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"Don't Tell Me What to Do!"

"Our need to micro-manage each other was driving us apart."

Do you, Steve, take this woman, and do you, Julie, take this man, to be your lawfully wedded spouse, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in constant reminders and helpful suggestions, in specific details, step-by-step instructions, and redundant directions, as long as you both shall live?"

Those weren't our wedding vows—but they should have been.

This became apparent a few weeks into our marriage. An afternoon bike ride turned ugly when Steve had the nerve to correct my technique—as if I didn't know how to ride a bike.

I was pedaling along, daydreaming about my wonderful husband, sure that at any moment he'd pull off the path and sneak a kiss. My lips were practically puckered with anticipation when he said, "You need to shift down."

"What?" I asked, not sure I heard him correctly.

"You're in too high a gear for this hill," he panted. "Shift down a couple."

I bristled with indignation. "I know about gear shifting; I'm not an idiot. And don't tell me what to do."

We didn't speak for the rest of the bike ride.

Later, after we apologized—and he offered to do the dinner dishes—I walked into the kitchen and stared in shock.

"Steve, that won't work," I told him as I walked to the dishwasher and began to undo what he'd done. "The plates go on this rack, the saucers go here, and if you don't turn the silverware this way, they won't get clean. Oh, and did you remember to spray the sponge with anti-bacterial soap?"

In the following weeks it wasn't uncommon for one of us to say things such as: "How did I ever get my driver's license?"; "I can't believe I survived in this world for 33 years without you"; "You apparently think Computers for Dummies was written with me in mind"; "Remind me not to talk so I won't say the wrong thing." And our insecurities grew.

Finally, one evening we went out to eat with some friends. I was three-quarters into my salad when Steve, who knew I was trying to lose weight, grabbed the plate and said loud enough for the surrounding tables to hear, "Honey, don't you think you've had enough?" Feeling all eyes upon my beet-red face, I answered sweetly, "Yes, definitely! How nice of you to remind me to save room for dessert. I think I'll have that triple brownie deluxe sundae."

"We need to talk," I told him when we returned home. "It hurts when you criticize the way I do things."

"Well, what about the constant advice you pile on?" he said. "I feel inadequate when you tell me your way is better. Sometimes it seems as if I can't do anything right."

There it finally was—out in the open: our need for control had gotten out of control.

We decided to take some serious steps to change. And that meant a lot of tongue-biting when we'd see the other doing something "wrong."

I'd cringe as I'd watch him load the dishwasher the wrong way—but I wasn't allowed to interfere. And Steve discovered it was better for him just to leave the room, rather than be tempted to look over my shoulder and correct my efforts.

That's when something amazing happened: I found the dishes still got clean. And Steve discovered I could handle projects without him.

"Okay, I admit it," I told Steve one day. "There's more than just my way to do something."

As we've granted more trust and permission to fail, our confidence in each other and our abilities has grown. We've learned to respect each other's choices.

While we still occasionally catch each other in the micro-managing act, we make light of it, with a wink and a smile, knowing that we really do love each other.

And now, it's time for me to step aside—my husband is waiting to proofread my writing for any mistakes.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Criticism; Marriage; Respect
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2005
Posted September 12, 2008

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