How to Disarm a Dominant Spouse


When Karen and I first married, I had a very dominant personality. For several years, it killed our chances at intimacy. Our marriage nearly failed until we learned to disarm it.

Dominance means disproportionate control over the relationship. In a good marriage, the husband and wife share 50 percent of everything, from children to money to decision-making. In a dominant marriage, one person holds a bigger share.

People always marry according to their level of emotional health. Health marries health, and unhealth marries unhealth.

When Karen and I met, I was popular, confident, and had a raging ego. On the other side, Karen had very low self-esteem. I was emotionally unhealthy and so was she. She needed a man with the self-confidence she lacked. I needed a woman who would accommodate my ego. We were a terrible, perfect match. That happens often in dominant marriages: A very assertive woman marries a very passive man, or an unhealthily assertive man marries a passive woman. It’s rare that two dominant people marry each other, or two passive people marry.

Understand What Causes Dominance

A strong personality. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but when one person talks far more than the other—I was never at a loss for words—it can give that spouse more power than the other.

Fear. We fear being controlled, and so we become controllers ourselves. Some of the most controlling people I’ve ever met are people who were afraid. It made them into tyrants.

Iniquity and inner vows. Iniquity is a sin that passes from generation to generation. When you’re raised in a chauvinistic or sexist family, you tend to be bent in the same way as your parents. Family systems of male or female dominance will produce dominant men and women.

Inner vows are the opposite side of that coin. When we go through pain, we make ourselves promises to comfort ourselves. We say, “No one will ever treat me like that again” or “No woman will ever do that to me.” That prevents Jesus from being Lord over that area in our lives. It makes us unteachable.

Bitterness and unforgiveness. If we are unforgiving toward someone in our past, that past pain tends to be reflected in how we treat a spouse. Bitterness takes root, and husbands and wives get the worst of it.

What do you do if you’re being dominated in your marriage?
Be honest and admit it, then stand up. Marriage is like a teeter-totter: When you move, it forces your partner to move, too. When you change, your marriage changes. When Karen began to find healing from her emotional health, she started standing up to me. And I had to sit down. She stopped accommodating my ego and God used her to make me more humble.

Today, rather than passively letting me make all the decisions—and rather than me refusing to allow her any input—we make significant decisions together. Once we had an equal marriage, we discovered that intimacy followed. We’ve never been the same. Is dominance destroying your marriage?

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