The Biblical Role of Headship in Marriage

I was asked to address this issue and feel as if I cannot adequately address this subject without including my husband in the dialogue as well. So this post features my sometimes “post-er,” always pastor and husband, Gary.
Beth’s point of view
When Gary and I have to make a decision that we cannot come to an agreement on, we take a few extra measures to find that right solution. One of them is to talk through our feelings and motives behind the decision, to the point where we both feel validated and heard by each other. Often my resistance has more to do with feeling disregarded or controlled than believing Gary is wrong. So when Gary can drop his agenda and focus on how I feel, very often I am ready to see things his way.
Gary’s P.O.V.
A lot of times when we find ourselves locked in disagreement, it’s because we’ve both gotten an idea fixed in our heads and made a private decision before we’ve taken the time to talk and process about it together first. Most of the time, our rush to process independently rather than interdependently is not intentional. But even when our motives are innocent, the likely outcome is a resistance to backtrack and start all over from the beginning.
Beth’s P.O.V.
Another measure that we take is to think outside the box. Very often we can find a better solution to our problem than the one that seems so obvious, if we just take the time to talk through various options that aren’t on the table at first.
Gary’s P.O.V.
Of all the decisions we’re faced with every day, most are not vital, make or break issues. And most are not as urgent as we seem to think at the moment. Simply slowing down and not putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves to come to a decision immediately can reduce stress, get our creative juices flowing and help us to see new possibilities. But, if we find ourselves still at a stalemate, we may invite a wise, objective, and spiritually mature friend to help us. And when the decision is especially significant, we’ve also processed issues with a counselor.
Beth’s P.O.V.
Sometimes my pride and stubbornness gets the best of me. I don’t feel like submitting to Gary even though I know that is what God desires. So if we end up arguing about a matter rather than respectfully discussing it, we take a break to cool down and pray about it. It’s amazing how much a time of prayer (anywhere from a half an hour to, honestly, a couple of days!) can soften my heart and clarify the way so much more than any convincing Gary may try to do with me.
Gary’s P.O.V.
I struggle with my pride too, and if I allow my pride to be the driving force of my expression, it can easily accelerate. I get louder, more defensive, and critical. When this happens, the focus shifts away from the decision we’re trying to make to the control we’re trying to maintain and the position we’re trying to protect. The earlier we catch our emotions starting to play the primary role, and the quicker we are to get away to pray, the more likely we are to return to the table. Then we can engage in a healthy dialogue and come to an agreement on our next step of decision.
Beth’s P.O.V.
I’d have to say that, for the most part, Gary and I agree on most big decisions. But I also believe that Gary is ultimately the “head” of our household, so when we are at an impasse, I allow him to make the final call. I don’t see this as being less than or lower than Gary. I see it as Gary shouldering more of the responsibility for our family—and that’s something I can completely appreciate!
Gary’s P.O.V.
Let me be very careful when I, as a husband, address the issue of “headship” in the home. First, I believe that God has placed the husband as head (Ephesians 5:23-24), not because he is more capable, but as Adrian Rogers graphically stated it,
“Anything without a head is dead, 
and anything with two heads is a freak.” 

Without leadership, any organization, including the family, will fracture and degenerate into ineffectiveness at best, and conflict and total breakdown at worst. God calls the husband to lead in love, and the wife to submit out of respect. 
Unfortunately, the term “submit” has been misunderstood, misused and twisted from its original meaning. Submission means to voluntarily yield in love. It’s not something a husband can demand, it’s something a wife freely chooses to offer. A wife’s voluntary choice to allow her husband to lead will more likely happen when she feels loved – when her husband accepts his responsibility to love her as Christ loves the church.

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  • The Perspective:”A lot of times when we find ourselves locked in disagreement, it’s because we’ve both gotten an idea fixed in our heads and made a private decision before we’ve taken the time to talk and process about it together first.” is so clarifying. Thank You!
    My issue is not using “submission” as a means put all the responsibility on my spouse (And gather ammunition for when he blows it! HAHA!)
    But seriously, I can only recall one MAJOR decision where we disagreed and I was put in the position of allowing him to make the choice. Even though the outcome was not what either of us wanted or expected, and we had a bit of clean up to do once the dust settled, I can not say it was the “wrong” choice. It is so liberating and faith strengthening to know He uses whatever decision we make as an opportunity to trust Him more. I believe God blessed my decision to submit. Because I displayed, in that instance, to my husband that I trusted and supported his leadership even though I had reservations, our “togethership” was made stronger.

  • Kim

    Well done! If I could point out a MAJOR assumption you are making, it is that Christians act like Christians. The messy marriages that are your target are messy for the very reason that Believers don’t think/speak/act like Believers. And when I say that, I especially mean husbands, because if you are going to ascribe headship and/or leadership to the husband, then it is his responsibility to lead the spirit of his wife to a better place.

    I think one place where many believing wives may choke a little is “…when we are at an impasse, I allow him to make the final call,” because many wives in messy marriages don’t have husbands who have earned the respect of their wives to the point where they will voluntarily submit to them.

    I prefer the idea that, as a head/spiritual leader, a husband will take the responsibility to work through an impasse, even to the point of sacrificing his own perspectives, desires, opinions, requirements, dogmas, etc. to achieve unity with his wife before a major decision is made. Wouldn’t that sacrifice be the very definition of love? Of self-denial? Of self-sacrifice? Of “regarding one another (including your wife) as more important than youselves”?

    Blessings!

  • I appreciate your comment, Kim. I “submitted” to my wife (Ephesians 5:21 – mutual submission) and refrained from a long-winded blog post at her request :-). I’d like to add … when leading in love, I will sometimes yield to my wife’s desire (even though I might lean the other way) because I believe that sensitivity to her needs and desires can accomplish a better outcome than moving “my way” without her.

    Also, as an FYI: in writing our post, we were not assuming that “Christians act like Christians.” Sorry it came across that way. We were simply sharing our own personal story, acknowledging the struggle that we sometimes have in our own marriage.

    We realize that none of us have our act together, and we husbands act like knuckle-heads a lot of the time. If wives were to live with an attitude of submission only when we deserved it, they wouldn’t be submitting very often. But when they choose to submit in spite of our ignorant ways, they are displaying a beautiful picture of God – one that can influence a husband toward God and toward a unified, loving and Christ-like marriage like nothing else can.

  • Kim

    Gary, this post is probably one of the best I’ve seen on the subject. I appreciate your and Beth’s spirits and hope that’s all you remember of my comments.

    I am a recovering knuckle-head to the point where my wife feels comfortable enough for us to counsel with other couples in crisis. We’ve seen some pretty extreme cases to the point where I’ve wondered if the husband is a Believer at all. So, I find that I’m harder on my sex than the fairer one (with good reason, as I believe that Scripture holds heads/leaders to a higher standard).

    I know it seems obvious, but we’ve had to make clear to many wives that they need not submit to anything that would be immoral, illegal, demeaning, abusive, threatening or harmful in any way to themselves or their children. Many Christian wives are very confused in this area. They know in their spirits what is right and what is wrong, but they hear the church encouraging them to a sort of blind submission that I don’t believe is Scriptural.

    So, within a confined set of circumstances where Christlikeness is being pursued, I agree a wife may “choose to submit in spite of our ignorant ways” and that it displays a “beautiful picture of God.” The underlying question of that approach, though, is if a wife “influences a husband toward God” by her submission who is leading whom?

    Gary and Beth, as I said, your spirits are awesome and this post is great. Hoping to see more. I hope we can encourage each other towards Christlikeness! God Bess You!!!

    Kim

  • Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and the things you have learned through God’s guidance. i can relate to your experiences 😀
    my marriage monday entry

  • I enjoyed the honest dialogue here. Thanks for showing us both perspectives.

  • Jona and Tami, you’re welcome and it’s good to know there are others who can relate and appreciate! 🙂

  • LOVE the dialogue! Such a blessing in your shared experiences and insights.

    My take-away will easily be: “Anything without a head is dead,
    and anything with two heads is a freak.”

    I SO needed to hear this today!

  • A wonderful post… and thanks for including your husband’s thoughts too. I always read my MM posts to e-Dad, and include his “edits.” Especially necessary when the topic includes how to understand and relate to men.

    This is key: “Very often we can find a better solution to our problem than the one that seems so obvious, if we just take the time to talk through various options that aren’t on the table at first.” We miss out on the third alternative that often emerges when we talk things through. The synergy is so refreshing when we allow it to happen!

    Thanks for joining us for Marriage Monday, today Beth.

    Blessings, e-Mom @ Chrysalis

  • It is so wonderful to have both of your perspectives on this issue! I agree that so often we deal independently with an issue before turning toward each other to solve it interdependently. Interdependence is a gift and should be embraced!

  • I enjoyed the honest dialogue here. Thanks for showing us both perspectives.

  • A wonderful post… and thanks for including your husband’s thoughts too. I always read my MM posts to e-Dad, and include his “edits.” Especially necessary when the topic includes how to understand and relate to men.

    This is key: “Very often we can find a better solution to our problem than the one that seems so obvious, if we just take the time to talk through various options that aren’t on the table at first.” We miss out on the third alternative that often emerges when we talk things through. The synergy is so refreshing when we allow it to happen!

    Thanks for joining us for Marriage Monday, today Beth.

    Blessings, e-Mom @ Chrysalis

  • LOVE the dialogue! Such a blessing in your shared experiences and insights.

    My take-away will easily be: “Anything without a head is dead,
    and anything with two heads is a freak.”

    I SO needed to hear this today!