I’ll never forget the sound of Tonya sobbing uncontrollably over the
telephone as we talked about the many ways she was driving her husband (and
herself!) nuts. She would intercept every magazine that came in the mail and
cut out every picture of any woman whom she perceived as even possibly
“prettier” than her. When I asked her why she felt that need, at first her
reply was, “Isn’t it my responsibility to keep my husband from lusting after
“No, Tonya, it’s not your responsibility. You can’t control anyone but yourself, and your husband can’t be controlled by anyone other than himself. You realize that, right?” I inquired.
“I guess, but I still feel as if I have to control his environment. When we’re at dinner parties, if he leaves the table to go to the bathroom, I go to the bathroom too, just in case there’s some other woman along the way that wants to try to talk to him,” she confessed.
“How does your husband feel about you following him to the bathroom?” I asked.
Tonya admitted that it probably drives him crazy, and that the fact she would even feel the need to do such a thing drove her crazy too. We talked quite a while longer about the great lengths she would go to in order to “control his environment.” Basically, this guy didn’t make a move without his wife knowing about it. And both were panicked over what it might mean if any of her suspicions were ever confirmed.
“Have you ever heard of a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ Tonya?” I asked, going on to explain that sometimes we create the very behavior in someone else that we are trying so desperately to control, simply by being so controlling. When someone gets the message loud and clear, “I don’t trust you. I can’t trust you!” then guess what? They begin to believe it themselves. They are brainwashed by their own spouse into thinking, “I’m untrustworthy.” So then they simply act in accordance with what they believe about themselves. We can create the very unstable relationship that we fear most—all because of our own insecurities!
Truth be told, I’ve talked with numerous “Tonyas” in my life-coaching practice, as well as many “Toms” (the male version). Their tactics have included:
• Forcing their spouses to go to counseling in spite of their unwillingness to do so, sometimes to deal with issues that only exist in their own heads.
• Following their cars to see if they go where they said they were going after work.
• Stalking Facebook pages, text messages, e-mails, etc.
• Privately asking their spouses’ coworkers to comment on his/her office behavior.
• Enlisting a friend to “spy” on them at the fitness center, or worse, to even pretend to flirt with them simply to see how they’d respond.
My best advice to anyone who feels compelled to go to such great lengths to “follow up” on a spouse’s faithfulness or “set a trap” to catch him or her in the act—professional help is definitely needed, but you may be more in need of it than your spouse! And if you indeed discover that there is an issue that warrants your concern, I hope you’ll both get counseling rather than just expecting your spouse to deal with his or her issue alone. It takes two to tango in any dysfunctional relationship dance.
Marlene has experienced both extremes – being externally motivated by a controlling husband, and being internally motivated thanks to a trusting husband. She shares these words of warning and encouragement:
“I’ve travelled for business on a regular basis for the last twelve years. The first five of those years I was in a controlling, manipulative marriage where I was expected to phone at a certain time each day, my suitcase was scrutinized to see what I was packing and if I had a bathing suit with me. I would do laps in the hotel’s pool, but the interpretation was that I was trolling for men. I was grilled on who I met with, whether they were male or female, what I wore . . . you get the idea.
“The behavior certainly didn’t motivate me to honor his demands and, in fact, did become a self-fulfilling prophecy, eventually leading me into an extra-marital affair. Don’t misunderstand—I’m not saying my husband’s actions were responsible for my affair. Clearly that was a choice I made myself, out of low self-esteem and a need to find affirmation. I contrast those first five years with the past two years since I’ve remarried and I’m so grateful that my new husband gives me the benefit of the doubt. I’m highly motivated to let him know I arrived safely somewhere and to text him throughout the day to let him know how things are going. He trusts me completely and, as a result, I respond in kind and honor his trust. The responses the two different behaviors elicit are night and day. Everyone needs to understand that negative actions result in negative responses.”
Do you have this kind of unwavering trust in your marriage, or might there be some “self-fulfilling prophecies” in the making? If the latter is a truer statement, what do you think your own relational insecurities communicate to your mate—1) I have a high enough self-esteem to expect my spouse to be fully committed to me, or 2) I have such a low self-esteem that I automatically assume that no one would ever be faithful to someone like me? Your answer to that question will most likely reveal a lot more about yourself than it does about your spouse.
Before you let your own personal insecurities ooze out and ruin the very fibers of your relational rug, consider taking the high road. See if you’re able to make the following declarations to your spouse:
• I believe in you 100 percent and I trust you completely.
• Although you’re a fallible human being, I know your conscience will be your guide. I trust you have the Holy Spirit guiding you.
• I don’t feel the need to go behind your back to check up on you, and that feels really good.
• If I have any concerns about your marital faithfulness, I will ask you with complete confidence that you will be honest with me, regardless of what the answer may be.
• As we continue “putting all of our emotional eggs in each other’s baskets” from day to day, I have no doubt that you’ll treat my heart as carefully as I will treat yours.
Always remember that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and keep your personal insecurities in check as your own issues to deal with, rather than turning the tables and letting them evolve into relational poison. And as you put this kind of stock in your spouse’s character and integrity, I believe that it will yield a tremendous amount of compound interest! Your spouse will undoubtedly want to rise to the occasion and prove incredibly worthy of your trust.
God, please show me how to inspire rather than require
sexual integrity from my spouse such that I never create a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Help us trust one another completely, or at least trust the Holy Spirit inside one another. Help us to be as faithful to each other as You are to us.
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