Focus on the Family

The Chain of Command in Marriage

by Jocelyn Green

Mark and Vanessa Hart have been married to each other – and to the military – for 12 years. They share a love for God and country and do their best to follow the Bible's teachings. But whenever their pastor preaches a sermon about leadership and submission in the home, their minds swirl with questions:

The Harts aren't the only ones asking these questions. If the topic of submission and leadership in the home is tricky for the average couple, it's even more complicated for those in military service, no matter which spouse is the active duty member.

Military couples can start by looking at the issue through the lens of attitude. It's not what you do that matters (for instance who pays the bills), but how you demonstrate respect and humility toward one another. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul lays the groundwork for all human relationships:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:3-7, NIV).

Additionally, Ephesians 5:21 instructs us to "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

With these Scriptures in mind, and with Christ as the example, couples can begin building a foundation of humility and respect for one another.

Order in the Home

Practical tips for translating God's design for order in the home to a military marriage context

by Jocelyn Green

"Remember, I'm not one of your troops," Judy McChrystal consistently reminded her chaplain husband, Col. Scott McChrystal, when he returned from deployment, training, or just a long day at work for the Army.

Years later, says McChrystal, he finally figured out what she meant. "I never thought she was one of the troops," he says, "but when you spend all day telling people what to do and what not do to do in very pre-elementary terms, that easily transfers when you walk through the door."

When it comes to leadership, the military way of doing things does not reflect the order the Bible tells us should exist in our homes; service members must deliberately switch paradigms when they return to their families.

Mutual Submission: Be Subject to One Another

Husbands and wives are to demonstrate mutual respect. Ephesians 5:21 says we should "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." The practice of yielding our own wills out of respect for another human being is unnatural, but God calls all of us to be humble enough to do so (see 1 Peter 5:6).

While showing respect can be done in many ways, careless words can sabotage your efforts at home. To be safe, lay some ground rules in your marriage to avoid feelings of disrespect and distrust:

Make Bible reading and prayer a priority for your lives. If you aren't submitting your will to God, it's unlikely you will submit to your spouse.

Servant Leadership: Husbands Love Your Wives

Paul states in Ephesians 5:23 that "the husband is the head of the wife." He also tells husbands: "love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:25,28, NIV).

In God's hierarchy, leaders serve. Jesus says, "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matthew 23:11, NIV). Christ demonstrated servant leadership Himself when He willingly died on the cross for our sins.

Leadership, or headship, is not a right to command and control as one might in a military setting. Author and pastor of Bethlehem Bible Church in Minneapolis, Minn., John Piper defines headship as "the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection and provision in the home."

Tips for Practicing Servant Leadership

So, how do you provide leadership in your home, especially when you may not be physically present for weeks or months at a time? Here are a few tips:

"If I've seen anything over the years, it's not leading perfectly that counts," says McChrystal. "It's having an attitude where I'm trying and my wife sees that I'm trying. That is the most important thing she needs. This knocks the props out from anybody who says 'I can't.' You can. Anybody can try."

Submission: Wives Respect Your Husbands

In Colossians 3:18-19, Paul says: "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them." Most women do not need to be told to love their husbands; that usually comes naturally. But did you know that when men don't feel respected in the home, they don't feel loved either?

Regardless of whether the wife is the service member or the "dependent," submitting to her husband is a quality worth cultivating. Piper preaches that submission is "the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts." The Christian wife need not give up her own God-given gifts and interests in order show honor to her husband. Submission is an attitude and an inclination the wife can nurture whether or not the husband is physically present.

Tips for Practicing Submission

If submission is an attitude, behaviors serve as barometers of the heart. Here are practical ways you can demonstrate a submissive spirit to your husband:

With frequent separations common in a military lifestyle, practicing biblical headship and submission in Christian marriage may be a challenge. But while perfection may not be attainable, progress certainly is.

Who's In Charge Here?

Compare yourself with characteristics of true leadership and submission to see how you rate.

by Jocelyn Green

God's design for marriage is that husbands lead and wives submit to that leadership. But what does that mean in the context of a military lifestyle? And how well do you model the order God intended?

Husbands: Are You Leading?

Even when husbands are deployed, they still retain the role of family leader.

Suppose you are deployed when you hear from your wife that your 12-year-old son is acting up in school and at home. Think about your response. Would you tell your wife to handle it herself and not bother you with details? Would you listen to her observations and offer some advice for getting him back on track? Would you e-mail or talk to your son on the phone yourself?

The last two options would both provide leadership in this situation, if your access to e-mail and phone permits.

Now let's say you arrived home recently, and you notice that the house needs to be cleaned and organized. What's your next move? Do you bark out orders and make assignments to get everything ship-shape? Do you leave the task to your wife? Or, do you start pitching in?

As much as being head of the family doesn't allow you to shrug off your responsibility, it also doesn't mean ordering people around. Especially in that transitional period right after deployment, it's a good idea to ask your wife for some background information. In the scenario above, perhaps your family has designated Saturdays as work days around the house; if you had the background conversation with your spouse first, you'd have seen that plan in action. Furthermore, if you see something in the system you don't like, try to explain your position before making sweeping changes.

Compare yourself to the characteristics in the two lists below to determine how well you are leading your family in the areas of parenting, household maintenance, finances, spiritual growth and more.

What Headship Is

A husband who appropriately acts as the head of his home does:

What Headship is Not

A husband who appropriately acts as the head of his home does not:

Wives: Are You Submitting?

When a wife is left in charge at home during a deployment, it is still possible to demonstrate an attitude of submission to her husband's authority.

Imagine you go to the mall when your husband is deployed. You fall in love with something you see, but the price tag is beyond your normal budget, even though it's on sale for the weekend. Would you buy it anyway? E-mail your husband about it to get his OK? Decide not to buy it since it's not in the budget you had planned with your husband?

The latter two choices demonstrate a submissive attitude, while going against your budget without your husband's consent communicates a low regard for his decisions.

Being submissive doesn't mean that you never disagree, either. For example, if your recently returned husband tells your young daughter she can go to the community pool without realizing a) she hasn't learned to swim yet, and b) there is no lifeguard on duty at that pool, that is not a time to sit quietly and pray for him to change his decision. You are responsible to step in and tell your husband those two important details so your daughter doesn't go alone. The key is in the delivery. Don't demand, "What are you thinking?!" Instead, try a softer approach, like "Honey, you may not realize …."

Compare yourself to the characteristics in the two lists below to determine how well you are demonstrating submission. Think about all areas of your life together, including childrearing, housework and maintenance, budgeting issues, your spiritual life and more.

What Submission Is

Being submissive does mean:

What Submission is Not

Being submissive does not mean:

In a military marriage, both spouses normally know how to do everything from changing diapers to changing the oil in the car, from cleaning the house to cleaning out the gutters. The measure of your leadership and submission does not consist of who does what task, but your attitudes as you seek to demonstrate the order God has specified for the family. It takes commitment, humility and responsibility on both sides as both partners submit to God above all else.

Solo Duty

This practical guide to holding down the fort highlights what the spouse at home needs to be in control of when the other spouse deploys.

by Jocelyn Green

Let's say that deployment is fast approaching, and you're bracing yourself for the separation. The spouse at home will serve as both mom and dad as well as "officer in charge" of all domestic affairs. In her book When Duty Calls, Carol Vandesteeg suggests holding a "Change of Command" ceremony in which you reassign household tasks and clearly state your expectations for the children's behavior.

Regardless of which spouse holds down the fort, he or she should be well-versed in the following areas before the deployment begins:


Husband and wife should be equally able to pay the bills and handle family finances, since a short-notice separation may not allow time for additional training.



Important Records

Save yourself time and energy by organizing legal and personal documents.


Keep the following documents in a special binder, file cabinet or fireproof safe:

Household Management

Know the routine for basic household maintenance.



*For comprehensive pre-deployment checklists, check with the service member's unit as well as USAA for its Deployment Assistance Advice & Assistance Checklist.

Maintain the Leadership of a Deployed Father

Even when deployment takes the husband out of the home and mom is clearly in control, a father can still maintain his leadership position in the family.

  1. Create recorded messages from Dad. Record Dad reading stories to the kids, sharing how much he loves them, telling them to obey their mom while he is gone, etc.
  2. Choose words wisely. A mother's attitude can convey either resentment or understanding and love. Explain that Daddy misses the family and keep him "present" by saying things like, "Daddy would like that," or "Daddy will love hearing about this!"
  3. Consult and consort. Communicate before making big decisions whenever possible. The wife can also share observations about the children with her husband, and together they can develop a plan for their best interests. (Do this between deployments as well, so, if communication isn't possible, you'll have set a precedent.)
  4. Communicate. Utilize mail, Internet and phone whenever possible. Send Dad pictures of the kids, their artwork and audio or video clips of them doing everyday things. Likewise, the family needs to hear from the deployed father, even if all he has the energy to say is simply that he's tired and will share more later.
  5. Collect photos of Dad and post them around the home to maintain his presence and position in the family.

Renegotiating Leadership After Deployment

When deployment is over, ease your transition as you renegotiate leading and submitting with both spouses in the home.

by Jocelyn Green

Your family has endured weeks or months of separation due to training, a temporary duty assignment (TDY) or a hardship tour. Reunion is just around the corner, and, while you cannot wait to have everyone together again, questions lurk about the new balance of control and leadership between spouses. No matter which spouse has been away, both will need to make adjustments in order to ease the transition from independent individuals to a cohesive marital unit once again.

Know What to Expect

As you begin to navigate the "new normal" of your household, recognize where each spouse is coming from. Here's what to expect:

  1. The service member needs to know that your family needs him/her, since the family managed for a long time on their own. Assure him/her of their vital place in the family.
  2. The service member will wonder how he/she still fits into the family. The children may go to the parent who has been home for everything and ignore the other.
  3. The service member may feel hurt if children hold back from him/her. Talk about the best way to approach young children.
  4. The service member may want to step right back in to handle all of the family's responsibilities. Talk about how to best divide family duties, and give the transition time to develop.
  5. It will be hard for the hero at home to give up sole control of the family to share it with the returning soldier.
  6. The service member may not notice some of the adjustments the family needs to make because he/she is home again.
  7. The spouse at home will be more independent than before deployment.
  8. The spouse at home will have new skills gained during the deployment.

Take it Slow

When it's time to renegotiating household duties, a revised budget plan, etc., first allow time for the service member to adjust to life back home. A few things to keep in mind:

Support Each Other

As parents' roles and the balance of leadership shift, remember that you are all on the same team. Support each other:

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources addressing military marriages

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