The power struggle about who is in control will occur in most marriages from time to time. Sadly, in some homes this battle is a daily occurrence over almost every decision that needs to be made. A struggle may sound like this, “I’m the head of this house and you will do what I say.” The wife replies, “But, wait a minute, I also have a say in what’s happening in this home.” When couples come for counseling, they ask me regularly, “Is it possible to get past this constant battle for control with each other?” I respond, “Yes, if you will simply follow the direction given to you in the Word of God!”
I have seen many marriages, after struggling for years, resolve this problem in their relationship. I have also seen marriages that have ended in divorce as a result of their struggle for power and control over decision making. Why do these marriages end in divorce? The couples simply get tired of the intense conflict and arguing that goes on in their marriage day after day.
So, the question is, how can you resolve the power struggle in your marriage? Is this something you are really interested in doing? If you are, it will change your marriage. What steps do you need to take?
There are many examples of marital power struggles found in Scripture. These examples give you some insight into the causes of the struggle for power in a marriage, and the solution to these issues. Here are some of these examples.
Think of what it would be like to be married to a Nabal or a King Saul? The women married to either of these men would have had a terrible experience as their wife. Nabal was described in Scripture as a harsh and evil man who wouldn’t listen to anyone’s counsel, including his wife’s (1 Sam. 25:2-38). Saul was equally as harsh. If he didn’t like you he would just kill you, as he tried to do with David (1 Sam. 18:8-14). These men would have ruled their homes with an iron fist, and neither would have been easy to live with.
Men, would you like to be married to David’s wife Michel who mocked him for his love and worship of God (2 Sam. 6:16-23)? Or, would you want to be married to Jezebel, Ahab’s wife? She wore the pants in his house and controlled her husband. Like Saul, if she didn’t like you, then, she would kill you (1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 21:1-16). Or, would you like to be married to the contentious woman in Proverbs, that was irritating and annoying like a continual dripping on a rainy day (Prov. 27:15)? Can you imagine how difficult it would have been to be married to one of these ladies? Think of the daily conflicts they had. It must have been unbearable!
How can you try to resolve power struggles with your mate?
The answer to this question is found in Paul’s instruction to couples in Ephesians chapters 5-6. The guidance given in these verses requires you both to choose to obey God if you desire His will for your marriage. What was God’s counsel given here?
- Deal with your selfishness. Paul begins his instruction to both husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:21. This is one of the most powerful and important truths for every successful interpersonal relationship you will have in life. Paul said, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21 – KJV). I like the King James Version of this verse because it makes it clear that both parties in a relationship must take the same action in the fear of God.
What action has Paul commanded? You must submit yourself to God if you want to live in harmony with your spouse. Self is the root cause of every marital, family, or interpersonal problem. James states, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16). Paul also declared that the opposite of love is selfishness (1 Cor. 13:5). Therefore, self must be in subjection to God. Self must die, if you want Christ is to reign inside you. A husband cannot claim that he is dying to self without learning to love his wife. A wife cannot claim that she is dying to self without learning to submit herself to her husband. If you want to resolve the power struggle in your marriage, then you must die to self.
- You both must fear God. Remember, Paul said, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). To fear God simply means to reverence and respect Him above all. In other words, He must be first in your life, and following His Word must be your first priority. Paul is saying that if you have a right spiritual relationship with God, this is where you will find the power to put selfishness to death. Every marital problem is first a spiritual problem. Your spiritual maturity will always determine your behavior in your life and marriage.
If you want to resolve the power struggle in your marriage, then you must make sure you have your life submitted to God. Has that occurred in your life? If Jesus is not the Lord of your life then nothing is going to change in your marriage. This is where you must begin. All of the resources and all the power you need to make the changes in your life and marriage are on the other side of a door. Jesus said that He was that door, and that you needed to come to Him and be saved! He declared, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7; 9). If you want to find the power and love of Jesus, and make Him your Shepherd, then you must enter into a relationship with Him. You can do that by faith and prayer. Ask Jesus to forgive you, to come in and take control of your life, and to fill you with His Holy Spirit. He will do it if you simply ask in faith (Matt. 7:7; John 1:12). Only then will you find the ability to die to self and to put Him first in your life. Please, pray right now!
- You both must understand and accept your divinely ordained roles in marriage. God has revealed your roles as husband and wife in Ephesians 5:22-33). He has called the husband to lovingly lead his wife as the head of his home, with godly sensitivity. He is to treat her needs as he would his own. He is to nourish and cherish her as the most important person in his life. The Lord also reveals that the wife is to submit to her husband’s leadership just as she submits to Christ as head of the church.
These clear directives in the Word of God are the simplest solution to power struggle in any marriage. It is an administrative order in the family that will resolve every power struggle. This is the same reason why God has created you with just one head on your shoulders. Can you imagine what it would be like to try to accomplish any task with two heads? It would be total confusion! It is the same with the marital relationship. The wife needs to communicate all necessary information to her husband as the body does to your brain. Then the head makes the correct decision based on that information.
Other illustrations also work to explain God’s divine order. A car has only one driver! Why does a business only have one manager? Even Jesus submitted to the ultimate will of the Father (John 6:38; 1 Cor. 15:28).
Some of you may be thinking, Yes, but does this work in real life? Yes, it does. If it doesn’t work it is because of one reason. Either the husband is not loving his wife as Christ loved the church, or the wife is not submitting to her husband as the church does to Christ. Therefore, if you want your wife to submit to you as the head of your home, then start loving her with sacrificial love and see what happens. If you want your husband to love you as a wife, then start submitting to him, giving him all the necessary input on all family decisions. Stop fighting him for power and control and see what happens. It will work!
- You both must choose to be equal in loving, giving, and fairness. One of the greatest causes for power struggles in marriages is the failure of one or both parties to love each other equally. I have seen this happen in a multitude of ways over many years of marriage counseling. You are equal with your spouse in every way, and you must perceive that you are respected and honored as an equal partner in your relationship. But, if one spouse is used, manipulated, not consulted, not listened to, or put down by the other, the love relationship eventually breaks down. I have observed this problem in both husbands and wives. If a husband believes that headship in his home means that he must dominate and control everything, he will rarely ask his wife’s opinion, and will independently make all the decisions. By doing so he is declaring that she has little value in his eyes. Or, in the same way, if a wife makes her husband feel like a child that must obey her every whim, or if she belittles him and his ideas, she is essentially declaring that she considers herself superior to him. Neither relationship will prosper. For love to be maintained and grow, there must be a sense of equality in all aspects of that relationship.
Scripture makes it clear that husbands and wives, and men and women are equal in the sight of God. Paul taught: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The apostle Peter believed the same when he encouraged husbands to see their wives as heirs together with them in the kingdom. He said, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The word honor means to value or respect. The words being heirs together mean that they are joint-heirs equally with each other. This word is also used in reference to the equality of Gentiles with the Jews regarding the promises of God (Eph. 3:6).
The real question is this: If you believe that your spouse is an equal partner, do you treat him or her as an equal in the practical aspects of your life and marriage? It’s one thing to declare you believe a truth, but quite another to demonstrate that belief by your actions. Paul declared, “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:14).
However, if you believe that you are doing most of the loving, giving, and serving in the marriage, then you will believe that this is unfair. You will begin to pull away from your mate, and the power struggle will begin. Note how God responded to the people of Israel when they cried out that God was unfair. He replied that He was in reality doing all the loving and forgiving and the people were the ones who were being unfair to Him (Eze. 18:29).
- You both must use reason and not pressure tactics. Anger, tears, yelling, the silent treatment, or withholding sex are methods used to force your will in the midst of a power struggle. These methods are counterproductive, because they are sinful behaviors. I would encourage you to study these passages that will support this previous statement (Ps. 37:5-8; 1 Cor. 7:5; Hos. 7:4).
You should use reason and good arguments to make your case with your spouse, not manipulation. You are not in a competition with your spouse; you are on the same team! God persuades you with reason. The Lord has said to His people, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isa. 1:18). Sit down and talk through your differences!
- Commit the unreasonable spouse to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is necessary when it comes to the fundamental disagreements regarding decision-making in your marriage. Prayer is inviting the Lord into these struggles. He can then speak to each heart according to the need. The essential thing is that when you pray, make sure that you are open to hear the Lord tell you, that you, are the one who is being unreasonable. Remember, the Apostle James said, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
- Reconcile any issues where you have violated the trust of your mate or have not been fair in your negotiations. This is another fundamental underlying cause of power struggles in a marriage. If you have made terrible decisions in the past, have not kept your commitment after an agreement has been made, or have been unfair with your mate by manipulating them, this will cause distrust in your mate and your power struggles will continue.
To resolve these trust issues requires you to humble yourself, acknowledge your faults, and ask forgiveness. These behaviors will go a long way toward regaining your spouse’s trust. Explain what you are going to do in the future to assure your mate that you will not do the same thing again. Paul said, “Now it is required of servant managers that each one should prove to be trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2 – ISV). Therefore, if you have not proven yourself to be trustworthy, then your spouse will not trust you. However, you can change this anytime by resolving these trust issues and by changing your behavior.
- If all else fails, get your pastor or an elder in your church to help. When nothing seems to work to resolve power struggles, call your pastor or an elder of your church for counseling. Hopefully, your spouse will see them as a neutral party that can help you resolve your differences. The Biblical direction for this step is given to you by Jesus. He said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17). Talk to your spouse. If that doesn’t work, invite your pastor or an elder to sit down with both of you. And if that doesn’t work, take it to all the elders of your church. The bottom line is this: resolve your power struggles! If you don’t they will destroy your marriage. Take the action that is required today.
- One final thought. These principles also work with your teenage children as well. If you are having power struggles with them, apply these principles with them. In addition, for further help, please refer to my article “Parenting Teenagers” at our website: https://www.covenantkeepers.org/online-articles/43-effective-parenting/391-parenting-teenagers
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