This journey is hard. Harder than I could ever imagine. And yet – God says He’s with me the whole way and I have His unlimited strength to pull from when I think I can’t go on any longer. So why does this trigger control issues for me (and others)?
I think the answer lies in our own baggage, not the baggage of our husbands. If I’m honest, I look back at our courting-days and realize that I saw something in my husband that met my own needs and nurtured my own wounds, just as he saw similar things in me. To borrow a line from Sleepless in Seattle, “…when you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious, subconsciously. So what we think of as love is just two neuroses knowing that they are a perfect match.” My wounding from growing up in a dysfunctional home saw (in him) safety from the type of pain I was used to.
When my husband’s brokenness came to light and we started dealing with it (or not!), my natural response was to control. Control him, control me, control us.
We lead tables at a marriage ministry at our church, and one of the things we talk about is forgiveness and reconciliation. Not just how to forgive or what reconciliation looks like, but what fake-reconciliation looks like. We call it “The Veneer of Reconciliation.” Veneer, if you’re familiar with furniture, is a thin overlay of real wood over particle board, MDF, etc. It looks like wood, but is very different than real wood. The actual “wood” is only millimeters thick, not true to the core. So when my husband and I “reconciled” in the “veneer of reconciliation”-way, it looked like this:
Him: [confession] I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.
Me: [feeling puked upon and saying this because I knew it was expected] I accept your apology.
Him: [feeling clean] Thanks. Now… let’s move on!
Me: [doubtful, fearful] Ummm…
Him: I said I was sorry! LET’S MOVE ON!
Me: [fearful, unable to move on so quickly, needing to control to make sure it doesn’t happen again.]
Now back to control: why was this a natural response to dealing with my husband’s sexual brokenness? Some of that response could have something to do with the type of reconciliation we were dealing with. To be completely honest, we were never taught how to truly reconcile. I was taught to accept an apology as genuine when it was delivered, whether or not it accompanied remorse, compassion, behavioural changes, etc. My husband wasn’t taught to apologize at all and had no concept of making behavioural changes to back up the feelings of remorse. And when you mix elements of addiction in to this mess… well, control is the natural response.
For me, it ended up being two different tracks of control. The first track was self-control in the form of perfectionism. If I was the best wife and woman I could possibly be, he wouldn’t feel the need to act out, right? If I kept the house as spotless as it could be, he wouldn’t feel the urge to self-medicate when he came home after a long day at work, because his castle would be his haven, right? Sadly, this is reinforced by popular Christian books on how to be a submissive wife – and it puts the burden on the woman to control her husband’s actions through her presentation of herself and the home (and children, if applicable). It’s a wicked burden to bear and it doesn’t change anything in terms of hearts or motivations.
The second track of control (when the first one failed, as it always did), was to control my husband. If I could force the issue of transparency (what I ultimately needed to heal) and force him to face his demons, then I would be safe. Right? This looked like having him do an online study for sexual purity. It looked like reading his emails, checking the internet history, knowing his passwords, and not allowing him any space to move without me knowing it.
If that sounds stifling or exhausting, it was. On both counts. But it was the only way I knew to continue on this path of “we’re getting better.”
What I didn’t know then is that in a real case of reconciliation, the offending spouse adds humility and an ability to wait and create trust in to the apology. This gives the hurt spouse time to assimilate the information, consider it, attend to the wound it creates, and then slowly choose to trust again as the offending spouses does what s/he says s/he will do and drops his/her defenses. Thankfully, this is where we landed in ’09 (the time of my husband’s last big stumble). I didn’t feel the need to control him and his actions, or to control me and my actions. He gave me space to process, added humility and transparency in to his response, and we were truly able to move on, together.
So what does “not controlling” look like practically? It’s me, holding my husband loosely. I have to trust that the Lord will show me what I need to know when I need to know it (and He does!). I have to trust that I personally cannot make any lasting changes in my husband, but that the Holy Spirit can. It means that I must trust that God’s plan for us as a couple is good – not our definition of good, but His definition of good. And that includes holiness, looking more like Him than me, and carrying me through the hard times and rough spots all with the purpose of His glory in mind. I’m so glad I’ve stopped trying to control our situation – God is so much better at it than I am and now I’m free to be me. .