mourning. Heaven. And you

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