I am a recovering controlling husband. My wife, Jan, and I have dealt with power and control issues throughout our 28 years of marriage, but things reached a new low during my years working as a psychologist in the federal prison system. I began to bring the darkness of the prison environment home with me, and my wife and sons were the closest targets for my anger and frustration.
Then one day when I came home from the prison, I heard my younger son demanding that my wife make him something to eat. Not five minutes later, my older son came down the stairs and demanded Jan take him to a basketball practice. I started to lecture them both: “Don’t talk to your mother that way! You better start showing her some respect.
For many years, I had manipulated and controlled Jan to get what I wanted. For instance, when I would ask Jan where she wanted to go to dinner, I was more interested in starting a conversation about having barbecue than truly wanting to know where she would like to go. When I asked her if I could watch the football game on Sunday afternoon, it was more of a statement than a question.
This issue came down to selflessness versus selfishness. I had to learn to prioritize my wife over myself. As Christian husbands, we’re all called to a higher standard that includes laying down our lives for our wives (see Ephesians 5:25). We have to learn to make our wife our priority.
There is hope: Identifying power and control issues in your marriage is the first big step in transformation. God didn’t remove my selfish nature that day I saw myself in my sons’ behavior. I still have to make a conscious decision, every day, to think of Jan’s needs before my own.
Even if you don’t believe you are a controlling guy, choose to let your wife share her heart with you. Stay silent . . . listen until she is completely finished—not just until you get distracted and start thinking about what you want to say in response to her comments. Encourage your wife to tell you when she feels you are not listening. Ask her to hold you accountable and not hide her feelings because she’s afraid of your response.
You can make a commitment today to stop fighting for what you want. Then you and your wife can feel more like teammates than adversaries; and love, intimacy and trust can flourish.