Do you need to let go of control in your marriage?

A big thank you to Shannon Popkin for her guest blog this week as I finish up edits on my latest devotional, Find Hope!

Guest Blog by Shannon Popkin

Back when I had two kids in diapers, a friend mentioned one day that she had seen my husband at a coffee shop.

“Really?” I asked. “When?”

“It was yesterday,” she said. “Early evening . . . maybe 5:30 pm?”

I thought it was strange, but shrugged it off. Then another friend saw him there around the same time. And that’s when I discovered my husband’s daily coffee shop habit. I was not pleased.

5:30 pm was the time, each night, that everything was coming unglued. There were babies crying, things on the stove burning, and nerves unraveling. The thought of him serenely sipping his dark roast brew in my moments of compounding stress was infuriating! How dare he?

But when I expressed my shock and hurt, he explained that it wasn’t personal. He wasn’t trying to be insensitive; he just needed a few minutes to decompress after work, so he had built these stops at the coffee shop into his routine. When he walked in the door, he wanted to be ready to serve his family. His desire was to succeed, not only at work, but also at home.

The way he saw it, he wasn’t stopping at the coffee shop out of selfishness; he was actually doing it for us.  

Trying to Control Him

Well, it didn’t feel like he was doing it for us. And it did feel quite personal! How was he being anything but insensitive? I was stressed out! The kids were crying! Could he not see that I needed him home at the earliest possible moment?

My husband’s coffee shop routine was only one of dozens of things I tried to get control of in our early years of marriage. I just kept telling myself, He’s doing it wrong. I thought it was up to me to make things turn out right for our little family.

So when he did something I didn’t approve of out in public, I would tease him, roll my eyes, or gather consensus from friends and family about the ridiculousness of his choice. Behind closed doors, however, I pulled out all the stops. I would nag, belittle, rant, withdraw, or erupt. I kept digging in and insisting on my way, and he kept prying free of my white knuckles and pulling away. The more controlling I got, the more miserable we all became—myself included.

Now, this might come as a surprise, but at that point, I had no idea that I had control issues. If I had seen my book, Control Girl,on a shelf, I might have bought it for several other people I knew, but not myself. I truly thought that he was the problem. If he would just cave in already and let me mold him into the man I needed him to be, I was quite sure everything would fall into a peaceful cadence.

How wrong I was.

A Respect Experiment

One of the tools God used to start opening my eyes to the real problem was Shaunti’s book For Women Only. I remember reading the section on “Respecting his Judgment” right before one of our date nights and decided to give it a try.

That night, when he turned the wrong way to go to the mall, I let it go. When he passed up a perfectly good parking space, I said nothing. When he decided to do the shopping return before getting dinner, I refrained from challenging him. After two hours of respectful interaction, he looked across the table into my eyes, and said, “This has been the best date! I love you so much.”

His sweet response broke my heart. How long had I been depriving this good and loving man of the respect he craved from his wife? What had I been missing out on?

It wasn’t news to me that God wants wives to respect their husbands (Eph. 5:33). It was news to me that my attempts to control everything from the socks he wore to which parking space he chose were—to him—signs of my disrespect. Shaunti says, “Often, we women will naturally say ‘I love you’ but at the same time want to control things. Unfortunately, men tend to interpret this as disrespect and distrust.” This is exactly what was happening in my marriage.

But What If He Really is Doing it Wrong?

Now, it’s one thing if he wants to park the car somewhere I wouldn’t. It’s another if he wants to leave me stranded with crying babes while he sips coffee at the coffee shop. What should a wife do when she doesn’t see her husband’s behavior as respectable? Does the verse, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband,” (Eph. 5:33) still apply?

Thankfully, there’s some help a couple of paragraphs back in Ephesians 5, where several ideas are clustered together: “And do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit . . .  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:18, 21).

Like being filled with alcohol, when I’m filled with God’s Spirit, I’m under His influence. I do and say things I ordinarily wouldn’t. Things like giving my husband respect, even when I don’t think he deserves it—out of reverence for Christ. And when my husband is under the Spirit’s influence, he does things he wouldn’t ordinarily, as well. Things like showing me love and kindness, even when I’m not being particularly loveable.

As God has opened my eyes to the ugliness of my controlling, disrespectful behavior, more than anything He has shown me that I’m the one who’s been wrong in those ways. And as I cave into God’s Spirit, rather than my desire for control, I see God changing both me and my marriage.

Different Than Me

Twenty-six years in, I still don’t understand his need to decompress after work. But in my quest to become a respectful, understanding wife, it’s been helpful to consider the ways we’re different—not just in an opposites-attract sort of way, but also in a different-by-design way.

Have you ever noticed that God made Adam out of the ground, then gave him the assignment of working the ground? But in forming Eve, God reached—not for another handful of dirt, but for one of Adam’s ribs. She was made from Adam and for Adam (Gen. 2:20, 22). Even her body—which was able to receive her husband and nurture life—tells the story of her relational design. Once again, when God passes out consequences after their sin, He highlights Adam’s and Eve’s differences: He will now toil in his work, but she will suffer pain in her relationships.

Am I saying that men aren’t relational or women don’t work? Not at all. But understanding that we’ve been formed differently is helpful to me, as a wife who’s learning to understand. No wonder I take things more personally than he does. No wonder the things I crave and grieve over in our relationship makes no sense to him. And no wonder his relationship to his work—including his coffee shop decompression stops—remains a mystery to me. We’re different. By design.

The truth is, I know my husband really does love me. There’s a good chance yours loves you, as well. When we choose control in marriage, we communicate disrespect and push our husbands away. But when we respectfully make room for differences and try to understand, we allow our husbands the pleasure of being successful—not just at work, but at home with us as well.

From the platform, page, and podcast mic, Shannon Popkin invites women to drink deeply of God’s story, and live like it’s true. Shannon’s books include Comparison Girl, andControl Girl, andshe hosts the “Live Like It’s True” podcast. Shannon has been featured on FamilyLife Today, Revive Our Hearts, and Proverbs 31.

Shannon is happy to be sharing life with Ken, who makes her laugh every day. Together, they have the joy of watching their three young-adult kids become the amazing people God created them to be. 

And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at nowens@shaunti.com.

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