Its a cliché, but I think there are two kinds of people. Those for whom a sense of being in control is something that comes and goes as seasons, events and circumstances change, and they are OK with that, and then there are those for whom the need to stay in control is pretty much everything.
I have met more than a few people who are really afraid of not being in control. And I mean really, really afraid. The kind of afraid that invades every area of their lives and underpins all of their interactions and decisions. But it doesn’t feel like fear, and that is the secret of its devastation. There is an internal justification that makes it seem normal and right. A sense that it’s normal to be totally in control.
These are not corporate “gods” or massively influential people that I am talking about. Some are, but usually those people have chosen control as a way of achieving personal goals. Their choice is conscious and deliberate. But there are also the you’s and me’s of this world… the colleagues, the guy behind the coffee machine, the bus driver, the electrician, the priest, the doctor.
Some people are content to find their place in the world in the context of others. It’s not always a bad thing – children are in this position until they are adults. Some adults are in this position by economic necessity, or social standing, or for a season while they find their feet again. Some choose careers where this can be the default norm, e.g. the hospitality industries. It can, however also have a darker rationale. It also be the result of emotional, physical, or other abuse. An overbearing parent, or a completely passive parent. And some are forced there by other people whose lives are centred on having control.
Every single one of us has a world where we are centre-stage, the main actor, the protagonist and the hero. And everyone else is a bit player on that stage. Their role, in our eyes, is a supporting act to OUR role.
And every one of us, has to face the fact that that other world, where SOMEONE ELSE is the main player, and centre stage, is on a collision course with OUR world, where WE are centre stage. The solution, for many people, is to find a way to force one world into submission. Control.
What is this about, you might ask?
Marriage being the most obvious joining of two separate worlds, this is probably a good place to start. A healthy marriage is a place where both people are equally important. But let’s break that down a bit. What does that mean?
It’s not a situation where, for example, we men decide to treat our wife’s priorities as important. That implies subtly that we have set our priorities up against hers, and have magnanimously and benevolently decided that for a while, she can come first. What a guy! Who wouldn’t want to be married to that kind of guy, right? Ummm… not so fast…
What THAT means, is that we men are still in control. It’s US who decided that, and US who allowed that. And, by implication, US who can call “time” on it and revert to the situation where it’s all about US again. And vice versa. If she decides that our priorities can come first, then exactly the same situation exists but in reverse. What a gal! Who wouldn’t want to be married to her, right?
You can probably guess I am not buying into that as the best way. I have been thinking whether or not there might be a better way, and I have decided, counter-intuitively, that true equality is not about sharing power, and sharing control. It is about giving up control. Completely.
True equality is where I completely let go of my priorities, and goals, and ambitions, and choose to take up her priorities as my own (Not “as if they are my own” – as my own). (Of course, it is only true equality if she does the same thing – but it has to be voluntary on both sides. It can’t be a tug of war, a game of “I will if you will”. If we wait for the other person to go first, nobody will.)
Basically it means that we are abdicating the throne of our lives in favour of the one we love. And so is she. At the same time. But it has to start somewhere…
My own priorities are gone. Dust in the wind. Except that she has remembered them, and has made them HER own.
It’s about trust.
It’s about honesty.
Its about vulnerability.
Its about hope.
Unsullied, vulnerable, hope. The deep belief that this other person will honour us and will keep on honouring us, even when they are needing something from us and are tempted to stop giving and demand it from us.
And her priorities are gone. Dust in the wind. And it’s about her faith, that I will honour her and keep on honouring her, even when I am in need and I am tempted to call out in fear for my needs to be met.
And so we get to a place where she is centre stage in my world, and I love the view from the front row seats. And I am centre stage in hers, and she loves the view. It’s not the same as a guest appearance in each other’s spotlight. A brief sharing, or a feature performance by a visiting artist. It’s the real deal.
I remember a question that stopped an entire evening and blew apart a social event completely. I think some alcohol had something to do with the level of honesty, but it was a humdinger! A wealthy CEO was asked if he was happily married, and his garrulous answer was basically “Yes”, giving many many reasons about how his life was great because of everything he had and how his world was perfect. The brave soul then asked the same man if he thought that his wife would also say that she was happily married as well. He couldn’t answer. He had no idea what to say.
My goal is to find a place where my fulfilling marriage is my wife’s fulfilling marriage. I can only find that place by letting go completely and redefining my world as one in which she is fulfilled. Not “also fulfilled” – just “fulfilled”. The “also” is up to her. Completely.