On How a Man Can Become the Head of an Orthodox Family


At every consultation on family relations I first of all find out who the head of the family is. Because this question largely determines the relationship between spouses. Indeed, in most not-so-healthy families (in Russia) the man is not the clear and undeniable head.

Why is it so difficult for a man to become the head?

Because it is easiest for us to act as it was in the families of our parents. What was it like there?

At least in problem families, there was no father at all, or there was an alcoholic father, or the head was the mother.

Suppose a pair, in which the bride was born into a family where the mother was the head, and the groom is from a family where there was no father, get married. Even if both have fully Orthodox views of the family hierarchy, the correct hierarchy doesn’t develop. As a result the wife becomes either the clear leader or a gray cardinal. The battle between what is right and what is habitual is often fought, but the power of habit is extremely difficult to overcome!

Does a man need to become the head?

Atheist psychologists usually say: “Why should a man be the head? This is completely optional! What is comfortable for both spouses is good for them.”

Maybe there are such families where the woman is the head and both are happy. But I have never seen such families. In my practice, even under the conditions described above—where neither of the spouses had the example of a father as the head of the family, and even if this is an non-believing family—they are still not very happy. The husband doesn’t feel in his place being the second, and the wife doesn’t feel protected being the first.

It is not without reason that God commanded that a man should be the head of the family. And this is not some formal religious requirement: this is a law of human nature. And I think that it will always be so, no matter how many people are told that it should be the other way around.

Fortunately, you are Orthodox people and it is easier for you to accept this because not only psychologists, but God Himself speaks about it.

How can a man become the head?

With the current degradation of the institution of family the situation described above is not rare, but very common—very few people have been lucky enough to grow up in a family with a normal hierarchy. And how, in this situation, we can ensure that a man becomes the head of his family?

First of all, it is desirable that both spouses want it to be the right way—for a husband to want to become the head, and for a wife, oddly enough for her, to try and make him the head.

Of course, when only one spouse makes efforts, there can be a result, but it is always much more difficult. It is very hard for a husband if his wife doesn’t help him, but struggles with him for the upper hand. And it is also hard for a wife to make her husband the head if he resists and is afraid to take on this pleasant, but in fact heavy responsibility.

How a wife helps her husband become the head

It is desirable that both want it, but what should the effort be like? The work of a wife is to make concessions to her husband and not sow doubts in him about his strength by her words.

Suppose a husband made a decision and something went wrong—that is, the decision was not optimal. In this case a wise wife doesn’t sulk at her husband, making him afraid to take a decision next time. She is either silent (without an aggrieved air or malicious joy) or openly and verbally supports him, consoling him and saying: “Never mind! You have done well. Next time everything will work out.”

When he makes decisions, she resigns herself. If she is wise, she may try to influence decision-making by presenting ideas, but in a gentle way. You can put pressure on a person, speaking in a commanding tone from above; or you can in a feminine way from below suggest something to him, and then give the laurels to him.

And you can even quarrel in a feminine manner! Women are emotional, and they don’t have to keep their emotions inside. But even a cry: “Why haven’t you taken such-and-such a thing away?” can be from above and in a domineering manner, or from below—weak and in a feminine way. Shouting from above causes opposition and bitterness in a husband. Shouting from below awakens sympathy, courage and responsibility.

All this can be learned, and very many women need to learn this—to be feminine, weak, and wise at the same time.

Does a husband need to put his wife in her place?

The situation when both in deed, and not in imagination, strive for a healthy hierarchy is ideal. It often happens that a husband makes efforts, but his wife resists.

Does he need to put her in her place?

Yes, depending on the degree of the wife’s opposition to a normal state of affairs, it is sometimes necessary for the husband to put her in her place. I admit the possibility of banging the fist on the table. After all, no matter how courageous a husband may be, the image of the wife’s parents influences her!

But fighting a wife isn’t the main task. After all, domination isn’t expressed thus: “I’m the boss, you’re my subordinate.” Certainly not. A really strong man doesn’t need this. The sense of male dominance lies, rather, in responsibility for everyone. A husband makes decisions not because he is the head, but because he feels a responsibility to ensure that everything is good in the family. In an Orthodox family there is also responsibility before God.

The main thing for a man to be the head of his family is to live up to this role! And many don’t even understand what this role is about and how to live up to it. Below I will give three points, which, in my opinion, make a man worthy of the status of head of the family.

Point 1: responsibility

What does responsibility consist of? First of all, it is responsibility for your word. So said, so done. This is an extremely important principle in the life of a man, and indeed of every human being.


Because if a person doesn’t put this principle into practice, he is unable to implement his plans, and fulfil his promises and intentions. He plans something, promises something, but nothing works out for him because he isn’t used to combining these things. His words go their own way, and his deeds go their own. And how can such a person be entrusted with the reins of power in a family?

So your words must match your deeds; first and foremost think carefully before making any promises. When making a promise, you should think whether you are able to keep it. Avoid lying in every possible way, because lying completely destroys your ability to keep your word. You lie in one situation, but in another it won’t work.

We can’t be infallible; it’s natural for humans to err. But we must strive to ensure that there are as few mistakes and inconsistencies between our words and deeds as possible. It is perfectly possible to bring words and deeds together and minimize the number of mistakes. But ideally a wife should support her husband and not nag him for every mistake.

What are a husband’s spheres of responsibility? It is clear that we must try and provide for the family financially. Quite often the wife earns more. If this woman is smart, she doesn’t conclude from this that she is the main breadwinner in the family, so therefore she can manage the finances, and, therefore, she is the head. If she thinks that way, she’d better live alone.

A husband has fulfilled his duty to provide for his family if he has done everything in his power, everything that was possible for him. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, and not everyone needs to be one. A man must take into account not only his natural capabilities, but also his natural inclinations. Because it is normal for a person to fulfil himself in his profession. Suppose a man wants to do carpentry—let him earn money this way and not go into business and sell something. It will be more natural and normal, because he likes to do it. People are more likely to achieve success and prosperity when they do what they like.

The second thing a husband is responsible for is safety. It’s clear that a man is stronger, so he is responsible for everything related to safety, for interacting with the outside world.

I often meet women at my consultations who have severe mental traumas because their husbands were cowardly when they should have taken care of the safety of the family, or gone to school to solve the problem of their daughter being bullied, or have defended their wives on the street when they were being molested.

It’s not a matter of strength. True, we will not always be able to cope with any physical aggression. But what kills the family and children is the fact that a man is afraid to even try to do what he is supposed to do! This is very destructive. It’s good when a man is athletic and knows how to fight, but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is simply to understand what you are responsible for, and to realize that under no circumstances can you relieve yourself of this responsibility and shift it onto someone else.

Of course, a husband is responsible for all household repairs. There are women who like to hammer nails and screw in bolts, but a true man cannot feel normal if his wife is doing this. This is easy to learn, and anyone can do it.

What not everyone understands is that a husband is responsible for children on an equal level with his wife. Many men believe that if they have earned money, this is all they need to contribute to their children—they are clad and shod, well fed and have enough money to pay for all their study and hobby groups, and that is enough.

They are wrong! A husband is responsible for the development of the child’s personality! And the cultivation of personality traits is impossible without the child’s interaction with his mother and father equally. A boy needs a man as an example, and a girl needs a man as an example of her future husband.

Point 2: strength and kindness

It is clear why a man needs strength. And kindness is the flip side of strength and its main manifestation in everyday life. A strong man is capable of being tolerant, lenient and kind.

A man is generous enough to forgive his wife and children their petty weaknesses. His strength is more manifest in this than when he has to show strength in the form of aggression, protecting someone physically or fighting with someone.

A truly strong man is lenient and kind. But how do you become like that?

Unfortunately, this is not easy at all. Since kindness is a manifestation of love, as St. Luke (Voino-Yasenetsky) said, then “Love is the pinnacle of perfection.” It is impossible to be kind and to love if you are psychologically damaged or very passionate. Here we need to struggle with our passions and overcome our psychological imperfections.

That is, point two—kindness and strength—implies spiritual and psychological efforts to the extent that you personally need them.

Point 3: spiritual Authority

To be the head of a family a man must have a certain spiritual authority. When I was recording a video for my YouTube channel, I tried to explain it in such a way that atheists would also understand, because they often want to become the heads of their families too.

It was complicated! I said that a man should “see further”, just as a ship’s helmsman looks far ahead. He should understand more, just as a ship engineer understands the rules of how the ship’s engine works.

It’s much easier with Orthodox spouses here. I will say that a man should be at least no less spiritually developed and active than his wife is.

If a wife is a church-goer, really strives for salvation, and tries to be in a personal relationship with God, and her husband is so-so in this matter, he cannot be the head of the family. Because the head of the family, like it or not, is the man at the helm: the one who looks far ahead, sees further and understands where to swim.

A husband must solve not only everyday issues. First of all, he must solve strategic issues, and there is no strategy without correct spiritual goals; because all our goals in life are aligned with the main one—salvation. If the main goal of life is Orthodox Christian and correct, then the goal of the family can also be correct. And all tasks can be solved by the right hierarchy of values.

A husband has an advantage here. Even with equal knowledge, degree of involvement in church life and spiritual activity, a man has an advantage in that a woman often succumbs to emotions. It is by nature easier for a man to keep within spiritual guidelines.

But it’s even better if he reads more, prays more and through reading understands everything more deeply. Due to this, he will command respect of all the family members, who will understand why they should follow this person. This is because their husband and father is walking himself, and walking in the right direction.

If he doesn’t walk, but stands or lies, or slides down, or walks in a dubious direction, his wife and children will naturally have doubts as to why they should follow him: What right does he have to lead them somewhere?

How to become a spiritual authority? If you are still not a person of the Church, if your knowledge isn’t deep enough, then of course you need to try and receive Communion more often, read Patristic literature and not modern literature. And, of course, don’t waste time on secular sources of information because it eats up our time.

You shouldn’t be ashamed to discuss some spiritual topics with your wife. You should have more knowledge and more arguments. It is not necessary to memorize quotes, but your understanding should be deeper.

If you are now on the same level with her it is very important not to relax, because sometimes one spouse retains the same activity in spiritual life, while the other one is carried away, distracted by something, relaxes and gradually departs, becoming “led”, and backward in spiritual life.

You have no right to act this way. If you want to be the head of your family, you must be the actual leader of activities in church—aimed, of course, at your own soul. Don’t run away from your family to do good deeds, but watch your soul’s state: which direction you develop, how you overcome your passions, and to what extent you acquire the main indicators of the quality of spiritual life—joy, peace of mind and love.

In spiritual work it is important to remain sober. Extremes are not saving for a husband and his family. Sometimes women come for a consultation and say that they are less active in church life than their husbands, but the latter get carried away by some heresy. For example, they begin to believe that life is suffering and marriage is a place of torment. The family rightly doesn’t want to follow such a “head”. This is dangerous in many ways.

This also refers to the question of what we read. Those who read the Holy Fathers save themselves from many mistakes.

Dmitry Semenik
An Orthodox psychologist
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



See also
(VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage (VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage
Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov)
(VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage (VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage
Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov)
Love is important, but it comes and goes...but what is at the core of a happy relationship is friendship, the insatiable interest in talking to the other person, discovering each other's depth. Oh, and of course, when the woman is the wise, invaluable helper of her husband.
According to “The Domestic Rule” According to “The Domestic Rule”
Vladimir Basenkov
According to “The Domestic Rule” According to “The Domestic Rule”
On Edinoverie Family Life in Our Days
Vladimir Basenkov
The value of tradition as the best experience of our ancestors, accumulated, refined, and transmitted, has been devalued in our days. The modern Orthodox family is compelled to seek new ways to orient their everyday life. Over the course of the many centuries of Christian history, the Russian people created a universal system of family values, which, having moral categories, is always clearly manifested externally: in expressions, relations, and organization of space.
Husbands, Love Your Wives Husbands, Love Your Wives
Archpriest Andrei Ovchinnikov
Husbands, Love Your Wives Husbands, Love Your Wives
Archpriest Andrei Ovchinnikov
We could talk about family life for a very long time, and such talks are necessary. Family should enter our consciousness as the greatest value, which we must preserve and protect with all our might; and our children and grandchildren should constantly hear about it. We should begin serious conversations on adult life with our children from the earliest years.
Editor1/25/2022 2:32 pm
Isaac: Since this article is a translation from the original Russian, and we are not sure that the author knows English, we can't forward your question to him. But you might find the book, God's Revelation to the Human Heart by Fr. Seraphim Rose helpful for example. It is available at St. Herman Press: https://www.sainthermanmonastery.com/God-s-Revelation-to-the-Human-Heart-p/grhh.htm. Also, any of the books on St. Paisius the Athonite are great for young converts. This is another very popular book: Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: https://www.sainthermanmonastery.com/product-p/otdol.htm. Your formula that you talked about is good: Alternate secular reading with spiritual reading until you develop more of a taste for the spiritual books. Read the classics, like Dickens and Dostoevsky. Little-by-little, you will thirst more for spiritual reading. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on current events, but remember that the internet should be approached with caution and a good dose of skepticism. But most important: Strive not to judge others. You never know when a seemingly worldly person turns out to have great wisdom, or something we can learn from.
Issac1/25/2022 2:14 am
Hello, forgive me, but I have a question pertaining to the section “ How to become a spiritual authority? If you are still not a person of the Church, if your knowledge isn’t deep enough, then of course you need to try and receive Communion more often, read Patristic literature and not modern literature. And, of course, don’t waste time on secular sources of information because it eats up our time.” I am not a father. I am a young convert (23) I have been Orthodox for only 3 months. There is a battle in my mind. I wish to spend all my free time studying Orthodoxy. But due to political problems, and a general observation that many in the world are not only ignorant of spiritual truth, but the truth of this world also. There are sources; such as investigative journalists etc who shine light on the truth of our time. Is it not beneficial to arm ourselves against the physical attacks against us by studying these? Or as you say am I wasting my time; when a true patristic approach would give me all the discernment I need in order for my soul to survive this world. I hope that you will not mistake the tone of my question due to my tactlessness as impetuous, argumentative or mocking. I wish only to discern the correct way to spend my time in this life. Many who are more pious and Orthodox-centric in their lives seem to have fallen prey to the spirit of the world, many Orthodox people in the online community spend a lot of time investigating what is happening in this world, as well as studying the Fathers. I try to balance this with the excuse of incremental and slow progress everyday on my spiritual studies. I could make more progress if I were to turn away from the world and to devote myself wholly to work and spiritual study. Perhaps it is warfare that prevents me. I confess to an almost gnostic tendency to think that this information will be salvific, Lord forgive me. Every time I think; perhaps I should turn away from all this worldly truth and focus only on Christ. I then battle with thoughts that I may be going to extremes, that I am not spiritually prepared for. I tend to think all of this stems from a lack of faith and trust in God. If you have any material I can read that would be helpful to a young, single Orthodox Christian male living in a degenerate society trying to live the Orthodox Life but struggling against the nuance of the age. I know these things should be discussed with a spiritual father. My priest is very humble and meek, but there is a lack of discernment in my parish which makes it difficult for me to subject myself to what may become ‘blind obedience’ and potentially spiritually damaging. My entire being longs to live a life that is pleasing to God. But I fall very short of this mark. Thank you for reading my comment.
Cat1/21/2022 4:08 pm
This is a great and well-balanced article. Even unbelieving people could really benefit from reading through it. I'd love to read more translations on the husband/wife and family topic.
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