This is part two of a three-part series from, "Finding the Hero in Your Husband, Revisited.”*
A wife’s greatest dilemma is that you want your husband to lead, but you want him to lead the way you tell him to.
There is a tension between desperately wanting to build the hero in your husband and being too proud or afraid to trust him. And so we end up using our power to overpower our husbands.
In part one of this series, I shared why we tend to take over in relationships. Now, let’s talk about how we take over.
Take-charge wives use different strategies to keep the upper hand of power in the relationship. Here are a few of them:
In some marriages, there is no question who runs the relationship. Within twenty minutes of casual observation, you can tell that this wife just doesn’t have a lot of respect for her husband. Even if she loves him, she doesn’t trust him. And we aren’t just talking about big trust issues. It flows over into how they spend money, where they go on vacation, and how they discipline the kids. He takes orders from her.
This can happen even if you are married to a strong man. Your husband might be admired and successful outside of your home, but you have staked your claim as the one in charge at home. Joe, a respected business owner, obediently lays down his “man card” when he walks through the door. He may have a team of assistants and sales reps that jump at his every command at the office, but at home, he’s the one taking the orders. “You leave a mess everywhere you go! I’m not your personal maid.”
When a woman becomes dominant, it isn’t a conscious decision. Usually, she’s just reacting to passivity or weakness in her husband. Sometimes it’s how she has learned to cope with the chaos of her childhood. She only feels safe if she’s in charge. Maybe that’s the only way she’s ever seen marriage done. Her dad was weak and the mom was the boss.
The Queen of Sarcasm
Humor is a gift from God. I’m blessed to be married to a very funny husband who makes me laugh almost every day. Sarcastic or biting humor is a different animal. I’ve met women who joke, “Sarcasm is my spiritual gift.” Probably not.
Instead of building her husband’s confidence, a wife can easily use sarcastic or critical words to destroy her husband’s capacity to lead. What wife hasn’t flippantly said things that undermine a man’s masculinity?
“Nice work Einstein! A three-year-old could have figured that out.”
“Yes, that’s right… who’s bringing in more money?”
“Are you always so dull, or is today a special occasion?
“I don’t have the energy to like you today.”
One person described sarcasm as punching you in the face with words. Even though you may “just be joking,” sarcasm is usually a backhanded way of expressing frustration and anger. But rather than address the issue, it cuts down your husband.
Have you ever walked into a house that looked absolutely perfect? Not a spot on the floor, nothing out of place, and even the dog sitting obediently in his cage? Unless the house is for sale, chances are someone living there is a bit of a control freak. Life is messy. Socks get lost, couches get stained, dust settles wherever it wants, and garbage smells like garbage. It takes a lot of constant effort to fight the messiness of a home.
The same can be said for marriage. A union between two people is messy. Not every conflict can be solved. Sometimes you’re cranky or hungry or tired or depressed. Communication doesn’t always bridge the gap between you.
Just like dealing with the mess of a home, some women approach the mess of marriage with control. Messes = anxiety. Your goal is to get rid of the anxiety by solving problems now and your way. Even better, you short-circuit the problem by controlling all of the variables that might create tension, micromanaging to make sure things are done right.
No, the kids can’t stay at your parents’ house because they might feed them the wrong thing. No, the Rosses can’t come over for dinner because you feel uncomfortable around the husband. We’re not going on vacation in Mexico because my friend told me she got sick when she went. Don’t pour the grape juice that way; it might spill on the carpet. If the dishes are to get cleaned, they have to be loaded in the dishwasher this way!
If this sounds familiar, you are likely controlling your way out of intimacy.
Codependency is a pop psychology term that has been well-known since the recovery movement in the 1980s. Essentially, it means that you need someone to need you. Although you may not be crazy about someone’s behavior, their weakness makes you feel validated and even irreplaceable. Without realizing it, some women reinforce their husband’s immaturity and weaknesses because this has become the “glue” that keeps them together.
A rescuer is drawn to a spouse who needs a lot of help. This establishes a sense of security because your husband couldn’t function without you. He needs you to be strong, and you need him to be weak.
There are situations in marriage when one person genuinely needs more help than the other. Mental or physical illness. Going through a season of grief or intense pressure. In family psychology, we refer to this as “the sick role.” Everyone needs to be in the sick role sometimes. A rescuer may place her husband in the sick role even when he doesn’t need to be there. Because of her own need to be the strong one in the relationship, the rescuer won’t invite her husband to grow into his strength. Even if he has genuine limitations, he also has abilities and assets that he can contribute to his wife and to their relationship.
Jedi Mind Tricks
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word manipulate as “to change by artful or unfair means as to serve one’s purpose.” I too have engaged in this type of guerilla warfare. When I manipulate, I don’t want to openly challenge Mike, but I also don’t trust him. And so rather than go through the hard work of conflict, I use subtle strategies to get him to do what I want. I use my power to suppress rather than to empower him.
I now have built-in accountability as a wife because my husband has read this book and heard me teach these principles countless times. He’s never gone so far as to point me to a page number or quote me when I use my power to take over, but he’s definitely more aware of my strategies. One evening, we were hashing out some disagreement. In the middle of my sentence, Mike put up a finger and said, “Wait a minute. Before you say another word, I need to do something.” He then slowly raised his hands in front of his face, just like an electric car window going up. “My manipulator shield is now activated. Go ahead and finish what you were saying.” Another time he told me, “Don’t try those Jedi mind tricks on me!”
My Jedi mind tricks are when I cross the line from influencing Mike to stacking the deck against him. For example, earlier in our marriage I would sometimes ask my dad to talk to Mike about something we disagreed about. I wouldn’t tell Mike about this, but I’d give my dad talking points on what I thought would help Mike see things my way. Magically, he would then agree with me because Mike really respected my dad. While it’s great that my dad could be a mentor for Mike, I manipulated situations by using the back door rather than just letting their relationship unfold.
Wives manipulate when we don’t want to seem overbearing or bossy, but we still want to be in control by pulling strings behind the scenes to get our way. For example, Karen knows Josh doesn’t want a new suit, but she thinks he looks dumpy in his old one. So Karen buys a suit without Josh knowing. When he protests, she says, “Oh, I’m sorry. This was a final sale and I can’t take it back! I really thought you’d like it.”
The Backseat Driver
While we lived in Colorado, we often took advantage of the beautiful mountains. I’m the only skier in the family. Mike and the boys all prefer snowboarding. One day on the slopes, we all went up the lifts together and Mike told me, “You pick the first run.” So I picked a blue run that had some moguls. When we got to the bottom of the run, Mike said, “Why did you pick that one? The moguls were terrible for snowboarding!” Trust me. I let Mike pick the runs the rest of the day. This experience gave me empathy for why husbands choose not to step up.
Who wants to make a decision knowing that it will come back to haunt him if things go wrong? Life is filled with tough decisions and judgment calls. Sometimes the right choice is impossible to discern, but hindsight is 20/20.
Even worse than being criticized for a decision is when you hear the words, “I told you so.” If a husband knows that his wife will “let him have it” if his decision is wrong, he will naturally approach leadership with more fear. “I’ll let her decide and face the chance of being wrong.” Or he might choose to do what his wife wants so that she can never blame him for making the wrong decision.
There are times in a marriage when saying or even implying, “I told you so” seems absolutely necessary. You may feel vindicated when your instincts turned out to be right. Sometimes even a gloating glance is enough to communicate, “If only you would have listened to me!”
Whenever those four words (I told you so!) scream to be spoken, they are in reality totally unnecessary. A husband knows when his wife was right. To put it under his nose can result in only two things: he will become passive or more desperate to prove that he is in charge. Neither outcome builds your marriage.
When you are right but resist the temptation to tell him so, your encouragement will go a long way in building your husband’s trust in you. Instead of reminding him that you were right, show grace. He will feel less threatened and more willing to value your input in the future. By refusing to manipulate, you might give up an immediate opportunity to gain the upper hand, but you move closer to becoming a truly influential wife.
The tactics I’ve described in this chapter of "Finding the Hero in your Husband" may work in managing the chaos of your marriage, but they also undermine the chance for intimacy. Are you ready to consider a different approach? That's where we're headed in the third and final post in this series. For now, take a few minutes and reflect on these questions.
Here are a few way you can engage with us and learn more about embracing your power as a woman:
This excerpt is from Dr. Juli Slattery’s book, "Finding the Hero in Your Husband, Revisited.” Reprinted with permission from Health Communications, Inc.
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