How to Get Out of Control in Marriage

One of the consistent things I’ve noticed about myself (and others) is a strong need to feel like we are in control.  It doesn’t matter if it is our time, our diet, our weight, our habits, our health, our money, our future, our security, our spouse, our in-laws, our children, our career or our safety, we all have an internal drive to try to control the important things around us.

In my life I have many times worked hard to control my career.  Result?  Burnout, anger and failure.

I could say the same about trying to control my two daughters.  And my weight.  And my beloved wife.  And even the couples we’ve walked alongside of who have struggled in marriage.

And if I’m truthful, all of my attempts at controlling areas of my life have not worked.

But most of us are, even now, working hard to control some area of our life.  And we are optimistic that success is just around the corner.  But are we fooling ourselves?

Being in control comes with certain symptoms and behaviors.  Here are some I’ve noticed but there are many others.  Do any of these describe you?

  1. Most weeks I find myself stressed out about a situation, a relationship, a specific person or an organization.  But I’m not the problem, really.
  2. I regularly change my behaviors around certain people to meet their expectations.  I’m just trying to keep them happy.
  3. I love to “help” others by regularly encouraging them to make the changes that I think they really need to make, even though they don’t seem to feel the same concern.
  4. I like to be in charge of holidays, meals, packing, planning, driving, and schedules.  I’m just better at it than others and I let others know to not interfere.
  5. I’m a regular worrier to the point that others point it out to me.  But that’s just the way I am and I just care more about some things.
  6. I keep a mental list of people who are naughty.  It’s based on how well they are meeting my expectations.  Once they show they are changing the way I like, they can move to my “nice” list.
  7. I’m not a perfectionist, I just want things done the right way.  Which just happens to match my way of doing things.

The irony is that all of us, including Adam and Eve, love to be in control.  (What could go wrong if we eat from the Tree of Good and Evil?  After all it’s better if we are more knowledgeable just like God, right?)

But being someone, who needs to be in control, comes with a price to our joy and our relationships.  Even our relationship with God.

When I’m controlling, I do all of the above.  In fact I can see some of those items right now in my life.  But I have a lot of excuses.

I need to explain that I just care more and I’m trying to help others and that it is better this way.  But if I took a lie detector test, we would find the truth.  Much of this is really about my self-interest and my self-image which need regular feeding.

But surely there must be some good behind all of this effort we make to control parts of our lives, right?  Well, yes there is.

That good is that it helps us try and fail until we realize that God created us with limits.  We are limited by our time, knowledge, influence, and energy.

Those limits are typical of being a creature rather than the creator.  God doesn’t have those limits.  But from the beginning we’ve wanted to be “like God” and this is one way we do it.  And our enemy, Satan, is glad to keep promoting the lie to us that we can control the uncontrollable if we just keep trying.

So what do we replace our need for control with?  Are we just to quit trying and let things go?  Drop our standards?  Accept mediocrity?   No, there is God’s way.

And He wants us to admit our weaknesses and desires and trust Him in the things that are uncontrollable.  We do this by living each day like God is in control, not us.  That He knows what needs to be done and when and how.  And our weakness in this area can now glorify His work in us.  Plus, with all of the free time created by being less controlling, we can spend time focusing more on Him and learning His ways and timing.

So consider these ideas to limit our controlling behavior.

  • Confessing our weaknesses and pride behind our controlling behaviors
  • Acknowledging that we won’t always know the “why” but God does
  • Admitting our human limits in time, resources and understanding
  • Praying about our concerns, so that God can work better
  • Respecting other’s freedom of choice even when we differ
  • Avoiding the temptation to rescue others
  • Challenging our expectations of perfection and being “good enough”
  • Not treating others as projects
  • Guarding our hearts from being critical and condemning of others who don’t meet our expectations
  • Avoiding the false responsibility we often take on for others lives
  • Acknowledging there is not just one way to do things well
  • Being more humble in receiving good advice and counsel from those who love us

Jesus accepted the limits of his humanity and He found joy with his Father.  Let’s imitate Him.  And remember that God has many of his family struggling in this area.

Abraham tried to fix the problem of having no heir by taking a concubine.  Moses tried to be a deliverer of the Hebrews by killing the Egyptian.  Joseph’s brothers decided it was time for him to go.  David tried to go easy on Absalom.

Peter tried to impress the Jews who visited him in Antioch by pulling away from the gentile believers.  And we are the same.  So let’s take to heart God’s word about the dangers of believing we can control so much.

[Matthew 6:31-32 NLT] 31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.

[Luke 10:41-42 NLT] 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

[Luke 22:33-34 NLT] 33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” 34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

Here are some questions that Lou Ann and I will be discussing this week.  I hope they help you with finding more peace in your life.

  1. Where am I seeing myself trying to control the uncontrollable in my life?
  2. Where am I regularly critical of others who I don’t feel measure up?
  3. What are the costs I’m experiencing by letting my need to be in control get out-of-control?
  4. What do I need to say to God about this issue so I can find rest?

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