Navigate / search

Avoiding Unrighteous Dominion: Mormon Marriages Podcast

I recently sat down with Nate and Angilyn Bagley to discuss issues relating to unrighteous dominion in marriages. This phrase comes from the scripture in Doctrine & Covenants 121:9 that reads, “[w]e have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority…they will begin to recognize unrighteous dominion.”

Influence By Fear or By Love

As a therapist who has worked with Mormon clients for over twenty years, I’ve seen unrighteous dominion manifested in a variety of ways: making major decisions (such as financial or employment) or in any other way being controlling and manipulative. Unrighteous dominion can extend to children as well; when a mother or a father using shame or intimidation with their children, this is another example. And any type of abuse certainly falls under the category of unrighteous dominion.

We are certainly meant to influence and lovingly persuade our spouse and children, but the manner in which we do it is key. If you are influencing by love and connection, you are acting in accordance with God’s ways, but if you are using fear to try to control someone, you are exercising unrighteous dominion. And while we typically think of this as a sin that only men commit, women can also be forceful or manipulative in placing their expectations in front of anyone else’s.

What Does It Mean To “Preside”?

The LDS Proclamation on the Family states that “fathers are to preside” while also stating that “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Surely, this can cause some confusion. If men and women are equal, how can it be that fathers preside? Nate did some research beforehand and discovered that “preside” comes from the Latin term praesidere, which literally means “to stand guard,” or to protect. This makes so much sense! While both men and women protect their families, historically, men have provided the protection from violence or physical threats as the first line of defense. It’s a leadership position that doesn’t imply his responsibility is more important than anyone else’s. When we speak about someone presiding, we would do well to remember the original definition of this term.

If You’re Experiencing Unrighteous Dominion

Sometimes this dominance hierarchy is so ingrained that we don’t even realize we’re in an unequal relationship. If you find that your spouse is consistently putting you down, disrespecting you, or leaving you out of major decisions, it’s time to talk about it. I like John Gottman’s suggestion of employing a “soft start,” or not charging someone in the heat of the moment. Try saying something like, “hey, there’s something bothering me, and I’d really like to talk about it.” Then, instead of making grand accusations or unrighteous dominion, express specific instances that hurt you. “I felt really disappointed when you bought a new car without me. This is our family, and we need to make big financial decisions together.”

But what if you’re the one who is in some way exercising unrighteous dominion? I encourage you to consider what your expectations are. We all have expectations, and they are not a bad thing unless they put an undue burden on our relationships. What are your expectations about parenting? Sex? The house? Finances? I am not suggesting that you abandon your own expectations or desires for your marriage, but part of being in a couple is balancing your expectations with that of your spouse. Do you always have to be right? Do you view your partner as a means of giving you what you want or as another unique person? It’s not always easy to take a good look at ourselves, but think about how you can change if you’re part of the problem.

Listen to the full interview here


About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to TV Shows and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available. Dr. Hanks is currently accepting coaching clients.


Stephanie G

This podcast is great but I don’t think the definition of “preside” or its etymology is correct: prae= in front or before, sedere = sit (this is the literal Latin derivation- in Latin, this word means to sit in front of, ahead of, or before something else.) The definition is to take charge or be in a position of authority, generally followed by the word “over.” I believe that in the proclamation on the family, when using these two ideas in conjunction (the husband presides over the family, yet the husband and wife are equal partners), it is a paradox that cannot be explained and serves to obfuscate the meaning of this paragraph in the proclamation. There is a great essay by Caroline Kline entitled “Saying Goodbye to the final Say: The Softening and Reimagining of Mormon Male Headship Ideologies” found in the book “Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945” (published 2016) which describes the history of the word “preside” as used by leaders of the church though various stages of the church. As might be expected, the word preside goes though some major definition changes over the years in the church rhetoric and publications. I appreciate the fact that there is an attempt to “soften” the meaning of this word towards equality between men and women, but I still feel like words have literal definitions and one can’t just reimagine or reinvent a meaning of the word to fit a changing cultural context. Instead, my wish would be to revisit and edit the words to make it less confusing, or perhaps replace the document with a new clarified version, updated to the needs of our current church members.

Leave a comment


email* (not published)