If you haven’t noticed, we cannot make anyone do anything. We cannot make others love us, like us, treat us lovingly or change their behavior.
Now before you get discouraged, I’m not advocating you slip into black and white thinking where you have to settle for all or nothing. It is futile to attempt to obtain all that you want, and potently discouraging to believe you can’t have any of the changes you want in your relationships.
Consider a recent exchange between Darin and Kali, a couple who came to see me for a Marriage Intensive. Darin is a 34-year-old man who owns his insurance agency, and is neatly dressed and articulate. Kali is also 34 and works with Darin in the business. I listened as they bickered with one another.
“You always want things to be your way,” Kali said hotly. “If things don’t go your way, your not happy. It seems like you run our home the way you run the business.”
“Not true,” Darin countered. “I let a lot of things go. You don’t know how often I concede to you. It may seem like I demand my own way, but there are a lot of times I don’t.”
“You don’t know how often I fear coming to you,” Kali continued, “and the girls in the office are afraid of you as well.”
“Well,” he continued, “there is a way I want things to run. They should be a little afraid of me. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
I turned to Darin.
“Darin,” I said. “Can you hear what your wife is trying to say to you?”
“Yeah,” he countered defensively. “That they don’t want to do things the way I want them done, the way they have to be done.”
“Did you also hear that people are afraid to approach you? I’m not sure that’s the way you want to lead.”
At this point, Kali noticeably became sad.
“I’d really like to feel like I have a voice with you,” she said, “both at the office and at home. I want you to value what I have to say. It would be great if you would even seek out my opinion.”
“Yes, I can understand that,” Darin said, obviously softening. “I want things done a certain way, but to pressure everyone to conform is not what I want. I do value you, Kali and will show that to you in the days ahead.”
“So, let’s make a new agreement about how decisions will occur in this relationship.”
With that, we set up some guidelines on giving up control and making decisions in a collaborative manner. I encouraged them to choose which issues were really important to struggle over and which were best left alone.
1. We cannot control another person.
It simply doesn’t work, and attempts to control another are always fraught with difficulties, including resistance to our ideas. Attempts to coerce another to do things the way you want them done will leave you feeling frustrated and the other feeling dismissed.
2. Share your feelings and preferences.
You can respectfully ask another person to do what you would like. If you ask gently and kindly, chances are pretty good that they will want to cooperate. Be aware of the anxiety you feel that can drive controlling behavior.
3. Give others a voice.
Listen to what they want and prefer. Consider their feelings and concerns. Seek to understand what others think and believe. Be gently curious about their point of view.
4. Cultivate an attitude of humility.
When feeling tense and tempted to shift into a confrontation mode, stop and consider whether you have an attitude of humility.
Scripture has a lot to say about humility and cooperation. Consider these words of the Apostle Paul:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:1-5)
5. Choose your battles carefully.
Actually, don’t battle at all. Collaborate, understanding what is important to your spouse and asking them to understand what is important to you. With this attitude, confrontations dissipate and connection grows.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.