What Headship is not: Nice Guy, Dictator, and Manipulator
A Men Only Monday post
As I explained last week, the biblical model for marriage Paul gives us in Ephesians 5 is that, as a husband, you have the role of head, “as Christ is head of the church.” Being head is not a role you earn. Regardless of whether you embrace it or not, it is your God-given responsibility. I don’t know why, but that’s how God set it up.
Remember, the clear implication of Ephesians 5 passage on headship is that being “head” means being like Jesus. It does not mean being boss. Jesus’ kind of headship means displaying Christlike strength and goodness. Your headship as a husband is founded in being both a good leader and a generous lover.
I don’t normally like writing posts about what you should NOT do. But when either strength or goodness are missing from the way you walk out headship, it can do damage to your marriage. This can be clearly seen in the top search terms that bring wives to my blog. The first is something like “my husband refuses to lead.” The second, following closely behind in the number of hits, is “my husband acts like a dictator” or similar terms.
I shared a chart last week to illustrate what Christlike headship should look like. Below, I’ve updated the chart to label the three ways in which your headship can fall short.
The Nice Guy
There are many wives longing for their husbands to stand up and take their leadership role seriously. Like I said, wives come here for that reason more than any other.
I’m not making excuses, but the widespread pushback against biblical headship, even within the church, has many men reluctant to lead their marriages. Some of these genuinely kind men are afraid of being labeled misogynists or worse. Some have bought into the lie that there should be no distinction in the roles of men and women in marriage. Some have wives who contend for authority, even wives who claim to want their husbands to step up and lead! These men who are hesitant to take their leadership role seriously are what I call “Nice Guys.” They are good but weak.
Society and the church have given rise to the Nice Guy syndrome. These men are pleasers who tend to avoid conflict. These are the men who leave most or all the decisions to their wives, either because they are totally disengaged or because their wives argue and put them down for every idea and hold past decisions over them indefinitely. Nice Guys often just give up, rather than rocking the boat by trying to lead.
Whatever the reason for their refusal to lead, these men often don’t realize that their weakness makes them unattractive to their wives over time. Worse, their resulting disengagement leaves their wives feeling unloved and alone. It’s not a formula for a passionate, intimate or lasting marriage. Many Nice Guys also end up feeling unfullfilled, because I believe there is a God-given desire in most men to prove themselves strong and capable of leading their wives and families.
It’s Nice Guy husbands that pose the biggest threat to biblical marriage today because their error is much more subtle and socially acceptable than the next group.
In days gone by, maybe 50 years ago, this was the number one problem with husbands in marriage. This kind of brutish, self-serving husband led to feminism and the desire for egalitarian marriage. Dictators are the reason the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction, giving rise to so many Nice Guys.
Unloving husbands who use their authority to control or coerce their wives are very bad news. These are the men who are abusive and flaunt scriptures at their wives about being submissive, all the while ignoring the scriptural mandate for them to love their wives unconditionally and sacrificially.
Selfish, controlling husbands give biblical headship a bad rap.
The husband who is both weak and unloving is double trouble.
This husband is self-centered but lacks the guts to act on it openly. He doesn’t care about what his wife needs or wants from him. He is only concerned for himself. He will manipulate and deceive in order to get his way but is not willing to confront issues head-on.
The manipulator refuses to take responsibility for his actions and shifts blame onto his wife. He plays games to get his way. He is often controlled by fear, and his buried frustrations may bubble up to the surface as angry outbursts.
The manipulator doesn’t refuse to lead because he is incapable, he refuses to lead because he doesn’t care.
I have described the Nice Guy, Dictator, and Manipulator in pretty strong terms. There are, of course, many less severe ways to screw up headship. I know because I’ve done them all from time to time.
There is good news for us who mess up in our quest for biblical headship. It’s called grace! God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the skill to lead well and for a revelation of Jesus’s love and strength. Pray for your understanding of the love of Jesus to grow deeper, so you can love your wife in the same way. Note the prayer Paul prayed for the church in Ephesians 3, leading up to the chapter on marriage.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
This is a prayer God is eager to answer!
Be diligent. Vigorously pursue the kind of headship Jesus displays to us, his bride. When you slip into actions or words that are weak or unloving, admit your blunder and ask your wife to forgive you. She will admire you for it.
My point in stating what headship isn’t is to get you to be watchful over your role as husband and to strive diligently to be both strong and good. Your wife deserves that from you, and God is calling you to it. Christ lives in you; you just need to learn to let him out!
A cautionary note to wives reading this post: it is not your job to browbeat, manipulate or judge your husband if he happens to fall into one of the non-Christlike quadrants, even occasionally. It is not your job to correct or coerce him. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Don’t even think of forwarding this to your husband, and do not even think of using my labels for name-calling! Your job is to concentrate on your role in your marriage. Please read my companion posts for wives “What Submission is Not” and “Wives: Strong and Submissive.”