The man has the final say...or else what?

I got sidetracked into a discussion “Christian” marriages in the last couple of pages of this thread.

Whenever these “man is the head of the household” discussions crop up, I always try to find out what happens if the wife does not agree to this and I never get an answer. I invariably get accused of attacking other peoples’ marriages or implying that the man is abusive. I also get responses that essentially deny the possibility of a woman in one of these marriages ever defying her husband’s "authority. (kind of scary if you really think about it).

I’ve asked this question before, specifically in threads about Promise keepers. The man is supposed to go home after one of those blubbering rallies at some football stadium and then order his wife to “submit.” (I don’t care how you dress it up, that’s what it amounts to)

What is the man supposed to do if his wife says no? What if she won’t submit? What if she won’t agree that he’s the head of the household. What is the husband supposed to do with a non-compliant wife? I would imagine that divorce is not an option, so what is the proper course of action?

What if she agrees to live in a marriage like this for a while, but then changes her mind? What if she wants to convert to Wicca, what then?

There must be answers to these questions but I can never, ever get any, please help me out? Is there anything in PK literature that says what to do?

Diogenes, you’re asking for the application of a standard to a situation not covered by that standard. What happens when you go ahead and divide by zero, anyway? It’s a plausible question, but number theory does not admit of an answer (or, actually, sufficiently many contradictory answers that it’s simply a forbidden process).

The quick-and-dirty answer is that the “headship” thing, with the caveats I gave there, applies to a “Christian marriage” – and if one partner in that marriage decides it’s no longer a Christian marriage, then the rule doesn’t apply.

And, as I pointed out there, it’s a mutual-agreement program – the man has the casting vote in situations where consensus cannot be achieved, to be sure, but his job, before ever getting to that point, is to cherish his wife, to ensure that her needs and wants are fulfilled, to the point that they should almost never get to that point. If he’s not doing that on a continuous basis, it’s not a Christian marriage as contemplated by Paul; it’s a man-as-dictator patriarchal relationship. And it is a choice on both their parts to enter into that sort of relationship. If jarhusband or I are not treating jarbaby and Skulldigger respectively in the manner prescribed, we’re failing in our duty and voiding the agreement.

For questions short of an utter break, recognizing that people are not perfect and don’t live up to ideals, the recommended policy is patience and acceptance. There are certain things on which one party is prepared to put down his/her foot; if the other party loves the first party, he/she will give in, cooperate, concede for the sake of peace, etc.

The comment that “marriage is not a 50:50 proposition, it’s a matched set of 0:100 surrenders” has a lot going for it. If Barb’s happiness does not mean more to me than my personal whims, then I’m failing her in a very basic way. And, of course, the reverse is true.

You also need to remember that this was a teaching addressed to a particular group of Greek Christians in a culture where women, while not in purdah, tended not to get out in public, tended not to be educated to the level of their spouses, and in general were usually in need of guidance as to the realities of the world outside their doors, which the husband – who was both emotionally prepared and divinely commanded to love and cherish her – was best prepared to provide. Circumstances alter cases; Barb is more knowledgeable than me in a number of areas both intellectual and “street-smarts”-wise, as I suspect may be the case in the Jar-marriage too (no offense to jarhusband!) While we two couples have chosen to apply the Pauline rule, it is in the context of two adult human beings with extensive experience and knowledge in a manner unlike the First Century Greek custom – and decisions we make will be much more on the consensus model than on the Pauline man-makes-the-rules one.

The people who buy into this think it is written from on high that women be the ones to defer to their husbands in a stalemate. They also aren’t given the option of divorce (religious-wise).

Someone in the other thread used an example of disagreeing about where to go on vacation. What if you really HATED where your husband wanted to go on vacation? Do you have the option of saying that you’ll go to The Rockies while he goes to New Orleans?

Kalhoun, the point is, if I absolutely hate New Orleans I would say so, and he, caring about my feelings would say, oh, ok, where do you want to go then, and discussion begins.

But if we are equally interested in the Rockies and New Orleans, and there are pros and cons to both and we both agree either way would be fine, he decides.

That’s all I’m going to say here, because I feel like I’ve repeated it four hundred times.

And by the by, we are neither fundamentalist Christians, Promise Keepers or Surrendered Wives.

BTW, I am not and have no interest in being a part of Promise Keepers, but from what I understand of their program, it’s geared more towards making the man recognize his responsibility and duty towards his wife – the need to honor her desires and emotional needs – than the “headship” hoohah you note here.

The Pauline-style marriage adapted to today is a simple recognition that in a loving relationship everything should be decided by consensus, but people being less than perfect, there will be occasions when it is not, and in such a case, there should be a way to “break a tie” – and that that involves one party making a decision in a way that honors the other’s wishes.

There’s an old, wry joke on this:
“In our family I make the big decisions, and my wife makes the little ones.”
“Oh? What do you consider big and little decisions?”
“I decide whether we’re going to go to war with Iraq, what the Supreme Court should have decided about the Florida voting case, and important stuff like that; she decides where we’re going to live, what car we’re going to buy, and little stuff like that!” :wink:

Polycarp said, “For questions short of an utter break, recognizing that people are not perfect and don’t live up to ideals, the recommended policy is patience and acceptance. There are certain things on which one party is prepared to put down his/her foot; if the other party loves the first party, he/she will give in, cooperate, concede for the sake of peace, etc.”

Well, hell…you don’t have to be a christian to understand that! That’s how all good marriages work. Your description above simply means it is a rule with no substance. If no one is going to follow it, it’s no longer an issue. I was under the impression Jarbaby, et al, actually did these things!

And yes, I’m in full agreement that the “rule” was established back in the days when women had no sense of the outside world, and that it would be considered a means of survival to defer to the husband. But as you so clearly stated, them days is gone and don’t apply to anyone in modern America. So why keep preaching it and agreeing to it? It just makes no sense to me.

What’s wrong with flipping a coin?

Since gender is an invariant, it’s a poor way of breaking a stalemate.

So the authority of the husband has no real weight? The wife can rescind it at any moment?

Why not flip a coin? Why not alternate “tiebreakers?” you decide one time. he decides the next. What’s wrong with being a hundred percent equal?

When I’m at an impasse with Mrs. Diogenes, we have been known to flip a coin, to consult the I Ching (Mrs. D. believes in it) or simply to debate the issue until one of us makes a more compelling case (usually her). three or four times in our thirteen years together I have attempted to “put my foot down” as the man. Every one of these attempts has resulted in either hysterical laughter, stony silence or perhaps a flying object hurled at my head. What would a "pauline " husband do under those conditions?

I’d also like to add, that while what Polycarp and jarbabyj are describing do not sound like abusive or lopsided relationships to me, I think they’d both agree that Paul’s verses can also be used as a tool for the manipulation and control of women. I know, I’ve seen it, and when I see comments like Joe_Cool’s assertion that his wife must abide by “his rules,” I have to wonder what the “…or else” is.

Precisely my thoughts, Diogenes. It appears that it is yet another way for the christian men to degrade groups of people that they deem lesser than themselves.

Jarbaby said, "But if we are equally interested in the Rockies and New Orleans, and there are pros and cons to both and we both agree either way would be fine, he decides. "

That is not deferring to him. That is “you” not caring one way or the other. From what Poly describes, it never comes down the way the Paulines say it should anyway. The man actually defers to the woman. What’s the point??

If you regard the attempt to explain the principles of Promise Keepers as nothing more than a thin layer of rationalization over a thick layer of domestic abuse, I don’t wonder that you don’t seem to get satisfactory answers.

The short response is that there is no “or else”. Christian husbands are not supposed to drive, but lead. A husband who issues ultimatums or threats is not acting as a Christian husband. And abuse is sinful.

Shakespeare said, “Any fool in error can find a text of Scripture to back him up”, and abusers are no different in this than anyone else. But abusive husbands are as mistaken about the principles of Promise Keepers as those who claim it is nothing more than justification for wife abuse.

Christian belief - like every other set of principles in the universe - can be misused. But abusus non tollit usum, as St. Augustine said.


OK, but I get to be heads because I’m the man… :smiley: :stuck_out_tongue:

Zev Steinhardt

I’m not trying to imply that PK’s are all a bunch of wife beaters, I’m just trying to get some clarification on what “authority” means. You say there is no “or else” and I believe you, but still, what would a PK do if his wife was not willing to follow his “lead?” What does a PK do if his wife doesn’t want to be a Christian at all?

The only thing mr. jar and I flip coins for is walking the dog in sub zero temperatures, because we both hate it equally :smiley:

When the woman and I were married,
she promised god and everyone present that she would honor and obey me. She had the choice, and she made that promise.

That’s our contract. Whether she lives up to it or not, that’s between her and god ultimately.

I would never hold her to that promise, because I’d be afraid of the consequences of doing so.

I take that back.

If the safety of my family was at stake, I would order her around and apologize later.

Otherwise, I’d rather be happy than right.


The point you seem to be missing is that there doesn’t need to be an “or else” because these wives are agreeing to let their husbands have the final say. Your persistance in viewing this as a coersive relationship underlies the entire question.

Bottom line is that if the wife decides that she no longer wishes to have her husband have the final say, she is as free as your wife is to reject whatever system it is that you are currently working with. But as long as the system is acepted by both sides it is workable, and apparently amenable to many.

But Izzy, if she agreed to this within the boundaries of her religion, she is in fact, defying her god. That in itself is coersive. The threat of your god no longer loving you would make you behave in ways you might not consider equitable. Much like closeted gays being afraid to be who they are because the god they were raised with will no longer accept them. It is abusive to a degree.

I am aware that this is how this arrangement is often articulated, but I have heard plenty of fundy men (not in this thread) express it in much more authoritarian and autocratic terms. They are not going to be very amenable if their wives suddenly change their minds.

Also, what is recommended if the wife decides that she no longer wants to be a Christian at all? There must be something in PK literature about non-Christian wives.

It has least has the potential to be manipulative and controlling, especially for a woman who is already weak-willed or non-assertive, to have a “promise to God” held over her head.

Of course this applies to any religious principle requiring that one do, or refrain from doing, anything. Essentially you are saying that all religions are abusive because they use the threat of “God no longer loving you” to attempt to modify the behavior of adherents. An extreme position, I think, and in any event, surely another debate.

Possibly. But that is not necessarily central to the arrangement. So I don’t see your point. You are asking “what happens if the husband insists on A and his wife insists on B, and neither will budge?” Answer: you’ve got problems.

I imagine it would also be problematic. What would you do if your wife suddenly decides she wants to become a fundamentalist Muslim? This too seems like a general issue to me.