As a child, there were certain things I did that my family still tease me about to this day. Such as when we were opening our presents together on Christmas Day, I would insist that we all took turns so we could watch the reactions of each person opening their gifts. Or when we would go shopping, I always wanted to be the one pushing the trolley and carrying the bags of food in from the car when we arrived home (cue the ‘Julie loves food’ jokes). Or when I would share a joke, I would tell my family when to laugh. Or when we were watching tv, I would always want to be the one holding the controls.
Looking back now, I know that being in control gave me a sense of security.
Fast-forward to around 15 years later when our baby girl was celebrating her first Christmas, one of her gifts from my brother just so happened to be *drum roll* her very own toy tv control! I had to laugh…
Marriage has a way of exposing the very core of who you are. Back when you were single, there wasn’t a need for you to be accountable to anyone but yourself. Your life choices were entirely your own, and even when they were impacting you negatively you didn’t have to worry about there being a lasting effect on anyone else. But when you get married, that reality flips on its head. Now you have someone who you are entirely accountable to, and your life choices will affect your spouse for better or for worse.
To make things even more complex, we bring all of that baggage from our childhood and the choices we made during both periods of singleness and past relationships straight into the marriage with us. We are no longer free to bury the hurt and trauma and act like everything is okay, as this person we have tied ourselves to is there with us when we wake up and when we go to sleep. There isn’t much room to hide, and even when we do the truth will always come out eventually.
It wasn’t until I got married that I recognised my issues with control, which led to my decision to try and explore where that came from. As a child, my home life was very unstable. My parent’s marriage was far from happy, and this spiralled until they chose to get a divorce. When things were at their worst, I remember how overbearing my dad was with his need for control. I had zero control over my childhood, and I certainly didn’t have any control over my parent’s marriage. This meant that I was swept along in experiencing all of these intense emotions and feelings that I didn’t know how to express, so I would just bottle everything inside.
From the period between when I was old enough to make decisions freely for myself to when I got married, just as I mentioned before, I didn’t need to be held accountable as my life choices were my own entirely. This is why it was a wake up call when my husband pretty much became a mirror, and I was able to see the areas that I needed to work on personally for the sake of our marriage.
This has and continues to be a challenge, as being in control has been a comfort for me and a way of coping as a result of my childhood. Those memories that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post were just my childish way of grabbing control as and when I could get it, to feel reassured that I did have a say after all. I just wanted to be heard but couldn’t find the words, which is why it was comforting when others would do as I asked. At least I knew they were hearing me…
I know that my journey is far from over in uprooting certain habits of thinking that I’ve carried since my childhood, but I know that I’m improving because I’m far more conscious of these issues that previously affected me on a subconscious level.
Up until recently, I was a strong believer that I was responsible for my husband and that God would hold me accountable for the way I treat him. This isn’t entirely untrue, but it was this thinking that led to moments where I would jump in and start fighting a fire in my marriage that hadn’t even started yet. After all, I believed that I was responsible for Liam and the last thing that I wanted was for him to do something that would hurt our chances of a happy marriage.
With the help of professional counselling, I’ve discovered how freeing it is to be able to leave the responsibility of my spouse’s actions right with him. For a long time, chasing behind and trying to fix any issues for him left little room for me to stop and work on myself too. That’s not to say that we are no longer accountable to each other, but it means that I am no longer afraid of him making the wrong choice. Just like me, he is human, and if either of us fall then we need to find the strength within us to get back up. One of us can’t carry the other until the day we die. We need to be able to take responsibility for ourselves, and that includes the good and the bad decisions. If we are going to grow in our marriages, then it needs to come from a place of intentionality. One spouse can’t be the change for the other. They can encourage change, but if the other person isn’t willing then there’s not a lot that you can do to move forward.
“Simply Blessed – Finding Joy in the Little Things” shares the following truths:
“Control is a big thing for most women (especially). We can easily slip into the trap of trying to control everything. Because of past hurts, we can go through life trying to control everything as a way of protecting ourselves. We attempt to micromanage, direct, and sway those in our lives.
“The need to control can cause a sense of panic when we are faced with something we can’t control. This is an unhealthy place to be. If the need to be controlling is controlling you, it is time to make a change. God can help you, but He needs you to be willing to let go.”
If you also find that you have a desire to be in control, then it’s probably a good time for you to take a look at where that comes from and consider how it may be affecting your marriage. Like me, you may now have an awareness of this, or maybe reading this has triggered something that you would like to understand better. The questions below are a good place to start, but it is worth considering seeing a professional if you feel like this is a significant issue, as they are often rooted in some form of trauma.
Ultimately, a healthy marriage is about balance. You are both a team. One person should not be suffocating the other, and both should feel like their voices matter and are clearly being heard by each other. There are so many life situations that will come your way where you won’t be in control, and if you have a tendency to think like me, this can be a nightmare to deal with! But the more you can accept this reality, the more you can learn to be okay and even feel a sense of peace when you are no longer in control. Being in quarantine because of COVID-19 right now is a great example of this, where people the world over have been thrown into an unprecedented situation where they’ve had to stay in lockdown. If this isn’t proof that life is unpredictable then I don’t know what is!
The more you learn to lose control, the more you will learn to gain a greater sense of peace regardless of your circumstances…
Sit down with your spouse and discuss the ways that you feel controlling behaviours might be impacting your relationship right now. The following questions are a good place to start:
- Do you feel like you are heard in our marriage?
- Are there areas of our marriage where you feel that one of us has too much control?
- Are there areas in our marriage where you would like to have more control?
- What can we do to try and develop a greater balance between us?
- Saying these things out loud can help to turn the tide on an issue that may have been rotting away in the background, simply because neither of you could find the words or the moment to deal with it. The first step is to acknowledge the problem, then you can look at ways to work together more effectively as a couple.