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Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?

Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?

I am annoyed by the many articles and books on Christian marriage which begin with the premise that in every marriage there will be power struggles between husband and wife. I came across an article today by Kevin A. Miller entitled: “What’s so Scary about Submission”[1] and he too seems to think that one of the main obstacles for harmony in Christian marriage is this assumed power struggle.[2]

Is a power struggle between a Christian husband and wife really an ordinary part of married life?

Isn’t a power struggle simply an indication of personalities that need more refinement by the Holy Spirit?

I am married to a wonderful man (we’ve been married for over 26 years), and a power struggle has never been part of our experience. From day one in our relationship we have treated each other with mutual respect. We both have been humble and submissive. We both have given the other person the freedom to be themselves. Neither one of us has wanted to be the dominant voice in our marriage. Neither one of us has wanted to be the leader. Instead we have endeavored to lead our family and manage our home together.

Needless to say, all of these things have been attempted and achieved with a greater or lesser degree of imperfection!

Rather than struggling for power, our struggles have been about how to understand and accommodate the other, prefer the other, and support and care for the other in meaningful, loving ways.

Is it rare or unusual for two Spirit-led Christians to have a marriage without power struggles?  I certainly hope not.


Endnote

[1] The full title of this article is: “What’s so Scary about Submission? – Six Secrets about what the Bible Really Teaches”.  This article was first published in 2002, but has been republished several times over the last few years by different Christian organisations. It can be viewed here.

[2] A power struggle occurs when people vie for control in a relationship and strive to get their own “way”.

© 13th of June, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

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Posted June 13th, 2010 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, , , , , ,

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19 comments on “Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?

  1. Mabel Yin says:

    I heard one of our church Elders vehemently declare that the husband is the head of the family. If his wife does not live a godly life, if the kids didn’t turn out, God will go after the husband on judgment day. The wife is not responsible for the husband’s nor the kids’ behavior, but the husband is responsible for the wife’s behavior. It is all because of his interpretation of “headship”, a word not found in the Bible. Our senior pastor, a reasonable man, also believes in “headship” of a man, but he didn’t explain what it means. The bible says the husband is the “head” of the wife, but nowhere does the bible say the husband is head of the family. He is not head of his children! But people keep saying that the father/husband is the spiritual head of the family. I think this teaching is the result of the newly coined phrase “spiritual covering” by man over woman. I have been trying to find a good article to show our Elder who is so misguided. He was seconded by a deacon, a brilliant woman, who is about to be married soon and has been reading a lot of books on marriage. Apparently, there is widespread teaching on how the man is to be the “spiritual cover” for his family. This is down right wrong. I am eagerly waiting for your article on headship, to be out in Aug?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Mabel,

      Thanks for your comment here, and for your personal message. 🙂

      You are absolutely correct: the Bible never says that the husband is the head of the family (or the head of the home.) The concept of “covering” is equally without Scriptural basis.

      I am keen to write an article about headship, but I am also daunted by it. There is so much information already available on the meaning of “head” in Koine Greek, and on Paul’s intention when using the word. I do not want to simply rehash other people’s findings. However I do not think that my website would be complete without some attempt to explain what Paul meant when he said that the husband is the head of the wife. So stay tuned, but be patient. 🙂

  2. Mabel Yin says:

    Thank you, Marg, I will be very patient, I promise:-)

  3. […] Power Struggles in Christian Marriage? […]

  4. Don Johnson says:

    The simple truth is that 2 people WILL have differences, they can have different priorities, different outlooks, different philosophies, different strengths, different weaknesses, different blind spots, etc.

    When those 2 people are a couple, how do those differences play out?

    One solution is simply to let one person always be in charge, so when ever there is a difference in what to do, the person with the trump card plays it and the couple does that. This is a hierarchical model and is used in the army in a cascaded fashion all the way up to the commander in chief. Napoleon said with good reason that he would rather fight 2 good generals than 1 bad one; one may need to think about this for a minute to figure out what he is saying, but he has a point in a warfare situation, that is when one’s very survival is at stake. Comps say the husband is in charge when the spouses disagree, he get to make the “final decision”. This solution certainly has a virtue in its simplicity. When translated to a family situation, how much of the time is a family in a survival situation where there is a payoff for the cases where “one bad general” is to be preferred to “two good generals”?

    The other solution is along the lines of a democracy, in a couple this means both parties work together. But then what happens when they do not agree? There needs to be some way to break ties or does there?

  5. Marg says:

    Great comment, Don.

    Yes, the complementarian solution of the husband having the final say in a decision is simple and may work for some couples; but it is not a biblical solution.

    The Bible never says that a husband has the final say. The only verse I can find about husbands and wives making a decision is in 1 Cor 7:5 which is where a married couple makes a decision by mutual consent.

    There are all sort of factors that go into making a decision. Hopefully couples are intelligent, mature and kind enough to work out how to make joint decisions in their marriage.

  6. Vanessa says:

    I am so glad to hear someone else express the same frustration! My husband and I have had conversations about this exact thing – how many (most?) Christian marriage books portray marriage as something that will always be on the edge of oblivion, due to the two partners constantly butting heads.

    While I have certainly seen marriages that are like that, it does not hold true in our marriage. Yes, we DO butt heads, perhaps even somewhat frequently…. but it has never ever turned into a shouting match, slammed doors, seething anger, etc. Generally we go “back and forth” until one of us realizes “hey, this is turning into a big deal, lets sit down and really talk about it”. And so we do, and we come to a consensus. If we can’t come to a consensus in that conversation, we table it and come back to it later. After all that conversation, if we still haven’t come to a consensus, we have at least understood each other to a much fuller extent, and can then mutually see who the issue is more important to. Speaking for myself – by the end of all the conversation, even if I don’t fully agree, I can see his side and empathize with it, to the point that I can easily “submit” to his viewpoint. Vice versa, the same is true for him. We’ve never reached the end of the conversation and wondered “why are you acting like this?!”. We know each other, we understand each other, we accept each other. It probably helps that neither of us seem to be physically capable of a “poker face.” We can’t hide our emotions at all, so its easy to visually gauge the intensity of the conversation, and hurt feelings are dealt with much sooner than if we had hidden them away. We have problems, definitely, but I wouldn’t describe them as a power struggle at all. This quote from the post summarizes it well: “Rather than struggling for power, our struggles have been about how to understand and accommodate the other, prefer the other, and support and care for the other in meaningful, loving ways.”

    That’s probably more than your were asking for, but I was so glad that WE weren’t alone, that I wanted to let you know that you weren’t alone either. 🙂

  7. Marg says:

    Vanessa, Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    I think a healthy marriage has a lot of mutual deference going on. I think most complementarians would agree with this.

    I’m grateful that we’ve never had ugly, destructive shouting matches. In my marriage the person that is most affected by any decision usually is the one who’s views are considered the most. But in truth, at our stage of marriage, we actually agree on most decisions – not that we have that many to make.

  8. […] Power Struggles in Christian Marriage? […]

  9. Hi Marg!

    I wanted to share a post I wrote that dovetails nicely with what you wrote here. Couples are told power struggles are normal and even biblical starting in their premarital counseling!

    http://awomansfreedominchrist.com/premarital-counseling-that-promotes-the-idea-of-an-adversarial-marriage/

    I’ve started blogging again at a new domain so please feel free to stop by. I’ll be linking up to your site again when I get a few minutes to come up with a blogroll. 🙂

  10. Marg says:

    Hi Sallie, Thanks for the link. Good article!

  11. […] Power Struggles in Christian Marriage? […]

  12. Tia says:

    I feel so blessed to have found you. I am a few months into my marriage and this is exactly how our relationship is. Neither of us are leader types and neither of us want to take the reigns so we just decide everything together. Sometimes we take longer to conclude decisions because he worries about me and I worry about him and we fly around in a circle for a bit. LOL

    I’ve been blasted by family and other Christians that we’re wrong and I need to be submitting to my husband and letting him lead. I was so broken down and felt so guilty about my apparent horrible behavior,I second-guessed every decision we made like I had lured him into some life he couldn’t resist.

    I talked to my husband about my feelings and he was just clueless about these tragedies I had brought upon us by being his teammate versus cheerleader,he said “Everything is okay,I bought that joystick you didn’t want me to.” LOL

    I think as Christians we nitpick and over-complicate things far beyond what they need to be. We love each other,we seek to put God first and one another ahead of ourselves. I respect my husband as my husband,and he’s the first person in my life. And we make our choices as a team. I never felt God was looking down on us in this great disappointment until other people stepped into our marriage and started telling us that the case.

    • Marg says:

      Tia, It sounds like you have a loving, considerate husband, and that he’s doing a pretty good job of following Ephesians 5:28-29. I’m happy for you. It sounds like your marriage is off to a great start.

      I’m sorry about the blasting. That would have been disturbing, and hard to take. The obsession among some Christians who insist that only husbands and fathers are the leaders in the home actually has no sound biblical basis.

      I struggled with self-imposed guilt in the first few years of my marriage because I thought I was impinging on the “man’s role” in marriage as “spiritual leader” by sometimes being the one who suggested that we pray about a certain issue or by bringing up spiritual and theological subjects. I now realise that my guilt was completely misplaced. Our marriage has never been happier and healthier since we began contributing our real gifts and skills to our marriage and home life.

      I think you’re right about the nit-picking. Rather than disappointment, I imagine that God is looking down and seeing a marriage of mutual love and service and is happy for you both.

  13. Jacob Atitebi says:

    Hi, am happy to come across this great house today. In the Genesis of marriage, God’s purpose for woman(wife) in marriage is to be help meet for the man(husband). The wife is to complement the husband. For God purpose, wife is not just a helper to husband but a suitable helper, a fit helper, a helper that come to make the husband complete. Therefore; in God’s purpose the man is not yet complete without the help (advice, love, care, agreement in decision making, submission) of the woman. Any husband that must fufill God’s purpose in life must not rule over her wife but wait for the advice of her wife before taking decision in marriage and life. Husband is not a ruler of the family but the head of the wife but both the husband and the wife is the ruler of the family but only that the wife should be submissive in meeting the need of the family. Biblically husband should not see himself as the ruler over her family but a complement to complete the family. Without man there would not be Woman and without woman the man is not complete. Biblically husband and wife are to complement each other. Without a suitable woman the life of man will be lonely and this is not good enough, according to God ”The Author Of Marriage”. Genesis 2:18, Eccl 4:9-12

  14. Grainne Mcdonald says:

    We have been married for 46 years. We are dumbfounded by this rising obsession with male spiritual leadership. We have loved each other, submitted to each other, laughed and cried together. My husband is number one in my life and I know he feels the same. When we married all those years ago, as conservative Christians, we were aware that some people, perhaps most, held to male spiritual headship, but no-one quarreled with anyone who disagreed nor sought to silence them. Now it seems as if patriarchy is being propounded everywhere and young women and young men are having incredible strain placed upon them, trying to conform. Both husband and wife should ‘meet the needs of the family’, should equally agree on any decision, and should seek to support the other in the Christian life of obedience to our only Head, Jesus Christ.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Grainne,

      That is interesting that you’ve noticed the obsession with male authority as a new thing.

      I completely agree with your last statement!

  15. […] Power Struggles in Christian Marriage? […]

  16. […] Power Struggles in Christian Marriage? […]

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