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Monday, June 21, 2010
This is a continuation of my series “What If…” that started back here, in case you want to catch the whole series or browse through the entire list of what-if posts.

Last time we covered what to do if you are a woman married to a man who refuses to lead, refuses to take up his God-given authority to loving lead his wife as Christ does the church. This time we’ll look at the opposite case, where a husband takes up that authority, but abuses it by acting in an autocratic or dictatorial manner.

In many ways this is the more difficult case for a wife to deal with, because the dictatorial husband thinks he is acting in accordance with scripture by being the head of his wife and demanding his wife’s submission. In many cases, a husband’s behavior may not be entirely overt, but rather may simply entail an attitude of entitlement and elitism that interprets his position as superior and his own rights as more important. He may be overly controlling and/or constantly push his wife to submit to him or he may be dismissive in more subtle ways.

First of all let me say that it is this attitude in men that has done more damage to the bridal paradigm than anything else. It is precisely the wrong-headed, heavy-handed, rights- oriented actions of men, generations over, that spawned the feminist movement. I also believe it is fear of this kind of attitude and action that has caused the church to shrink back from the biblical definition of marriage and godly authority in the home. The cost of this has been enormous.

So what is a wife to about a husband who sees himself more as a dictator than a sacrificial servant?

1. Conversation

In my last post I started with encouraging the wife of a husband who doesn’t lead at all to start with education. Not so in this case, because generally the heavy-handed husband is often already aware of the scriptures that call for headship and submission. The problem is that he simply isn’t enlightenment to an accurate picture of the bridal paradigm, which calls him to the posture of sacrificial, servant-hearted leadership that nurtures, enables and beautifies his wife.

The place to start is conversation. If your husband is accustomed to dismissing your input and feelings (which many autocrats are) it will be a challenge to get him to really listen. It is important to approach him in a non-threatening way, not as a challenge to him or his authority, but in the interest of a stronger, better marriage and a deeper bond of intimacy. You can begin with your own journey of discovery into what it means to submit to him as the church does to Christ, and then naturally progress into the question of what does he think it means for him to love you as Christ does the church. In this case you are not trying to instruct him, but to get him to ask questions of himself and to challenge his own way of thinking.


2. Identify the Path of Separation

If you’ve been suffering under a controlling husband for a long time, understandably your own heart may have grown cold and distant toward him, and you may have become offended at the notion of submission and authority. You may have felt the need to stand up for your own rights because your husband in not doing so. Perhaps you’ve even slipped into a pattern of trying to take your husband down a notch, knock him off his high horse, so to speak, with verbal jabs, acts of defiance or accusing him to your friends and family. Or perhaps you’ve simply withdrawn from him, giving up hope for genuine intimacy.

This kind of reaction is a natural part of what I call the path of separation, which results when one spouse goes off the biblical path of God’s design for marriage. The path of separation is an increasingly divergent one, wherein each response and counter-response to hurt or neglect pushes the couple into behaviors that are increasing self-protective and/or self-assertive, behaviors that run in opposition to the bridal paradigm. In many instances, the start down this path is subtle, maybe even almost unnoticeable, but the longer this tit-for-tat goes on, the wider the gap between you grows.

3. Choose the Path of Intimacy

In order to reverse this degenerative trend, someone has to break the cycle. Someone has to reach across the gap, which may be large at this point, and extend the hand of love and grace that can put you back on the path of intimacy. If you’re a wife whose husband has initiated the detour down the path of separation, the first step back onto the path of intimacy is to discover whether you have chosen to follow him down this path of separation, either by choice or by natural response.

Once you have made an honest assessment of where you are, then you can choose to take a different path. If your husband is authoritarian, it may seem counter-intuitive to respond with respect and admiration. If he consistently reminds you of your duty to submit, it may seem weak-minded and enabling if you offer him your submission. But in many cases, if you reach across the gap and offer the very thing he needs, you will discover that he has less need to push for his own rights and to use his authority in a self-serving manner.

As challenging as it might seem, when you offer your husband the gift of your surrender out of a genuine desire to love him in the way he wants and needs to be loved, it will break the cycle and pull you both back onto the path of intimacy, wherein he will grow in his desire to do the same for you.

4. Important Caveat

Let me be clear. I am not addressing the case where a husband is abusive toward his wife. Further, I am in no way encouraging a wife to become a doormat for her husband or to simply serve his every whim and dictate. Couples that are too far down the path of separation require qualified, serious marital counseling. If you feel you’ve already been consistently reaching across the gap without meaningful results, it may be time for professional intervention by your pastor or a counselor or even another couple whose marriage you both admire.


 - - - - - - - - -

If you have come to the end of this post and feel disappointed by the suggestions I’ve offered, I understand. It may seem like I’m asking you to simply suck it up and submit, but that’s really not what I’m getting at, not at all. If a husband and wife both love each other and genuinely desire a better marriage, sometimes all it takes to get off the path of separation and onto the path of intimacy is for someone to reach across the divide. As the wife of a heavy-handed husband, I’m asking you to be the one to do the reaching, even if you think your chance of success is small.

Extend your hand with the gift of your surrender and watch him respond with love. See to his (often unspoken) need for respect, trust and admiration, and watch him respond with tenderness, sacrifice and concern for your needs and desires. It may sound a little crazy, but I genuinely believe that your simple act of faith and love in reaching for your husband in this manner can begin to shift the atmosphere in your marriage.

Cover your actions in prayer, season them with grace, and obey the nudging of the Holy Spirit inside you. Then watch the intimacy grow as your husband begins to see the Christ-like role that God has called him to as your husband. It really can happen.

Next time: What If…My Wife Won’t Let Me Lead?

9 comments:

Kathleen Quiring | Project M said...

I think these suggestions are good. They probably represent the best things a wife can do. However, I remain a little skeptical that they will work on their own. Since, like you mentioned, men like this already think they're in the right by being authoritarian and that they deserve their wives' submission, they often don't think their wives have any valuable to teach or show them. That's why I think intervention from another man is important. I dream of the day my dad and uncles hear the truth about male headship (if your conception of male headship is in fact the truth) from a respected male pastor. I feel like that's the only thing that will make them listen. *Sigh.* It feels like such an inescapable cycle otherwise.

Scott said...

You make a good point Kathleen. There are men who are not going to get it no matter what their wives do or say. I wish church leaders would do a better job of teaching marriage from a biblical perspective. I'm hoping to make a positive impact toward that end. I know, it's an ambitious dream, but I'm going for it with everything I have!

Theresa said...

I am sorry but I have to agree with Kathleen. I have been in a dictator relationship for 23 years. He has taken control over the finances leaving me in a potion where I have no access to any money except what I make on my own. He has taken my name off of everything that we own except for the house that we live in. My money is to be used to purchase all my own needs; clothing etc. He has made several bad financial decisions as an impulse buyer but I have no say in how he spends money. When I have sought out counseling in the church he was told what it means to love your wife in the mean time I was also told to do as you state. The result ended in us leaving the church because my husband no longer would attend their. I can now no longer go seek out counseling if I wish to stay in the church we are now attending. I am stuck and right now see no way out. I have no family to turn to or outside support. It is only through daily prayer and the choice not to allow myself to dig into an emotional hole that keeps me sane.

Anonymous said...

What about a husbands part in all of this? Is dictatorship not wrong in the eyes of God? What about being married to a non-christian? My husband is a dictator plain and simple. I agree with what I have read in your article about becoming divided as a couple. This happens. I know for one thing that I am not going to be the first one to try anymore.I try all of the time to make happy if he is not happy with himself it is his fault full stop! I cannot change his behaviour, nor do I feel that it is up to me to change his behavior. He wants a marriage he can change, and then I will consider changing my feelings and behavior to respond to him. I do not feel personally that God put men on this earth to control, not admit faults, not to see errors in their behavior, nor see their wife as a inferior person all because of pride in themselves. Submitting to God is one thing. God is all. I do not want to submit to my husband, he does not show love in his actions, words or otherwise. I am sorry to say but I hardly like the guy at this point!

Scott said...

Hi Anon - Sorry to hear of your situation. Yes it's very hard when a husband doesn't understand his part in the bargain. Very hard. You are right in that you can't change him or his behavior. You can only change you and how you choose to respond to him. Being married to a non-believer makes it even more difficult. A agree with your assessment that men were not created to lord it over their wives, but to love them unconditionally, but you can't make that happen. Still, I do believe that God will bless you and your marriage if you choose to respect and submit to your husband (that doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with him all the time or accepting all his his behavior!).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this series. I am up late tonight, after a fight with my husband, trying to figure out how to force myself to submit. (A difficult task made especially hard as I also struggle with unbelief.) I have come nearly to my wit's end trying to cope with the fact that while my husband tries his hardest to be a loving, self-sacrificing husband, he ultimately sees himself as having the "deciding vote" in all things, as he is the male and leader of our family. You have given me hope where I thought there was none. I know i have some pride that needs to be contended with, but it's also nice to see someone put my feelings into words so well: that my opinions, thoughts, and feelings do matter, and deserve more than lip-service consideration. I will be showing your blog to my husband, and am hopeful that it will help us off the path of separation.

Scott said...

Annon - I'm glad you found this helpful. If it is any comfort to you, this consistently is one of the most popular posts on my blog. I get searches almost daily for some combination of "husband" and "dictator." You are not alone.

With that said, I do hope you and your husband will have a meaningful conversation about what God's design for marriage looks like using the model of Christ and the church, so clearly shown to us in Ephesians 5. Keep in mind that there is NOTHING in there about a husband making all the decisions. That is just not what submission is about. It's about love and respect.

Praying for you and your marriage,
scott

Anonymous said...

The article presents some good information; however, there are husbands that fit the biblical definition of a "fool," and nothing the wife does will help him see his error. The dictatorial husband thinks he is always right - that the way he behaves is his God-given role. Wives beat themselves up for years trying to figure out why they can't change their husbands and wondering what else they could possibly do to restore the relationship. Sometimes it is impossible. If the husband refuses to react to his wive's efforts and continues his dictatorship, the "path of separation" is inevitable because the gap can only be closed when BOTH parties move together. An emotional separation in this case is necessary if the wife expects to function and serve God.

Furthermore, while we understand that submission does not make a wife a slave to her husband, there ARE cases in which the husband does not love his wife as he should. With the absence of sacrificial love on the husband's part, the wife DOES become a doormat and slave. My question is, "When a wife submits to her dictator husband, is she condoning and/or encouraging him to continue sinning?" Her submission will NOT make him love her as he should.

Karen said...

Please give examples of how to do this. Turn it around.

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