I was asked a question the other day: 'How can you tell the difference between good control in a relationship and control that’s got out of hand and become abusive?'
Our director, Bekah, shares her response to that question, what she wished she'd added, and whether there's ever such a thing as 'good control' in an intimate relationship.
It was a question I hadn’t seen coming; I wasn’t ready. I answered that I don’t think control is ever OK, that there are areas in our relationships where one person sometimes takes the lead because it leans into their strengths. Sometimes either partner, at different times, may choose to agree with the other's ideas or suggestions but that's not control. Control doesn’t allow for choice. You don’t submit to control, you bend to it because control, by definition, implies force.
It wasn’t a bad answer, but I wish I’d also said this: Good control is self-control. Control, in itself, isn’t one of the gifts of the Spirit. It’s not there in the list you find in Galatians 5:22-23. The gift of the Spirit is self-control, not other-control. The more you follow Jesus and allow His Spirit to fill you, the less you worry about controlling others, and the more you gain control of yourself.
The desire for control is one of the greatest flaws of humankind; since the fall we have had this desire for power over people, to be somehow better or more powerful. It’s one of the greatest deceits and, frankly, conceits that we fall for. We want to be like God and, just like Adam and Eve, we go about it in the wrong way.
'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.'
— Galatians 5:22-23 —
We were made in the image of God to reflect the incredible reality of who He is, yet too often we try to compete, to be a god ourselves. As Christians, we describe God in many ways - and one of those is omnipotent. It means all-powerful. As humans, created in God’s image, but not God ourselves, we are potent. We have incredible power and an ability to influence the world around us but, and here’s the critical thing, we are not omnipotent. We’re not all-powerful.
But we wish we were.
We wish we could control events around us, even though a year like 2020 has shown us more than any year that we have even less control than we thought.
We wish we could control the people around us. We tell ourselves that it’s for their own good, that if they would just do things the way we think they should, they’d be more successful, more likeable, more like us.
But, we weren’t created to use our power over people. We weren’t created to control other people, just ourselves.
I heard a parent say once that they wished they could control their children more. If I’m honest, I’ve had that thought myself on a number of particularly fraught occasions, but really? That’s not what I want - if my children are completely under my control how will I ever be able to leave the house again? They wouldn’t be able to cope without me, they’d never go on to live as responsible, independent, happy adults who are a blessing to the world they live in. My job as their parent is to help them cultivate self-control and do myself out of a job.
It’s the same in all our relationships. We need to rewire our brain when it comes to control. Lessen the scope of it and embrace the reality that we can and should only control ourselves. We were made in the image of a God who, ultimately, gave up Himself on the cross, for the sake of us all. It might feel challenging to relinquish power, but there’s beauty in sacrificial love, in giving up our power. It’s liberating actually and if we truly embrace it, it will transform our relationships.
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