Pastors: Watch How You Talk about Marriage, Because You Could Be Hurting Your Congregants

by | May 5, 2021 | Faith, Theology of Marriage and Sex, Uncategorized | 48 comments

Pastors: What Are You Preaching about Marriage?

In marriage, should husbands make the final decision if the couple can’t reach agreement?

Many Christians would say yes. In fact, in our recent survey of 20,000 women for our new book The Great Sex Rescue, 39.4% agreed with that statement. Many Christians who attend church regularly think that marriage has a form of hierarchy, where the husband holds the tie-breaking vote, or, as Emerson Eggerichs explained in Love & Respect, he holds 51% of the power and she holds 49% of the power (which actually practically results in him holding 100% of the power, but let’s leave that for a moment.)

And believing this seems rather innocuous when we look at the results our survey found on women’s marital and sexual satisfaction. Believing this doesn’t really hurt marriage, and it doesn’t really help it. It’s neutral.

But here’s what’s interesting: Most people who believe this don’t act on it.

Most people who believe that husbands should make the final decision do not actually act this way in marriage. In fact, only 17.9% of couples who profess being Christians actually give the husband the tie-breaking vote. 

More people believe it–but in marriage, they actually decide things together. They make decisions together, or, if they can’t agree, they wait on it. In fact, 78.9% of couples make decisions in a completely collaborative way (a very small minority have her make the decisions).

I would like to say a word to pastors today, then.

Dear pastor, most likely, if you believe that the husband should make the final decision, and you teach that husbands should make the final decision, you are teaching something which you do not personally act out.

And that’s a good thing.

Because bad things happen in marriages that live out this belief.

People in marriages where someone makes the final decision–even if they consult their spouse beforehand–end up 7.4 times more likely to divorce than couples who make decisions together. 

Encouraging the husband to make the final decision can create very, very dysfunctional marriages, and increase the rate of divorce astronomically. And we are not the only ones who found this. John Gottman, of the Gottman Institute, the premier marriage research facility in the world, said this:

Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct.

John Gottman

Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work

Sharing decision-making power is a key marker of a healthy marriage. 

And, really, this is perfectly intuitive. Part of intimacy is feeling as if you matter; if someone’s opinions matter more than yours in marriage, all sorts of bad things happen. Here’s how we explained it in The Great Sex Rescue:

In marriages with collaborative decision-making, women are almost three times more likely to feel heard during arguments. But when women don’t feel heard, and instead feel as if their opinions are not as important as their husbands’, their marriages are forty-three times more likely to end in divorce. Forty-three times. That may be why we found that the risk of divorce skyrockets in marriages in which the husband is the one who ultimately makes the decisions, even if he consults his wife on them. When we set up marriages where a husband has decision-making power, we create marriages in which his opinions, by definition, matter more than hers. And when women feel their opinions are not given the same weight as their husbands’, sex suffers and marriages crumble.

But here’s some good news: treating each other as equals doesn’t just give you a better marriage—it gives you better sex! When couples share power (make decisions together), wives are four times (4.36) more likely to rate themselves among the happiest 20% of marriages than among the least happy 20%, and are 67% more likely to frequently orgasm during sex.

Gregoire, Lindenbach & Sawatsky

The Great Sex Rescue

And we have a whole chart on the effects of feeling heard in marriage on one’s sex life n the book–including being 9.4 times more likely to say you feel close to your husband during sex, and 6.74 times more likely to say that he makes her pleasure a priority.

When we don’t share decision-making power, it affects all areas of our lives for the worse.

There is also a practical element to this that hurts marriage. In marriage where the expectation is that he will make the final decision if they disagree, couples often forego the healthy back-and-forth that is part of decision-making. They may not wrestle in prayer as long. They may not seek counsel. They may take shortcuts because they assume, “well, he just gets to decide then.” And this can lead to worse decisions, more distance, and even entitlement.

So pastor, understand that when you preach that husbands should make the final decision, you are hurting 18% of the marriages in your congregation.

Most people will listen to this teaching, and may even agree with this, but they won’t practice it. But those who do practice it do not do well. When you are teaching something that you do not even practice yourself, then at some level you know this teaching isn’t right. You know that there is a better way.

So teach that better way.

But what if you believe that there should be hierarchy in marriage?

You can still teach that better way, because there are so many other arguments for it. Two Spirit filled believers should be able to come to agreement on things. After all, chances are in your board of elders, you require unanimity to do things. If you require it in your board, and you assume that it can happen in your board because you are following the leading of the Holy Spirit, then why would you not think that it can happen in marriage?

And remember that the Bible talks about creating the woman as a “suitable helper”. The word “suitable” means equal to him, exactly what he needs. And helper is a warrior term. In other words, he needs her. So why would he dismiss her?

Finally, the Bible teaches us that two are better than one. That iron sharpens iron. That we are meant to help each other. If you silence one half of that equation, then you take away one of the best vehicles that God has put in place to grow the both of you. You end up making one person’s voice small, and making the other more and more selfish.

I am not saying that you have to change your view of marriage (though I hope that you will look more deeply into what some of these passages are saying). But I am saying that, regardless of what you believe about marriage, there is enough in the Bible that shows us clearly that two people being in submission before God, working together, is the ideal. When we allow one person to make a final decision, we short circuit that ideal.

You know this doesn’t work. You don’t act it out yourself. So please, for the sake of those in your church, stop teaching it.

The Great Sex Rescue

Now Available!

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

Are Pastors Preaching Something They Don't Practice About Marriage?

What do you think? Why do most people who teach and believe this not practice it? Why do we still teach it if we don’t practice it? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. 4Him

    My situation wasn’t pastor advised. But early on into our marriage I made a Facebook comment about a situation that happened in my town. And my husband told me I should have kept my… mouth shut. So I kept that attitude and it drove a which between us. Not to mention there were other issues that I was quite unaware of at that time . We had only been married about 2 or 3 years when this incidence came up.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m sorry. I hope that wedge has been healed! One person feeling as if their voice is unimportant in a marriage is very damaging to that marriage.

      • 4Him

        It was changed in a rather unexpected way. Husband was called home almost two years Thankfully, in that time, he had a better understanding of God. I know now that my consistent silence wasn’t a good thing. I won’t stay quiet in the future.

  2. Kay

    I find it so odd that they essentially insist on **disunity** with this “defer to him” approach. If unity is the goal like they claim it is, this tie breaker situation should never come up. Ever.
    I do remember having a very serious conversation with my husband about this several years ago, asking him how he defined submission. He didn’t have a good answer but eventually said that it means that he breaks the tie. To which I said, “Okay, but then that means I have never submitted to you even once in all the years we’ve been married.” He got a little defensive and replied, “But I care what you think!”
    I am not complaining at all. I think this is how it ought to be. But it makes me mad now that he felt guilty for not being a better leader and I used to feel guilty for not being submissive when in reality we were doing what our gut told us was the better way. I’m so glad we were bad at practicing this teaching! Ha. It’s utterly bogus and toxic.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So good, Kay! That was a point I made in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage as well–if submission means letting him decide, I have never submitted in my marriage. And I think God calls us to submit! So submit must mean something other than that (and I think it honestly just means serving and caring for the other’s needs, even before your own. That’s something we can do daily.) If submission is all about him making decisions, then having disunity becomes more godly than having unity, because it’s only in disunity that she can do what God tells her to do. It actually doesn’t make sense, and it’s not in line with how Paul taught, or with what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit. So let’s focus on health and on pursuing God together!

      • Kay

        I remember cheering when I read that in your book, because I had the exact same question!

    • Lisa

      The idea of the husband having the final say but of course a good husband considers his wife’s opinion carefully before making a decision, that’s exactly how parents relate to their teenagers. I give my teenagers a lot of freedom and we have a lot of discussions. But I have the final say. I’m the parent. Under the complementarian model, the wife is forever a child under her husband’s authority. Except she has to give him “sexual release” whenever he wants and she can never leave. It’s creepy.

    • Marie

      I believe the Bible teaches that God designed men to be the primary leaders in the family. Just because you have the position of leader doesn’t mean you don’t listen to those you are leading. A good boss can be very considerate of his employees and work well together as a team. There may be times when he or she has to make a tough call that everyone doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with, but that’s generally how leadership works. If the boss is listening to others 99% of the time, does that mean they aren’t actually the boss? No, it’s just a more egalitarian style of leadership.
      So I disagree with your defining the problem as a husband having authority in marriage. I think rather it is the style of the authority and also perhaps a lack of teaching to challenge selfish habits of husbands.

  3. Kelly

    The other thing about this approach of saying he’s in charge but it actually not being this way most of the time is that it is very confusing for a wife to try to follow along with it. Speaking from personal experience, I am used to leading pretty much everything in our family (not always by choice & more often by necessity), but I never know when my husband is suddenly going to decide he’s in charge with something. It feels like the “rules” are constantly changing, and especially like we have to pretend to be one way in church circles while operating a different way at home. I hate it.

    • Laura

      Several years ago, I participated in a women’s Bible study and during one session, the topic was about submission. As a divorced woman, I had to listen to most of the married women brag about how submissive they claimed to be in their marriages. They said things like, “I always wait on my husband hand and foot” or “I never say NO to my husband.” I have learned that the women who brag about being submissive wives do not practice what they preach. One of these ladies is the complete opposite and I’ve seen her overly bossy toward her quiet, laid back husband.
      I think that people do put on fronts in church settings. My pastor had talked about submission once in his sermon, then he said, “Really, it’s my wife who’s the boss.” She sat in the front row when he said this, probably to appease her. We need to get real and stop playing church!

  4. Nathan

    Waiting can be a good thing if you can’t agree on something, but if you need to decide NOW, you can take turns being the tie breaker, or maybe each of you are the tie breakers in certain areas based on each ones strengths and weaknesses. Those shouldn’t be set in stone, though.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Nathan. Often couples decide, “whoever knows more about this, or whoever this affects more, should likely decide.” That’s not a bad thing, either. And it isn’t really stressful often.

    • Meghan

      In our marriage, for things that we just can’t agree on we default to the person who is more invested in the outcome. For example, my husband wants more biological children, but I’ve got some health stuff going on right now that may or may not get resolved after the stress of covid is gone, and that makes pregnancy too risky for me for a number of reasons I don’t care to get into here. So we might just have one kid that I physically gave birth to. But even though he is very sad about the situation, he defers to me because I’m the one who would be risking my life.

      • Jane Eyre

        I love this approach! It helps because you look at the other person’s needs and experiences. I don’t have decades of experience with my husband’s family to understand how they operate. I have never been in his profession.
        He has never been or ever will be pregnant. How could we be equipped to make decisions in those areas?
        On a side note, the expectation that women *should* bring their bodies to the breaking point, if not death, for a kid that has not been conceived, drives me up a tree. If that is your choice, you do you, but it’s cruel to expect that of others. I am a massive witch and have straight up asked people why they think my son would benefit from a dead mama. “Thanks! Never knew I mattered so little to my own child.” Life isn’t a movie and a dead mom is a dead mom.

      • Jessica Taylor

        I’m glad you’re not being coerced into dangerous pregnancies, as I have seen that happen and I know that in certain circles that may feel like considerable generosity on his part, maybe even transgression of community values for your sake.
        But surely, the ideal would be for your husband himself to actually prefer not to risk your life, right? Like where are our moral instincts even at if we see a man not subjecting his wife to danger as “gee, well I guess I can DEFER to your desire not to die young”? Shouldn’t you not dying be HIS actual desire too?
        Of course we all have things we would like that can’t happen, certain regrets and so forth. But an actual decision is different from an impulse or desire. But so much headship doctrine is interpreted as the man getting his way. The ability and maturity to make a rational DECISION in which one’s own desires are just one factor is not developed. So we perceive a decision not to endanger the wife’s life as “deference” to the wife. Because if the man had his way, well, of course, she’d get pregnant. Because that’s not HIS concern. Never mind that the actual Bible says the HUSBAND is the one who’s supposed to lay down his life, as well as everything else that’s taught about how we are to treat people in general.
        You’re husband’s not doing you a favor by not killing you with multiple non-consensual high risk pregnancies. If he thinks he is, you have a problem that may crop up and cause trouble in other areas.

    • Kate

      This is the tragic story of my marriage. It lasted 23 years and we have 6 children. I tried to be a submissive wife, but the damage to my personhood left me with PND, anxiety & eventually panic disorder. He didn’t believe in diagnosis or treatment of such things. I wasn’t much fun so he decided I had never loved him & that he was being abused by me. He found a new wife, funnily enough she’s very much the boss, and I’ve been getting proper help for the last few years, healing and growing in hope and learning to be a person who @takes dominion” in the company of Jesus.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m so sorry, Kate. That’s so tragic. I hope you’re in a better place now.

  5. Andrea

    I had a friend in a complementarian marriage explain it to me this way: “It’s not that he always gets his way, it’s only when we disagree…” and then she trailed off as she realized that means he does indeed always get his way, sometimes that just happens to be her way as well if they both agree on the decision.
    Then I crossed a line as my curiosity got the best of me (I was raised by egalitarians, so I really didn’t know how this worked out pragmatically in every-day life) and asked if the tie-breaker rule also applied to the bedroom, like if he wants to try something you find gross, is he still the final decision maker? I didn’t really get an answer, just some huffing and puffing, and then she found enough excuses not to hang out with me any more until I got the hint and stopped contacting her (which is why I started this comment with “I had a friend…”). So now I cringe every time I hear or read “tie-breaker” because I imagine the most damaging consequences of it occur in the bedroom.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that is so sad! I can just imagine what that conversation may look like between a husband and a wife. How degrading and sad.

  6. Melanie

    I’m borderline between extrovert and introvert. My husband is an extreme introvert, and would gladly never go anywhere with more than a dozen people. Even family dinners with my parents and siblings and their families are a bit much for him. If we went fully with him making all the decisions, he’d basically never see my family. Meanwhile, he also doesn’t like driving, especially in the city. His family lives 4 hours away through two larger cities. I do all the driving. Compromise means he does family dinners with my family half an hour away, and I drive to his parents’ house a couple times a year. I also do all the driving when we visit his extended family near Baltimore. It does cause some bitterness when I’m supposed to be cheerful around his family for a week at a time, when his parents don’t even seem to like me, and he can’t manage to stay inside with mine, who never belittle him, for a couple hours, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

  7. EOF

    When our marriage lived by this, we were both miserable. Many people said we were close to divorce, based on the way things were going. And had I not been committed to marriage until death, I would NOT have lasted six months. Maybe two, just to say I’d given it a real try. I’d have taken death over the misery of such a horrible marriage. In fact, sometimes I did pray for it.
    There’s no way to feel valued when your opinion and thoughts DO NOT matter. And they don’t when living like that.
    Like I’ve said on this blog many times, our marriage didn’t start getting better until we stopped following “Christian” advice.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you saw through all that! What a way to learn. But I’m glad that your husband learned along with you. Imagine what a disaster it would have been if he didn’t!

  8. Wild Honey

    Yes yes yes!
    Can we please add to the conversation, “Pastors, watch how you talk about YOUR WIFE, because you could be hurting your congregants?”
    When a pastor unfailingly talks about his wife with dignity and respect, both behind the pulpit and elsewhere, the women in his congregation (and, let’s face it, at least half your congregation is likely to be female, and they are more likely to be actually engaged in church life) is going to know they can trust you. And if they are more likely to trust you, they are more likely to keep their families there.
    I’m thinking specifically of an associate pastor who used the excuse of a sermon illustration to whine about his wife’s habit of losing her keys in the rush to get out the door. (Without going into details… it was definitely whining.)
    They have three young children. This was before your Emotional Load series, and even then I was withering inside on his wife’s behalf. He likely only had to get his own tush dressed, fed, gussied up, and out the door that day, and probably enjoyed a leisurely shower in there, too. She had to get herself AND two littles fed/dressed/pottied/cleaned-up AND supervised a not-quite-so-little one getting fed/dressed/pottied/cleaned-up that morning. AND remembered the spare change of undies for the youngest, who was potty training. AND remember to bring the jacket someone from church had forgotten from a recent playdate. AND remind her husband to grab the book he said he’d loan somebody. Then have a smile plastered on her face while her husband whines in front of a huge group of her friends and their spouses that she can’t remember where she left her keys…
    Whining about a wife from the pulpit is a big warning sign of immaturity. Please don’t go there. Jesus unfailingly talked to (and about) women with respect. If you can’t do the same, you have no business representing Him from a position of authority.

    • Kay

      I was appalled (but not surprised) when my pastor father-in-law threw my mother-in-law under the bus as an example of how women are more easily deceived than men. He said that she is no longer allowed to answer the door to solicitors because she always gets suckered (deceived) into buying their crap.
      But let’s conveniently not talk about how she has been groomed to be utterly compliant and doesn’t know how to say no because that’s never been allowed or respected… 🤔

  9. Rachel

    What do you mean when you say, pastors aren’t practicing it themselves? Like how do you know that? Genuine question, I feel like I may be missing something. Because I see a lot of pastors who sadly DO preach AND practice it. Like they fully believe it and are committed to it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m just saying that statistically, only 17% of couples practice the husband having the final decision, so likely most pastors don’t. Now, a higher percentage of pastors may practice it than the general population, but it’s still likely that the majority don’t!

  10. Hannah

    I’m curious! I grew up in complementarian environments. It was always taught that a husband should use his authority as Christ loves the church. This means laying down his own rights and preferences for his wife’s benefit. In practice, this means that if a husband always gets his own way, he’s not loving his wife. Sometimes he will choose, even where he disagrees strongly, to go with his wife’s preference. It really wasn’t supposed to be about men getting their own way. The real consideration was always supposed to be the wife’s wellbeing. Was this take unusual?

    • Andrea

      This is how my marriage is. I fully know and submit to my husband because he is the head of our house, and personally like for him to be the tie breaker in a lot of ways (mostly because I’m so indecisive) but he is definitely a great husband who loves me like Christ. He always goes out of his way to do anything I need, tells people that his job is to serve me, and he’s just exceptional all the way around. My feelings are always considered- and in most decisions, we both decide, unless I just can’t ha! He’s also a pastor and leads men in our church to be Christlike in their walks in life and especially in marriage, but he also preaches the authority that they have as heads of household (but he would say lead server).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Hannah, that sounds very healthy. It sounds like truly loving your wife, and I think that’s definitely what the Bible says. And, yes, I would say that’s quite unusual, unfortunately.

    • Maria Bernadette

      I love the way you phrased that. “[U]se his authority as Christ loves the church.”
      Imagine that advice being given to men in the 1st Century, when the laws of secular society gave husbands authority over wives.
      But what happens when we try to apply that advice in a society where women have equal rights? Legally, husbands don’t have any authority over their wives. So if a man is going to emulate Jesus in the way he exercises authority over his wife, we have to invent some authority for him to have in the first place.

    • Marie

      Yes, Hannah! You summarized this much better than I could. I also have this view and experience. Of course our men aren’t always carrying this out perfectly, but I think it is the Biblical teaching that we embrace about male leadership. If a couple is focused simply on who is “the tiebreaker”, that’s missing the entire point of servant leadership/sacrificial leadership as Jesus showed to us.

  11. Katydid

    I’m considering two different denominations that take this approach. One is Baptist, the other Catholic. The language of The Bible really does seem to point to male headship but not in the overruling abusive way. And not in the “decision making power” way. And certainly not in the “women are somehow less than or always out to get men unless you control them” way.
    Complementarianism is a made up term. It isn’t in the Bible and has become one of those fad evangelical buzzwords for opinionated theologies on the matter.
    Instead, we need to do what Sheila is doing, looking at the whole of Scripture pragmatically and not creating tight-fit molds to squeeze into.
    Some churches still do this. If forced to label it, they might say complementarianism, but it is really a more pragmatic approach to scripture that recognizes so many nuances in married lives, but emphasizes Godliness.
    Fact is, there is a sense of leadership with a mature man. Statistically, when a dad attends church, children are FAR more likely to attend church, too, and stay in church. Women biologically often are more vulnerable and benefit from the protection of men. Even in Sheila’s teachings we recognize that tremendous traction can be gained if more and more men speak up.
    It isn’t sexism or toxic patriarchy any more than it is sexist or toxic that Christ was born a man.
    These two churches I am looking at would NEVER give the obligation sex message and they admonish men to have self control and never misuse their wives.
    I once got blocked by a complementarian man when I said that men like him who believe the strong dominance/submission roles ought to have fear and trembling before God because if God made His daughters that powerless and vulnerable in the hands of men, you get there’s strong hellfire and damnation towards any man that would even hint at misusing her. He didn’t like that.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely, Katydid! And, yes, I totally agree with your last paragraph there.

  12. Sarah

    I had to smile when I read this bit in TGSR, as I realise my parents have been acting this out for years. If you asked them, they’d say the believe the complementarian view and that the man should have the casting vote; in practice, they talk over their decisions and make them together. I also would have nodded my head to the 49/51 % thing a few years ago but as you point out, I simply had not thought through the implications of that. Thanks for shining a light on this!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re so welcome! And, yes, honestly, most people do not act it out at all.

  13. Jane Eyre

    ” as Emerson Eggerichs explained in Love & Respect, he holds 51% of the power and she holds 49% of the power”
    Just going to point this out: if 51% of a corporation is owned by one person and 49% by another, there are a host of minority shareholder’s rights to protect the 49% owner (if the agreements are properly drafted). People considering purchasing a minority share of a corporation are advised to seek legal counsel to protect themselves from oppression.

  14. Katydid

    My husband absolutely does make the final decisions in the household. He has put his foot down and made the ultimate ruling and I MUST obey his word as the submissive wife ought to. He demands that we be equals, adults, mature, managers in our spheres of expertise (which has our own spaces where we trust each other as decision makers and overlaps where we work together), and cooperators in life and family together. 😉

  15. Emma

    Hmmm I may disagree. I belive strongly that the biblical commandment for marriage is for huabands to take the lead and for wives to submit to their leadership. So what does this look like? When a husband is given the upper hand in deciding but he loves his wife, he will value her opinion and incorporate her needs into the plan. Which is why he talks things through wither her first before going out on his own accord. This cam be seen as am act of selflessness from a man’s perspective because it is his nature to seek out power.
    If more husband acted in this way would submission from wives come naturally?
    The question then to ask is wives, would you be satisfied in submitting to your husband’s if you you knew that they operated like that? Would you let them have the final say and sit back quietly meaning without arguing over disagreements and to not say I told you so?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      The ideal is that two people decide together, seeking the Holy Spirit. The ideal is that we hear the voice of God together, not the husband’s voice. Why would you want to shortcut that? Seriously, I’ve been married 29 years. And when there are hard decisions, what do we do? We pray about it. We seek counsel. We decide together. And it works beautifully, because we’re both seeking the Lord. And because there are two of us, we make sure one of us isn’t going to an extreme or hearing wrong. Why would you think one person is more capable of hearing God than two praying together? And we’ve never had to have him making the tie-breaking vote, because if we disagree, we keep wrestling, and we come to a really good decision. And I think that’s a far better way.
      Again, what our survey found is that, if the husband decides, even if he consults his wife first, marriages tend to go downhill quite quickly. Like, the dichotomy between those marriages and marriages where they decide together is quite astronomical. So even if it works in your marriage, please don’t preach it to others, because chances are if they follow your lead, it will NOT work out well for them. And I don’t think you’d want that for those around you. When both people feel equally valued, marriages really do flourish, because that’s what real intimacy is: that we share completely, and we accept completely. That we value all of the other person. If one person’s opinions are not counted as much, then they are not counted as much, and then intimacy is hindered.
      The Bible was not about hierarchy in relationship; it was about mutual servanthood as we let God lead. That’s what works well in marriages!

      • Em

        Amen, Sheila!

    • Jessica Taylor

      If there’s an opportunity to say “I told you so,” things must have gone badly.
      If a disagreement leads to argument, that means you’re not free to disagree peacefully. Meaning your opinion isn’t really being taken into account.
      So you claim your opinions are taken into account, but in reality you’re accused of “arguing” if you disagree. Even though you’re right a lot of the time, as we know from the fact that you have to have a specific moral framework around not saying “I told you so” when your husband’s decisions go poorly.
      I’m sorry you’re being treated this way, but getting mad at other women (the tone of your comment is like scolding a child) for not playing along is not going to improve your situation.
      Many women seem to enjoy this kind of child-like role. A walled garden moral universe where they trade their personal agency for not having to be responsible. Sweetened with childish,stereotypical, pseudo-Biblical language about the nature of the sexes. Leading to grotesque moral distortions like where a life where things often go wrong because you’re not allowed to “argue” is really him being “selfless” because it’s his true nature to be a tyrant – so anything other than brutal abuse and repression is a fift to be thankful for?
      It’s a way of making a virtue of immaturity, especially in situations where maturing and taking a full, responsible part in your own life and home would threaten a husband and potentially turn him hostile, or even abusive, especially if we are in churches that won’t help the woman if abuse happens.
      It’s hard for women caught in this mindset to understand how impossible it would be for the rest of us to go back. We’d as soon go back to grade school and playing with Barbie dolls. There comes a point where life is just too difficult and complex to substitute a role play for the challenge of survival.
      A lot of women wake up and realize this once they have kids. When it affects their children’s welfare, suddenly it becomes a lot more important to have things actually go well than to prove how self-controlled you are about not talking back when they go badly. And the lives of children whose mothers *don’t* have this realization….. God help them!
      Such children tend to become alienated from the Christian faith, so substituting stereotype-based playacting for a model of healthy marriage actually endangers souls!!!
      But you can’t understand all that unless you realize that actual good decisions are the main goal. Not acting out a role play. It’s strange but a lot of people out there are living as though the actual way their – and their children’s – life ends up going is just so much grist for the mill of the headship dynamic. This is why we see a lot of projected anger and condescension towards other women in this subculture; it distorts your whole ability to relate to life and other people maturely and realistically. Marriage is designed to help people in life. Not to build up a man’s ego and give him a domain in which to play-act as a king. Living in a fantasy land where elevating men at all times is the ultimate moral/spiritual value leads us to violate our other duties and obligations. It’s actually wrong. You have a moral duty to do what you can to make sure things are done right. Especially with regard to your children. You will face God alone.

      • Terry

        This, Jessica. The insistence that your spouse MUST be head over you and that you MUST do what he says is not actually biblical, and it’s not healthy. Both spouses need to make decisions, make mistakes, have opportunity to learn and grow and be out there in the world.

        Even those insisting on male headship still say that men and women are equals, but this isn’t internally consistent. If you’re equal as a female, but limited *because you’re female, you’re not equal. If your partner makes the final decision and you don’t, you’re not equal. If your partner’s gifts can be fully utilized at church, but yours can’t unless your gifts are all acceptably gender-traditional, you’re not equal.

        Most importantly, those who think leadership naturally resides in men and women are somehow… weaker?… That is just not the case. God created men with leadership skills, and men with other skills, and the same with women. It is our highest human calling to lift each other up — toward God. Not try to orient one spouse to the other. Both orient toward God.

        If you’re consulting together on a decision, there’s no reason to still have only one person make it alone. If your faith is in God, you already know you will end up coming to the same decision anyway, so the only reason to short-circuit that process is wanting one spouse to have power over the other. Don’t short-circuit God’s process.


    All this talk of submission creeps me out. It’s like the church’s version of Fifty Shades of Grey and there’s huge ick factor in that. I know there’s no way I could be married to a man who treated me like a lesser being, and if the man always has the final say, then that’s what the implication is. The dynamic in my marriage is not like that at all. We are partners. Major decisions are a joint effort. Truth be told, I’m the “A” student, my husband was more in the “C” arena. I’m much, much better at handling finances, saving money and making investments. I’ve always been the one with the higher salary. Why, then would he be making all the major decisions? Just because he has a penis?

    • Stefanie S.

      “Just because he has a penis?”
      Yes, exactly, PATRICIA.
      That’s the reason behind most male privileges. Apparently a penis contains additional brain cells and other useful extras, which give additional weight (pun intended) to its carrier. Culture has known this for millenia, it’s just science that is lacking in finding the evidence for it.
      *Sarcasm off*

    • Terry

      It’s a big yikes for me too. The thing that really gives me pause in this comment thread is women coming to say how perfect and amazing their complementarian husbands and marriages are — and saying outright that that’s how all marriage should be, complementarian. If people would read some of the recommended books out there and see how MANY women are being abused and how many men are abusing, using male headship, they would be a lot more hesitant to recommend complementarianism.

      And a note, as the article says: If your husband is awesome and always takes your viewpoint into account when making decisions, then the two of you are making decisions together. He might say the words at the end, but if your intellect and contribution counts as much as his does, you are deciding together. That’s not complementarianism, and that’s OK. If you’re both following God to come to the best decision you can, that’s biblical.


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