In 1998, the famed psychology professor John Gottman released a fascinating study. For six years, he interviewed 130 newly married couples in a project about listening in relationships. He compared them to another group he had been monitoring for 13 years.
The purpose of the study was to gauge the effectiveness of a certain kind of communication, but in the process of researching so many couples he came to an unrelated conclusion: The common element among the most successful couples was shared control of the relationship.
Or as the couples put it, “receiving influence from each other.” The health of your marriage depends on the degree both of you are willing to receive influence from each other. That means control of the marriage is shared. When one spouse dominates a relationship, that dominance creates damage.
Other research has shown that the most successful families are those in which the husband treats his wife as an equal but takes a leadership role in initiating the well-being of the home. Children who grow up in this kind of home are the most emotionally healthy.
They understand what leadership looks like. They understand what it’s like for someone to take initiative. They also see an example of a mother and father treating each other as equals and sharing input on decisions.
Because women seek security in relationships, this also benefits them. That’s why they want their husband to take the lead on certain issues—with a Christ-like spirit of love and sacrifice. These issues include the family’s spiritual life, discipline of the children, finances and even romance.
But a male- or female-dominated home leads to dysfunction. Some personalities are naturally dominant, and tend to end up in relationships with a more passive spouse. That’s what happened with Karen and me. She was meek and quiet. I had a strong, overbearing personality. I would win every argument.
What do you do if you’re in a dominant marriage? First, you have to be honest with yourself. Don’t sugarcoat your situation. Admit “I’m being dominated.”
Second, you have to stand up. A marriage is like a teeter-totter. Your actions directly impact the person on the other side. That means you don’t have to wait for your spouse to change—you can initiate the change by standing up for yourself. This will change the entire equilibrium of your marriage.
When Karen finally had enough of my dominance and stood up to me, she forced the issue. She lovingly insisted on having a voice. In the process, I recognized my chauvinism and God began to heal me. It forced me to sit down.
Today, I will not make a decision without Karen Evans—period—and our marriage is so much healthier. I still have a dominant personality, but I’ve learned to control it. I’ve learned when to sit down. What about your marriage? Is it equal? Are you “receiving influence” from each other? Or does one spouse dominate?