A few months into dating, Richard gently suggested that he thought I might be a bit controlling and overprotective of my kids. He said this in a premarital counseling session and our counselor looked at me and said, “Do you have any thoughts about this, Beth?”
“Yes, I totally am controlling and overprotective of my kids.” (There were weekends over the past several years when I wasn’t sure they would be walking back into my house alive. So, yeah, CONTROL FREAK. What else ya got?)
Now, if my kids thought with hope and crossed fingers that Richard coming into my life – calm, laidback Richard – was going to influence me to the point that I would morph into a laidback Mom, well, they were sorely mistaken and completely let down.
Though Richard can practice being laidback in my presence, and gently mention that I might be a touch controlling, and calmly suggest I let things go, that is not going to change me. His calmness can absolutely help me become more calm – and already has – but it’s not going to change who I am at my core. I’m not going to, for instance, all of the sudden not care if my kids are safe when they’re driving on the interstate, stop caring if they make it to their destinations in one piece.
Richard has influence on me (as in suggestions, not as in authority) over things like my schedule and word choices in my blog posts. I have influence over, say, what movie we go to see or where to go to dinner. (In fact, I recently pointed out to him that I realized he hadn’t once in six months pulled the ‘I’m-in-charge-of-you’ card, to which he replied, without missing a beat, “I’m not in charge of you; we’re in charge.” Bam.)
With all that said, though, people do what people want to do. Richard can’t make me become something I’m not; I can’t make Richard do anything he doesn’t want to do. If either of us honestly believes that we are able to change each other’s fundamental how-we-were-created-by-God personalities, we are going to be walking uphill, hurting each other and frustrating ourselves, for a long time, with no real change.
Dr. John Gottman says this (and it’s FASCINATING), “Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind [trying to change who the other person is] – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.”
Now, it’s been interesting. Because I care about Richard’s opinion, about how my actions affect him and my children, I listen to him. I pointed out, first, that I was WAY MORE CONTROLLING five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, and that he is coming in to the game thinking I’m Ms. Wound-Tight, but if he only knew how far I’ve come, he’d actually be high-fiving me. I’m having to school him in, well, me. I’m controlling and overprotective now, yes. But, babe, I was a nightmare before. Let’s start by both of us being grateful you married the slightly-less-controlling version of me, shall we?
But secondly, I genuinely want to change. No, not change my personality. I can’t. I really do believe God wired me up in this particular way. However, I want to grow. And I don’t want to hurt my husband or my kids. So, I actually have taken a couple tangible steps in this specific area, as I want to be the healthiest version of myself possible.
But with all that said, I can’t change Richard and he can’t change me. I have nowhere near the influence on him that some might think and conversely I’m going to be who I am and make the decisions I make and I’ll have to live with my own consequences for how I treated God, myself and others.
I think sometimes we misunderstand oneness. Oneness does not mean I control Richard and he controls me. Oneness does not mean Richard and I agree on everything and all of our decisions are unanimous. And oneness definitely does not mean that at the end of time, when we stand before God, we’ll be holding hands with our spouses. Richard won’t be held accountable, for instance, for my parenting, no matter how much advice he gives me; just like, for example, I wouldn’t be held accountable for Richard’s work ethic or what-have-you, just because we’re married. This journey of ours in this life – though filled with other people, though as partners if married – is a lone journey, that ends with us before God on our own, sifting through our own lives and what we did with them.
I don’t believe, however, that our hands are completely tied. I believe there is a way we can be influential with our partners.
One, live out what you believe. If you believe your spouse should be picking up after himself, for instance, you had better be picking up after yourself. In other words, walk your talk before talking your talk.
Two, assess the true issue. Is it an annoyance, a personality difference, like Dr. Gottman says? Or is it a sin issue? Author Gary Thomas says, “Unless it’s sin…” you might want to work on yourself to let the issue go.
Three, if you feel compelled to address the issue, ask him if you can bring something up that you’ve noticed or that concerns you. Yes, ask him first. Don’t just lay into the poor guy. If he says no, then ask God to help you keep your mouth shut. If he says yes, proceed, with utter gentleness.
Four, share with him, clearly, what your issue is. Put it in a way that you would want to hear it. Say it once. Yep, once. Not a thousand million times. AlAnon says that one time is sharing, but anything more than once is nagging. Not only do we not want to be nagging women, I think we know that people tend to drown out our words if we’ve said them a bunch of times before.
Five, if he makes a change, great. Thank him and thank God, and be supportive. But if he doesn’t, you have done your part. So thankfully, this is where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit helps us pray for things when we don’t know what to pray for. The Spirit can change a heart when another person cannot. The Spirit can help us let something go into God’s hands. The Spirit can help us know what our role should be, if any, in this issue. The Spirit can help us stay quiet on a topic if silence is what is needed (and more often than not, silence is what is needed to make room for the Spirit to speak and be heard). And the Spirit is the soft grace that cushions us from hurting each other too deeply, helping us live with each other when it can be hard for two humans to share such intimate space.
The Spirit is the real Person of Influence. All others can try, but they will fail. So we pray, and ask the Spirit to move and soften and heal and grow each other, but then we lay down our pride that falsely tells us we know what’s best for someone else, because we don’t.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. -John 14:26
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