I’m heading to Chicago to spend some time with my parents and family for a few days before going to Canada for some meetings. But I want to invite you to a very special FB Live tomorrow (Thursday, August 15) at noon ET with my guest Mary DeMuth. Mary’s a prolific author and has just released her newest book, We Too, How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis. In our interview we will specifically be talking about the ugly reality of marital rape and the church’s failure to help a wife who has been violated within her own marriage.
To get to my professional FB page to watch the Facebook live go here or later review the recording go here.
Today’s Question: My husband and I are very different. I am much more conservative financially, he loves to spend money. We argue about parenting, where to go on vacation, even how to arrange the furniture in the living room. His trump card is always, “As head of our home I get the final decision.” Is that true? Do I just need to always give in or submit to his way because he’s the man? What if his decision is absolutely wrong? Then what?
Answer: I often hear this kind of thinking when working with couples in marriage counseling. I also was taught this idea while in premarital counseling. In a nutshell, the teaching goes something like this. Couples have conflict. That is inevitable. However, when there is an impasse and there is no resolution, as the head of the home or leader, the husband gets the final say. But let’s look to see if this thinking is truly what God designed marriage to be like.
If we look at the original couple, Adam and Eve, before the Fall, there was mutuality to their relationship. In Genesis 1:26,27 God made human beings in his image (both male and female) and gave them both the responsibility to reign over the animals and take care of the earth. Eve was equal with Adam not beneath him.
After they both sinned, part of the curse was that their relationship would change. God told them, “And your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 ESV. The desire for power and control over another person would now characterize marriages instead of the mutuality that God originally intended.
That’s been the story ever since. However, when Christ came, he broke the curse of the law. Paul says, “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law” (Galatians 3:13).
We see throughout Paul’s writing a breaking of this “power over people” mentality. He writes, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). He also applies this to restoring the mutuality of marriage. He tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives to submit to their husbands out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33, Colossians 3:18,19). It’s both/and, not either/or.
When Paul talks about the sexual relationship, he also describes this mutual giving and mutual giving up of rights and power. He says, “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs and the wife should fulfill her husband’s sexual needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:3,4)
Notice the one spouse gives authority to the other, no one takes authority over the other. When mutuality in marriage is practiced, power struggles may be tempting, but never endorsed or validated as biblical. One person in a marriage should not take another’s choice away from her (or him). When mutuality is practiced and valued, a husband or wife often gives in or submits, but he or she gives in willingly, not under compulsion or in fear.
I have been married for over 42 years. There has never been a time in my marriage where my husband had to have a “final” say showdown. When you practice mutual submission and mutual respect, you listen to each other’s perspective. You defer when someone is wiser than you are in a certain area, you compromise, you work together to come up with a solution that you both can live with.
Finally, let’s look at this question from one other perspective – from the angle of authority. Too often we have misunderstood the authority of a position, whether it be husband, pastor, or elder, to be synonymous with getting one’s own way. In other words, if I am the head of my home (authority), then I get the final say, which means I get my way.
The Bible is very clear that authority does not imply entitlement to one’s own way. God’s Word gives specific instructions to those in authority on how to handle that responsibility. Throughout the Old Testament God often rebuked the leaders of Israel for their self-centered, deceitful, and abusive shepherding of God’s flock (See, for example, Deuteronomy 13; Jeremiah 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34:2-4).
Biblically, God put husbands as the head over their wives (Ephesians 5:23), but that does not put wives at the feet of their husbands.
Women and wives are depicted as equal partners in the Gospel, co-heirs in Christ, co-image bearers of God, and persons to love, not objects to use or property to own. Click To Tweet
Biblical headship is modeled by Christ’s gentle leadership and loving self-sacrifice. Husbands are cautioned not to be harsh with their wives and not to mistreat them, or their prayers will be hindered (Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). No godly leader is entitled to make selfish demands, order people around, or hurt them when they fail.
Jesus cautions those in positions of authority – parents, husbands, pastors, and elders – not to misuse those God-ordained positions for self-centered purposes. These roles are given to us by God to humbly serve the individuals or groups that have been entrusted to our care, not to have our egos stroked or to get our own way (Mark 10:42-45).
So what would these biblical principles look like in making family decisions? Let’s say you want to go to the ocean for vacation, but your husband prefers the mountains. Traditionally the final say has meant that he gets to go to the mountains and you simply have to submit.
But biblical headship defined by Christ is described as servanthood. Now we have an entirely different picture. How can your husband best serve your needs? If he is to love you as Christ loves the church and sacrifice himself for that, what would the “final decision” look like?
I think it would sound more like, “Honey, if you need sand and water for vacation this year, let’s do it.” Likewise, the wife might say, “if it’s that important to you that you get away from the crowds at the beach, I’m fine with that.”
When this kind of mutual submission, mutual love, and mutual respect are practiced in a marital relationship, there is no need for a “final say by one over the other.”
Friends, what have you been taught about “the Final Say” in marriage?
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Loved this article Leslie! It was very practical and clear while citing references from the Bible to clarify your point. I wish more pastors would teach on this point in the church, especially to young couples who are about to marry!!! I was told to “submit to my husband” and let him make the final decisions. This led to much abuse sexually and emotionally in my marriage. There was one instance where I had a fever of 103 and was so very sick with strep throat. I was burning up and could hardly talk or swallow. But my husband wanted sex and kept badgering me, telling me “what’s the big deal, you just have to lay there,” and “my body was his and I needed to submit.” I felt completely raped in that moment and a part of my heart died that day. I prayed to God to give me a clear sign to release me from this marriage, because I did not have “biblical grounds” (e.g. infidelity) to leave him. My answer came many years later when he began to use drugs, and I was becoming stronger for my son and was able to leave him. I wonder how many women have been abused in this way, using the Bible to make them feel guilty and beaten into submission. We need more strong leaders in the church willing to speak out against this type of abuse such as yourself. I believe you were born to do this hard work Leslie, so thank you for speaking up and boldly taking a stand! We in your community love you Leslie!!! Keep fighting the good fight and doing the work of Jesus. You are a God-breathed breath of fresh air in a world filled with so much sin, oppression, and abuse. May God continue to strengthen you, protect you, and give you courage to do His work here on earth. In Jesus name, Amen🙏🙏🙏
I’m so sorry you were treated this way. It is so wrong.
Thank you Jo. It’s nice to be able to speak about the abuse openly now as I hid it for so many years because I was so afraid of being judged and afraid of people not liking my husband. It is so nice to get support from this community as I am still healing 4 years post separation. Thank you for your kind comment.
Leslie, what do you say about al anon for the spouse of a long time functioning alcohol abuser?
I’m so sorry for what you have been through! So grateful that you are free and healing! Praise God for His ways to orchestrate this and you to receive it💕
I believe it grieves the Lord greatly when others spiritually abuse (His own)!
Your x-husband (assuming),Misused scripture to control and use you for his own selfish ways.
I believe we must all take a role in educating our children about this and other children (if allowed) so that many unnecessary destructive relationships can be avoided. To me.. these dynamics seem more and more epidemic!
As a parent, I believe that my husband & I are privileged by God and responsible to equip my children with knowledge and understanding of biblical principals.
Trish, I ditto every word you said. Thank you, Leslie!
I have a good marriage. We respect and love each other, and while my husband realizes that he is primarily responsible before the Lord to bear the responsibility for our family’s welfare, all decisions are made together before the Lord. If we don’t agree on something, then we will both go to the Lord and pray until we have arrived at a mutually agreeable decision. In earlier years, this was a bit more difficult, but after more than 50 years of marriage, we are, for the most part, “of one mind.”
Actually, because my own marriage has been so good, and I have been called upon to counsel members of our church, I came here to learn from you all. What so many of you have been through is heart breaking and mind boggling. In so many places the church has failed you. I applaud your courage in coming to this place and laying your stories before this community, and I pray for and bless Leslie for having the God-given wisdom and grace to continue to help so faithfully. May the Lord continue to supply each and every one who reads this blog with the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
I’m so glad you are here to learn to wisely help other’s in this situation. You may also want to check out my website http://www.leslievernick.com/counselors that has some specific video’s for you to watch. Also http://www.churchcares.com has new free training for churches on handling abuse of all kinds.
Thank you, Leslie.
Thank you for promoting mutual submission.
I do have a few ideas for you to consider. Eph 5:23 does not say a husband is “head over” his wife, it says he is “head of” his wife, which is then compared to the body of Christ. I see this as referring to a head/body metaphor of unity. Furthermore, when one checks the NT, all the examples that Paul uses of Christ being the “head of the church” involve serving functions, never a leading function. Of course, Christ is the leader/Lord, but I do not think that is the metaphor Paul is using when he uses the phrase “head of the church”. Of course, in 21st Century English, it is easy to just retroject our meaning of head as leader back into a 1st century text and not even think twice about it. But one can dig deeper and see what “head of the church” means to Paul.
Thanks for your input.
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible-believing churches are the ones that promote The Final Say when actually the Bible doesn’t say it! Nowhere in scripture will you find a command or even a hint of this teaching. Somewhere back in the day some preacher or teacher came up with The Final Say as an application of headship and submission, but clearly this is a human addition to scripture. Since it is nothing more than some people’s idea of what submission or headship looks like, The Final Say is not something we have to take as a command from God. There are many other legitimate applications of headship and submission and as Donald says, unity is the overarching principle that must guide every interpretation and application. I hear The Final Say all the time in my church culture and it drives me nuts. It is so unhelpful and it definitely creates a perfect environment for abuse to flourish.
Here is a short Scriptural answer to the “final say” idea, unless perhaps when the husband invokes his “final say” always does what his wife wants. According to Eph 5, a husband is to love/agape his wife and according to 1 Cor 13 love/agape does not seek its own way.
Good point, Donald.
What about Eph. 5:22-Wives, be subject to your own husbands as unto the Lord? This verse is the one keeping me from moving on without guilt.
But what about when a husband DOES use his authority as a ticket to get his way? What should a wife’s response be then?
Great question. What do you think God would have you do?
Kelly, you describe a recognized component of abuse termed “head of household.” Are you familiar with the power and control wheel tool used in treating and diagnosing people living in domestic violence?
Google ‘Power and Control Wheel’ and many copies of the diagram will populate. Check how many of the behaviors you are living with to get your answer.
Kelly, you may start thinking about specific situations in which you can respectfully assert yourself and begin to say things such as, “I understand you think I should….but I have decided to…” However, be careful and begin doing some research on the idea that domestic abuse is defined as coercive control. Sometimes asserting healthy boundaries can escalate the danger of your situation.
The one who insists on getting tne final say is the one who should not get the final say. I like the mutuality of the biblical commend. If both submit to eachother they will have a good vacation. How about a compromise:one week on the beach then one in the mountains?
It is so very encouraging to review all of your blog posts, written responses, and other materials. As a Christian in a healthy marriage with a spouse who respects core elements you teach ( freedom, mutuality, and reciprocity) in relationships, I have been fortunate. But we have a painful awareness of other marriages in Christian circles that do not flourish in healthy ways due to mis-interpretation or mis-application of the “submission” and/or “reconciliation at all costs” concepts. Ultimately, it is the children who suffer the most. Thank God that clergy members and churches are finally “waking up” to the plight of mostly women and children who sometimes feel or believe scripture says they should remain “hostage” in emotionally or even physically abusive relationships. Your books were right on track years ago, but there has been resistance. Thankyou, Leslie for staying and steering on this path! God Bless you!
Thanks Kat. It’s been a long road but hopefully the church is starting to have her eyes open. I pray God is getting through to at least some of them.
A wise elder/friend told me he tells his sons that as the spiritual leader of the home he/they get to be the first ones to give up what they want.
Great article, Leslie. I’m writing a book on this very subject right now–Scripture has been taken out of context and patriarchy-influenced interpretation of certain passages has been mainstream for too long. The tide is turning…I think this next generation will have none of it. People like you are bringing the issue to the forefront, and I thank God for that. Keep up the good work!!
Excellent work with this article, Leslie. I’ll be saving this as my go-to reference. Well done!
Only problem is when there is an impasse. My wife uses your teaching to have the final say on our impasse.
Winthrop Mark Johnson,
This blog post discussion was a bit back so I’m not sure if many will see it to be able to interact with you.
I’m sorry for your situation, are you getting counseling at this time?
This is heartbreaking. As a Christian male who strives to be a humble (not perfect) male servant leader and husband, it brings me to tears to read this. Let’s be perfectly clear……
Leadership is NOT license for lordship…
Authority is NOT license for abuse.
leadership and headship are real biblical principles that IF PRACTICED PROPERLY bring God glory.
What brings me to tears about this article is that it is written 98.6% from the angle of horrible, abusive, egotistical, selfish male leaders and the poor women the dominate. Of course if abuse is happening there is a problem. But because leadership is abused by abusive men…does that mean the idea of leadership is not real? In this article, you are essentially saying ‘no one is the leader’ (egalitarian)
What to do when there is a stale-mate over a non moral issue in a Christian house hold is a matter of much debate in the church. I believe in these situations arise (which should not be the norm) both parties are asked to trust God…the husband expresses his trust in God by humbly and with great fear of God taking full responsibility for the final decision thus providing leadership only after hearing his wife’s wisdom, and, if necessary, the council of other Christians and leaders male and female. The wife’s trust in God is expressed by lovingly yielding and allowing her husband to lead in this instance this granting him the beautiful gift of loving submission out of a healthy fear of God. This is a gift and if she decides not to yield/submit then that is her decision and between her and God. She is NOT to be forced but this IS what God asks in Ephesians 5.
You closed the article by implying ‘husband’s do not use your authority to get your way…instead…give your wife her way and in this you are being a servant’
It is also written as if women are incapable of being controlling, dominant, and emotionally abusive. If this type of destructive woman reads this article…her poor husband is doomed. The controlling wife will smile in her heart and demand the beach because “Leslie Vernick says you are supposed to be a servant to me.”