Article by: Kiera Durfee, Military Spouse
I, um, have a problem.
A product defect, if you will.
You see, tucked deep inside my beautiful, humorous, intelligent self…is a flaw.
Of course, I’m not completely without faults (I’d say suuuper close, though). Between you and me, I hate showering. I buy way too much fabric (I don’t sew). Olives disgust me. I never wash my floor. I still know all the words to Hanson’s MMMBop. And, when it comes to a feisty battle between me and cake, cake ALWAYS wins.
But this little problem? Well, it’s not something that you can return to a store or solve by bribing my daughter with a Popsicle. Instead, it’s a tiny ticking time bomb that packs a punch. A WALLOP. I should have, in all fairness, come with a warning sign: Danger-Highly Explosive!
I am a supergigantic control freak.
Now, generally, I have twisted many of my control freak tendencies into strengths. Instead of being bossy, I think I have fantastic leadership skills. I don’t see myself as always being right, I just think of better, more efficient ways to accomplish tasks. I’m not annoying, I’m, uh…FINE, I’m totally obnoxious.
But, there was one tendency I couldn’t swing positively. It was embarrassing. A part of my life where I was causing harm. Hurting.
I could not let my husband have complete control in any given situation.
It made me want to smack myself, too! But I couldn’t let it go. This wasn’t Frozen, baby.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We LOVE him (cue dreamy Disney love music). We need him, and he tries OH, so VERY hard to make things work and to be involved and to fix the sprinkler system and mow the lawn and paint the walls and grill our food and plant vegetable gardens and clean our bathrooms (except the shower). He’s great at games-wins every time (a-NNOY-ing!). He’s the BEST dad in the world. And we’re so proud of him. He is our everything.
But I couldn’t let him hold the reins. Take charge. Do things on his own. Be his own person. This time bomb? This was a problem. It was ticking. And it was only a matter of time before I blew. And each time he wanted to control the situation, the bomb (ME! Pick me!) neared its detonation.
I didn’t know how to defuse myself.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I couldn’t let him make the plans for the hike in the mountains because I thought that all parties would end up in different canyons. On different days.
TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.
I couldn’t send him to the grocery store with my whole list for dinner because I thought that he would come home with lighter fluid and grass seed instead of food (hey, it’s happened).
TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.
I thought that I was handier. I was smarter. I knew what was going on. I knew the best schedule for our kids. I knew how to caulk the tub. I knew how to make dinner. I knew that he needed to let the steaks MARINATE, not RUMINATE. I knew the best tools and the best carpet and the best restaurants and the right thing to do all-the-time-every-day-of-our-lives-blimey-I-know-everything-I’m-so-annoying-gah.
But he still wanted to, duh, be his own person, which I found completely frustrating. He wanted to be in charge of his life, his projects, his home, and he wanted to do things without an annoying spouse breathing poisonous, judgmental fire down his back. (So, I guess I can see his point.)
But I couldn’t let that happen and-BOOM-I always detonated. Debris flew everywhere. I disrupted the peace; the enemy was here. My words, my destructive, hurtful shrapnel, hit their target.
I had to fix him. I had to correct him. I was right. I WAS JUST TRYING TO DO MY JOB!
Because HOW could I LET HIM walk into a situation where he might fail? Where he might make a mistake? Didn’t he understand that I was PROTECTING him?
There it was.
The big neon lights in my face, flashing: “You’re an idiot.” The dunce cap. The walk of shame. I belonged in a warehouse for defective, non-returnable products. No manufacturer’s guarantee for me.
This was never about control. This was about shielding him from his (and my) mistakes by not allowing him to make any. Protecting him from failure. Trying to superhero my way into saving him. But my cape was choking us both.
I didn’t want to see him hurt.
I’d seen him devastated. I’d seen him broken, his heart shred by his own mistakes. By tragedy. By the loss of fellow soldiers. By grief.
I just wanted to save him from that.
But I wasn’t helping. I was hurting him. Beating him down. Scarring him with shrapnel. Blowing up his future. Our future.
I had to stop.
But, how do we stop? How can we remove the defects? How do we stop ticking and exploding and destroying everything we have worked for and built together?
Well, one option is to beat the uber-controlling tendencies out of our pretty little heads. Good luck with that.
The other, though, is to break down those brick walls of vulnerability and let our spouses into our circles of trust. To understand that this need to control is only a cover-up for prickles of fear that hold our emotional freedom hostage.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Allow your spouse to make mistakes. It’s okay. They will probably fail. And fall. Just like we do-CONSTANTLY. But the best thing about falling is that two choices arise: We can sit on the ground and cry over a skinned knee and a banged elbow, or we can stand up, brush ourselves off, and keep moving. Growing. Learning.
- Have faith. I struggled to have faith in what my husband did. To believe that he might very well know what he was doing. That he (gulpbigdeepbreath) might actually be right. But when I (finally) planted that seed of faith, I saw him work magic in our family. In our home. When I wasn’t trapping him with my controlling behavior, he flourished. He grew. He healed. And as I watched him progress, my seed of faith grew into a deep bond of trust.
- Identify strengths. It’s amazing how my husband and I can complement each other. He is phenomenal at DOING. And I’m a great planner. So, together, we go and do, each of us using our strengths to balance out our relationship. Find where your spouse excels and give him/her the opportunity to excel more often. By identifying those strengths, you will realize that your spouse has more than a little to give. S/he brings an entirely different dynamic to your relationship and situations. Use that dynamic to create a rich future.
- Give your spouse opportunities to be in charge. This is a hard one. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to say, “I’ll do it; I like my chicken cooked,” rather than “Why don’t you give it a shot?” But take one for the team, and let your spouse lead. Let them plan the hikes or pick up the groceries. And, instead of being critical, thank them for what they have done. It’s amazing how far a little gratitude goes. Build a working team together with your strengths and with opportunities to lead.
- Communicate. This is a biggie. The kicker. Do you, in all honesty, TALK with your spouse? Do you talk about your day, about your favorite sports teams, about the best semi-trashy television shows, about knocking one back and calling it a day? My husband and I realized that our communication was lacking. So we set up a time every day for us to sit down and spend twenty minutes with each other. Wait, talking for TWENTY MINUTES? EVERY DAY? I know it might feel like an eternity at times (hockey? BLAH), but you CAN communicate for 20 minutes. Of course this varies during TDYs, deployments, schools, etc., but when you do spend this time communicating, it will strengthen you. You will feel supported. You will feel like a team, a partnership. You have a tool to help you succeed.
It will take some time and a GREAT amount of work to manage the over-bearing, controlling tendencies. It did for me (although, surprisingly, I still have things to work on). But, one day, I didn’t hear the ticking anymore. I didn’t feel like I was going to explode. My need to control didn’t consume me.
I felt peace and freedom.
And, although his proverbial scars remain as a reminder of how I hurt him, we are picking up the pieces. We are rebuilding our relationship together. As partners.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/catspyjamasnz/6693789379/”>catspyjamasnz</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>