When it comes to making headship decisions it would be easy to engage the process (i.e., pursue an outcome) more than the person (i.e., serve your wife). This is a common mistake that results in great damage to marriages. Here are five key things a husband should have done or known before asserting his role in making a headship decision.

  1. Know your wife well. If you do not know your wife well, three bad things happen: (1) your starting point will likely not be your wife’s starting point; (2) the process of making the decision will be marked by conflict or silence; and (3) the decision you reach is unlikely to serve your family well.
    • Start “leading” by asking questions and listening. Ask, “In your opinion what aspects of this decision are most important? What fears or dreams of yours are related to this decision? As we make this decision what are the most important things you want to see in me and want from me?”If you do not believe you are an expert on what is important to your wife, return to the exercises given in chapter two of Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations seminar.
  2. Express honor in what you say and do. Most abuses of power (i.e., manipulation) are unintentional. The person “with the power” simply phrases questions and defines words so that it is “obvious” things should go their way. This is form of dishonor, that intentional or not, is sin.
    • Realize headship is primarily expressed during times when you disagree with your wife, so be aware of the strong bias you have for your own opinion. Be on guard for how this shapes your words. Those with the power in any conversation bear the most responsibility for what they say.If this is hard for you then review chapters two (listening) and four (conflict resolution) in the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communicationseminar.
  3. Institute healthy home policies. Yes, this is getting repetitive. But a large percentage of issues that filter through to headship decisions are result of the absence of a shared plan for time, money, and values within the marriage. When these main things are agreed upon it is much easier to talk about everything else.
  4. Establish an environment of trust. Trust is the difference between a hard, but good, conversation and an argument. Take advantage of every opportunity to serve and sacrifice for your wife, so that there is no reason for her to believe you are being selfish when you need to lead.
    • One way to establish trust is to only respond to big deals as if they are a “big deal.” Over and under reacting are large trust breakers. Be aware of your tendency to either over or under react to situations and regularly ask your wife how you’re doing in that regard.
    • Show interest in your wife’s day-to-day activities and share about your day-to-day activities. The more “foreign” you feel to your wife the harder it will be for her to trust you in moments when leadership is needed.
  5. Initiate important conversations. Difficult conversations that are brought to you have a much different tone that those you initiate. Passivity that forces your wife to initiate difficult conversations causes your leadership (often rightly) to be perceived as reaction to nagging rather than a thought-out response to a challenge.
    • Beware of the lie, “If I bring up [blank] it will only upset my wife.” The longer [blank] is allowed to fester the bigger it gets. When [blank] forces itself into the conversation, and it will, the timing will be bad. As the leader of your family choose how and when these subjects will come into conversation.
    • Regularly ask, “Is there anything that we need to discuss?” Inviting a conversation is a legitimate way to initiate a conversation. Don’t use this question to bait your wife into starting a conversation you know needs to be had. But screening for things you may miss is a wise form of leadership.

This may sound like a great deal of work. It is work. Leading a family is an important job. Lazy men should not apply. These actions are not extravagant; nor do they represent the “Green Beret” of husbandry. These are the foundational actions and commitments which set the stage for a husband to exercise headship in a way that is a blessing to his marriage.

Now we need to look at the process a couple should go through in a headship-submission decision. These steps are directed primarily to the husband. But they can be used by a wife to articulate what she is looking for in her husband as he leads the family in a way that honors her.

  • Enact healthy individual and consensus decision making. Personal maturity and honoring friendship are prerequisites for healthy leadership in marriage. In particular, taking the step to seek counsel from mutually trusted people is important so that the exercise of headship does not come across as an excuse for autonomy. This is also when and how a husband gains the information necessary to comply with the next two recommendations.
  • Articulate clearly your wife’s position or concerns. A husband who cannot clearly express his wife’s position and concerns in words she would agree with is in no position to exercise headship. If your bias against your wife’s position is so strong that your articulation of her position is simplistic or condescending, then you lack the love to lead her as Christ leads His church.
  • Articulate clearly why this is important to her. Every effort should be made to understand not only “what” your wife is thinking but also “why.” Be very leery of exercising headship over a decision when the “why” of your wife’s concern is unclear to you. Hearing her husband express both the “what” and “why” of her concern provides a level of security in her husband’s decision that is important for her godly responses to that decision.
  • Vocalize about what you’re weighing in the decision. Leadership is not just about understanding, but also being understood. Let your wife know what you are weighing most heavily in the decision and the time line in which the decision is being made. Yes, this also means inviting questions about that process. If you are defensive about questions, you’re not a leader; you’re a dictator. This is an important part of setting your wife up to support the decision. If the wife is uninformed about the plan, when and how it will be implemented, it can produce perceived resistance or undermining on her part as she acts out of her confusion.
  • Request for your wife’s support in your decision. Questions honor; demands or expectations dishonor. “I would ask that you support me in this decision and work with me to make it succeed for the good of our family,” is the tone in which headship should be articulated. A husband cannot force his wife to follow his leadership. When leadership takes on that tone it becomes an abuse of power. God calls a wife to voluntarily submit to her husband and does not gives the husband jurisdiction to “enforce” that command.
  • Only choose your preference if… “I’m convinced I’m right” cannot complete this sentence. The context of headship-submission decisions is disagreement, so you’ll always be convinced you’re right. Below is a list of criteria for when it is wise the exercise the role of headship. It is not exhaustive, but should help you further apply the idea that in the gospel leadership exists for the good of those being led rather than the pleasure of the leader.
    • Moral Protection – If the issue under discussion has a clear moral component, requesting your wife to submit to your preference (which should be the morally acceptable option) is a form of asking her to honor the Lordship of Christ. This is part of the role of husband as the pastor of his family.
    • Mission Drift – This is another area where the husband serves as pastor of his family. All families, like all individuals and organizations, drift off mission. The role of a husband as head of his family is to call the family back to their primary purposes: loving God, loving each other, and loving the world. This may involve drawing upon his role as head of the family to request focused attention in one of these areas.
    • Life Balance – A husband protects his family by making sure the pieces of the various family schedules can mutually exist. This is not technically moral protection, but excessive scheduling is an often overlooked cause of moral drift, overt sin, and family dissension.
    • Issue Warranting a Trust Withdrawal – This is the criteria used to establish the list above. In many cases utilizing headship to choose your preference will result in an initial decrease of trust. When you exercise headship and choose your preference you are saying this issue is “worth” that trust deficit. If you exercise headship well, then this withdrawal will be temporary and there will be a long-term trust gain.
    • If a difference of opinion does not meet these criteria, then it is advised that the husband defer to his wife’s preference more often than not in order to protect the level of trust in the marriage. If an issue is not “that important” then positional authority should not be leveraged as the deciding factor in resolving a disagreement.

Distinction: Obedience vs. Submission – Children are called upon to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1). A wife is called to submit to her husband (Eph. 5:22). There are many implications of this distinction, but one will be highlighted here. A husband does not have the authority to punish his wife for choosing not to submit to his leadership. Withholding finances, restraining social freedom, or other “grounding-like” actions are unbiblical for a husband to utilize with his wife. Whenever a husband-wife relationship takes on the quality of a parent-child relationship it creates problems that are greater than a lack of submission.

This material is an excerpt from the upcoming seminar:

Date: Saturday April 25, 2015
Time: 4:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP link