Are you fighting a power struggle in your marriage?

When I was a little girl, I promised myself I would never let a man have power over me. I saw several examples of marriages in which men had all of the power and women had none. It scared me.

I vowed as a young child that I would never let a man have control over me. I would never give my power away.

I once wrote about what our childhoods teach us about men:

We learn that men are not what they seem. They control women. They expect to be served. They lie. They cheat. They devalue women. They violate. They hurt.

The little girls who learn these lessons often grow into women who want to protect themselves and their power.

I grew from a very stubborn little girl who wanted to never have to depend on a man for anything into a wife who was afraid to let her husband have any power at all in their marriage.

Hanging on to my own power meant that I tried to control everything. Giving up control was terrifying. Surrendering anything to my husband felt like I was caving away and giving away my power and all my rights. And submission? No way.


I saw daily life in our marriage as an on-going power struggle—just like some of you may have experienced as well.

Do any of these things sound familiar?

  • You perceive simple requests as pressure. “Honey, can you pick up my dry cleaning for me?” gets a response of “Stop pressuring me!”
  • If your husband shares his feelings or introduces a new subject of conversation, you suspect that he is trying to manipulate you.
  • You often experience feelings of rage, fear, or emptiness when your husband tries to discuss your marriage with you.
  • The expressions “let go and let God” and “surrender” throw you into a panic.
  • When your husband makes an observations about a mistake that you made, you interpret his comments as a criticism of the core of who you are. He says, “Honey, do you think it’s okay that you flew off the handle when the kid spilled some juice? He’s just learning how to do things for himself.” You hear, “You’re a bad mom. Your feelings are wrong. You’re a control freak.”
  • Do you usually feel the need to have the last word?
  • Doing something that your husband wants you to do is seen as caving in. Cooking a food that your husband loves requires you to be sure it is accompanied by verbal and non-verbal messages that he doesn’t deserve it, or that it is a sacrifice for you to do.
  • You point out your husband’s weaknesses or inadequacies, perhaps refusing to let go of one of his past sins or even blaming him for your actions that have hurt him. You may even do this in front of other people because you know he won’t call you out on your behavior in public.
  • When your husband attempts to have a conversation with you about your control and power issues, you accuse him of attempting to turn you into a Stepford wife.
  • And sex, well, sex is the most powerful thing of all! You control your sex life, including frequency and activity options. If you find something he likes, you may even choose to withhold it in order to discourage him from developing any expectations. Fear of vulnerability prevents you from letting yourself fully enjoy sex.
  • Your need to stay in control alternates between two extremes: you either feel powerless and trapped, or you feel powerful and safe.

Every item on this list, sadly, is from my own marriage. As I look at these things, I realize how manipulative I was. Along with that realization comes an immediate defensiveness: I was trying to protect myself. I was terrified to let my husband in. I was afraid that giving in to my husband would lead to a total loss of self, even with things as minor as how I folded his underwear.

Still, I have to admit that although I had a reason for it, the effect was that I was manipulative.

I was trying to control everything in my life for fear of a loss of my power—and that included controlling my husband and our marriage.


Even once I was convicted of the need for me to change how I approached the sexual intimacy in our marriage, I tried to maintain control. I didn’t tell my husband what I was doing—because it might create expectations and make me feel trapped.

I knew myself well enough to realize that the moment he indicated an awareness of my efforts would feel like a crisis point for me: How will I respond to expectations? If I know he likes what I am doing, will I feel compelled to point out all the ways he doesn’t deserve it? Will I stop making an effort because it has become something he appreciates?

It was six months before Big Guy indicated that he could tell that something different was going on. He later told me that he’d suspected something earlier but didn’t want to say anything because he was afraid I would quit doing it. (He was right. I would have quit.)

My only hope was that by the time he noticed anything, I would have made enough of a habit that I could feel powerful in having made the changes rather than powerless in his expectations. Fortunately, that is exactly what happened.


Two years ago—almost three years after I began to work on sexual intimacy—I finally admitted that I had control and power issues.

I had always thought I was afraid of giving my power away to my husband. What I realized was that I was afraid of giving my power away to anyone—even to God. Or maybe especially to God.

That sounds silly. Of course, I knew that God has all the power, no matter what I did. I was resisting giving him something that wasn’t even mine to give to him.

The real problem was that I wouldn’t allow myself to accept that God has all the power in my life.

My resistance to God was at the root of my problems.

I had never allowed myself to fully trust God. How could I begin to trust my husband? How could I trust in our marriage?


Acknowledging my power and control issues was only the first step in addressing them.

I spent a lot of time in prayer asking God to help me let go of my need for power. Meanwhile, I tried to see power in the choices I could make:

  • I had power over a decision to surrender my will to God’s.
  • I could decide to choose loving my husband over controlling him.
  • I could remember to see my husband as a flawed and vulnerable child of God, no more or less than I am.

As I saw that I was not powerless in deciding how to act in my marriage, my desperation for control in my marriage began to lose its hold on me.

I still struggle with this. Most days I find myself wanting to control some aspect of our marriage.

And each day, I remind myself that I have the power to choose to surrender my will to God and to not try to control Big Guy.

Do you have power and control issues in your marriage?

No matter how hard you try, you can never really control another person—so what if you were to choose to stop trying to control your husband and marriage and instead try to exert control on yourself?

What if you were to stop fighting to hang on to power that really belongs to God?

Choose to change the things that are within your power.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Image credit|pippalou

Print Friendly

9 Thoughts on “Stop the Power Struggle

  1. I have watched this power struggle play out in my parents’ marriage. My mom wanted all the power after having been raised in a physically and emotionally abusive home, and after a while, my dad eventually gave it to her. Whether she meant to or not, she emasculated him.

    I grew up convinced I was strong (and I am) but that I didn’t need a man. And then I met my husband, and I wanted him. But the most attractive thing about him to me was when I got to know him, I thought, “Now here is someone I could follow. I want him to be in charge.” And the more I reflected on my parents’ marriage, the more I realized I didn’t want to be a controlling wife like my mom. Don’t get me wrong, I struggle with this everyday because that’s what was modeled to me, but there is nothing sexier than letting go of that and watching my husband grow and blossom into the man God is calling him to be, something my dad was never able to do. I want to “water” my husband’s growth; never stunt it.

    It’s hard to let go of that need to control, and I think that is part of the curse we women acutely feel, but when we work on controlling only ourselves, our families thrive.

    • Oh, I love the image of watering your husband’s growth! For a while, I thought of my role in my husband’s growth as mostly passive–just getting out of God’s way. What you describes is much more active. I’ve planted a lot of seeds, and now I have to think about whether I’m watering them as well as I can.

  2. IntimacySeeker on July 13, 2015 at 8:55 am said:

    Thank you, Chris. Once again, I see myself in much of your post, particularly the comments about feeling trapped. “you either feel powerless and trapped, or you feel powerful and safe”

    I’ve learned to see my need to control as assuming responsibilities that are not mine to assume, and I am getting better at identifying those I should take on, and those I should release.

    My perception of trust has also changed. I don’t trust that my husband will never hurt me; he is human and so am I–there will be hurts. But I DO trust his intentions to care for me, honor me, cherish me.

    I’ve also learned that what sometimes seems like him trying to control me is his way of providing for me. It is easy to take things the wrong way when we start out with a chip on our shoulder.

    Of course we do not have the power to control others, but we do have the power to bless (or tear down) our spouses. To me, submission is choosing to use our power in ways that bless our husbands.

  3. Fantastic post, Chris. As you experienced, power struggles and control issues are so often based in fear. Once you discover that you can really only control yourself, you realize that you are indeed a powerful person. Then you can choose to use your power, as IntimacySeeker said, to bless and serve instead of control.

    • The more I grow, the more I realize how much fear-based living I’ve done. Seeking and living in freedom with Christ is far more empowering than I could have imagined.

  4. sandi on July 13, 2015 at 8:28 pm said:

    Oh, my friend, you are brave and beautiful to share your story so candidly. I was there too and still struggle with the fear of being powerless sometimes.

    I agree that our power rests in embracing God’s truth.

    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

  5. Heavy heart on July 16, 2015 at 6:52 am said:

    I can relate to the lists. I’ve been encouraged by these posts, and how God works even in the small details. Thank you for making it clear and giving examples of our thought struggles. When I came to Christ I did not know all of the changes that were going to happen. I find myself daily coming to the cross in prayer. It is about control for daughters of Eve. But after almost a year of having confessed my faults in the marriage bed its faith strengthening. Did you find that you faith was strengthened as well? How about your husbands?

    • My faith was been completely transformed. The more I have continued to work on myself, the more I have realized that my core issues had far more to do with my relationship with God than my relationship with my husband. My prayer life is stronger, I feel God’s presence more tangibly than I ever have before, I spend more time in the Word, and I have been able to see my husband demonstrate Christian love more me. So yes, absolutely, my faith has been strengthened.

      I think my husband’s faith is stronger as well. It looks to me like it is, anyway. Perhaps his faith really is stronger. Or, perhaps her just feels safer in letting me see his faith than he used to.

Leave a Reply!

Post Navigation