In marriage, should husbands make the final decision if the couple can’t reach agreement?
Many Christians would say yes. In fact, in our recent survey of 20,000 women for our new book The Great Sex Rescue, 39.4% agreed with that statement. Many Christians who attend church regularly think that marriage has a form of hierarchy, where the husband holds the tie-breaking vote, or, as Emerson Eggerichs explained in Love & Respect, he holds 51% of the power and she holds 49% of the power (which actually practically results in him holding 100% of the power, but let’s leave that for a moment.)
And believing this seems rather innocuous when we look at the results our survey found on women’s marital and sexual satisfaction. Believing this doesn’t really hurt marriage, and it doesn’t really help it. It’s neutral.
But here’s what’s interesting: Most people who believe this don’t act on it.
Most people who believe that husbands should make the final decision do not actually act this way in marriage. In fact, only 17.9% of couples who profess being Christians actually give the husband the tie-breaking vote.
More people believe it–but in marriage, they actually decide things together. They make decisions together, or, if they can’t agree, they wait on it. In fact, 78.9% of couples make decisions in a completely collaborative way (a very small minority have her make the decisions).
I would like to say a word to pastors today, then.
Dear pastor, most likely, if you believe that the husband should make the final decision, and you teach that husbands should make the final decision, you are teaching something which you do not personally act out.
And that’s a good thing.
Because bad things happen in marriages that live out this belief.
People in marriages where someone makes the final decision–even if they consult their spouse beforehand–end up 7.4 times more likely to divorce than couples who make decisions together.
Encouraging the husband to make the final decision can create very, very dysfunctional marriages, and increase the rate of divorce astronomically. And we are not the only ones who found this. John Gottman, of the Gottman Institute, the premier marriage research facility in the world, said this:
Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct.
Sharing decision-making power is a key marker of a healthy marriage.
And, really, this is perfectly intuitive. Part of intimacy is feeling as if you matter; if someone’s opinions matter more than yours in marriage, all sorts of bad things happen. Here’s how we explained it in The Great Sex Rescue:
In marriages with collaborative decision-making, women are almost three times more likely to feel heard during arguments. But when women don’t feel heard, and instead feel as if their opinions are not as important as their husbands’, their marriages are forty-three times more likely to end in divorce. Forty-three times. That may be why we found that the risk of divorce skyrockets in marriages in which the husband is the one who ultimately makes the decisions, even if he consults his wife on them. When we set up marriages where a husband has decision-making power, we create marriages in which his opinions, by definition, matter more than hers. And when women feel their opinions are not given the same weight as their husbands’, sex suffers and marriages crumble.
But here’s some good news: treating each other as equals doesn’t just give you a better marriage—it gives you better sex! When couples share power (make decisions together), wives are four times (4.36) more likely to rate themselves among the happiest 20% of marriages than among the least happy 20%, and are 67% more likely to frequently orgasm during sex.
And we have a whole chart on the effects of feeling heard in marriage on one’s sex life n the book–including being 9.4 times more likely to say you feel close to your husband during sex, and 6.74 times more likely to say that he makes her pleasure a priority.
When we don’t share decision-making power, it affects all areas of our lives for the worse.
There is also a practical element to this that hurts marriage. In marriage where the expectation is that he will make the final decision if they disagree, couples often forego the healthy back-and-forth that is part of decision-making. They may not wrestle in prayer as long. They may not seek counsel. They may take shortcuts because they assume, “well, he just gets to decide then.” And this can lead to worse decisions, more distance, and even entitlement.
So pastor, understand that when you preach that husbands should make the final decision, you are hurting 18% of the marriages in your congregation.
Most people will listen to this teaching, and may even agree with this, but they won’t practice it. But those who do practice it do not do well. When you are teaching something that you do not even practice yourself, then at some level you know this teaching isn’t right. You know that there is a better way.
So teach that better way.
But what if you believe that there should be hierarchy in marriage?
You can still teach that better way, because there are so many other arguments for it. Two Spirit filled believers should be able to come to agreement on things. After all, chances are in your board of elders, you require unanimity to do things. If you require it in your board, and you assume that it can happen in your board because you are following the leading of the Holy Spirit, then why would you not think that it can happen in marriage?
And remember that the Bible talks about creating the woman as a “suitable helper”. The word “suitable” means equal to him, exactly what he needs. And helper is a warrior term. In other words, he needs her. So why would he dismiss her?
Finally, the Bible teaches us that two are better than one. That iron sharpens iron. That we are meant to help each other. If you silence one half of that equation, then you take away one of the best vehicles that God has put in place to grow the both of you. You end up making one person’s voice small, and making the other more and more selfish.
I am not saying that you have to change your view of marriage (though I hope that you will look more deeply into what some of these passages are saying). But I am saying that, regardless of what you believe about marriage, there is enough in the Bible that shows us clearly that two people being in submission before God, working together, is the ideal. When we allow one person to make a final decision, we short circuit that ideal.
You know this doesn’t work. You don’t act it out yourself. So please, for the sake of those in your church, stop teaching it.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
What do you think? Why do most people who teach and believe this not practice it? Why do we still teach it if we don’t practice it? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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