Control over other people… You want that control! You fight for that control! You threaten to gain and hold on to that control!
Stop right now!
Ask yourself this question: Why do you want, fight, threaten to have control over other people?
Ask yourself this question: Fear of what? Fear of your life not turning the way you want it; fear of loosing something or someone; fear of being exposed. Control comes out of fear.
You put forth a great deal of effort to gain and maintain control over others, however, if you want a relationship to thrive long-term, control has no place in such relationship. In this article I will talk about 3 facts and 1 myth about exerting control over other people to illustrate why control does not belong in long-term, loving and secure relationships.
Fact 1. We cannot control other people.
Fact 2. You can only control yourself: your thoughts, feelings, your actions, your words.. Fact 3. You can influence other people.
Myth. Tactics such as manipulation techniques and threatening behavior/words lead to successfully controlling other people.
Note. The about 3 facts and 1 myth about control over others apply to any human relationship. For the purpose of this article, I will only address control in marriage between husband and wife.
Fact 1. You cannot control your spouse. Accept it! There is no need to further elaborate on this number one fact. It is as simple as this: You have no control over your spouse’s actions, feelings, and thoughts.
Fact 2. You can only control yourself. While you can’t control your spouse, you have the freedom and the ability to control your actions, your words, your beliefs, your thoughts, and your feelings. Your control starts with you and ends with you.
I need to mention two points:
1. If your attempt to control is about wanting to see your spouse behave a certain way, speak a certain way or not engage in certain activities, first you have to make sure that you follow the requests you want to impose on your spouse. For instance, if you do not want your spouse to use bad language, first become aware of your language and make sure your language lives up to the standards you want to impose on your spouse.
However, here’s the catch: Do not avoid bad language because you ultimately want to see your spouse not use bad language. Doing something because you want your spouse to do it, too, is still control even though in this instance is more coveted. You need to follow the principles you want your spouse to follow because you see the good that transpires in YOUR life when you live according to the principles in which you believe.
“You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck our of your brother’s eye.” Mathew 7:5
2. Beyond your thoughts, your actions, your feelings, which you can control, you have to give your spouse the freedom over his or her actions, feelings, thoughts, etc. This is very tough to do! Imagine looking at your spouse and saying: “Yes, I would like for you to do ‘this’ and ‘this’ but the reality is that I can only control what I do while I can’t control what you do.”
The only thing you can do is everyday to strive to be the best person you can be and beyond that… and this is the tough part… you have to admit your spouse has the freedom to choose the way he or she wants. It is tough to relinquish control but control does not belong into a healthy, loving, secure marriage.
Fact 3. You can influence your spouse. While you have no control over your husband or wife, you can influence him or her by being a living testimony of the goals and ideals you want to see in them. Of course this is a challenging process because there is an implied expectation that you would be perfect in living those ideals and goals but you are human; being a Christian does not mean you are perfect!
You will fail at times in living up to the standards you set even for yourself. But even when you fail, have the strength and the courage to take responsibility for your failings, learn from your mistakes and do better going forward. In the end, if your spouse sees in you and in your life characteristics and outcomes that he or she wants for his or her life, then your spouse will feel motivated to follow your example.
Myth. Tactics such as manipulation and threatening behavior/words lead to successful control of your spouse. The above statement is not just a myth but a plain lie which can cause much damage to a marriage. Remember Fact 1: you cannot control your spouse. Therefore, you cannot manipulate your spouse. You cannot threaten your spouse. Tactics such as manipulation and threats will backfire. In the short term you may be successful in controlling your spouse through manipulation and/or threats. However,…
If you want to have a healthy, secure, loving marriage, you need to stop now! The controlled spouse will ultimately grow to resent you until one day he or she will turn unloving towards you which will severely hurt the marriage. It may seem scary to the point of outright panic but you have to face the issues why you want to engage in manipulation and/or threats, why you want to control your spouse, and instead learn how to nurture your marriage as a healthy adult.
Before closing the article, let’s see how the above facts and myth play themselves in two real life situations.
- Wife, Sharon, wants to go with her husband, Fred, to a concert on Saturday night.
- Sharon: “I want us to go to a concert on Saturday night.”
- Fred: “I don’t want to go. Concerts bore me.”
- Since Fred refuses to go, Sharon attempts to control Fred to coerce him into going.
Fact 1. Sharon cannot make Fred go to the concert with her if he does not want to go. It’s as simple as that!
Fact 2. Sharon can control her actions, her feelings, her thoughts. If she wants to go to the concert, she certainly has the control over her going or not going.
Fact 3. Sharon can influence Fred through her behavior. If she does go to the concert because she finds it entertaining, she will return home in joyful mood. If Fred wants to be in a joyful mood, next time he may join Sharon for a concert hoping he will experience the same joyful mood.
Myth. Sharon believes that she can manipulate Fred into going to the concert though nagging or emotional withdrawal. Thus, when Fred tells her he does not want to go to the concert, Sharon manipulatively will stop talking or go into the bedroom withdrawing emotionally. Fred will ultimately feel guilty and give in into going. Sharon is happy that Fred is accompanying her to the concert, however Fred is miserable and inside he begins to resent Sharon for manipulating him into going to the concert.
- Sharon: “There’s a concert on Saturday night and I would love for us to go together. It would make me so happy! I know you find concerts boring but I do hope you would go with me but if you don’t, I respect your decision.”
- Wow! What a different approach!
- At this point, Fred feels free to make a choice and he does not feel controlled. Likely he will feel so grateful Sharon gave him the freedom to say yes or no about going that he will go to the concert because, even though he finds them boring, when a husband loves his wife, he ultimately wants to see her happy.
- However, there will be times when Fred will say that he is glad that Sharon knows he finds concerts boring and he will not go! If that is the case, she needs to stop there! If the goal is long-term, successful marriage, even though it is tough to stop, Sharon needs to give up control.
- Husband, Dan, spends money without telling his wife, Karen.
- At first, Karen talks to Dan about his hidden spending habits and asks for honest communication on what Dan spends money but Dan continues to hide his spending habits from Karen.
Fact 1. Karen cannot control Dan’s spending habits. If Dan wants to spend money without communicating with Karen, he will spend that money.
Fact 2. Karen can only control her spending habits. If Karen wants Dan not to spend money behind her back, first she needs to not spend money behind Dan’s back. Karen can control how she spends the money and whether she shares her spending with Dan. Bottom line before Karen wants Dan to follow open communication on spending, she needs to make sure she follows that first.
Fact 3. Karen can influence Dan. First, Karen can influence Dan, as stated in Fact 2, by following the guidelines she wants him to follow. Those guidelines will give Karen a sense of comfort because she makes both sound and honest financial decisions towards Dan. If Dan wants to have the same comfort and not fret about hidden spending, he will follow Karen’s example and begin to be honest what money.
Furthermore, Karen can influence Dan’s hidden spending by applying one of the great Biblical principles of You Reap What You Sow. Karen should sit down with Dan and in a calm tone, not angry or shaming, should communicate to Dan that if Dan continues with hidden spending, she will cancel the credit card. At this point Karen gave Dan the freedom to make choices. She will not attempt to control his hidden spending but if he chooses to do so, she will cancel the credit card as a consequence. Dan likely will get upset but he will eventually learn that Karen loves him and in the end she only wants him to be honest about how he spends money because honesty is the cornerstone of a enduring marriage.
Myth. Karen could attempt to control Dan’s spending by using anger as a manipulation and intimidation tool. When Dan hides money, if Karen angrily yells at him, Dan may control his spending, not because he wants to, but because he is controlled at that point by the anger… short term though. At this point Karen may think that her anger solved the problem of hidden spending but Dan starts to feel resentment for letting her control him. Overtime he starts to distance himself from Karen and, unless some honest communication occurs between the two of them, distance will continue to grow in their marriage.
After reading this article, my hope is that you will be motivated to find the strength, the courage and the confidence in yourself to relinquish control and give your spouse freedom over his or her thoughts, actions, feelings, beliefs. Focus on you, be the living testimony to your spouse and for sure you will inspire change that comes from the heart and not from control.
God is the only one who can control us and even Him chooses not to control us. He gave us free will and the freedom to make choices. We constantly make choices; good choices, evil choices. When we end up making good choices, meaning choosing God over the Evil One, that’s when God knows we truly love him. We were not controlled, manipulated, coerced into choosing Him, but we chose Him of our own free will and with a open heart and that is a everlasting, secure, loving relationship.
Note. This article has been inspired by the amazing book Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
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