Which is harder, leading or submitting? Don’t answer. The correct response is “yes.” There is a great deal of weight and responsibility placed upon the husband as head of his family. But there is an equal level of importance placed upon the wife in her role of helper in her family. If we emphasize the weight or important of one role over the other we do an injustice to the design and dignity God gives to both genders.
In this section we’ll speak primarily to the wife as we seek to answer the question, “How should a wife respond in situations where her husband exercises his role as head of the family in making a decision over which there is disagreement?”
Decision Making is not the only expression a husband’s headship should take. For other aspects of the husband’s role as head of the family see chapter five of the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations seminar.
Here are five responses a wife should have to a healthy expression of her husband leading in a decision. These are not “steps” but they do have an intentional order. If it is difficult for you to fulfill one of the earlier points, it will be very difficult for you to fulfill the latter points in a way that feels genuine rather than forced.
Note: These responses assume that the decision made is not sinful or dangerous.
- Believe the best about your husband’s motivation in leading. It is easy to view a leader who makes a decision you disagree with as ignorant, selfish, lazy, short-sighted, controlling, or as having some other bad motive. This tendency within the family is rooted in the effects of the Fall; after which God said to the wife, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (Gen. 3:13b).” What she wants, a strong man to lead her family, she will also mistrust. Overcoming this tendency (trusting) is the core of a good response to your husband’s leadership of the family.
- Affirm the process even before you know the outcome. One of the benefits of this chapter should be that you can have confidence in the process of decision making even before you know the outcome (which will inevitably be in doubt for a decision on which you disagree). Your husband will not always be right; in the same way individual and consensus decisions will not always be “right” (result in the optimal outcome). If this pressure – to always and immediately be right – is added to headship decisions, it will either contribute to passivity or control on the part of your husband. Look for opportunities to say, “Thank you for leading our family and doing it the way you did,” with a smile, eye contact, and an affectionate touch.
- Strive to make the decision succeed. The level of effort you give to making the decision succeed should be as great as if your preference were chosen. Anything less would be a form of bitterness or resentment; a root of trouble for your marriage (Heb. 12:15). After the decision making process has concluded refrain from referring to the outcome as “his decision” in your own thinking and, especially, to others. What efforts this “striving” may entail will vary greatly based upon the nature of the decision, but you want it to be clear you are “all in” on what your husband believes is best for the family.
- Speak and think of the decision positively. This is actually an extension of the previous point. One of the ways you can strive to make a decision succeed is to facilitate a positive morale around that decision. The words you use are important for: (1) you, as protection against grumbling or fear; (2) your husband, as protection against tendencies towards passivity or control; (3) your children, as they learn what it means to honor their parents and other authorities even when they disagree or don’t understand; and (4) your friends, so that they remain a positive influence in your marriage rather than a polarizing presence because they’ve “taken sides.”
- Offer feedback without questioning his role. Submitting to your husband’s decision and joyfully striving to make it succeed need not necessitate silence regarding any concerns from that point forward. As with any decisions, the process and outcome will need to be evaluated, and you have many valuable things to add to that evaluation. One of the primary ways you can offer feedback without questioning your husband’s role is to use first person plural pronouns (i.e., we, us, our). “Some things we should consider for future decisions for our family are…” This displays the level of ownership and participation you took in the decision.
Word to Husbands: You protect your wife in her ability to display these responses by (a) not over utilizing your role as head of the family, (b) patiently utilizing the process advised to ensure she has voice even in decisions where you exercise headship, and (c) inviting feedback when you do exercise headship.
The willingness to learn and assess is a key part of humility for leaders, especially husbands leading their family. Realize that being heard after a headship decision is vital in maintaining your wife’s trust for your continued leadership of the family. Often you will gain more trust even if your decision proves ineffective and your wife is heard than if your decision proves effective and she does not feel heard.
Any time that you exercise headship in a decision you should invite your wife’s critique of these three areas. It is recommended that you ask the questions in this order; placing the critique of the actual decision last.
- Invite a critique of the process. Did you feel heard throughout the decision making process? Did you believe that I understood and valued your primary concerns? Did you feel informed about what factors weighed heaviest to me in this decision? Did you believe you knew what you needed to know about when and how the decision would be made and what needed to be done as we enacted the decision?
- Invite a critique of your tone in leading. Did you feel honored in our conversations about this decision? Did the way I ask you to support me in the final decision feel honoring to you? Did my expressions of gratitude for your support after the decision seem genuine; are there ways they could have been more encouraging for you?
- Invite a critique of the decision. Do you believe this has been a good decision for our family? Which of the things that weighed heavily in my decision have proven most and least relevant? Are there any adjustments (if possible) we need to make in the decision in light of what we learned since that time?
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Marriage” post which address other facets of this subject.