I am heading back home to Sun City West for the fall and winter. Although I love the cooler weather in Pinetop during the hot months, I miss my friends and other amenities (like my office) at home. I’m ready to go back.
I do have a very heavy travel schedule beginning the end of September through mid-November and I’d appreciate your prayers for my health and stamina. Lots of speaking engagements and travel and although I love it, it does wear me out too.
Addison (my puppy) is going to the vet and getting fixed today. We gave her a bath yesterday. She shrinks to half her size when wet. So cute and she smells much better.
Question: I’m confused. My husband is a well-respected man in our church and community. He doesn’t call me names or curse at me but he thinks he knows best about everything and he believes he should control absolutely everything as the head of the house. I have no say in our finances, what I can buy, how I decorate the house or even what groceries to purchase each week. He tells me what clothes I should wear and when I resist, he says that if I loved him, I’d want to please him in the way I dress.
I’ve told him I want to be free to make my own choices, but he tells me God has called him to be the head over me. When I disagree or refuse to listen to him he tells me I am being unsubmissive and disrespectful and that I must not love him.
I feel like I’m being slowly smothered and I can’t breathe. I wanted to go to work and he said I can’t because I am needed at home even though our children are in school all day long. If I do not have his meals cooked the way he wants when he wants, he withdraws, sulks and won’t talk to me.
There are times when I feel so angry I blow up and say terrible things. I feel bad for getting angry and sometimes I wonder if I’m not the abusive person because of what I say when I get upset. I find myself sneaking things behind his back and I know that’s wrong. Bottom line is I want to leave him but I’m afraid God will punish me if I do. Is it me? Am I being rebellious and ungrateful or is there something more wrong here?
Answer: Although a person may not be able to articulate exactly what’s wrong, one of the ways you know that you are in an unhealthy environment is that you regularly feel sick. You say your spirit is being crushed and you cannot thrive in the smothering environment that you live in. Like a plant that needs fresh air and sunshine, you’re slowly shriveling up and dying inside.
From what you describe, although your husband isn’t outwardly verbally abusive, his domineering and controlling behaviors are slowly suffocating the person God made you to be. They keep you afraid of speaking up or making choices for yourself and as a result, you are functioning more like a child, rather than a mature woman. This is not healthy. This is also not what God intended for you or for your marriage.
God did not give husbands the authority to demand their own way all the time and call that Biblical headship. God calls that behavior selfishness. Click To Tweet
Biblical headship, as described by Jesus, involves sacrificial servanthood. As the head, your husband gets to initiate that kind of selfless service toward you. To learn more on the whole issue of Biblical headship and submission issues watch my quick nugget video on the subject here.
However, as you indicate, your response to his attempts to control you have been to either cave into his demands and allow yourself to be coerced into doing it his way, or to have a temper tantrum and/or sneak what you want behind his back. Either way, you are not only being treated as a child, but you’re responding like one; either a complaint child or rebellious child. If you want to change this destructive pattern in your marriage, change must begin with you.
I outline how to make these changes in detail in my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship but here are some crucial first steps.
First, it’s imperative that you stop and ask yourself why you’ve permitted yourself to be treated like a child instead of an adult woman throughout your marriage? Ask yourself what is going on in you that makes you unable to tolerate both your husband’s disapproval and his withdrawal which he uses to manipulate you into doing what he wants? If you want to make a significant change and become healthy, you’ll have to grow to be able to tolerate his disapproval and withdrawal, at least for a season while you stop accommodating his every demand.
Second, you need to face whatever fears you have that keep you from learning to speak up for yourself in a calm, firm, adult way. You have an unhealthy pattern of putting up with inappropriate behavior until you can’t stand it anymore and then you blow up. After that, you feel ashamed and guilty so you go back to putting up with it until you can’t bear to. Now you want to run away and leave the relationship.
But I’d encourage you to do your own work before making a decision about your marriage. Otherwise, this problem of being controlled and manipulated by strong others will continue to rear its ugly head in other relationships.
It is God’s will for you to grow and mature into the woman he calls you to be, not who your husband calls you to be. God wants you to function as an adult woman, not a passive, fearful child. Gaining strength and courage is something he wants to give you. Pray and ask him for his wisdom to have a crucial and assertively calm conversation with your spouse.
Third, your husband believes certain lies that hinder his ability to allow you to function independently of him. I’m not sure of all of them but here are a five that I’ve discerned in your question:
Lie # 1: If someone says she loves you, she should always want to please you, do what you want her to, and make you happy.
Lie # 2: If you want to do something on your own, that means you don’t respect me to know what’s best for you or us as a family.
Lie #3: God has given a husband total decision-making power in a family and over their wives. (You can see more about this on my blog: God my Husband Always Get The Final Say)
Lie # 4: When my wife disagrees or doesn’t want to do what I want her to do, that means she doesn’t love me or love God enough to submit to my leadership.
Lie # 5: A wife’s sole purpose is to revolve herself around the needs and interests of her family. If she wants anything independent of those things, she is not loving her family or loving God. We should be enough for her.
Your husband may mean well but because of his own internal lies, he’s blind to the truth. When you assert yourself it will not only make him angry, it will be painful to him because in his mind he will interpret your actions to mean that you either don’t love him or don’t love God enough to obey (because of the lies he believes).
In an attempt to identify and break this pattern, you can verbally address the lie your husband believes within your conversations with him. Now it may not do him any good (If he’s firmly committed to his lie), but it will help you stay clear-headed. In addition, you must learn how to stay strong and not cave in when he starts to sulk or withdraw or disapprove of your newfound strength and decision making power.
Here are a couple of sample ways you might say things:
“I believe you mean well and you are trying to do what you think is best for me and our family but I’m a grown-up woman and need to make my own choices. If I choose an outfit for myself, it’s not because I don’t love you (identifying the lie), but I want to wear clothes that make me feel comfortable and attractive and I think I can best decide how I feel in certain clothes.”
Or when he withdraws and sulks because you haven’t done something he wanted you to do, you might say something like this:
“I know you’re disappointed that I’ve decided to take that part-time job but I need some outside stimulation and I am bored at home all day. I know you think that the household chores will suffer but I think that I can still cover the basics with working these hours. The kids can help out more and I think I will feel happier as a person. I’d like you to respect my decision, even if you disagree.”
This change will feel very awkward and scary to both of you at first. He won’t like your newfound strength and independence and you will feel uncomfortable asserting yourself without using your anger as a shield.
But I promise you that as you stick with being respectful yet assertive in what you need for yourself, this will quickly clarify for you whether or not your husband is willing to adjust his behavior or his thinking.
When you refuse to give in to his sulking and just go about your business, then it no longer works for him to do it. He will probably move into one of two new behaviors. He will either escalate into more oppressive and abusive behavior to regain control over you, or he will adapt to the changes you are making in your relationship. If he adapts then you have started a new foundation of mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom to be yourself. If he escalates into greater control and/or abusive behaviors, then you will have greater clarity to know your relationship is emotionally abusive and may need to consult with some experts on abuse for your safety and your own well-being.
These changes will be hard for you to make without support, so I encourage you to continue with this community and consider getting a coach or counselor to help you get stronger and healthier.
Friends, when you realized that you are being controlled or manipulated through someone’s emotional withdrawal or spiritual one-up-man-ship, how have you gained the strength to respond firmly and set healthy boundaries in a godly way?