Recently, I was teaching a marriage seminar, and I asked the audience of men and women how many of them were raised in homes where there was a clearly dominant parent. At least two-thirds of them raised their hands. Dominance is a common issue that affects marriages and children in a negative manner.
The first thing we need to understand about dominance is that it is always destructive in a marriage. The presence of a dominating spouse means there is also a spouse being dominated. Both men and women can be dominating. It is equally as common to see a domina-ting female as it is to see a dominating male.
Also, dominating people will almost always marry someone who is an emotional match for them. Thus, dominating people avoid people with strong opinions and self-confidence who will challenge them, and they are instead attracted to those who will allow them to control. Also, the people being dominated often have low self-esteem, passive personalites and/or a background of being raised in dominating environments in which they grew accustomed to being controlled.
Being dominant means that one person has a disproportionate amount of control of the relationship and those elements common to the relationship, such as kids, sex, money, spiritual issues, friendships and so on. If you can imagine looking down at a dollhouse with its roof taken off, the dominant person is the biggest room in the house. Depending on the extent of the dominance, the room size increases or decreases, which also means the size of the spouse’s room is controlled accordingly. In some extreme cases, the non-dominant spouse has no room at all.
In many cases, dominance in a marriage is complete. That means the dominant spouse controls every area of the marriage. However, there are also marriages in which dominance is segregated. That means one spouse may control the kids and the spiritual life while the other spouse controls the money and the sex life. In either case, dominance is destructive and doesn’t work.
To understand why dominance is destructive, we first of all need to look at the plan of Scripture for marriage. Both in the book of Genesis when God created Adam and Eve and also in Ephesians chapter five where we are told about God’s design for the roles of a wife and a husband, the concept of dominance never occurs.
At this point, some man might be saying to himself, “The Bible teaches that women are supposed to submit to men. Therefore, men aren’t being dominant to be the heads of their homes and to be the bosses. It’s God Word!” The verse in Ephesians 5:22 in which women are told to submit to their husbands is preceded in verse 21 (NKJV) with these words: “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” It is also followed with a description of how a husband is to be a sacrificial lover of his wife by laying down his life for her and nourishing and cherishing her as he would his own body.
Even though I believe women should submit to their husbands as to the Lord, I also believe men should mutually submit to their wives in the fear of God. A godly husband is the leader of the home because he initiates the well-being of the home, not because he dominates. The wife is his total equal, and what she thinks and feels is as important as what he thinks and feels.
Also, the Biblical husband is the leader of the home because he has won the hearts of his wife and family through his godly sacrifice and Christlike love. It is not because he is the strongest or can quote one Scripture from Ephesians five as a spiritual bullet to kill any “insurrection” that might be threatening him.
God created marriage to be a partnership in which both spouses are honored and esteemed. The Biblical role models of Ephesians five ensure that both the husband and wife are equal members of the relationship with their own special needs completely met by the unselfish devotion of the other. Dominance is against God’s design. At its core is a selfish, independent spirit that uses others for its own purpose, regardless of the damage done to them. Also, dominance is arrogance. It believes that it doesn’t need the input or accountability of others and that because of its superior intellect or virtues it can justify its behavior. It is the opposite of the spirit of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus tells us that He is gentle and humble in heart and will give rest to our souls if we come to Him. God is without question the ruler of all things. Yet, His method is love, not force.
Whether a person is dominant because of a strong personality, sexist attitude, family history, frustration, fear or other reasons, we must all face this issue if we are going to succeed at marriage. To see where you are related to this issue, answer these questions honestly:
- Are you often accused of being dominant? _____
- Do you view marriage as an equal partnership? _____
- Do you feel dominated by your spouse? _____
- Do you make major decisions about issues without the input of your spouse? _____
- Do you feel honored and respected by your spouse? _____
- Are you threatened by the opinions and input of your spouse in one or more areas of your life? _____
- Were you raised in a home with a clearly dominant parent? _____
- Do you relate to the behavior of the dominant or dominated parent? _____
- Do you often feel resentment or anger toward your spouse because of the way he or she treats you? _____
- Do you have a hard time getting your spouse to open up to you? _____
If your answers correspond with those listed below, then you probably are in a marriage that is a partnership the way God designed. If that is true, not only will you be blessed, but so will your children. If you answered one or more of these questions incorrectly, you need to closely examine the nature of your marriage in order to prevent damage through dominance. If you are the dominant spouse, you need to repent to God and your spouse. Regardless of whether your spouse resents it or not, dominance is against God’s design and damages the intimacy and bond of marriage.
God has designed marriage in such a way that we cannot reach our potential without our spouses. Therefore, dominance curses both of us. Make a commitment that in any area where you have been dominant, you will submit to your spouse, and include and honor him or her in every issue of your home and marriage. If you are the dominated spouse, you need to lovingly stand up and refuse to be dominated. Without angry words or threats, simply tell your spouse that you are violated by his or her behavior and want to be treated as an equal in the relationship. Don’t be intimidated by the response or believe that being silent will serve any positive function. Speak the truth in love, and then pray and trust God for the results. This is how Karen changed our marriage. As she lovingly stood up to me in my dominance and prayed for me, it caused an immediate conflict between us that God used to change my heart.
I heard the story last week of a woman who was dominated by her husband for ten years, and one day she just drove away and never came back. She later told a friend that she was so hurt and angry that she would never be treated like that again. Even though I sympathize with her feelings, she should have spoken up to her husband long before the anger inside of her exploded.
If you love your spouse, don’t let him or her dominate you, and don’t dominate him or her. Respect each other and be a team the way God intended for you to be. Not only will your marriage be blessed, but also one day when someone asks your children if they were raised in a home with a clearly dominant parent, they won’t raise their hands.
Answers: 1. no, 2. yes, 3. no, 4. no, 5. yes, 6. no, 7. no, 8. no, 9. no, 10. no
Copyright © 2005 Jimmy Evans, Used by Permission.
Author & one of America’s leading authorities on family and marriage relationships, Jimmy Evans is Founder & CEO of MarriageToday. He and his wife, Karen, host MarriageTodayTM, a national television program. Jimmy is the author of many resources including the books Marriage on the Rock, Freedom From Your Past, 7 Secrets of Successful Families, and Resolving Stress in Your Marriage. He also travels nationwide presenting life-changing truths for couples through his marriage seminars and conferences. Jimmy and Karen have two children and two grandchildren.