When Relationships Collide, Session 3: Deciding Factors

by Gary Chapman

The one-word answer to spousal stand-offs.


One of the greatest struggles in marriage is decision-making. Visions of democracy often dance in the minds of young couples, but when there are only two parties, democracy often results in deadlock. How can a couple make a decision? The answer is found in one word — submission.

I know many people shudder at the word submission. It may bring to mind Ephesians 5:22, which tells us, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church.” But submission is not a female word. It’s a Christian word.

Just before this verse, Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “[Submit] to one another in the fear of Christ.” Paul is speaking to the church, then he applies the principle to the marriage relationship. It’s an attitude of submission that leads to both a healthy church and a healthy marriage.

Paul also challenges husbands to “Love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This kind of love calls for an attitude of submission and service.

What True Leadership Looks Like

When Christian couples discuss decision-making, they often quote 1 Corinthians 11:3, which explains, “Christ is the head of every man and man is the head of the woman.” They often stop quoting at that point, but the next phrase says, “And God is the head of Christ.” As the head, does the Father ever force the Son to do anything? No. Does the Son ever act independently of the Father? No. There is perfect unity. This is the design for Christian marriage: husbands and wives working together as equal partners with the husband as its head.

It’s an attitude of submission that leads to both a healthy church and a healthy marriage.

I’m fully aware that many contemporary Christians reject the idea of male leadership in marriage. I think it’s because they misunderstand the biblical concept of headship, which has nothing to do with superiority. It has to do with order among equals.

The husband being the head of the wife is one of the most exploited biblical concepts. Christian husbands, full of self-will, have made all kinds of foolish demands of their wives under the authority of “the Bible says.” Actually, the biblical concept is that the husband is to sacrificially love his wife as Christ loved the church. That is the intended attitude of a Christian leader.

Love always asks the question, “What’s best for you?” Love does not demand its own way. Husbands and wives are to submit to each other; recognizing that when they do so, they are also submitting to God.

The wife is called to be a “helper” (Genesis 2:18). She does so by sharing with her husband her honest thoughts and feelings about decisions. Submission does not mean silence. How can she be a helper if she has no opportunity to share her ideas? The Scriptures affirm that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). It’s certainly true in decision-making. Why would a husband want to make decisions limited to his own wisdom when God has given him a valuable helper?

An Attitude of Mutual Submission

Husbands and wives are far more likely to make wise decisions if they have an attitude of submission to each other, seeking the well-being of each other; sharing thoughts, ideas, opinions, and desires; fully willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the other. With this attitude of mutual submission, I believe that a Christian couple will find unity.

On those few occasions when, after an honest and loving sharing of ideas, a couple still can’t agree, I believe they should delay making a decision. While waiting, they should pray for God’s wisdom. The couple should talk with friends who have made similar decisions. They should seek to learn everything they can about the potential decision. After waiting, the couple will often find unity.

In those rare instances when they haven’t yet found unity on a decision but a decision must be made, I believe the husband is to be the recognized leader among equals and has the responsibility to make the choice he believes to be most loving. And the wife has the responsibility to say, “I don’t agree with you. But if that’s what you honestly believe, then I support you.” She puts unity above her own desires.

With God the Father and God the Son, there is always perfect unity because God is perfect. You’re not perfect, and your spouse isn’t perfect. But I do believe that with an attitude of mutual submission, you can make better decisions together.

Gary Chapman hosts two national radio programs: Building Relationships and A Love Language Minute — both are on the Moody Broadcasting network and can be downloaded at fivelovelanguages.com. Gary is an author and marriage conference leader and serves on the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He and his wife, Karolyn, have two grown children.

HomeLife coverThis article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of HomeLife Magazine. To subscribe to Home Life, click here or on the magazine cover.


  1. Peter Livingston says:

    With all due respect, I believe Dr Chapman has accepted a common misinterpretation of Ephesians 5:21. I believe the correct interpretation of submission (Gk. hypotasso) here is not “to one another” but rather is “submission to an authority”. Please see Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology p 465

    The placement of this concept here, and other lessons which has become common in many circles, serves to confuse the responsibility of leadership placed upon a husband which is to be done in a loving and serving way (ibid p 467) but yet with full responsibility for being the leader. Mutual responsibility is not biblical. Individual responsibility is.

    Please be careful in letting such things sneak into these important lessons.

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