Topic: Who has the Final Say?

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been in Chicago this weekend for my niece’s wedding. I love to see two individuals in love join their hearts and lives together. What a blessing to be a part this special celebration. I danced with my 81 year old father – which was great fun. Look to my Facebook page to see some pictures which I will post later on this week.

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 it myself in my premarital counseling. In a nutshell, the teaching goes something like this. Couples have conflict. That is inevitable. However, when there is an impasse, there is no resolution, as the head of the home, or leader, the husband get’s 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 a 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 you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 The desire for power and control over another person would now characterize marriages instead of the mutuality that God originally intended.

That 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 3:38). He also applies this to restoring the mutuality of marriage. He tells husband’s to love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives to submit to their husband’s 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 does not take someone’s choice away from them. When mutuality is practiced and valued, a husband or wife often gives in, but they give in willingly, not under compulsion or fearfully.

I have been married over 35 years. There has never been a time in my marriage where my husband had to have a “final” say. 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 and that is the angle of authority. Too often we have misunderstood the authority of a position, whether it be husband, or 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.

But 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 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 in the Gospel as equal partners and persons to love, not objects to use or property to own. Biblical headship is modeled by Christ’s gentle leadership and loving self-sacrifice. Husband’s 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 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, 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 authentic biblical headship defined by Christ is 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”.

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  1. Brenda Branson on June 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Leslie, this is a great response to an often-asked, difficult question. I appreciate your wisdom and clear definition.

  2. Paula Silva on June 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    It is often glossed over that we are to mutually submit to each other. The misinterpretation of Scripture feeds into destructive relationships.Your explanation is invaluable to the women we minister to in FOCUS Ministries. Thank you, Leslie, for the insights you have shared.

  3. Anonymous on June 21, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Concerning husbands and, wives, yes we the husbands are to love them but, there is and, has to be a head in any relationship because, God wanted it that way. Jesus is the head of the church as a husband is head of a family. Are we smart enough to make decisions with perfection? or do we listen to Jesus in the end?if being a husband holds me accountable then, God is also giving headship to the husband for a reason as Christ is head of the church.Being a headship doesn,t give Jesus the right to force people no more then a husband can force his wife but, it doesn,t change the fact that god made things that way and, forsure gives husbands headships for a reason as HE GOD gave headship to Jesus. If we are loving as God called us to then, there won,t be any problem

  4. Anonymous on June 21, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Excellent Post Leslie- Thank you!

  5. Leslie on June 23, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Thanks for all your comments. Keep the dialogue coming. This is such a misunderstood issue between men and women it has caused untold heartache and problems in marriages.


  6. Maurice on June 25, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I'm still thinking the article through, but I do think that a lot of people do have "the man gets the final decision" thing misunderstood. It's not a benevolent dictatorship.

    • Jeff on November 15, 2014 at 12:35 am

      . . . Until I read your article “Who Wins? -The Final Say”, I always thought –WOW, I’m not really leading because I’m just making these decisions jointly with my wife. But grabbing the “final” say always seemed wrong because what my wife said (most of the time) seemed reasoned and logical. Yet, I always walked away from sermons about a man’s role thinking, BOY, I have to get in gear and get some final says in or she will not respect me. —Now, I realize, NO, no I did not ever need to do that. It was TEAM US –And let Jesus have the final say, if we can clearly determine (from the texts) for a particular situation (—Those are the easy decisions). I would start those decision conversations with my wife saying “I LOVE YOU” and end those decision conversations with “I LOVE YOU”. —And yet, all my life, I heard sermons on 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 saying women are to be silent and submissive to their husbands. They are not to speak at all in church. Then I started really looking at those manuscripts. —Actually looking at them myself. I learned from my Ph.D. program that if you are NOT dealing with the primary sources, you really don’t know. I used to think to myself this obviously makes it impossible for a woman to utter a prophecy in church, pray publicly and openly in church, or teach in church. As I studied, I realized that interpretation on women was NEVER true. Women are not allowed even to ask a question in church? WHAT??? But in the oldest extant manuscripts, the verses just intrude into the passage in which they are found. Someone added them to the passage later, added them after the letter had been placed in circulation. Look carefully at it (look at it in the interlinear Bible Greek/English if you don’t read Koine Greek). Immediately before these verses Paul is talking about prophecy in the church; immediately afterwards he is talking about prophecy. But this passage on women interrupts the flow of the argument. Take them out, and it flows, clean. Even more, it is hard to believe that Paul would tell women that they could not speak in church in 1 Corinthians 14, when just three chapters earlier he indicated they should indeed do so. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul urges women who pray and prophesy in church to do so only with veils on their heads. If they were allowed to speak in chapter 11, how could they be told not to speak in chapter 14? Someone added those verses to win a theological dispute or to just affect control over women. They made the passage say what these copyists wanted it to say rather than allowing Paul to say what he meant to say. We can’t be blind to things like this. Women should be encouraged to be scholars (I know some are) but far too few. We have 100s of untranslated bible manuscripts just sitting in libraries waiting for someone to translate them. We can’t keep ½ of our brain power cut off and expect to know what is going on. –And go really, really deep into God’s word. Study it. Really, think about it. Imagine a question mark behind each and every verse. —Yes, read it like the first time.
      This is why we loose so many young people. It breaks my heart. I talked last week to a mom whose daughter walked away from the Christian faith. Her daughter had been a serious Christian –no doubt about it. She started having doubts and asked her mother questions. Her mother just bought her daughter a book. I say you can’t just buy a person a book. Mom needs to understand these issues so her daughter knows Mom did not just scroll to the bottom and hit “I accept”. Hey mom, how do you know_________________? —Because the people down at church are really nice. . . . We are hemorrhaging young people. Young people need to know their parents did not just scroll to the bottom and hit “I accept”.

  7. BrendaL on June 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm


    Thank you for being courageous in speaking these unpopular truths. I come from a background where insecure men use Scripture to keep women and children down. They somehow forget to use it to guide themselves.

    We've ended up with a bunch of insecure "commanders"(who boss and lord over insubordinates) instead of powerful LEADERS (who walk as examples and empower insubordinates). There are a lot of unhappy wives and children out here. Truth be told, those dictator-like men are miserable, too.

    To your statement "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'." I would add that there is a need for mutual REPENTANCE. We all miss the mark for submission, love/caring, respect and honesty… so we all need to repent, whether we are under authority or in authority.

    Without mutual repentance there is no repair of relationship.

    I love you and appreciate you, Leslie!

  8. Leslie on June 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm


    I love your comment about mutual repentance. That is absolutely so essential. Thanks for your comments.

  9. BrendaL on July 26, 2011 at 5:07 am

    …I DO believe that there is a need in marriage for someone to have the "final say": someone who will take the heat for being the leader. Obviously, God put the man in headship in marriage and family. Every ship needs a captain.

    But that's not a problem. The problem starts when members of a marriage and family start stepping out of their rightful places and onto each other's toes. If a husband is rebellious (against God, other authorities, or rebellious against submitting to his wife and children in honor and consideration), he will hurt himself, his wife and children. If a wife is rebellious, she'll hurt herself, her husband and her children. If the children are rebellious, they will hurt themselves, their parents and each other.

    When all members of a marriage and family walk in "mutual submission, mutual love and mutual respect [and mutual honesty and mutual repentance 🙂 ], something wonderful happens. God is honored and blessed and He honors and blesses those family members and the family as a whole. They will find peace and joy and productivity with one another that can't be found any other way. It is like a piece of heaven on earth.

    Problems will come. Decisions will have to be made. Someone MUST have the final say. But living in mutual submission, love, respect, honesty and repentance removes THE POWER STRUGGLE!

  10. Terry on September 13, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Thank you, I totally agree w/you…and I know that does not necessarily mean you are right. LOL
    But I believe – taking the whole counsel of the Bible (not just the passages that say what you like) you have spoken truly.
    My husband & I are in counseling…pretty good Biblical counseling. This issue has been a great stumbling block throughout our marriage. He believes in “final say” and if things go wrong, it is bcz he didn’t say “no” to me.
    Just yesterday,in counseling, it was stated that I don’t agree w/”final say”. She(the counselor) would not let me explain what I do believe…instead she yelled @me about twisting scripture.
    I believe a lot of what has been interpreted about submission(of wives, particularly)is human reasoning.
    I think about Father dividing His human creation into separate male & female counterparts…very specific and intentional. So, the female, reflecting the image of God, as well, is fully capable, creative, intelligent & purposeful. Yet, in human defined culture(for millenia), she is to disappear into the man’s life, when she marries(only to function as herself, at his whim).
    WELL, that IS the curse brought upon humankind by insisting on our way.
    But, that is not God’s way.
    Thank you for faithful reasoning.

    • Leslie Vernick on September 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      I’m confused – you say you’re receiving pretty good Biblical counseling and yet the counselor yelled at you and would not let you explain? That doesn’t sound appropriate to me. Try speaking up to her and see what reaction you get. Perhaps she was having a bad day but no counselor should be yelling at their clients – ever.

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