I just returned from a fabulous weekend at America’s Keswick, a Christian conference center whose main ministry is the Colony of Mercy. This ministry is a residential treatment center for men who are caught in addictions – all kinds, and their families. If you know someone who could benefit from real gospel oriented help, this group is top notch and the best news is there isn’t much financial outlay involved. For those who don’t have insurance or cash for private treatment, this can be a wonderful option. http://www.americaskeswick.org/
In January I am starting a six month group coaching program. It will be twice a month for 90 minutes each session. I will be sending out an invitation for my entire mailing list (over 8,000) this week, but spots are very limited so if you are interested in participating, please e-mail us privately at email@example.com with your e-mail address so we can send you a notice a day before the general mailing. I value this community and want you to get all the help you need in growing into strong, God-centered people.
Today’s Question: I’m newly married, only 2 years, but my husband is getting more and more controlling. He controls our money – I have little say. He says God has made him the head of our home and he’s required to be a good steward of our finances. He ultimately decides what we buy, like new furniture or how to decorate our home. I’m the woman and I’d like to fix up the house but if he doesn’t like it or thinks it’s too expensive, I have no say. Lately he’s been saying that if I don’t agree with him it’s disrespectful and that God’s plan for marriage is for us to be one. I love my husband and want to please him but I have my own opinions too.
My question is, do I have to disappear as myself in order to be one with him? He’s never been violent or physically threatening in any way, he just uses spiritual pressure and Scripture to make me feel guilty or give into his idea of Biblical headship. Is this abusive or destructive behavior?
Answer: You are so wise to begin to question this behavior early in your marriage before more destructive patterns become established. There are many women in this blog who experienced what you are experiencing early in their marriage and assumed this was exactly God’s plan and gave in. As a result they did disappear into their marriage and the marriage didn’t get better or more God-centered as a result. It grew more and more husband-centered and their husband became more and more self-centered even if he could quote reams of Bible verses to justify it.
Therefore, you are going to have to start by getting clear minded on what Scripture says about marriage and about the responsibilities and obligations within marriage as well as the larger picture of how people are to get along with one another, resolve conflict, and deal with differences. It’s so easy to take a verse out of the Bible and try to make a case about what you (or someone else) should do. Satan tried this with Jesus in the Garden Temptations. Read for yourself in Matthew 4:5-7 where Satan uses the word of God to tempt Jesus to do something Satan wanted rather than what God wanted. Thankfully, Jesus knew the rest of the Scriptures and wasn’t duped by Satan’s strategy.
Neither should we be duped or intimidated when someone points out a Scripture and then tries to make a case about what we should do or stop doing. They may be right, but don’t take it as absolute truth without checking it against other Scriptures that may say something else.
For example, Galatians 6:2 says, Bear one another’s burdens. And then Paul adds in Galatians 6:5, each person should carry his own load. Which is it? It depends on the context. Scripture speaks about how to act in one context and then says something else about how to behave in another context.
For example Paul writes in Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:2 to bear with one another’s weaknesses. In other words, put up with one another. Yet he also teaches that we’re to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) confront someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1), and admonish the unruly (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Jesus also said in Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone…”
So it would not be Biblical to always put up with one another’s faults (even if someone told you that the Bible said we should.) Sometimes we need to speak up or even stand up. It requires wisdom and discernment to know when and how.
Your husband may mean well and fully believe that his position as the head means he has to be over everything. That is what has traditionally been taught. So don’t overreact by accusing him of being destructive. Try to be compassionate towards him as you start to speak up. Begin by saying something like, “I love you and want our marriage to be the partnership God designed for marriage, but I don’t agree with your idea of headship and submission. I don’t think the Bible teaches that because you’re the head, you should make all the decisions or have total say over everything. I think he’s given me to you as your partner so that we can make the best decisions together.”
Is he willing to hear you out? Is he respectful of your perspective? Is he curious to know more why you think this way? That’s a good sign and if so, ask him if he’d be willing to watch my video on this topic on my home page Click Link Here on what is Biblical headship and submission and have a talk about the verses that I use there that explain what Jesus meant by leadership and headship.
Secondly, I want you to begin to assert your personhood with your husband in non-threatening ways to begin to breathe some fresh air into his idea of “oneness”. For example, when he’s talking about something that you see differently you can just honestly say, “I see where you’re coming from but I have a different perspective, would you like to hear it?”
If he begins to balk that you “shouldn’t” have a different opinion, feeling, or perspective than he does, gently say this: “Are you saying that I have to become you in order for us to be one? Or that I have to always agree in order for you to feel respected? Can’t I respectfully disagree?”
Then tell him, “I’m not you, I’m me. God made me uniquely me. He didn’t make me you. I have my own thoughts and feelings and tastes on things. I don’t think oneness or being respectful towards you means I have to stop being me.”
In this way you will challenge his idea of fantasy wife – where you should meld yourself into who he wants you to be without any feelings, needs, or requests of your own. This fantasy wife idea is absolutely toxic to you but also to him and the long term stability of your marriage. Every healthy marriage requires that couples learn to love and live with a real person not a fantasy person. That means learning to live with disagreements, disappointments and differences in a godly way as well as coming to a “we” decision together.
I am so glad you are questioning this thinking early and with God’s help, you can begin to turn things around so that the two of you can experience God’s plan for a great marriage.
Friends, any other suggestions you have to share with this woman so that she doesn’t get suffocated or squashed?
This is also an interesting article to check out: http://redemptionpictures.com/2013/11/20/how-i-became-a-jesus-feminist/
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Be consistant and don’t back down. The more he gains control the more lost you will become. I wish I had this wonderful advice many years ago. Either we would have had a better marriage or been divorced a lot sooner. Don’t allow your oneness to become all him. He needs to respect you as a person with thoughts and ideas and yes even a plan for decorating the living room. If you continue on this path and you start a family, it will only get worse. You won’t be allowed to be the kind of mom you want to be. Every decision on parenting will be his. If your church is teaching this kind of behavior, perhaps it is time for a new church.
oh my gosh, i loved ‘how i became a jesus feminist’. This guy articulated everything I have been feeling and thinking for a long time. It is great to be out here on the cutting edge with Leslie! Thank you!
Leslie’s advice is so good.
This is what my husband wanted. He used the biblical headship verse to bolster himself, keep his fears of imbalance at bay that were rooted in his childhood pain, and unknowingly kept me boxed in. Even though he turned away from this a few years ago at a shallow level…it still came up from somewhere inside him a couple of times this fall when he felt some type of frustration or fear as I began to ask him to take action on the odd issues that come up.
I continued to seek to speak up over the long years…but ineffectively.
The whole situation has wreaked havoc over these 25 years, not just in my life but in our family and ministry.
I have needed to gain strength and outside support and practical skills.
I’ve been learning this balance too – (Pr. 26) – do not answer a fool according to his folly: for me this meant not trying to reason with or reply wisely to the foolish thinking or staying inappropriately quiet about the problem, I think if you use reason or wisdom that a man hears that as a challenge and maintains his position; this reinforces the folly and you become part of the problem rather than the solution … yet as the next verse says answer a fool according to his folly so he doesn’t become ‘wise’ in his own eyes and further entrenched: which I’ve been learning means to name the problem, to say it sounds odd, or ask for action to look into it.
I like Leslie’s wording ideas.
My husband had a VERY strong need to be head because he felt his mom was and seems to have felt some deep pain or confusion as he sought to be a man. This was extremely tricky.
If you can catch this early and prayerfully approach it wisely, you will save yourself ever deepening heartache as the years go by.
I am finding I need outside help and support. When it is just you and him, you can begin to be beaten down. His voice can trump yours.
It is very necessary for you to be separate – think of Psalm 1, the good tree grows separately. Think of the phrase, ‘Be holy’; one way of looking at the word holy is separate. Two ARE better than one, as God says; you can only be a help if you are separate. Sometimes as women we want togetherness but as the boundaries book accurately point out, before there can be one there must be two.
If you walk too closely together, you can’t help him when he falls down, you’ll both go down together. Separateness is an important key to marraige.
Positive comments can help I think – they can be like carrots! My husband can be drawn to these carrots. “I find it very intriguing when you…”. In your case insert, when you give me space to choose…or do… One time I threw one of these out as I rolled over in bed and I heard a small voice behind me say, “you do?” and he bit it.
Francine Rivers in her book about Tamar has her mom say, “Be wise as a serpent, gentle as a dove” which are actually Jesus’ words about sending us out as sheep among wolves. I think this was incredibly good marraige advice.
I think its important to own yourself, and it sounds like that is your desire. Its too easy to get lost in a spouse, because they are louder, more aggressive, and sometimes just know the words to say to cause fear or guilt. Ask yourself, “What do I need?” He probably won’t give it to you, so its important you become assertive and get what you need. In my life, I have learned to call this taking personal responsibility, for me. My husband does not get to own me, control me, dictate to me what I must do. I must step up and speak for me. Support is a huge issue also. If he is the main voice in your life, I would recommend finding a good counselor who is trained in abuse, controlling, dominant spouses. I have been in counseling 10 months, and my life has been completely changed from the direction it was heading- because my husband lived from a very controlling, dominant place. Take charge of your life, and don’t be passive. Good job on getting help early!!!
Thanks Robin. Sorry for the delay in posting this. I have a new administrative assistant and a new computer and we are BOTH on a learning curve.
Oh, I highly recommend Leslie’s advice! I am one one of the many women who did not understand the information that she has been teaching about healthy relationships.
I highly recommend that you promptly look at Leslie’s site and view the short videos that break down the basics of good and bad relationships and how to be godly-assertive & build your own godly emotional core. She gives/counters a lot of poor advise that I (and many others) have received by well-intentioned but incorrect counselors. The utter confusion from being vulnerable to those who are supposed to be godly wise yet, have no idea nor want to believe how insane the emotionally controlling can be by an insecure, initially well-meaning husband at home, in real life.
Again, please take the time prayerfully to begin by viewing/listening to Leslie’s free videos to gain so much godly insight into what is really happening in your relationship and where to start in changing the negative movement/patterns before they become overwhelming.
Good for you in realizing something is wrong and asking for advise! It sounds like you have good instincts and are not okay w/ being controlled nor willing to let things that are not okay to ride.
Best of God’s help for you!
“This fantasy wife idea is absolutely toxic to you but also to him and the long term stability of your marriage.”
Having been in a destructive relationship, I totally get how the fantasy wife idea isn’t good for the wife. However, I just don’t get how it’s not good for the man. It seems like it allows him to always get his way, and he isn’t the one suffering. He seems free of consequences.
I would like to have a heart of love for my husband in dealing with the issues in my marriage, but I can’t see how confronting him or giving him consequences would help him?
For your husband to believe a lie – that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife only enables his blindness and self-centeredness to flourish. How could that possibly be in his best interests spiritually or relationally. In other words, it may feel better to believe lies just it feels better to smoke crack cocaine but is it really better for you in the long run? No! Fantasy wife does allow him to get his way but is that good for anyone to get his or her way all the time? He is free of consequences because it seems you’re afraid to put any in place. Pain is a powerful teacher. How does a young child learn he is not THE most important person in the world or that his needs don’t ALWAYS come first? He learns that through the pain of mommy being busy with other children, of not always being able to attend to his needs 100% of the time, not just because she can’t but because she doesn’t want to. She wants to read a book or do something else – cook dinner or fold laundry and he begins to realize that there are other people in the world who also have needs. Is this NOT good for him to learn? Absolutely. And if he hits mommy because she won’t give him what he wants right now, the consequences are a time out. Isn’t that a good thing for him to learn that there are painful consequences when you hurt other people
You are not parenting your spouse but we learn best by consequences when we don’t learn by words. If I get a speeding ticket for speeding, I’m more likely to drive slowly than if my husband simply tells me I’m driving over the speed limit. If he refuses to get in the car with me because I drive recklessly, it will even be more powerful. Consequences may make us mad, but the do wake us up – or at least they try to. Hope that helps.
I’m a bit confused. I FEEL deep in my gut that these principles apply to me but I’m just not sure how to put them into practice. My husband has an opinion on everything and his usually overpowers mine. He does it in a very nice way, in a way that is concerned for my well being or my image or well fare at first. But I feel that if i were to assert my opinion, he would disagree with me and want to discuss all the different ways that my view is inaccurate or get angry with me. I get so confused and upset by this that I eventually give in or get frustrated and angry and loose my temper. My confusion also blurs my own opinion and where I started from and why I felt that way. I know its hard to give advice without all of the details but, I wonder if anyone else has felt that it is difficult to define exactly what is wrong or how to apply the council here.
Melissa, sometimes I think it is confusing to hold to our own point of view while still respecting or at least listening to another person’s point of view. We don’t want to be “closed” to listening to other people’s perspective, but if we’re not clear on our values or aren’t doing our own homework on thinking through our own thoughts and feelings it’s easy to be influenced and swayed by the “crowd” or the more powerful talker. So think about where you stand and why and if someone comes against that, you can say, “I hear you, but I don’t agree.” Leave it at that. See if your spouse can be as respectful of you as you are trying to be of him.
Like Melissa, I have a husband who is not loud or violent, but he is soft-spoken and sounds like he is showing great concern for me. But he usually finds a very sneaky way of making his idea sound completely Biblical and making mine seem sinful! On the few occasions where I have tried to assert my opinion and respectfully disagree with him, even just a little, he will dance verbal circles around me, sometimes for hours at a time, as to why he’s right and I am in sin if I don’t agree with him. He has said, on many occasions, “you’re not just disagreeing with me, but you are disagreeing with God”, and he uses a specific reference to back his argument up. It seems like the more I try to reason with him, the more crazy I sound. It’s like trying to reason with a toddler. I am struggling with getting myself emotionally and spiritually strong enough to respond to his nonsense in a way that contributes to the growth and health of our marriage, rather than just lashing out in utter frustration.
I feel so much like Melissa. My husband is very good at twisting things until I walk away feeling like I am the idiot. I believe he is narcissistic and always has to get his own way but he is very good at playing the vulnerable card as well. We are currently in marriage counselling and he receives separate counselling for his alcohol addiction. He is being very low key right now and I’m afraid that no one will see him for what he really is and once the dust settles he will go back to his controlling ways. Anyone have advice on how I should handle this??
I’m going to do some new video’s on specific ways to address these things in this next year so watch for them.
My husband is both narcisstic and social path, and extremely manipulative. He has been quite successful at quietly twisting everyone in my family against me for many yrs. For the first time I have a counselor who hears me and has comealongside and helped us (my daughter and I) to stop some of this divisiveness. It has brought great relief. But the manipulation takes many forms, and I’ve seen it for so long, I feel the greatest consequence is separation. I am not doing this to get him to hear truth. I am doing this, to take good care of myself and my family. WE have tried most everything, and all we get is momentary breaks, they are never lasting. When someone is so resistant to hear truth and acknowledge their wrong doing, we have to decide if we are willing to continue in this cycle. I am not. I am preparing for my separating of my life from his. I wish you all the best!!