Who Gets the Final Say?


angry couple










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 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’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).

Throughout Paul’s writing, we see 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 or submits, but they give in willingly, not under compulsion or fearfully.

I have been married over 37 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 and 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 (For example, see Deuteronomy 13, Jeremiah 23:1-4 and 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. 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 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 servant hood. 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”.



  1. Brenda B on June 17, 2013 at 10:26 am


    What a beautiful concept. If only it were like this in more marriages, what a great world this would be. Why not the beach this time and the mountains next or vice versa. No one takes a back seat or no seat at all.

    The whole idea that the man is the head of the household is over rated. I believe that if he is following Christ he should lead in Christ. He should make sure the family is following Christ by showing love for Christ. Teaching them what Jesus sacrificed for them, making sure they are in church, leading daily devotions. If they aren’t doing those things then the wife should make sure they are done. Just in general being in control over every aspect of his wife’s life is obsurd. Making all of the rules and decisions also obsurd.

    No marriage in Heaven–Yes. Thank you God.

  2. Brenda B on June 17, 2013 at 10:27 am

    PS Leslie, Your husband sounds great. I think you should keep him.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Yes he is a keeper.

  3. janet tobler on June 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    thank you for saying all that Miss Leslie, I appreciate you. and have been blessed by this teaching. thank you!

  4. DS on June 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Hi Leslie,

    I love how you explain this concept. It is very helpful! I completely agree with mutual respect and submission and feel my husband and I practice that to the best of our abilities.

    What about a situation that involves a husband and wife in disagreement over emotionally unhealthy relationships? For example, after seeking professional Christian counseling for some challenging circumstances over my family’s unhealthy emotional patterns, we at times have to work at an agreement. How do I know that we are practicing mutual submission in a healthy and God-honoring way if we cannot find compromise? We both have our biases towards the situation, which can affect our decision-making process…but that it is typically where we bring in our counselor to help us through some of those decisions…. Is that a healthy approach? Would you suggest anything further?

    • Leslie Vernick on June 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Sometimes I think a neutral third person can help us navigate through our personal blind spots and so for now, as long as you and your husband are willing to receive help from this person, that may be the best solution to a “mutual” compromise.

  5. emma on June 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    wow and ouch!
    will ponder that. It might have saved alot of pain if I knew it sooner.

  6. Vicki on June 20, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Leslie, thank you for clarifying so many things about the marriage relationship. Sounds like you started out your marriage in this mode. What of a 40+ year marriage where hubby has made decisions even when the wife disagrees and rationalizes to him (in private) the effect making some of those decisions will have on the marriage, the children, Christian service, and so on. I learned early on that even though I am often asked for my opinion, it makes little if any difference in the direction he goes. Of course, there are many other things amiss in this relationship.

    I have tried to walk away emotionally because it has hurt too much to be let down harshly over and over. Pleading with God to change my heart and my husband’s heart is basically how I have continued to deal with this. I know that I am also a sinful person. Don’t get me wrong on this, I’m not saying this just to look good. We both make choices and I have tried very hard to turn my own attitude around. I have wanted desperately to walk away from it all and did for about ten months in order to convince my husband to get us some counseling. That experience basically gave my husband one more facade to hide behind so he appears to have changed when his heart did not. I know the man behind the closed doors.

    Anyway, my question is: is this how it will be for the next 20 years or however long the LORD has in mind for us to live? How can I be sure I have made the righteous choice(s) to stay out of my husband’s way and let him live with the consequences of his choices? I try to lay down in front of the Throne of God often because I cannot do this without His strength.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 22, 2013 at 8:49 am


      One of life’s most potent teachers is consequences. Many a person has been waken up after the pain of their foolish choices. However, when someone repeats poor decisions again and again and refuses to learn from his or her mistakes their called a fool in Proverbs. I think it is helpful for couples to review their decision making process, especially when it results in poor outcomes over and over again. So you might say to your husband sometime – I know you think God gives you the final say in everything, but we’ve been doing it this way for 40+ years and both you and I know that the results have often been disastrous. I think God has put me in your life to help you make good decisions and visa versa, but even though you listen to my opinion, you never really receive my counsel. God wants us to learn from our mistakes and how can we do things differently from here?”

      This might make him angry because it makes him look at something painful, but your only other alternative is to pray for a heart change as you have as well as try to mitigate how many of his poor choices result in negative consequences that you have to live with as well. For example, one women I know has begun to refuse to sign on home equity loans because they are getting more and more in debt and she doesn’t want to continue doing that to herself. If he wants to sign under his own name he’s free to do so, she says, but she doesn’t want to sign. OF course the bank won’t give him any money from his own name because of his inadequate income, but now she’s no longer cooperating with his foolish decisions. Much like Abigail over ruled her husband Nabal’s foolishness in the Bible (See 1 Samuel 25) sometimes you may need to do that for his welfare as well as your own.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Vicki, you can only walk one day at a time. However to change old, long standing, dysfunctional patterns it starts by saying you’re going to do it differently. For example, If I’ve been an enabler with my husband or adult child, it may help to begin with a conversation acknowledging that my behaviors have not been helpful to their growth or our relationship. I can say something like this. “I realize that always giving into your demands hasn’t made you a better man (or person) or made our relationship healthier. In fact, I think I’ve actually enabled you to think that it’s all about you and your needs instead of looking out for what’s in the best interests of our family. So, from now on I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m not always going to give into what you want, not because I don’t love you but because I do and I realize that by not being honest with you, I have hurt you, hurt me and hurt our relationship.”

      Then the next steps are for YOU to do just what you say. When they kick back (as they well) stick to your guns and remind them of this previous conversation. They won’t like it but the stronger you stay, the more likely you will be able to change old patterns into different ones. THat doesn’t mean it always gets better – it may actually get worse for some people, but now you have some movement and that gets things unstuck.

  7. Ellen on June 21, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Thanks so much for shedding some light on this very sensitive topic. For many many years I was duped by the patriarchal theology that maintains the man gets the final say and that the men are to lead and be above. If I waited for my husband to lead we would have been divorced many years ago. Our kids and family would be torn up, he would have been going from one woman to another, our finances would have been plundered by women and men who knew how to manipulate my needy husband. Gradually, over a long time, I became to realize my worth and value as a woman. I became completely involved in the finances and the spiritual leadership in our home. Now mind you this has to be done very carefully because my husband is a male chauvinist to the core.
    We have always attended male dominated churches. I see some weaknesses that sadden me in these churches. Women being the missing element. The women who nurture and care and listen are absent from the leadership (except for childrens and womens ministries) and their lack of influence is evident. But that being what it is, I am learning how to serve and grow in this male dominated environment I find myself in. I am not going to wait for my husband to lead before I use my gifts in a meaningful way. He is 65 and probably will never mature to that point. He trusts me in decisions more and more. We negotiate and give in to each other on all decisions. It works. I no longer leave all the decisions to him as I did in the past.
    The paradigm my husband grew up in was very strict. The women covered their heads in church and were not allowed to speak. His father, the pastor, would verbally rip his wife to shreds. Nobody spoke up or challenged him when he did this. The Bible shows Jesus having great respect and love for women. Jesus completely shattered the cultural norms of his day. I doubt that God created male and female to hurt and dominate. That happened at the fall.
    Just as slavery was defended by Bible believing folks in the not to distant past,I think the realization of women being silenced, overlooked, and mistreated is the next generational curse that is being lifted from the church. Male domination in church leadership proved to be a big disappointment to me when I went there for help in taming my abusive husband. Thank goodness, in spite of the lack of help from my male friends at the top. 🙂

    • Leslie Vernick on June 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks Ellen.

  8. Steph on June 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Appreciate your Q&A. It seems to me these ‘submission’ teachings from the church is one of Satan’s best tool to keep believers in bondage. Though many women are saved, they would never be able to achieve what God intended because they are bound by their husbands who are the puppets manipulated by Satan.

    My previous counselor/pastor also taught that the husband/head has the last say. He used I Peter 2:18-19; 3:1 as proof that it is God’s intention for us to obey/submit even if the head is ungodly. He said that’s what it means to suffer for righteousness sake. Of course there are many other verses about wives’ submission. How do you respond to that?

    • Marie on January 27, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Those verses are there but they are always countered with verses about how the husband is to love, honor, cherish, sacrifice for, etc., his wife. None of them imply this means always getting your own way.(final say) I think this is one of the greatest deceptions pulled on women. Yes, women are told to submit and if they have a bible fearing husband they are not submitting to a selfish man they are submitting to a husband who is putting them first, who is dying to his own desires. If a husband follows only those verses directed at him, how would he then say that means final say? He wouldn’t if he believes the bible and all its commands. That would be quite a stretch for him to believe it teaches putting self first and demanding final say. Unfortunately, for a christian women married to non-christian husband it could very well mean she finds herself submitting to a selfish man but this is by means what God’s perfect plan looks like. Also, she should never violate Gods commands by submitting to her husband. A wife who finds herself with an Ungodly husband can take some comfort in knowing that he will answer to God for his behavior in the judgement. It is sad that churches spend so much time focused on those commands directed at wives and little to no time at all teaching husbands what is expected of them. After all, the church submits in response to the sacrificial love of Christ. Christ led, he went first. In the marriage we seem to teach indirectly that the wife should lead and that the husband will respond in love to her submission. This is backwards, Christ went first and led in love. How many times have we all heard that we love because he FIRST loved us.

  9. tryingtodogood on June 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    My husband was raised in a home where his father believed that women shouldn’t have any power at all, and after we married and began going to church unfortunately the teaching was “old school” about wives submitting to their husbands (no matter what) and it was like my husband then had “evidence” to run rough-shod over me and the rest is a very bitter history.
    In response to Vicky, I understand about the financial binds this can get a couple into. We both grew up at the poverty level and for me, I didn’t harbor bitterness about it. I felt that I always had all I needed and we were grateful. My husband however wanted to “show them all” and started living above our means by insisting we buy a boat. It was a small boat, but we had to go into debt for it. Needless to say, four boats later and then a lay-off made it nearly impossible to make the payments. All these purchases were objected to by me, but he fought, had tantrums etc. and reminded me that I wasn’t working so it was his decision (even if it dragged us under). The last one he put in my name because I was able to do the licensing at the DMV during the day while he worked. Three years later after not using it because it always needed some repair or other I told him we should sell it. He protested but I managed to convince him it was for the best. I then listed it and sold it, and set the money aside for our daughter’s wedding. He complained for about two years, but I stood my ground, ever stating that it was good stewardship of our resources. Like Leslie said, we have to protect ourselves and our futures, and it does get easier after while to resist their grumbling if we follow God’s precepts.

  10. Marie on January 27, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Really enjoyed this article. First let me say I have a great husband and after 29 years together I would still say yes to him. In 29 years of marriage we have never had anything come up where he felt the need to play the final say trump card. I do believe the husband is to be the leader in the home but not in the way the world and many in the church define it. I have heard this idea taught from the pulpit for years and it goes unquestioned because to do so would be to open yourself to being called self absorbed, disobedient and unwilling to die to self. Funny how they can’t see that is the problem. It leads to a self absorbed selfish husband who by bible definition is being disobedient. “Love does not insist upon its own way.” I believe servant leadership is best defined and described by the bible and nowhere in the scriptures can we find a verse that says husband gets final say. It just seems to be an excuse for selfishness and laziness. He can instead use his leadership ability to work towards a mutually acceptable solution. Investigate options together, pray about it, talk to others about it or maybe even just delay until a mutually suitable option is found. Takes more work but isn’t that what a good leader would do? After all, it will also help avoid resentment in the marriage. If in the marriage relationship, the husband should use Christ as his pattern for behavior shouldn’t he be modeling selflessness not selfishness? Of course he should. A husband is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church and died for her. This in no way implies that he gets to use any kind of final say trump card. It means that other than God his wife should be first in his life. Hard to believe he is doing that if he always demands final say. (his own way)

  11. Jean on August 10, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    Thisis one of the best marriage sites. Thanks for your kindness as you have dicsuuuion with the commenters.

    Wish you could spread your Christianly attitude to some other marriage sites, where wives are spoken to n some not so good ways and are scolded and reminded of their sins, while excusing the husbands’s sins.

  12. Jean on August 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Sorry about the errors.????

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