Men have a lot in common with wolves. We mark our territory, strut in front of females, and bristle in the presence of another alpha male. We learn this behavior from older wolves more than happy to train us: coaches, fathers, teachers, older brothers, and eventually our bosses.
For a wolf pack to survive and prosper, they must be stronger, smarter, and braver than all other packs, requiring direction, plans, structure, hierarchy, discipline and a leader—the alpha wolf.
Alpha wolves gravitate toward positions in the work world providing the type of control they enjoy. They become the leaders in the military, or managers in business, not the employees.
Men who are successful alpha males at work find it hard not to allow alpha behavior to affect their marriages at home where they are expected to stop giving orders, directing others, and being in charge. The military and law enforcement husbands I have met tell me it’s especially challenging for them.
For couples who follow the Christian belief system, words like submission and headship are often heard, describing a perceived difference in power in the marital relationship. The belief that there is a difference in power between husbands and wives is integrated into the way decisions are made in the marriage of many Christian couples.
God’s model of marriage in Ephesians means that even if the husband wanted to be selfish and choose his path, he is expected to think of his wife first and choose the path empowering her.
Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:22-25 are the most often quoted: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
I worked with a husband who brought in his Bible app where he had highlighted the Ephesians passage about submission. He wasn’t interested in reading on to the part where husbands are to give up their lives for their wives, to be sacrificial and selfless and acting in the best interest of the person over whom he had authority.
God’s model of marriage in Ephesians means that even if the husband wanted to be selfish and choose his path, he is expected to think of his wife first and choose the path empowering her. This is exactly the conclusion that I reached after my own abuse of power in my marriage and years of counseling couples with power and control issues.
I never wanted to be wanted to be that guy—the poster boy of an alpha male who is also a controlling husband—always wanting to be in charge, always thinking he’s right. What I have done is spend much of my marriage caring more about myself than my wife and children.
From an early point in our marriage I was extremely jealous, overtly controlling, and subtly manipulative in a variety of ways, wanting her to do most everything my way. I was showing her a confusing mix of church on Sunday morning and control and manipulation Sunday afternoon through Saturday.
One day our teenage son became angry and belligerent with Jan, the tone in his voice scaring me, almost as if he were ordering her to do something. At first I was angry, thinking, “Who do you think you are, kid? You can’t talk to your mother that way.” Then it hit me like a ton of bricks—he learned it from me. I’m teaching my sons not to respect their mother and to disrespect all women. God used this to remind me very clearly of the hypocrite I was—sitting in the church pew, professing to love others above myself while teaching my sons to care more about themselves than their own mother.
I began to desire living up to the standards of my Christian faith, to believe in something more important than my own desires and seriously consider a relationship model of focusing on others before myself. There are really three areas the alpha male has to address if he is to channel the positive aspects of his personality—intelligence, resourcefulness, resilience and reliance—into becoming the husband, father and leader he’s needed to be: trust others’ leadership skills, transform competition into cooperation, and turn self-focus into focus on others.
There was no overnight transformation. It’s taken many years for me to progress in my ability to think of Jan and of others first, and it will continue to be something I devote myself to daily. In Christian marriage, it’s only in a climate of mutual respect, honor, selflessness and dedication that biblical submission can take place without a controlling, oppressive environment developing.
Three areas the alpha male must address
1. Trust Others’ Leadership Skills
Alpha males don’t have to give up being involved in decisions or become subservient members of the pack. They can simply learn that all members of the pack have value and leadership qualities. True headship as a leader often consists of helping a team develop to the point of functioning well on their own without direct guidance. The best leaders are those whose organizations function seamlessly when they’re not present.
2. Transform Competition into Cooperation
Whether it’s an argument or competition at work, it’s always been about being number one—and first is not always best, regardless. In marriage and family life especially, disagreements are not opportunities to prove points, but to talk about the issue. The best outcome to feel closer as a couple, family or team is for each person and their ideas to be valued.
3. Turn Self-Focus into Focus on Others
The alpha male absolutely must see himself as only one part of a system, which is difficult for a man who has generally thought of himself first for most of his life. As he begins to trust others more and realizes he doesn’t have to do everything himself, he instinctively begins to realize that the system works better as a team.
Ron, a Denver Seminary faculty member, also serves on the board of the military ministry Cadence International. He earned a PsyD from Central Michigan University, has over twenty years of clinical psychology experience, and authored “The Controlling Husband.” He counsels struggling couples with his Transformational Marriage™ approach. He and his wife, Jan, live in Colorado. For more information on Dr. Welch, click here to visit his website.