Are you married to a controlling husband?
I wrote a big post recently about how too often our Christian culture promotes a version of church and marriage that makes women powerless–and that this inevitably leads to abuse. Not that EVERY woman will be abused, but when we set up structures where one person has all the power, then people who want to control and abuse others will gravitate there.
Since then I have been inundated with emails about that subject, and several have been from women whose sisters/friends/cousins are married to controlling husbands. They want to help, but the wives refuse to see it.
I want to write today to that woman who is in an unhealthy marriage.
So let me address you personally.
Maybe you’re here because someone sent you to this blog. You’re probably nervous and suspicious, and I understand. But that special someone cares desperately about you, and desperately about God, and wants to see God’s love in your life. She isn’t seeing that right now.
So let’s start with some first principles.
God did not intend that anyone should control any other person. In fact, Jesus said just the opposite.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NIV)
People are not supposed to exercise authority harshly over one another or force other people to do their will. That is totally outside of the kingdom of God. And in Ephesians 5:21, before Paul starts writing specifically to the husband and wife, he begins his treatise on marriage like this:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The Christian life is about serving each other. It is NOT about controlling any other person or demanding obedience. In fact, if anyone does that, then they are acting in an unChristian manner. They are not reflecting God; they are reflecting the enemy.
Therefore, your husband should not control you, and he is acting unbiblically if he does.
What does it mean for someone to control you? It means they act in such a way to exert extreme pressure or force to make you act according to their will.
These are all examples of control:
- He tells you who you can and cannot talk to, text, or message. He tries to stop you from seeing close friends and family.
- He hits you or physically exerts force in any way.
- He limits your access to money, keeping all the bank cards in his name and requiring you to ask him for cash.
- He demands an accounting of how you spend your time, what you thought about, or who you talked to.
- He yells repeatedly, and demands that you sit and listen to his tirades.
- He sexually abuses you, or pressures you to do things sexually that you are extremely uncomfortable with or think are sinful.
- He verbally berates you, saying things like, “you would never survive in this world without me”, or “you’re too stupid to ever figure out real life.”
- He makes big decisions about jobs, schooling, housing, etc. without consulting you.
- He uses Scripture to tell you why you are wrong to question him or disagree with him in any way. He tells you that to disagree with him is to go against God’s will.
- He refuses to let you drive or have access to a vehicle.
If your husband is doing things on this list, then your husband is not serving you as Christ did.
But shouldn’t you submit to him anyway?
After all, if he’s not having an affair, then technically the marriage is still valid, right? And doesn’t that mean that you have to submit to him?
Let’s take a step back here.
What is God’s ultimate aim–that you do God’s will, or that you do your husband’s will?
It’s that you do God’s will, right? And yet many people assume that the two are one and the same thing.
But is that biblical? Absolutely not. In Acts 5, we read the story of Ananias and Sapphira, early Christians who wanted to curry favour with the apostles. So they sold some property, and then came and gave the money to the apostles. But they only gave a portion of the money, yet told the apostles it was the whole thing. Ananias came in first, told the false story, and God struck him dead. When Sapphira came in, she repeated the story that she and Ananias had agreed to, and Peter reprimanded her harshly, saying that she should not have gone along with Ananias.
She should have done the right thing, regardless of what her husband did.
And because she went along with Ananias, she was struck dead.
You are responsible for doing God’s will, not your husband’s will.
I have more about this question about abuse and marriage here.
If women are supposed to submit to husbands, then don’t we have to put up with controlling behaviour? NO. You’re ultimately responsible to do God’s will, not your husband’s will. Enabling sin is never God’s will!
But aren’t I supposed to obey my husband?
No, you’re not. You are not a child. In fact, you were made as a “suitable helper” for your husband, which doesn’t mean that you’re inferior at all. It’s closer to the meaning of being a “necessary ally”. God wants to use you in this relationship to help your husband!
Listen to me here: You are not helping your husband if you let him control you. You are hurting him.
I want you to really grasp this. If your husband is sinning by trying to control you or your children (and that is a sin), then to allow him to continue in this is not to follow God’s will. It is to go against God’s will.
Let’s look at another relationship to see what I mean.
Let’s say that you had a sister who was a drug addict. She had already had two children taken away from her by children’s services. She’s pregnant again by who-knows-who? She comes to you one night, high as a kite, and asks to borrow $500. What do you do?
You say no, because it is not loving her to fuel the addiction.
God’s will is not that you be nice to everyone or that you do what everyone wants you to do so as not to rock the boat. God’s will is that everyone look more and more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). That means that the way you act should point people to Jesus, not away from Jesus.
If your husband is yelling at you and demanding that you give an account of your day, or demanding that you not see your family who loves you, and you agree, then you are encouraging your husband to act less and less like Jesus everyday.
Let that sink in for a moment.
If you allow your husband to keep treating you this way, then you are helping him move away from God. You aren’t doing God’s will; instead, the enemy is using you by confusing you and making you feel hopeless and helpless. This is not what God wants for you.
If you stay with an abusive husband, then you are helping him move away from God. The enemy is using you by confusing you and making you feel hopeless and helpless. This is not what God wants for you.
You are hurting your children if you allow your husband to control you and to control them. And you ARE responsible for your children.
In 1 Samuel 25 we read about a controlling husband–a man who yelled at everyone and made life difficult for everyone. Nabal (that was the guy’s name) offended David, and David and his warriors were about to come and wipe out the man and his servants and family.
Then Nabal’s wife Abigail, without Nabal’s knowledge, intervened. She intercepted David before he could do anything, made amends for her husband’s bad behaviour, and smoothed everything over. She did it to save her servants and her extended family.
She succeeded, and David was so impressed with her that after God struck Nabal dead, he asked for her hand in marriage.
So what did Abigail do? She disobeyed her husband. She did something without his knowledge and behind his back, because she knew that her servants were counting on her. If she did not intervene, they would be harmed. And God greatly blessed and rewarded her for it.
My dear sister, do you understand the implications of that? God cares about the little people who are under your care, too. If you have children, and you are allowing your husband to control them, berate them, or even just to watch him control, beat, or berate you (because studies show that a child witnessing a mother being hurt like that is as bad as being hurt themselves), then you are hurting your children. And God wants you to stand up for them, even if that means standing up to your husband.
So if you’ve decided your husband is controlling, what should you do now?
If you came to this blog because someone sent you, reach out to that person. They want to help you. They likely already have a plan of how to do that. Please, just talk to them, even if your husband doesn’t approve. God did not give him the right to restrict who you can talk to, and you do not have to listen to a command like that (just like Sapphira did not have to listen to a command to lie to the apostles).
If you just read this blog post on your own, then I’m going to suggest several things.
1. First, if you or your children are in imminent danger, seek help now.
Call the police. Talk to a women’s shelter. Make a plan of how you can get out quickly.
If you aren’t in imminent danger, then:
2. Read more about what God wants from a Christian marriage.
Here are some good books on the subject:
- 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage (by me)
- The Emotionally Destructive Marriage
- How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong
I also have a variety of articles on submission. You can find them at my Marriage FAQ page (just scroll down until you find that topic).
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
3. Find Your Voice
It’s very likely that by living in a controlling relationship you’ve lost your “voice”. You’ve lost the ability to speak up, or even to figure out what you want, because the only thing that you’ve been thinking for years is “what does he want”? Find a counselor to talk to where you can practice saying out loud what you want in life. Find a mentor with whom you can practice saying out loud what it means to be redeemed in Christ, and what it means that you are precious and bought with a price. Seek out people who are healthy to talk to.
And read the Bible for yourself! Don’t only read the passages he tells you to read; read the gospels. You’ll see a gentle Jesus who loves, and a firm Jesus who stands up to injustice and to bullies.
4. Refuse the “Dance”
You can refuse to participate in his attempts to control you.
If he demands that you tell him what you did today, then you can tell him, “I don’t feel comfortable telling you these details if you don’t also share details with me.” If he demands to see your phone, say, “I’d be happy to share phones, but I’d like to see yours as well. It doesn’t seem as if this is a real partnership if you don’t trust me but I’m forced to trust you.” If he yells at you, then you can say, “I can see that you’re upset, and I’d be happy to talk to you about this, but I won’t talk while you’re yelling. I’m going to go in another room until you calm down.” And then leave the room.
In other words, don’t go along with what he says. Go and learn how to drive. March down to the bank and get access to the accounts, or start one of your own. Say no if he pressures you for something you’re not comfortable with in bed.
Note: if this behaviour is likely to trigger physical violence, then please seek out some help now.
Please Listen to Me: God does not want you treated like this.
If you are married to a controlling husband, God is grieved. He does not want you treated like this. And He does not want your husband–God’s son–acting in this horrible way. By you standing up to your husband, or simply removing yourself from the situation (if that’s the only thing that’s safe), you allow you and your children a chance to heal and experience God’s love. But you may also give your husband the push he needs to work on his own issues.
You are precious in God’s eyes. Do not let anyone, even your husband–and especially your husband–ever make you doubt that.
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