Yes, obey… it says. Although often included in traditional wedding vows, most modern women find the portion that requires women to “obey” their husbands a bit too daunting and uncomfortable. It is rooted in centuries-old Christian beliefs and social rules, but as women gained greater freedoms, the subservient word has become a controversial topic. Although few couples opt to include "obey" in their binding vows, some view the word as an important part of the marital relationship where both parties are concerned.
What is the true meaning of these words we recite to each other? And how will you, the modern bride and groom, take these vows and apply them in your marriage to ensure the sanctity and strengthen your bond of love?
A deeper look into history
Historians note that the original wording that required women to obey their husbands likely originated among the ancient Romans, who viewed females as the property of first, their fathers then their husbands. As the seat of Christianity, this social rule traveled from Rome to other regions of Europe, maintaining its status quo from the Middles Ages until the women's suffragist movement.
Despite common misconceptions, the word obey does not appear in Catholic wedding vows. The word was introduced by the Church of England in 1549 when it released its first Book of Common Prayer. The Reformed Catholic Church required grooms to promise to "love, cherish and worship" and brides to pledge to "love, cherish and obey.”
Through a historical lens, the promise to obey a husband carries negative connotations. The majority of modern women continue to interpret the meaning of the word as submission of free will. However, some Christian women are embracing the wording once again, viewing the vow as a pledge to respect the wishes of their husbands. It is not a sign of weakness but rather an unwavering declaration of trust and unconditional support in the man's role as head of the household. Since this is a precious gift, husbands must approach this vow with pure intentions, careful of only standing firm on things that deeply matter and only after seriously considering his wife’s opinion. Some brides choose to interpret obey as meaning to uphold the values of the vows and to respect the relationship. Other couples opt to re-word the traditional vow by both promising to obey. This option reflects the equality expected in the relationship, the mutual responsibility the bride and groom both have to protect, cherish and love each other.
So how to do we honor these vows to help build a strong foundation for marriage and making it a lasting one?
Keeping your emotions toward the opposite gender in check honors your spouse. Staying pure from pornography, from sexual innuendos, from subtle flirtations sets you apart for your spouse only. Those boundaries keep you far away from adultery – this is the greatest dishonor you could show your spouse.
Accept each other fully
It is common in early stages of marriage to try and change each other into what we thought the ideal husband/wife should be. By doing so, you are actually rejecting the other. Make the decision to love your spouse as they are. There’s a difference between conversations about what they do and who they are. You spouse need to know that you accept them as-is and love them for who they are.
We tend to focus on the negative, don’t we? Those are the things that become glaring and once we start, that’s all we seem to see! Try and look for the good in your spouse, especially in their character and personality. Let them know what you see and appreciate. Write a couple sentences on a post-it and leave it for them to find. Tell them verbally. Tell others in their presence what you love about your spouse. Given the current avenues social media has opened up, this should be even simpler.
Focusing on your mate’s positive traits reinforces in your mind and heart the wonderful person they actually are. It’s an active retraining of our thoughts in expressing honor.
Your spouse will sin, make mistakes, or let you down in some way in the days to come. Make the decision now that you will show grace and be gracious toward them. Even if it’s a situation that needs discussion, choose to discuss without accusation, without contempt, and without shaming them. Choose to show grace. As you show grace, you will show honor and value to your spouse. You may come up with more ideas for how to show honor, but these four keys lay a solid foundation. Keep the vow you made at your wedding and honor your spouse as you build your marriage!