One summer weekend, when our son was three, I spent a weekend visiting friends, leaving my husband to be our son's primary care giver all weekend. Per usual, I'd written out all the detailed instructions for the proper care of our son- what to wear, what to eat, when to eat, sleep, play, a reminder of favorite things, everything. You know: the list. I even cleaned the whole house, precooked meals, and laid out clothes for our son. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home to a messy house, pizza boxes, and our son dressed in boxers, snow boots and a pajama top stomping in puddles in the backyard.
Initially, my disappointment was overwhelming! Clearly, my husband had not at all taken proper care of our son. I had done everything I could to prepare them for the weekend, and I don't think Scott even looked at my list or opened the refrigerator to see what I'd prepared for them. He decided it was a boys weekend, and they played outside, ordered pizza, stayed up late, having a great weekend I wouldn't have imagined for them. Our son thought it was the BEST weekend ever! All my preparations were because of fear. I didn't believe my husband could take care of our son at the same level I did.
Fear simmers beneath the perceived need to control. Going right back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam failed to step in and protect Eve from herself and the snake, women easily default to responding to that fear in themselves that their husbands won't take care of things the way we wives would. So wives lead exhausted lives, not just making decisions for themselves, but planning and instructing their husbands in every task, from making spaghetti or getting the brakes done to taking care of the kids.
"Women feel the need to control because they fear that if they don't take matters into their own hands, their needs will go unmet. It is possible that your husband is thoughtless or inept, but until you give him your complete trust over a sustained period of time, you can't be sure. Chances are he is a great guy who spends most of his time defending himself against your criticism. Until you stop trying to run his life, you'll never know what it's truly like to be married to your husband." - Laura Doyle, Surrendered Wife pages 46-47
The "No-Control" Date. Once upon a time, just the thought of going on a date with my husband where he planned everything- what I would wear, where we would eat, what we would eat, what to do after dinner, and how to get there- sounded like a plan for a nervous break down. I was certain he'd spend too much, he didn't know what my favorite foods were, he would take the long way (and likely get lost), and I'd have a terrible time. And that was true, when I spent most of our dates criticizing and thinking how *I* would have done it differently. And I'd come home exhausted. Did I really think that my husband didn't have my best interests in mind, desiring to give me what I needed and wanted? Controlling gives you a false sense of safety, at the sacrifice of intimacy with your husband, and you miss the opportunity to trust him.
Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Shrew. There are lots of different ways to be controlling, and I love the list Laura Doyle shares in chapter two. Can you relate with any of these?
#1 Talking on your husband's behalf/making decisions for him
#2 Giving your husband that disapproving look
#3 Asking questions that seemed innocent enough, while conveying disapproval (You're going to wear that?)
#4 Trying to explain to your husband what you would do in his situation, hoping he'll do it
#5 Offering countless unsolicited solutions
#6 Gasping in the car while he's driving
#7 Frowning at his desperate, futile attempts to modify his actions
As you can imagine, these seven habits are a recipe for disrespect. When you employ these tactics regularly, you are sending your husband down the path of abdicating his God ordained authority as leader of your marriage and family. After all, why should he have a thought of his own, or attempt to lead, when you don't let him?
Responding to His Crazy Ideas. Last week I shared that once upon a time, my response to my husband's "crazy" ideas by telling him they were stupid. Yeah, I'm not so proud of that. My response to his sharing drove us apart and killed any desire he had to be vulnerable and emotionally intimate with me. It was a dangerous and subtle form of control, and it clearly told him that I didn't trust him...and I didn't have to utter those specific words once. In reality his ideas wouldn't have bankrupted us or led us down a path of moral failures. In fact, in hindsight, some of them may have been amazing opportunities now long since missed because of my fears. What if you responded to your husband's ideas simply by affirming his desire to think and dream? What if your response was simply "whatever you think, honey." And pray for the day you'll add "I'll follow you anywhere!"
The Magic of Gratitude. What if your husband makes a mistake or does something stupid? Sorry, but it's still not time to take the wheel. In fact, in these times when you are most desperate to grab the reins, it's most important to either hold your tongue or encourage your husband. Your husband likely knows he's made a mistake and will seek to rectify it. Give him the latitude and space to sort it out, realize the consequences, and take the next steps. Remind yourself that you married a man who thinks for himself, works hard and wants the best for his marriage and family...as you give him space to be those things, he'll remember, too.
The Distress Test. In the midst of acknowledging your husband's ideas, the filter for possibly disagreeing or telling him no to something would be if it causes you harm physically, emotionally or spiritually. If he's a runner, training for a half marathon and wants you to run it with him next week, but the only running you've done is chasing the toddlers, you simply let him know that you can't. You're not physically able.
"The more you relinquish control and respect your husband's thinking, the more powerful and masculine he will feel. Your faith gives him added strength and reminds him who he is and that he wants to take care of you and ensure your delight." -Laura Doyle, Surrendered Wife, pages 56-57
Be the VIP Instead of the Chauffeur. Who are you in this scenario? Are you the chauffeur, endlessly making decisions and working to take care of everyone? Or are you the VIP, who holds the power, trusting the chauffeur to take care of the details? There is power in giving up unnecessary control- how the dishwasher is loaded, the best route to your favorite restaurant, where to get the brakes fixed. "Doing all the work is not what makes you powerful, it's what makes you exhausted." Let me tell you, going from being the chauffeur to the VIP has been refreshing. I am no longer exhausted, assuming the details for every area of our lives.
The only thing worse than a man you can't control is a man you can. - Margo Kaufman
Laura shares two great examples on pages 58-62 from her own marriage of conversations pre-surrendering and post surrendering. You'll have to order the book to check those out. I'll tell you, I felt like she'd eavesdropped on our conversations when I read them! Wives, we're not that unique in our desire to control and the methods we employ.
Chapter Two wraps up with the acknowledgement that your husband may not trust this new attitude of surrender. He may question you when you respond to his ideas with "whatever you think, honey." Be encouraged. Instead of convincing him that you mean it, follow up with "I'm sure you've got it" or "I'm so grateful for you handling this situation." Let your emerging Christlike character speak to him.
Change what YOU can change. And leave the rest with God. That's right, God is likely more interested in changing you than your spouse. And honestly, YOU are the only person YOU can change. That's a big enough project, isn't it? God gives you the grace and guidance to fulfill your mission to be the woman, wife and mother He created you to be. God honors your obedience and faithfulness to His Word and calling on your life, and may even use your Christlike character of submission to win over your husband, as encouraged in 1 Peter 3.
FYI, this is the third post in a series...you may want to check out the first two posts...
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