This article will investigate the behavior of the dominant husband. In this article, I will look at the secular view of dominant husbands, the Christian response to dominant husbands, and how biblical counselors can help those husbands and wives who are in marriages where the husbands display this behavior. In the past, dominant husbands have been thought of as strong leaders or simply type-A personalities. When this was the case, abuse was considered only when physical. It is an interesting subject because within the life of my pastoral ministry, the definition has broadened and dominant is now often called oppressive, manipulative, and in some cases abusive.
How the Secular World Treats the Issue
Psychologists admit there is a strong tension and complexity when it comes to the idea of dominance. As a category, it has grown rapidly and is still growing. Some psychologists felt that the 1990s would be the “decade of emotional abuse”, but that never materialized. Instead it grew quietly as a problem category in which the invisible wounds of emotional dominance replaced the external bodily wounds of physical and sexual abuse.
The world defines domestic violence as:
The willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is an epidemic-affecting people in every community, regardless of age, economic status, nationality or educational background. Violence against women is often accompanied by emotional abuse and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systemic pattern of dominance and control. (emphasis mine).
The world often equates the dominant husband with anger, manipulation, and control. Women who are married to these men often describe anxiety and inner conflict about their relationships. They say things like, “Everyone else thinks he’s great. I don’t know what it is about me that sets him off,” “I feel like he’s never happy with anything I do, “ “He messes up my mind sometimes,” “The thing is, he really understands me,” and “He calls me disgusting names, and then an hour later he wants sex. I don’t get it.” Each of these women realizes something is wrong but can’t seem to put their finger on it. The emotional effects of partner dominance are a factor in more than one fourth of female suicide attempts and are a leading cause of substance abuse in adult women.
In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm. The differences between the verbally abusive man and the physical batterer are not as great as many people believe. The behavior of either style of abuser grows from the same roots and is driven by the same thinking. Mentally cruel and manipulative men tend to gradually drift into using physical intimidation as well.
Psychologists report major difficulty in recognizing these relationships in that the dominant husband does not appear to be such when outside the home. They are often kind and warm, friendly and funny, even with their wives and children most of the time. The dominant husband may have a good job and have no problem with drugs or alcohol. As we look at him in our culture and our world, he simply does not fit the image of a cruel or intimidating person. Yet if we look closely from the wife’s point of view, we see the symptoms and behaviors. Wives report a husband who frequently puts her down verbally. He is almost always very selfish and tends to blow up in anger when he is irritated. These men are almost always shifting the blame to their wives, where all negative behavior from the husband is because the wife made him do it. It is very often the case, with the dominant husband, that he makes it clear to his wife that he knows her better than she does. From the point of view of the abused, most doubt themselves. The dominant husband has such an effect on his wife, that she often feels that the problem is a “badness” within her. The abused doubts herself and thus makes it even more possible for the husband to be dominant.
The DSM-5 defines a dominant spouse as being abusive psychologically. Acts of psychological abuse include berating or humiliating the victim; interrogating the victim; restricting the victim’s ability to come and go freely; obstructing the victim’s access to assistance; or making the victim think that he or she is crazy. Secular psychologists define characteristics, even a mentality of the dominant husband. He is controlling. Dominant husbands believe it is their right to control their wife’s actions. They will have the final word and they will not accept questioning by their wife. The dominant husbands sphere of control includes arguments and decision-making, his wife’s personal freedom, even her parenting skills. Psychologists explain that the dominant husband feels entitled; that he has special status and it provides him with rights and privileges that do not apply to his wife. Dominant husbands tend to twist things into their opposites to make sure they are always right. This goes as far as even claiming the wife is abusing him. Psychologists tell us that the dominant husband often confuses love and abuse. “An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares, but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love.”
How does Psychology Counsel?
To determine how to counsel, the secular psychologist must first determine what causes a man to be dominant. Many causes are given but I will simply list a few (remember, these are from the secular point of view). First, the most influential religious scriptures in the world today, including the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and major Buddhist and Hindu writings, explicitly instruct women to submit to male domination. Secondly, popular performers that both reflect and shape social attitudes. Andrew Dice Clay, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Eminem all sing about or make light of abusing women. Thirdly, pornography is a learning ground for this behavior. Fourth, young boys often learn that they are not responsible for their actions. Boy’s aggressiveness is increasingly being treated as a medical problem, particularly in schools, a trend that has led to the diagnosing and medicating of boys whose problem may really be that they themselves are being abused at home.
So how does the psychologist promote change? The first challenge for the psychologist is to motivate the man to work on himself. Lundy Bancroft has very little hope when he writes, “The reluctance of these men to change cannot be overcome through gentle persuasion, pleading, or cajoling by the woman. I am sorry to say that I have never once seen such approaches succeed. The men who make significant progress in my program are the ones who know that their partners will definitely leave them unless they change.” He goes on to say, “The majority of abusive men do not make deep and lasting changes even in a high-quality abuser program.” The psychologist requires the man to first accept responsibility. The following steps to change then must take place: he must admit dominance is wrong, he must acknowledge his behavior is a choice, he must show empathy for those he dominates, he must develop respective behaviors and attitudes to replace the dominating once he is stopping, and he must make amends for the damage he has done. A standard program for counseling includes four elements: consequences, education, confrontation, and accountability. In all these areas, the psychologist confirms that the man’s progress depends completely on the man himself.
What Does the Bible Have to Say?
Domination and oppression are common in the Bible. The biblical category of oppression describes the manipulative domination of one person by another. God speaks of oppression when Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites in the book of Exodus. Pharaoh was cruel and uncaring in his domination. But God noticed the suffering of his people,” And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them” (Exodus 3:9, ESV). This is not an isolated incident for we repeatedly learn of God’s love and concern for those who are mistreated, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9, ESV). Not only does God speak of his compassion and mercy for those being dominated, he also speaks of his lack of regard for those who are dominant. In Malachi 3:13-17, the Lord does not accept the offering of the people because of the way they treat their wives. God describes the man whose speech is contentious and offensive, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts…” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV). Words can be a weapon used to cause pain (Proverbs 25:18-20). Jesus warns against name-calling in Matthew 5:22. Colossians 3:19 instructs husbands not to be harsh when Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them”.
Unlike the opinions of the world, the Bible speaks authoritatively to the husband’s responsibly, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). Paul goes on to write in Ephesians 5, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (v28) and “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself…” (v33). In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter reminds husbands that they are to live in understanding with their wives, treating her with respect, valuing her, and living with her as a co-heir in Christ. This is so serious that failure to do so will hinder one’s prayers.
What is Really Taking Place – The Heart
The desire to control others arises from a heart controlled by pride, lust, and the fear of man.
On the surface, dominance appears to be blatant lust for power to facilitate self-indulgence. Lust and self-indulgence certainly add fuel to the fire, but the source of the fire is pride. Pride pushes the individual to force others to acknowledge his or her superiority. Pride motivates achievement to display his or her superiority. Pride also generates fear of failure. Fear of failure demands ever greater dominance in the attempt to ensure success.
These heart idols are often displayed with anger. When dealing with a dominant husband, anger is a regular point of discussion and often cited as a primary emotion in the way they treat their wives. The blame shifting husband will use anger as an excuse.
Statements such as “I snapped”, “I lost control,” or “my temper got the best of me,” may be accurate descriptions of the man’s emotional and behavioral responses, but they are by no means excusable simply because we can recognize that he was angry. This is especially true for biblical counselors who are working with Christian husbands who have dominated their wives. Scriptures like Ephesians 4:26-27 give us clear instructions on anger and its relationship to sin and the implications of sinful anger in the life of the believer.
This anger is a window into the husband’s heart. It is the out pouring of anger that points us to the affections and desires of his heart. And so part of our counsel will be teaching this husband Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV).
This is a major difference from the secular psychologist. The secular psychologist will employ behavior modification therapy in the treatment of the dominant husband. While he views the behavior as a cause-effect interaction between the person and his environment the biblical counselor understands the true workings of the heart. The sinful behavior of the dominant husband is not simply a conditioned response to his environment. Unless the heart is changed any behavior modification will be superficial and temporary. The biblical counselor recognizes that godly change only occurs through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit as the Word of God is brought to bear in the life of the counselee. The biblical counselor understands what the secular psychologist does not; that every aspect of our lives is affected by sin. And so, our goal in counseling the dominant husband is not simply to change his behavior, it is transformation toward becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ. We have seen that even the secular psychologist recognizes that dominant behavior must be replaced by new behavior. In the case of the biblical counselor, the Bible helps us clearly understand that we are replacing sinful habits with righteous behavior. We are, indeed, putting off an old manner of life and putting on godliness. This is a stark contrast to behavior modification alone.
While all these heart issues are true and contribute greatly to the behavior of the dominant husband, the root problem is a worship problem. Our behavior follows what we worship. The pride, fear of man, and lust that drive the dominant husband are all indicative of self-worship. “An abusive man is often so preoccupied with himself that he sees himself as misunderstood, not wrong… Let’s be clear: the abusive man is not a monster. Rather, he has become his own God who trusts in his own heart (Proverbs 28:26)”
How We Counsel
The dominant husband can change. The gospel offers hope for those with pride, lust, and fear of man. The gospel turns our worship Godward and from ourselves. Transformation is available to even the worst of sinners. Jesus really did die for dominant husbands. In counseling this man, we must allow Scripture to determine our responses and trust that the Word of God is indeed powerful and true (2 Timothy 3:16). This will be especially necessary for the biblical counselor because as we sit across from this man we will see that everything in his life appears to be in opposition to God.
The first step is to teach the dominant husband that their behavior is sinful. While I initially must build involvement and hope, the husband must understand that his behavior is grievous to God. Part of this process will involve the husband acknowledging his responsibility and refusing to blame his wife. The experience in our counseling center with this type of man indicates that this will take much time and the counselor will need to be very persistent. Certain men may feel sorry, or apologize for their behavior, but it will be important for the biblical counselor to understand repentance and help the counselee understand it as well. We are not only calling this husband to change his behavior, we are calling him to change his mind about his own sin and his relationship to God. Finally, we will give him practical ways, from the Scripture, to put off his sinful behavior and put on righteous behavior that is pleasing to God. These may sound simplistic and short, but in the following sections I will flesh them out more completely.
Mary and Mark
Mary and Mark came to counseling for marriage problems. They had been married for 16 years. Mary is 44, Mark is 43. They have three children, eight, five, and two. Mary’s health is good while Mark’s health is declining. He has gained 25 pounds over the summer following hip surgery and is now on 100% disability. Mark is a musician and part-time real estate broker. Mary stays home and cares for the family. On their Personal Data Inventories, Mark categorizes himself as ambitious, active, a leader, impatient, and hard-working while Mary characterizes herself as nervous, moody, imaginative, and an introvert. They have both been to counseling four previous times with four different counselors or pastors.
When ask what the main problem is as they see it, Mary responded: “We argue a lot. There’s not much grace, forgiveness, gentleness, or understanding in our marriage. We tried counseling and have read books. I am exhausted and discouraged and really don’t have any hope that anything will change through this counseling. My husband blames me for all the problems we have.” Mark responded: “We have not gotten along since we became engaged. My best friend suggested we reconsider marriage but I ignored his advice. I need some clear purpose and direction in order to learn how to be a better husband. I am very overwhelmed and stressed.”
In this case, data-gathering is crucial. I want to find out his opinions and convictions on what a husband should be. We have had a number of men come in with their wives who have been very dominant and have twisted the Scripture claiming that they, being in the stead of Christ, are prophet, priest, and king of their homes. One man even pointed to 1 Peter 3, where Sarah called Abraham Lord, meaning that his wife was his slave as Sarah was Abraham’s slave. It will be critical to explore the couple’s arguments and gather precise information on not only what they argue about, but how they argue. Dominant husbands tend to argue to make their point and gain control, rather than to find unity and resolution. I will use a Journal of Upsets as homework to help gather this data. I will want to interview Mary alone with Mark in another room. I want to find out how Mark treats her in certain circumstances. However, I must be very careful not to plant in Mary’s mind the idea that she is abused or dominated. In 2013, Leslie Vernick wrote a book titled, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. In this book, she includes an evaluation for women to help them determine whether they are in an abusive marriage. I have seen this survey used in marriages that are good, and after it was completed, the woman felt that she was being abused by her husband. I will consider halo data when speaking with this couple in counseling. The dominant husband may tend to control conversations and interrupt his wife during discussions. He may also tend to be non-empathetic to her pain. As we discuss Scripture I will look to see if he demonstrates any discomfort, lowering of the eyes and head, or uncomfortable shifting in his chair. If Mark is indeed a dominant husband, I would expect that he would prioritize his needs over his wife’s and blame her for simple things that she is not doing at home to please him. I must be very careful in not applying my standards and my preferences to Mark and Mary’s marriage. I have witnessed a couple where the woman felt manipulated because her husband asked her to wear a certain dress to a business event that he was hosting. This is in no way manipulation on its own, it is simply proper decorum for the event (just as I will be expected to wear a cap and gown for graduation next May). But different people perceive that in different ways. I will watch closely to see if Mark uses overt or veiled threats in the counseling with his wife. Phrases that emphasize a tit for tat relationship (if you do that I’ll do this, or if you don’t do that I will do this) will be clues to determine Mark’s dominance. I will also want to look to see how much Mark views himself as blameless. Mary already indicated that Mark blames her for all the problems in their marriage and in their home. This is certainly an unrealistic belief on Mark’s part, if indeed it is true. I will need to determine this (1 John 1:8).
Ten-Week Homework Agenda
While it is impossible to determine exact homework upfront the following is a 10-week potential agenda.
Week 1: Mary and Mark are both to read Ephesians chapters 1-3, three times the first week. They are to list 10 things that God did for them as Christians that identify who they are in Christ. The goal of this is for them to see their identity is in Christ not each other or their behavior. They are to begin using their Journal of Upsets.
Week 2: Mary and Mark are to finish the book of Ephesians reading chapters 4-6. They are to list 10 things that God instructs for a healthy relationship. They are to pray together two times this week. They are to continue using their Journal of Upsets.
Week 3: I will begin meeting with Mark alone (Mary will meet with a female counselor during this time. Mark is to memorize Hebrews 4:14-16. Mark is to make a list of 10 ways that he can love Mary. From what he read last week in Ephesians, he is to review and write a summary of what God requires him to be as husband and parent.
Week 4: Mark will begin to read the Exemplary Husband, chapter 1, and record three insights from the chapter. He will summarize what they were and why he chose them. I will also want Mark to list anything in the chapter that he disagrees with. Disagreement tells me areas I may need to be concerned. Pray with Mary twice this week.
Week 5: Read Exemplary Husband, chapter 2, with same instructions. Read Philippians 2. Pray for what you have discovered in this text. Write a summary of that text. What needs to change in your life based on Philippians 2?
Week 6: Read Exemplary Husband, chapter 3 and 4 with same instructions. Pray with Mary twice this week.
Week 7: Read Exemplary Husband, chapter 5 with same instructions. Study James 3. Pray for what you have discovered in this text. Write a summary of that text. What needs to change in your life based on James 3? Define for me godly wisdom vs earthly wisdom. Pray with Mary twice this week, holding her hand if possible.
Week 8: Read Exemplary Husband, chapter 6 with same instructions. Read Romans 12. Pray for what you have discovered in this text. Write a summary of that text. What needs to change in your life based on Romans 12? Pay particular attention to Verses 1-2, and 10. How do verses 9-21 demonstrate a godly response when others are unkind to you? Pray with Mary three times this week, holding her hand if possible.
Week 9: Read Exemplary Husband, chapter 7-8 with same instructions. What does Dr. Scott teach about worshiping yourself in contrast with worshipping God? Be prepared to teach this to me in detail. How does Dr. Scott define love? Pray with Mary three times this week, holding her hand if possible. Take Mary on a date this week to someplace she enjoys. It does not matter if you enjoy it. Your job is to outdo her with honor. You are to make this date as fantastic as you can for her. I will ask her about it next week.
Week 10: Read Exemplary Husband, chapter 13-14 with same instructions. Study the Point of Choice Y-Chart this week and come prepared to teach it to me as if I had never heard it. Pray with Mary three times this week, holding her hand if possible.
Addendum: Detailed Counseling Homework
We will focus the first day on Mark’s pride since this is a true heart “root” that is bearing bad fruit. (1) Study Genesis 3:1-6. In what specific way did Adam and Eve commit the sin of pride? (2) What effect has sin had upon man’s spiritual condition? Study these verses and write out your answer. (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21, 22; Romans 8:5-7; 1 Corinthians 2:15; Ephesians 4:17-19) (3) Before anyone can overcome sin, what must take place first? (Psalm 51:10; Isaiah 57:15; John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Keep a Journal of Upsets.
Lists several reasons you should be concerned about overcoming pride? Get out your Bible concordance and note the devastating effects of pride. A couple include Mark 7:22 and Titus 3:3. In what ways can God take your sinful words and actions, change your manner, and purify your attitudes and motives and use similar actions or words or questions in a positive, constructive, and God-honoring way? How might God change your attitudes and motives and use your actions, words, and qualities for the good of others and his glory? Write out the specific plan you will use to put off the sinful practices and put on the new Biblical practices (Eph. 4:22-24).
Are you more concerned about defending your personal rights than in fulfilling your responsibilities? Make a list of all the things you consider to be your “personal rights.” Example: “I have worked hard all day and I deserve to have a hot meal and clean house waiting for me when I arrive home!” After you have made your list, in a prayer give all your rights up to God. Review your list of rights daily and add to the list as others come to mind. As one who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, you no longer have personal rights. You have been bought with a price; you are not your own. God may give your “rights” back as a privilege for which you can thank Him. The next time someone intrudes in an area you consider to be your personal rights, do not retaliate. Rather apply Matthew 5:38-48 and I Peter 2:23. When you struggle answer these questions on paper, “What did I want?”, “What desire am I serving and obeying?”, “What do you think you need and why?”
Study John 13:3-17 and write out how Jesus Christ demonstrated that he was a servant and that all who follow Him must be servants. Then make a list of 50 ways you can use your time, resources, and abilities to serve God by serving your wife, children, church, employee/employer, neighbors, etc. Do so because the Bible commands you to “let this mind dwell in you which is also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), and not for the purpose of having others do good to you. Read Romans 12:10. Be prepared to explain to me why this is so difficult for you. Study the Point of Choice Y-Chart this week and come prepared to teach it to me as if I had never heard it. Pray with Mary three times this week, holding her hand if possible.
Complete the score card for husbands. This will help you discern where you are failing and need to improve to be the man of God and husband God wants you to be.
The Bible teaches us that the marriage is to be a place where people are shown respect and where people are honored. Study 1 Peter 3:7 and Ephesians 4:32, 5:33. Write a half page summary outlining what God is commanding from these passages and what changes you need to personally make in your life based on these commands.
http://www.artemiscenter.org/dvfacts.php. (Accessed June 22, 2017)
Allsopp, Marian. Emotional Abuse and Other Psychic Harms: Invisible Wounds and Their Histories. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Asher, Marshall, and Mary Asher. The Christian’s Guide to Psychological Terms. 2nd ed. Bemidji, Minn.: Focus Pub., 2014, 2004.
Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: Putnam, 2002.
Branson, Brenda, and Paula J. Silva. Violence Among Us: Ministry to Families in Crisis. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 2007.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Dsm-5. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013
Moles, Chris. The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home. Bemidji, Minnesota: Focus Publishing, 2015.