The Dance of Mutual Submission

Jody Fernando


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When my babies were born, I fully intended to stay home full-time with them for a variety of reasons.  However, a year after my first child was born, my husband accepted a job that involved a 25% pay cut, making it necessary for me to work just to pay the bills.  It wasn’t exactly how I’d planned it, but I was surprised to find that I loved working and that leaving home actually made me a better mother when I was there.

What began as a paycheck slowly grew into an accidental career in academia that I grew to love.  Over the years, I thrived in my position, and my university was flexible with my family commitments, while at the same time supportive of my professional development.  I had a stellar boss, and she was helping me strategize future steps and potential advancements. My job fit me to a tee and the room for growth in my position was exciting.  It was really the perfect set-up, except for one glaring piece.

Our interracial and intercultural family was living in a tiny rural midwestern town with hardly any diversity and it was sucking the life out of us.  My South Asian husband was crumbling under the cultural isolation, rural racism, and lack of access to quality curry.  Given strained racial dynamics in our local community (we lived 20 minutes from the site of the last public lynching in America), we didn’t feel it was wise for our children to be some of the only biracial children in the local schools.  Having grown weary of being stared at, we’d also developed a coping mechanism of leaving the house as little as possible.  Overall, we were withering as a family.

So when my husband received a job offer in Southern California, the choice was clear.  In our situation, a move to a more diverse area would significantly benefit our marriage and family as a whole, so the priority of my own career in the mix landed a distant last.  I gave up a budding career and professional network that I loved and restarted the career I had spent years slowly growing.

While it may appear that we were subscribing to traditional gender roles when I let go of my career to follow my husband across the country, the real story is rooted more deeply in our understanding of loving one another from a place of equality and mutual submission.

I grew up being taught a model of marriage that promoted the man as ‘head of the household’, but saw a completely different model lived out in my home.  When I’d ask why both parents seemed equally in-charge, the response was that it was ultimately the big decisions in which the man would use his role as “Head” to decide and that the woman would submit unquestionably to his decision.  But this never happened in my home, because if my parents couldn’t agree together, they waited until they did, or they didn’t do it.  My husband and I had found the same in our own marriage.

But we had discovered the gift of words like egalitarian and mutual submission to help us work out the dance of marital partnership, instead of feeling like we were always breaking theological rules.

This was our “big” decision, and from our understanding of mutual submission, we knew that it had to be made together.  The weight of uprooting ourselves, leaving family, and moving 3000 miles away required an equal strength and commitment from us both, and we knew it was a decision that wasn’t fair to sit on the shoulders of just one of us.

One of the guiding principles my husband and I have operated on throughout our marriage is that we make our decisions for the good of the whole.  Given my type-A personality, I used to function as though our marriage was “The Me Show”.  As my husband and I matured in our relationship, however, I began to see that it wasn’t true equality if I ran the show – it was just reverse patriarchy.  

The equality in our relationship was beneficial only so much as it sacrificially considered the other, and understanding this equality was what taught me how to submit not as a subordinate, but as an equal.

This dance of giving way to one another was about to take a new turn, and we both knew we’d need to learn some new steps. Even though the decision to leave my career had been clear, it still didn’t make it an easy transition.  Full-time work in my field is nearly non-existent in Southern California, so I was only able to find part-time contract work, and redeveloping my professional network is slow-going.  The slowness has meant that I take a back seat and watch for a while, cheering my husband on to walk boldly and faithfully in his strengths.

Ultimately, this has been a gift as I have had time to help cushion the transition for us all, given a lighter work schedule, but it was painfully humbling to transition from an established reputation in a position of leadership back to anonymity at the bottom of the ladder.  What I didn’t see coming when I walked away from my career was how my professional downgrade would give me the opportunity to actively live out Jesus’ call to seek the good of others.

Sacrificing my own advancement so my husband and children could thrive also meant that we could all walk on more equal footing together.  In the process, I’ve learned that sometimes sharing power equally means stepping back, loosening grips, and standing in the shadows for a while.  There may very well come a day when it means stepping forward again (perhaps we’ll move for my job someday), but for today, I’m learning to sit quietly and enjoy the scenery while I wait.



Here are some books on marriage and family presented from an egalitarian view:

Gottman, John & Nan Silver. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishing. (Gottman does not write from the Christian perspective, but his work is well-researched and effective.)

Lee, Helen. (2011). The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World. Moody Publishers.

VanVonderen, Jeff. (2010). Families Where Grace is in Place. Bethany House. Grand Rapids.



Jody Fernando

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  • Hi Jody!
    As soon as you talked about the closeness to the site of the last lynching, I thought the area sounded familiar. That’s how I always describe it, too.
    I’m a TU grad and remember sitting in on a panel you and your husband did.
    So fun to see you here, and these words, so inspiring.

    • Thanks, Cara! Good to meet you here! The TU environment has some great strengths, but unfortunately, this aspect is not one of them 🙁

  • We have been married since 1969, and we don’t ever have arguments. We do, however, have discussions that go on for several months. Example: We needed a new fence. I wanted a fence that I could see through to the alley at the edge of our back yard.. He wanted one which blocked all views of e the house and back yard from the alley.. We discussed this for 8 months. Eventually he offered to allow me to have a cat (he hates cat hair and litterboxes) if I would let him choose the fence. The cat out-weighed the fence in my mind, so we have a view-blocking fence and a cat that sheds a lot. My point is that mutual submission works with minor decisions. Throughout the life of a marriage, circumstances change. Just when you think you have the problems solved, something will change and you’ll be negotiating again. Keep communicating. – texasjoyce

  • We never make a major decision without mutual agreement that has been made by us both independently hearing what God is saying about the situation . Neither of us us spend a large sum if money unless we both agree. My husbands has always supported and promoted me . We had a prophetic word that we would be in a situation where we would be like two shire horses pulling a plough. Years later we began a church and by the grace if God this promise was fulfilled as we pastored side by side as equals . At the time it was controversial f or a woman to preach and teach and be in the leadership position, but most people accepted it as my husband publicly acknowledged me . I have written a book about it all which should be out by. Christmas called ‘a Life Shared’ .its a great story

  • Ahh, this is fantastic! I can’t tell you how much immediate resistance and hesitation I get from friends [and anyone really] when I use the word “egalitarian.” Seriously, it’s like using a swear word in church. But it’s almost comical the deeply embedded associations we have to particular words, “egalitarian” being one of them. When I say “I’m egalitarian” I think often times people hear: “I want to lead” – or – “I want a passive man who submits to ME.” Of course, neither of these are true or accurate, not even CLOSE. And yet, what you have described in your article is the VERY concept I’m always trying to communicate. “The dance of mutual submission” is a beautiful way to put it. Thank you for providing such a beautiful example of what it means to be in “mutual submission.” Thank you, thank you!

  • This is beautifully told, Jody. Thank you so very much. It is a dance, isn’t it? Learning to make decisions together, for the good of everybody in the family, sometimes requires one or the other of the partners to shift, sometimes uncomfortably so. But thankfully, God is always about redemption – and decisions made prayerfully and wisely are blessed in ways that sometimes surprise us. This is a lovely glimpse of that process. Thank you.

  • I really enjoyed reading this, Jody. Thanks for sharing it.

    We have been married 42 years now. First, we tried to go down the submission route in theory, but in practice, we were egalitarian, although we wouldn’t have said so… then we would have said so but maintained a complementarian theology… until we didn’t. Eventually, we had to give it up because neither of us actually agreed with it and it was too big a stretch to have to keep trying to hold to it.

  • I love how you talked about the family history you saw modeled in front of you. I too count myself lucky that if/when I get married my husband and I will have the words mutual submission and egalitarianism to describe our married life. My parent’s were not so lucky to have those words when I was a child. I always heard the man was the head of the household, but never actually saw that in display in their lives. They always did things together or not all. Great post!

    • Yes – I should definitely clarify that it wasn’t my own family who taught complementarianism, but the church culture of my formative years (both in high school and college). I had no idea there was even another view toward marital relationships until I was closing in on 30.

    • What an amazing way to picture the Trinity! Thank you for sharing!

    • Faith, your piece is beautiful! I love that they are obviously dancing. I had never pictured that before, but it is so refreshing. I realized when viewing the link that I usually think of God as seated. This really impacted my thinking and was very moving. Thanks for sharing it.

      • Thanks, Gail! Good point – we often think of God Father seated and Jesus standing beside him. What I did not include in this painting, was one point of the original sermon – we are invited into this dance with them. I love that!

  • I so much love hearing stories about how mutual submission works out in marriages, the mutual submission that looks like each partner seeking the good of the other and of the family. I grew up in a very complementarian household and — despite marrying someone who has never been a complementarian — I still struggle with the idea that, as a wife and mother, it’s okay for my vocation to sometimes take priority.

    I’m in the exact opposite situation from Jody’s, as we moved last summer for my job and in the process uprooted our 3 girls and necessitated a job transition for my husband. Despite my excitement about advancing my career, my husband’s support for my career and enthusiasm about his opportunity to switch jobs, and the fact that 2 of my 3 girls won’t even remember moving, I still feel guilt about dragging my family around the country for *me*.

    So thanks, Jody, for writing this; I needed to be reminded that mutual submission should look like a dance in which sometimes one and sometimes the other leads. I’m not dragging my family after me — just like you weren’t simply dutifully following your husband; we made choices together that we believe are best for our whole family. I just find it difficult, sometimes, to remember that the traditional models that I was raised in are not always or simply best for a family.

  • Great to hear this story! It resonates with my experience, too.

    I’ve had so many successful relationships (at work, friends, and otherwise) where it just never came up that a “final decision-maker” was needed. It sounds so sensible that when two people disagree one of them must be designated the authority to decide, so the patriarchal system is attractive. But in reality, in respectful relationships, my experience is that this never, ever happens. If two people are working towards their common good, they work something out together.

    Even when I *have* been in a position of authority, I do not find myself to be a successful leader if I have to tell people what to do against their will or judgment. Taking into account everyone’s input is important. Key to being an effective leader is to come up with a solution that gains the support of those under my “authority”. So even when authority properly exists, I still think relationships still work best, in practice, if egalitarian.

    • This is a great point, Anne! I learned about equality first in interracial relationships, so it was a very natural transition in my marriage. I think the concepts transfer well into a variety of contexts and we’re wise to consider their benefits in a broader context than only marriage!

  • Beautiful! You’ve got the heart and ideas that give respect all around. I love your piece here!

    It is fun to come to terms with our own significance, as women, wives and mothers. I was drowning in sadness at the beginning of our marriage because of my background and understanding on the very topic you deal with here. I began an intense study of Scripture, (after fourteen years of marriage) reading only the Bible for five years, finding Greek and Hebrew meanings in my Concordance and finally becoming a “thinker” along with my cerebral husband. (He was university trained, I was homeschooled. He traveled the world in the Navy; I traveled the lower 48 with a family ministry).

    But, during my years of study, I discovered that “head of the house” is not a term God uses for a married man. He is head of his wife, but she is “ruler of the family”. So I began to see the beauty of my own abilities and finally discovered my gifts and significance. Eric, my husband, and I began our own path of mutual submission. I have to tell you, it was a few years before I dropped the bondage I’d been trained into. After ten years, we self published my book, “Submission Is Not Silence”. Boldness from a quiet Spirit is the subtitle. I would like to send you a copy. Perhaps it will add to the discussion. I’d also like to know your take on it.

    Elisabeth Julin

      • Kate: Thanks. I will mail a copy of “Submission Is Not Silence” to you if you like; send an address to my email. Lizzie

  • Jody, thank you for this excellent post on mutual submission!

    It reminds me so much of my response to one of Wendy Alsup’s recent posts ( that I’ve decided to repost it:

    “My husband and I will be married 33 years this month. Through the years, there have been several times where one of us felt the need to move in one direction while the other was just not there yet. We found ourselves at an impasse where our differing desires and perspectives prevented us from moving forward in unity.

    Early on in our marriage, we had resolved that we would always put our unity above any decision making that needed to be done. If we couldn’t come to agreement about something that ranked high on the decision scale, then we would do nothing until the Holy Spirit brought us into unity on the issue.

    I’m reminded of Nicolas Cage in the movie “Family Man”. After making alot of selfish career decisions and uprooting his family in one move after another, he comes to the place where he finally realizes that his wife is more important to him than any decision or choice he feels led to pursue. In a powerful moment of relational conflict near the end of the movie, he suddenly “gets it”. He pulls his wife gently into his arms, looks her in the eyes, and says with beautiful humility, “I choose US”. Such a powerful truth!! Our unity as husband and wife is of primary importance. Everything else is secondary.”

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