Lori Alexander of The Transformed Wife is a good example of the “submissive” wife. Go there for lots of detail. But, I want to summarize basic principles.
The word “submit” or “submissive,” in the Bible when referring to wives, is derived from a Greek word, that is in turn derived from a Latin Roman term that refers to the relationship of a soldier to his commanding officer. Today, this is similar to the relationship of an employee to his superior. To “submit” is to arrange oneself into a relationship of subordination necessary to work together as a team. The team exists to achieve certain goals (winning the battle, winning the game, competing in business) and cannot be in conflict with itself. Thus, even though there are inevitably differences of opinion regarding the direction of the team/organization, the participants work together to achieve the goal.
Unfortunately, in English the term “submit” or “submissive” also refers to the relationship between, for example, the conqueror and the conquered, or a tyrannical government over its citizens, or a master to a slave. This leads to some distaste for the concept.
It is usually easiest for us today to imagine the employee/superior (“boss”) relationship, rather than a soldier/commanding officer relationship.
In a marriage, the man must be in the superior role, because a woman will soon become disgusted with a man that puts himself in the inferior position (who “submits” to his wife’s will). Women are happiest when the man takes the lead, and men are happy with this too. It doesn’t work the other way around.
In other words, a woman “enters a man’s Frame.” The man sets the order, and the woman works within it.
This superior/subordinate relationship can have many gradations. We can imagine some women who might be content with a man that seems “much higher than her,” for example like a general compared to the common soldier. This woman might prefer that the man take care of all the big stuff, so that she can basically have a comfortable lifestyle without worrying about all the details (mostly money-related), or participating much in the decision-making process. The man creates a sanctuary with a large buffer between her and the outside world, where she can focus on her narrow sphere of responsibilities and actions, mostly concerned with childcare, education, housekeeping, aesthetic interests (beauty, clothing) and socializing with her woman friends. Many women are very happy with this.
You could have a different sort of relationship, which is more like that of a CEO with his top vice-presidents, or a general with his top corporals. Here, the CEO might have an extended council about major issues, and delegate large responsibilities to his vice-presidents. This looks more like a “partnership,” but the CEO always has the deciding vote. In the end, the CEO makes the decisions, and the vice-presidents must work within that Frame without conflict. They must be an effective team.
You can’t be a “strong, independent woman” within a marriage. You can be strong (that is, highly capable), but not independent. When you join a football team, you have to play football. You have to play a certain position, and you have to cooperate with the team leader (quarterback, coach). When the play is a running play, specifically Play DD-37, you do not just go and do your own thing “independently.” Nor do you stamp your foot and insist on getting your way. If you don’t want to be on the team, then go somewhere else and be “strong and independent” independently. I suggest artificial insemination.
A husband can certainly take into account a woman’s desires and wishes. Her contentment is one of his responsibilities. If a wife says: “I want to take some tennis lessons because I think it would be fun and a good way to stay in shape,” then a husband can agree with that proposition, and make it part of His Frame. He might get a tanned, hardbody wife out of the deal. On the other hand, he may decide that she has been slacking off too much already, and has been falling short of his vision of how he wants childcare duties to be addressed, and thus refuse the request. Either way, the husband decides.
From this, we can see that it is necessary for a wife to “submit” — to join the man’s Team. Otherwise, all you have is internal conflict, or the disgust of the woman to the man who refuses to play the role of the leader.