In the back of my mind, or maybe the forefront, when I was writing this I was thinking about how I could explain the changes that we’re going through to a good friend of mine. It’s an honest, but hopefully not overwhelming, look at where we’ve been, why we felt changes were necessary and the direction we’ve chosen to head. Why I decided to end this post the way I did, I’m not sure. It just felt right. ; )
For much of our marriage there’s been a power struggle between Michael and I. We’re both intelligent people, capable of handling decisions and tasks from the little details to the big picture. When we’ve both had the same goal and course of action in mind we’ve worked well together. But, when we’ve had differences of opinion things haven’t always gone smoothly. Oh yes, sometimes we’d compromise. But there have been other times when neither one of us were willing to budge, times when we were both prepared to stand our ground. And these have been the times when we’ve made each other miserable.
Obviously we can both be quite stubborn. And, truth be told, we both enjoy pushing one another’s buttons a bit, prancing gaily up to that line in the sand, pausing, smiling, sometimes sheepishly tip toeing over it, other times pole vaulting over and running on ahead. But, sometimes something that started off as playful would get out of hand. And sometimes it was never really playful to begin with. There were times when it would become hurtful, a real detriment to our relationship. (btw, lest anyone think otherwise, I’m speaking about hurtful emotionally, not physical harm)
There was a time in our lives when we worked for the same company. During this time we worked together on some projects. I remember the varying reactions this would bring from others. Some people thought it was nice that we got to work toward a common goal and spend so much time together. Other people wondered how on earth we could stand to spend so much time together, much less having to actually work as a team. In reality, we worked quite well together…on the job that is…but that wasn’t always the case at home. I remember wondering why.
The answer was simple really, though it wasn’t readily apparent to me at the time. At work there was a clear delineation of power. There was someone in charge and a team backing that person up. In this case, Michael was the one in charge and I was part of the team. I and the rest of the team weren’t any less important than Michael. The task at hand was bigger than one person could handle and he wasn’t going to get far without our cooperation. But, the goal also wouldn’t have been achieved by the team alone. There wouldn’t have been a clear direction or even a clear goal without his leadership.
The team, myself included, made suggestions and brought ideas to the table. We could be counted on to get things done, to take his plan and run with it. But, even with some of our ideas incorporated, it was still his plan. The ultimate direction was determined by him and if there was a conflict, we deferred to him. Can you imagine, in a business scenario such as this, if there was no clear leader? What if everyone thought they were in charge? Everyone would put their own ideas and desires for the project ahead of everyone else’s. And that would lead to chaos. For a goal to be achieved someone had to relinquish control and someone had to step up and take the lead.
Notice that I said someone had to relinquish control, not that someone needed to seize control. According to the dictionary, to relinquish something is to give over possession or control of, to voluntarily cease to keep or claim, to give something up. Seizing something is much different. To seize something is to possess or take by force. And you can’t take something by force that someone has given up voluntarily.
So what does any of this have to do with marriage? Well, as I already said, there was a longstanding power struggle between Michael and myself. You know the game follow the leader? We were both happy to play…but we both wanted to be the leader. It doesn’t work well in a children’s game or in a business scenario. Why would it work in a marriage? Exactly…it doesn’t.
Most of us were brought up being told that men and women are equal. And I believe that’s true. But, what does that mean exactly? Does the fact that we’re equal mean that we’re exactly the same? Obviously not. Surely I don’t need to point out all the differences between men and women for anyone to understand that. So, what does it mean then? One definition the dictionary gives of the word equal is, of the same value. That certainly applies. We have the same value, the same worth. Yes, we have different strengths and weaknesses, different likes and dislikes. We look differently, we act differently. But, at the core, our value is the same. Men aren’t worth any more than women and neither are women worth more than men. We’re equal.
Ok, back to how all of this relates to marriage. Michael and I have tried occupying the same position in our marriage. We’ve both wanted to be in the lead, the one in charge. So, we’ve decided to throw out that model of marriage and try something different. Why not try playing follow the leader with only one of us as the leader? I know, novel concept, right? And while I’m certainly capable of filling that role, the truth of the matter is, that’s not what I want and it’s not what Michael wants either. Neither one of us would be happy. When too much falls on my shoulders, when I have to make all the decisions, when I bear the responsibility for everything, it gets to be too much. I end up stressed out and whether I mean to or not, I end up taking it out on others. And one thing that I’ve discovered is that too much stress is unhealthy, not only emotionally, but physically as well. Somehow it’s different for Michael. It’s not that he doesn’t get stressed, because he does. But, I think it’s actually more stressful for him to feel that he doesn’t have control over something than it is for him to have the responsibility fall on his shoulders.
I’ve often said that I like to be able to go into something with some planning, don’t just throw me into the deep end of the pool, I may panic and drown (ok, this may be a bad example as I swim quite well, but you get what I’m saying). Michael is a much more go with the flow sort of person. Flying by the seat of his pants comes pretty naturally (and really he’d rather fly than swim anyway, not that he’s actually sprouted wings mind you, lol). Together we make a good team, but at some point the time comes when someone has to step up and lead and someone has to step back and follow.
We’ve decided that in our marriage the title of leader, head honcho, the go to guy, goes to Michael. I’ve relinquished control to him. While I may try to take it back at times, truthfully I don’t really want it. I have a say, a voice, input. I’m not micromanaged. I think for myself and there are plenty of decisions that I make without his input. But, I look to him for guidance and leadership. And, if there’s a conflict and it’s not something we can find a middle ground on, and neither side is intrinsically right or wrong, then I defer to him. This doesn’t mean that he always gets his way. It just means that there is a resolution to the conflict, instead of it becoming like a festering wound in our marriage. I’m in no way worth any less than him. And I’m certainly not a doormat. I’m his equal. I know it and he knows it. After 18 years of marriage he’s well aware of the things I handle better than he does. And I’m well aware of the things that he’s better at handling than I am.
It’s really only been a short time since we decided to make this change in the structure of our marriage, in the very nature of how we relate to one another. I won’t lie; it’s been challenging at times, sometimes quite challenging. And we have a long way to go. However, we’ve already seen improvements in our relationship. As Michael has stepped up I’ve seen his confidence grow. He’s more sure of himself and yet he’s also more concerned about my feelings and is quicker to seek out my opinion or advice. Mind you, he doesn’t always take it, but it’s obvious that he values my input. As for me, I’m less stressed. I’m calmer and more content. There is a freedom in giving up control, in not feeling that need to assert yourself in every situation, in being able to trust someone else enough to place decisions in their hands. As I confided in Michael, overall I’m just plain happier. And guess what? He is too.
So, me, the girl who never was much for following anything really, the one who bucked authority, the one who never quite fit into any box, is now in what I guess you could call a traditional marriage. Life is certainly ironic sometimes, isn’t it? God has a good sense of humor. And he has a way of bringing us around to seeing things his way too. Father knows best? Yes, when that father is God. And this image of marriage seems to be what he had in mind for us too. Just remember not to leave him out of the equation. While Michael is the head of our household he still answers to the one in authority above us all, as do I.
Father God, full of grace and truth, you are a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. We seek your face and your will in our lives. Without you, we’re nothing. Our fervent desire is to love, honor and respect one another so that our marriage ultimately honors you. As two we are no stronger than we were as one, unless you are at the center of our relationship and our lives. We ask for wisdom and strength, comfort and guidance on our journey. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.