Editor’s Note: We have promised some articles from Ladies of the West, and here we present our first one. Our good friend, Erika Andersen, shares valuable insight about marriage relationships, from the female perspective. Of course, we mean a Western Female Perspective. This is an honest, gritty, powerful look at how she came to understand how marriage should work. Both men and women will benefit from carefully considering her story and what she has to say. For the record, Erika describes herself as “Wife, mother, employed part-time in R&D, and makes great sandwiches.” We approve.
Karl applauded sarcastically as I lay crumpled on the floor. He was propped up in his bed, half-naked, slightly hung over, and not in the slightest moved by my performance.
He’d been out all night with friends, and I was annoyed that he hadn’t caved in to my pleading to spend the evening with me. I’d stewed about it all night and all the next morning. I’d waited until I knew he’d be awake so I could go over to his apartment and confront him. I had no idea what I was going to say. I figured once he saw how upset I was, he’d apologize, ask for forgiveness, and find some way to make it up to me.
I was taken aback when no apology was forthcoming. I decided to play the “concern” card. No sale. Scrambling for my next move, I finally flung myself back against the wall and slid down until I landed on the floor, hands over my face, groaning pitifully, certain that such an emotional display would get some kind of reaction.
It got a reaction all right, but not the one I’d hoped for. Karl slow-clapped. I peeked through my fingers and saw his expressionless face. He saw through my act. He knew it was a manipulation. It was humiliating, and yet it was precisely the reaction I’d wanted from him, even if I wasn’t conscious of it.
Karl is now my husband of fifteen years, but we had only been dating a month when I’d given him this dramatic performance. (“Dramatic performance” is code for “shit test,” in case that wasn’t obvious.) I didn’t yet know him well, but I had a strong feeling that here was a man I could trust to protect me.
Could I also trust him to protect our future children? I asked Karl what he would do if I got pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. He said he’d tie me to a chair for nine months, and once the baby was born, he would throw me out and raise his child by himself. No discussion. No concessions about women’s bodies, women’s choices.
I wanted to marry him on the spot.
Karl proposed two months later, and we were married six months after that. As compatible as we were in many ways, our marriage was rocky from the start, because I still hadn’t got it into my head that he would not be moved by female manipulation. At least, not the destructive kind—he was pretty malleable after a sandwich, a back rub, and some lovin’.
There were outside factors—one of my parents died shortly after Karl and I got married, and my new job was miserably stressful—but these didn’t change the nature of my marriage. I saw with my own eyes that positive behavior was far more fruitful in getting what I wanted, which was a loving, attentive husband, and yet I was still resorting to the usual manipulative tricks that had worked on other men. None of it worked on Karl. He wanted to have hobbies, and he wanted to go out with his friends. It was entirely reasonable, but I resisted, because I felt the need to try to control him. He kept his hobbies and he went out with his friends. The more I fussed, the longer he’d stay out. In the past, other men had given in to manipulation, and I had come to despise them for it. My husband, however, was resisting, but our marriage was still failing.
The more unhappy and unpleasant I got, the more distant Karl became. It was as though he’d gone back to being a single man, and was living his life without me. I wanted him back. Out of desperation, I mumbled something about divorce, thinking that might snap him into line. Instead, he gave me a cold look, and said he’d call a lawyer in the morning. I was devastated. I didn’t want a divorce, but I didn’t want to go on like this either.
It took some intervention by my sister in-law to help me realize that it was my own bad behavior that was destroying my marriage. Needing some time to think, I’d gone up north to visit her and my brother, and had the opportunity to observe their daily life together. What I saw was a solid, Christian marriage between two calm and happy people. I wanted to know their secret. She sat me down, prayed with me, and then gave me two books. One was The Power of a Praying Wife, by Stormie Omartian. The other was a manual instructing wives on how to surrender control to their husbands. She told me to read these if I wanted to save my marriage.
The provocative copy on the surrender book was intriguing. Surrender. There was something about the word that was exciting, almost titillating. I read the book in two days. It made me realize that what my husband needed was for me to place my full trust in him, to surrender control. The book promised marital peace if I would just let go. So that’s what I did.
When I let go of trying to have control over my husband, a miracle happened. I got the loving, attentive man I wanted. And we both got the sense of peace we needed, because we were both finally carrying out our God-given roles—the husband as the leader and the wife as the helper. It was difficult to accept, but I was the one who had been failing. My husband had been carrying out his duties as a leader all along. I thank God for Karl’s strength and resilience, because they forced me to confront how immature and out of control I was. His strength allowed me to grow in my capacity as a wife, and I am much happier because of it.
Years ago, when we were preparing to sleep-train our small child, I read Dr. Ferber’s book and came across a piece of wisdom that applies as much to husbands and wives as it does to parents and children. Ferber, arming parents with the resolve they need to stay the course, warns that parents must not give in to their children’s demands, no matter how egregiously or desperately they behave. He says it is imperative that parents win the struggle, because the alternative—giving in and losing—is actually terrifying to children. Knowing this made it much easier to stick to our plan. Not only was it not hurting our child for us to stand our ground, it was in her best interest.
Husbands, you must win the struggle with your wives for the same reason. Women are instinctively repulsed by weakness, because weakness is terrifying. No amount of blather about equality can overcome the reality that women are the physically weaker sex and that we crave masculine security. We all know it whether we admit it or not. And, as unflattering as it sounds, we need your strength to help tame the she-beast. If you cannot muster the strength to win the struggle for your own peace of mind, then do it for your wife’s.
And, wives, stop struggling with your husbands. Let go. Trust me, you’ll be happier. And any time you feel like you’re not getting what you want, don’t say a word. Just make him a sandwich, rub his back, and give him some lovin’.