By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
WHY DO WE TRY TO STAY IN CONTROL?
Often, when we’re trying to control others (in this case, our spouse), we’re acting out of fear. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown, or just the simple fear of not getting something that we deeply desire. Whatever the case, the primary motivating factor in controlling behavior is often fear.
Fear itself can have many different triggers. If you’ve been betrayed by your spouse in the past (in the case of infidelity–or any other breach of trust, for that matter), you might resort to control in order to alleviate your fear of further betrayal. If you’re fearful that you may not achieve certain outcomes in any given area of your life, you might attempt to stay in control of the people and circumstances around you.
Unfortunately, we’re often completely blind to the damage we’re doing when we try to control. This blindness occurs because all we can see is our own fear, and all we can feel is the overwhelming need to alleviate it.
Controlling behavior communicates lack of trust in your spouse and damages the intimacy in your marriage. It’s not likely that you want to do permanent damage to your relationship with your spouse–in fact, we assume that’s the last thing you want to do! But it’s absolutely critical for you to stop controlling your spouse now, and get your marriage on the road to a healthier dynamic.
In today’s blog, we’ll discuss three steps you can take to stop controlling your spouse.
STOP ALLOWING YOUR FEAR TO CONTROL YOU.
You may be trying to control your spouse because fear has its claws in you. In order to loosen fear’s grip on your life, you have to acknowledge that it has been in charge of you instead of God.
Realizing that you’ve made fear an idol in your life could be a major wake-up call, and just the jolt you need to refocus your energy and bring your attention back to God. Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Digging into scripture and reaching out to God through prayer are major steps you can take toward letting go of your fears. Right now, it may feel like your security lies in being afraid, so leaning into your fear can make you feel powerful. Controlling the people around you can make you feel powerful, too. But it’s ultimately destructive, because your controlling behavior instills a fear of you in them. Control has no place in marriage, and fear should never govern your existence–or anyone else’s.
Instead of trusting in your own ability to create the outcomes you desire, realize that your trust should be in the Creator. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you,” says the psalmist in Psalm 56:3.
MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR SPOUSE’S DIFFERENCES AND SHORTCOMINGS.
Sometimes we attempt to control our spouses because we have taken stock of their differences and perceived shortcomings, and have resolved that we can do a better job than they can in those areas of life. This can lead us to attempt to “help them do better”–which is often just control masquerading as assistance.
If you find yourself constantly intervening in whatever your spouse is doing in order to express a better way to do it, or to critique their methods, take a step back and think before you say anything. Is this something that is truly going to impact your life, or do the two of you just prefer different approaches? Is one way more comfortable for him than it is for you?
As long as the end result isn’t truly going to harm either of you, there’s no reason to fret if your spouse takes a different route as you to reach the same destination. This is unnecessary stress that you can let go. And the more stress you can release, the less likely you are to feel as if you need to stay in control.
Your spouse is a capable, mature adult whom you love and chose to marry. Remember how much you love them, and choose to let go of the urge to correct every move they make.
OWN WHAT IS YOURS; LET GO OF THE REST.
When you slow down and consider how few things you really have any control over in life, it is tremendously humbling. As you relinquish your fears and let go of your focus on your spouse’s weaknesses, you’ll be able to more clearly discern what areas of your life you have no business trying to control.
Taking ownership of the parts of your life you can and should control is healthy–things like your career, your fitness, your spiritual life, and similar areas. But outside of the areas that belong solely to you, you must let go.
Controlling behavior tells the people closest to you that they are only objects to be used. It tells your spouse that you don’t respect or truly love him or her. And it could even communicate to your children that they exist for your whims and your happiness.
Fear fuels controlling behavior, but controlling behavior also produces fear. It’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break once it has begun–but it can be done. Relinquishing the urge to control your spouse will pay huge dividends in your marriage.