How to cultivate domination free relationships

silhouettes-812125_960_720Finding the courage to say no to controlling behavior.

What does it mean to dominate another person?

Do be dominated is to be mastered. The dominator has succeeded in pressuring someone until they yielded to being controlled. Perhaps to avoid the consequences of resisting. The one who yields has been conquered. While the relationship may appear amiable much of the time, differences of opinion will expose domination.

What’s the difference between domination and submission?


First of all, dominators  fall into two categories. The first group holds a legitimate position of authority.  The second does not.

For those who do hold a legitimate, God-given position of authority, domination happens when he/she “lords it over” their subordinates. (Matt. 20:20-28) The greek word for this is “overpower.” It’s the condescending posture of an owner who has completely subjugated their “property.” This posture provokes pain and anger in those they seek to dominate.

This might look like harsh, intimidating leadership. It might look like over-stepping the boundaries of what God has authorized them to lead. A leader that lords it over others lacks respect for their subordinates. A leader who feels that they are losing control of the organization, home, etc.,  may grasp for full control. Seeking to salvage what is left, he or she may be tempted to dishonor subordinates even more.

If the dominator is not acting within the boundaries of a legitimate position of authority, they’re posturing. Posturing means that they act in a deceptive way to mislead others. In this context, posturing would lead others to believe that they have title or authority that they don’t. This person is often motivated by fear of what will happen if they don’t seize control. They haven’t been given authority by God. They’ve taken it.  They can tend to dominate in order to prevent being dominated. This person may struggle with pride, superior attitudes or dishonor. Intimidation, pressure and threats of humiliation may be used to get their way.


Those who choose to submit to others tend more toward an awareness and respect for proper chains of authority. They submit willingly. They tend to honor others above oneself while still retaining self-respect and healthy boundaries. They don’t yield because they’re defeated, but because they believe it’s the right thing to do. When differences of opinion arise, the submitter yields out of respect, not fear.

What’s wrong with dominating one another?

The problem with domination in relationships is that there is only One who should have ultimate rule or mastery over our lives. That One is God. Daniel 4:34 says,

His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.”

When push comes to shove, sometimes we have to choose who has the last say in our lives. It can’t be both God and someone else.

Yielding to domination often causes people to operate in false chains of authority. One postures authority they do not actually have, another unnecessarily yields. When this happens, legitimate chains of authority are circumvented. Domination seeks to topple true authority and replace it with illegitimate submission/authority structures. When this happens, the covering that comes with submitting to true authority is absent. It leaves both parties unprotected.

Why do people dominate one another?

  • The Fearful Protector: When we seek to dominate others, it is often rooted in fear. Fear of what will happen if we don’t control. The ironic thing is, sometimes good-willed people dominate others in an attempt to protect them. In this case, the enemy takes something that God meant for good (a protective tendency) and twists it just a little bit in order to do harm. The fearful protector creates friendly fire. Good intentions that wound the very ones he/she seeks to protect. The antidote to this is to trust God to do His job as THE Protector…The Protector of His Church. The Protector of our families/relationships/organizations. For more on this topic, go to:
  • The Prideful one: Pride motivates this person to dominate others.  This dominator believes he/she can do a better job than the one in authority.
  • The Achiever: Ambition motivates this dominator. He/she want to do big things for God, and tends to carry a false weight of responsibility. Instead of trusting God to fulfil His purposes for their life, they believe they have to accomplish it in their own strength.
  • The wrath of God avoider: This one is tempted to seize control when there’s a difference of opinion between themselves and their authority. If he/she has the perception that their authority is about to miss the mark, they’ll resist in order to protect. This is done to prevent displeasing God and bringing judgment upon themselves. While this individual may have a strong desire to submit to authority, they may find themselves trying to lead and follow authority at the same time. Avoiding punishment and displeasing God are the motivation. This one was me, big time. I’d put my self-righteous little nose up in the air and run on ahead of my spiritual covering. (can anyone spell d-i-v-i-s-i-o-n??) I was Soooo sure that my perspective was right and theirs was wrong.
  • The pharisee: This individual is focused on protecting their own turf. They hold power over others, and they have no intention of giving it up to anyone. This individual will oppose God and His servants if necessary in order to control others.

Symptoms of domination within a relationship:

  • Intimidation. This happens when one person gets louder or bigger than the other in order to control. Opposition is met with threats, mocking, or fear-mongering.
  • Rejection.  This happens when one person allows another to dominate because of fear that the dominator will feel rejected if resisted.
  • Hen-picking. This happens when on-going pressure to yield is relentless. One individual pecks at another, wounding them and pecking at them in vulnerable areas. Think of Samson and Delilah, “If you loved me, you’d tell me your secret…”
  • Humiliation. In this situation, the dominator threatens to humiliate those who don’t yield. The solution is to trust God to protect our image. Psalm 62:7 says, “My salvation and my honor depend on God.”
  • Condescending attitudes are another indication that domination is happening in a relationship. Pride and self-righteousness motivates this one. Dishonor and criticism are used as weapons to topple legitimate authority.
  • Treating others like property. This looks like one person seeking to exercise full dominion over another because one feels it’s their right to do so.
  • Lack of healthy boundaries. This might look like legitimate authority over-stepping their place. An extreme example of this would be a spiritual leader presuming that it is their place to tell others who to marry. Most scenarios are more subtle, however.
  • Using anger to control. The one being dominated may yield because they feel intimidated. The dominated one may put up with the anger until one day they’ve had enough, and they “blow.” They may be tempted to use rage to get bigger than the one who’s been dominating them. While rage may stop them from being dominated, they’ve just become they very thing that wounded them.
  • A pattern of venting and listening. This happens when the angry dominator finds a good listener and vents all their emotional garbage onto them.  Thinking they’re being a faithful friend, the listener takes the place of all the people that the dominator is angry with. Since the dominator gets to let off all their steam without having to resolve problems with those they’re angry at, the cycle continues.  If the listener doesn’t recognize the damage that’s being done to them emotionally, they may sit in this place for years.
  • Rejection. This happens when one person allows another to dominate conversations and situations in order to protect them from feeling rejected. This allows the dominator to be the center. The focus of all attention.  Anything less than this leads to more agreement with rejection. The dominated one falsely believes that it is within their power to protect the dominator from feelings of rejection.

Lies that lead to dominating relationships:

  • “In every relationship, one person will always be in control of the other. I will either control or be controlled. “
  • “It’s wrong for me to feel angry when others try to dominate my life.”
  • “If I am going to be a “good” Christian, I have to yield to every demand my spiritual authority makes, even if it leaves me with no personal boundaries.”
  • “God will be angry and disappointed at me if I stand up for myself when others try to dominate me.”
  • “If I were a loving Christian, I would “die to self” every time others try to dominate my life.”
  • “If others reject me when I stand up for myself, I couldn’t take it, so I have no choice but to allow them to dominate me.”
  • “God wants me to be nice to others all the time, and saying no to others’ domination isn’t nice.”
  • “It’s not a big deal. I know I am being dominated, but it isn’t worth a confrontation.”
  • “If there’s conflict in one of my relationships, it has to be my fault.”

How to avoid domination in relationships:

One way to resist domination is to put God on the throne of our heart. There is only room for one on that throne. If we keep God there, all others will have to fall beneath Him.

Another way to resist domination is by submitting to true, God-given authority. People who seek to dominate will attempt to circumvent legitimate authority. This person acts as if they are in authority, but in reality someone else sits in that seat. We are not under obligation to give attention or obedience to anyone who postures authority they do not have.

Seek to understand the legitimate chain of authority within your church/organization/business/home. Know who your up-line is. If you think someone is posturing authority in an area that is not under their jurisdiction, ask: “Who is the proper authority in this area?” If you are the proper authority, stick to leading those who are your down-line.

Sometimes it takes courage to act within the proper chains of authority. A number of years ago the Lord was prompting me to accomplish a task in an area of the church that wasn’t where I normally ministered. There was a problem in this area of the church. Those who were, for all practical purposes, running this ministry, were not the true authority. They were also intimidating. In order to obey the Lord, I had to resist fear. Instead of acknowledging this false authority, I went to those who were actually in authority. I asked permission to do the work. Permission was granted. I was literally shaking as I accomplished the task.  The illegitimate authority was ANGRY. In the end, it taught me an important lesson. One reason people yield to domination is because of fear of man. Doing the right thing even when it’s scary is the antidote.

We can avoid becoming a dominator by praying instead of pressuring. When we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t seize control, it’s a red flag. Protection that’s motivated by fear can lead to dominating behavior. Instead, ask God to be The Protector. Resist fear. Submit to God and godly authority. Act only in love.

Recognize that authority and responsibility go hand in hand.

God holds those in authority responsible for the decisions they make. He does not hold their subordinates responsible. (exceptions: Idolatry, when a life is at stake. In these cases, resistance is called for) Subordinates are covered (protected) when submitted to authority. There is no need to seize control in order to protect. If subordinates will pray when leaders make choices that look concerning, God will do the protecting.  Picture Sara, submitting to Abraham even when he asked her to lie. His actions put her in harm’s way, yet God protected her when she submitted to her husband. 1 Peter 3 says:

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives…They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect…”

Abraham’s choices could have easily compromised Sarah’s purity. If she had yielded to fear, it would have been easy for her to reason, “I’m not going to obey Abraham. What in the world is he thinking?” Instead, she walked in faith, trusting God to protect. God not only protected her, but He also honored her.

If we think our superiors are about to miss it, we are told to pray. Beseech. Respect. If instead we choose instead to seize control, we have become a dominator.

We can also resist domination in our relationships by choosing humility. Humility helps us to honor legitimate authority. If we are tempted to think that we’d do a better job if we were in charge, humility will bring us back to honor. Those in authority over us have been put there by God.

Those who hold legitimate positions of authority can avoid being dominated by refusing to abdicate. By resisting pressure to be someone else’s puppet.  They do what they know is right instead of yielding to pressure to compromise. They are confident in the vision that God gives them for the church/home/organization,etc. These leaders are kind and clear with those who are dishonoring. They call it out. They give warnings. If warnings are not heeded, consequences are given. These leaders recognize the damage that dishonor causes, and they address it. They speak the truth in love. They refrain from getting louder and bigger in order to resist domination. Strong leaders resist yielding to fear that those who attempt to dominate will feel rejected if they don’t abdicate. If efforts to correct a subordinate are not headed, healthy leaders might choose to remove the offender from positions of influence/authority within an organization.

Healthy leaders also lead with a servant heart. They resist the temptation to “lord it over others.” They resist any temptation to lead for selfish gain. These leaders also stick to the realm authority God has given them. They do this by respecting the personhood of those they lead.

Here’s the deal. There are reasons that we find it difficult to submit to authority. If we want to stop dominating others, it’s important that we stop and examine ourselves. What is the underlying reason that we are tempted to seize control? I would love to hear from you. Are there other reasons that you have felt tempted to dominate others? How did you handle it?

May you have the courage honor God above all others,


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