After William Gouge finishes explaining how a husband should exercise his authority, he lists the different ways a man loses his authority. Gouge here means his functional authority. The husband still has official authority as the head of his home, but people do not listen to him and in extreme cases there can be divorce where the husband loses his primary authority. He lists three different ways husbands can lose authority: undisciplined living, cruelty/tyranny, and refusing to lead the family but allowing them freedom to do as they please.
[Men] who by their irreverence, partying, drunkenness, immorality, failure to take life seriously, wasting money, and other dishonorable conduct, make themselves contemptible, and so lose their authority. Though a wife should not take these occasions to despise her husband, yet it is a just judgment on him to be despised, seeing he makes himself contemptible.
A man who lacks discipline and self-control loses his authority and deserves contempt.
Contrary also to the directions I just gave [how to wisely exercise authority] is the stern, rough, and cruel conduct of husbands, who by violence and tyranny go about to maintain their authority. Force may indeed cause fear, but the fear of slaves, such a fear produces more hatred than love, causes more inward contempt than outward respect.
A husband who leads with tyranny and violence loses the heart of his household. A wife or children may follow, but it is only to prevent themselves harm, not out of love or respect for the husband.
And contrary [to wise governing] is their groveling disposition, who against their own judgment yield to their wife’s inclination in such things as are unlawful; they will lose their authority rather than make their wife unhappy…some husbands allow this by reason of their fearful and foolish disposition, lacking courage and wisdom to maintain the honor of their positions against the pride of their wives. Others upon a subtle, covetous, wicked mind, that by the means of their wives there may be more freedom for receiving bribes. Among these I may reckon those who against their own mind, to satisfy their wife’s mind, allow both their wife and children to follow the latest fashion, to dress themselves in a way inappropriate to their positions, to frequently be with foolish friends, and so on…Husbands may listen to their wives’ suggesting good things, but they may not obey them in evil things.
Husbands lose their authority when they refuse to stand up to their wives or when they believe one path is correct, but instead go with what their wife says. When they flatter their wives and bend to all their wishes they lose authority. They can do this through cowardice or through manipulation (“receiving bribes”).
Often we husbands get irritated when we are not being heard and our authority is not honored. This is good. A husband and father should expect to be heard. But when this happens the first place we should look is our own lives. Are we lazy and undisciplined ? Do we expect our wife and children to work hard, but we are soft? Are we mean and cruel? Do we rule by threats, yelling, and violence? Finally, can we say no to our wives? Can we go against their will and bear their anger when necessary? If not we lose authority. It is hard to respect a man with no backbone.