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.