The Surrendered Wife - A Practical
Guide to Finding Intimacy, Passion and Peace With a
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"To fall in love is easy, even
to remain in it is not difficult; our human loneliness
is cause enough. But it is a hard quest worth making
to find a comrade through whose steady presence one
becomes steadily the person one desires to be."
- Anna Louise Strong
Why Would a Woman Surrender?
When I was newly married at 22, I had no idea I would
ever call myself a surrendered wife. At that time, I
would have been repulsed by the whole idea.
I did know that marriage was risky because I had watched
my parents go through a brutal divorce. Still, I was
hopeful that I could do better. I was amazed that my
husband, John, could love me as much as he did, and
part of me believed we could make our marriage work
simply because there was so much goodness in it to start
At first I treated him with respect and kindness because
I was so impressed with him. Then, as his imperfections
grew more familiar and glaring, I began correcting him
as a way of trying to help him improve. From my point
of view, if he would just be more ambitious at work,
more romantic at home and clean up after himself, everything
would be fine. I told him as much.
Needless to say, he didn't respond well to this. In
fact, the more I tried to control him, the more strained
things got. While my intentions were good, I was clearly
on the road to marital hell. The more he resisted, the
more I tried to control him, and the more frustrated
and irritable we both got. In no time I was exhausted
from trying to run my life and his. Even worse, I was
becoming estranged from the man who had formerly made
me so happy. Our marriage was in serious trouble and
it had only been four years since we'd taken our vows.
My loneliness was so acute I was willing to try anything
to cure it. I went to therapy, where I learned that
I often used control as a defense. I read John Gray's
Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, which gave
me some understanding of our differences. I talked to
other women to find out what worked in their marriages.
One friend told me she let her husband handle all of
the finances, and what a relief that was for her. Another
one told me she tried never to criticize her husband,
no matter how much he seemed to deserve it. I decided
I would experiment with doing things differently in
my marriage and hoped that it wasn't too late for us.
I desperately wanted to save the relationship, and I
also hoped to save my self-respect, which was fading
with each episode of anger and frustration I unleashed
Fortunately, the steps of surrendering helped me with
both marital tranquility and self-respect. Today I call
myself a surrendered wife because that's what's helped
me have the marriage I've always dreamed of. The same
thing will happen to you if you follow the principles
in this book.
None of us feels good about ourselves when we're nagging,
critical or controlling. I certainly didn't. The tone
of my voice alone would make me cringe with self-recrimination.
Through surrendering, you will find the courage to gradually
stop indulging in these unpleasant behaviors and replace
them with dignified ones.
You will also have more time and energy to focus on
what's most important to you. Whether your desire is
to have a more harmonious family, run a top corporation,
or both, you'll feel increasing pride as you realize
your goals faster than ever before. Surrendering has
a way of bringing out the best in us, both as individuals
and as wives, which is why it's so worth doing.
"Our thoughts, our words, and deeds are
the threads of the net which we throw around ourselves."
- Swami Vivekananda
The Return of the Man Who
There was no single moment when the surrendered light
bulb went off in my head. Instead, I changed little
by little. I experimented, first by keeping my mouth
shut, and sometimes even my eyes, when John drove. When
we arrived in one piece, I decided that I would always
trust him behind the wheel, no matter how strong my
urge to control.
Next, I stopped buying his clothes (yes, even his underwear),
even though I worried that he wouldn't buy any for himself.
(I was wrong.) I learned what not to do from making
painful mistakes, like criticizing the way he maintained
the cars, which made me feel like my mother when she
was cranky and caused him to watch TV for four straight
hours. I prayed for wisdom, and took more baby steps
towards approaching the relationship without control.
Slowly but surely, things started to change.
As I stopped bossing him around, giving him advice,
burying him in lists of chores to do, criticizing his
ideas and taking over every situation as if he couldn't
handle it, something magical happened. The union I dreamed
The man who wooed me was back.
We were intimate again. Instead of keeping a running
list of complaints about how childish and irresponsible
he was, I felt genuine gratitude and affection for John.
We were sharing our responsibilities without blame or
resentment. Instead of bickering all the time, we were
laughing together, holding hands, dancing in the kitchen
and enjoying an electrifying closeness that we hadn't
had for years.
For our ninth wedding anniversary, I changed my last
name to match my husband's. "Now that I know him
a little better, I figure I'll give it a shot,"
I joked to my friends. What I really meant was that
I wanted to be intimate with John in a way that I never
was before. I wanted to do something that symbolized
my tremendous respect for him, and to acknowledge outwardly
an inward shift. This was the natural development of
a path I had started some time ago without realizing
I certainly didn't change overnight. At first, I felt
uneasy when I held my tongue instead of expressing my
opinion about everything. Restraining myself from correcting
my husband felt like trying to write with my left hand.
Life had become awkward!
Surrendering was a gradual process that steadily reinforced
itself with positive results. Over time, I formed new
habits. When I found myself slipping back into my old
ways, I stopped to ask myself, "Which do I want
more: To have control of every situation or to have
an intimate marriage?"
Naturally, emotional connection, lack of tension, dignity,
having kindness and being able to relax always trumped
getting the chores done or having things my way all
the time. To remind myself of my new priorities, I adopted
the word "surrender" as my mantra, because
it was shorter and more to the point than saying, "stop
trying to control everything." I repeated "surrender"
to myself silently over and over again.
"Virtue herself is her own fairest reward."
- Silius Italicus
Becoming Your Best
Surrendering to your husband is not about returning
to the fifties or rebelling against feminism.
This book isn't about dumbing down or being rigid.
It's certainly not about subservience.
It's about following some basic principles that will
help you change your habits and attitudes to restore
intimacy to your marriage. It's about having a relationship
that brings out the best in both of you, and growing
together as spiritual beings. Surrendering is both gratifying
and terrifying, but the results - peace, joy, and feeling
good about yourself and your marriage - are proven.
The Basic Principles of a Surrendered Wife
are That She:
• Relinquishes inappropriate control of her
• Respects her husband's thinking
• Receives his gifts graciously and expresses
gratitude for him
• Expresses what she wants without trying to
• Relies on him to handle household finances
• Focuses on her own self-care and fulfillment
A Surrendered Wife is:
• Vulnerable where she used to be a nag
• Trusting where she used to be controlling
• Respectful where she used to be demeaning
• Grateful where she used to be dissatisfied
• Has faith where she once had doubt.
A surrendered wife is abundant where she used to feel
impoverished, and typically has more disposable income
and more satisfying, connected sex than she did before
My sister, Hannah Childs, related the philosophy of
the surrendered wife to her experience as a ballroom
dance teacher. "In marriage," she said, "as
in ballroom dancing, one must lead and the other must
follow. This is not to say that both roles are not equally
important. It is rare that I find a woman who can resist
"I did everything he did," Ginger Rogers
once said about Fred Astaire. "And I did it backwards,
and in high heels." Although Fred and Ginger were
equally skilled and talented dancers, if they had both
tried to lead (or follow), they would have been pulling
each other in opposite directions. Quite simply, they
would not be in sync, but rather would be tripping over
each other and eventually pulling apart. Instead, Ginger
let Fred lead her, trusting that he was making her look
good and keeping her from harm. Instead of Fred diminishing
her, Ginger allowed him to be the foil - the partner
- for her talent.
Similarly, I want my husband to bring out my
"One's mind, once stretched by a new idea,
never regains its original dimensions."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Origin of Control
Long before we fell in love and got married, every
controlling wife suffered disappointments. At a young
age, some of our most basic needs went unmet. This could
be the result of any number of things: the untimely
death of a parent or the frustrations of a family member's
addiction. It could have been the consequence of relatively
small things, like not getting the tennis shoes we desperately
needed to fit in at school, or having to adjust to less
attention because of the arrival of another sibling.
Whatever the cause, we then made an erroneous conclusion
that no one would ever take care of us the way we wanted.
We embraced a childish belief that if we were always
in charge, things were more likely to go our way.
Some of us were so used to living in fear about not
getting what we needed that we never even noticed our
quickened pulse and shallow breathing. We normalized
this level of terror and our accompanying auto-response:
Taking control. We believed that the more we could control
people around us¯husbands, siblings and friends
alike¯the better off we would be.
Just as fish are always the last to discover they are
in the ocean, those of us who survive by trying to control
things around us are often the last to recognize our
behavior. We tell ourselves that we are trying to instruct,
improve, help others, or do things efficiently - never
that we are so afraid of the unpredictable that we do
everything in our power to insure a certain outcome.
For instance, I thought I was merely making helpful
suggestions when I told my husband that he should ask
for a raise. When I urgently exclaimed that we should
have turned right instead of left while riding in a
friend's car who knew perfectly well how to get to our
destination, I reasoned that I was trying to save time
and avoid traffic. When I tried to convince my brother
that he really should get some therapy, I justified
butting into his life as wanting "to be there for
All of these justifications were merely elaborate covers
for my inability to trust others. If I had trusted that
my husband was earning as much money as he could, I
wouldn't have emasculated him by implying that I found
him lacking ambition. If I had trusted my friend to
get us to our destination in a reasonable time, I wouldn't
have barked out orders about where to turn, leaving
a cold frost on the inside of the car. If I had trusted
my brother to make his own way in the world, he would've
felt more inclined to continue to share the emotional
milestones of his life with me.
Trusting is magical because people tend to live up
to our expectations. If you make it clear to your husband
that you expect him to screw up at work, wreck the car,
or neglect his health, you are setting a negative expectation.
If on the other hand, you expect him to succeed, he
is much more likely to do just that.
To trust someone means you put your full confidence
in them, the way Robert Redford's character in the movie
The Horse Whisperer trusted a teenager behind the wheel
of his truck for the first time¯by resting in the
passenger seat with his hat over his eyes. Trusting
someone means you anticipate the best outcome¯not
the worst¯when he's in charge. When you trust,
you don't need to double-check, make back-up plans or
be vigilant because you're not expecting any danger.
You can sleep with both eyes shut, knowing that everything's
going to be fine.
It bears repeating: When you trust, you are
anticipating the best outcome.
Those of us who have trouble trusting others when every
rational indicator says that we are safe are reacting
to our own fear. We may be afraid that we won't get
what we need, or that we'll get it too late. It could
be fear that we'll spend too much money, or have to
do extra work. It could also be, and often is, fear
of loneliness, boredom or discomfort. If you are like
me and find yourself driven to correct, criticize and
conquer a partner, then you are reacting to your fears.
Whatever the situation, if you do not react to your
fear of the outcome, you don't need to try to dominate,
manipulate or control it.
As it turns out, my fears were a conditioned response
I had developed over the years to hide my own vulnerability¯the
soft underbelly that exposes me to both the greatest
pain and the greatest pleasure. I hid my softness as
much as I could because I believed it was unattractive.
Ironically, the people I found most endearing and easiest
to connect with had the ability to expose their real
fears, joys, guilt, needs and sadness. I was drawn to
their openness and warmth. I found them engaging.
When I was choosing control over vulnerability, I was
doing so at the expense of intimacy. What I know now
is that control and intimacy are opposites. If I want
one, I can't have the other. Without being vulnerable,
I can't have intimacy. Without intimacy, there can be
no romance or emotional connection. When I am vulnerable
with my husband, the intimacy, passion and devotion
seem to flow naturally.
Today I try to relinquish control as much as I can
and allow myself to be vulnerable. Unfortunately, I
still don't do this perfectly, but it doesn't seem to
matter. Just making intimacy my priority¯rather
than control¯by practicing the principles described
in this book, has transformed my marriage into a passionate,
"If you can't say something nice, don't
say anything at all."
My Bags Were Always Packed
A friend of mine described herself in her marriage
as mentally "having her bags packed and her running
shoes on" at all times so she could get her things
together and flee in just a matter of minutes. She was
always ready to pursue a life in which she could provide
everything that she needed for herself without his help.
My therapist reminded me that when I first started
coming to see her, I was the same way. I often felt
I would be better off divorced or with another man who
was more fastidious or considerate. With the husband
of my imagination, I wouldn't have to clean up after
him, plan, arrange, organize and check up on everything.
My rotten attitude cast gloom over the relationship.
I was always on edge, so that the slightest problem
seemed like reason enough to end this marriage and hope
for a better one next time. At the time, I felt so pained
and self-righteous that honoring my wedding vows seemed
unimportant. Today my friends laugh at me when I tell
them this because it seems so ridiculous that I was
ready to toss out my perfectly wonderful husband.
"Some people find fault as if it were buried
- Francis O'Walsh
Why This Book Isn't
Called the Surrendered Husband
If you're a wife who feels overwhelmed, lonely and
responsible for everything, this book is perfect for
you. If you can admit that you frequently or sometimes
control, nag, or criticize your husband, then it is
up to you and you alone to take the actions described
here to restore intimacy to your marriage and dignity
and peace to yourself.
I am not saying that you are responsible for every
problem in your marriage. You are not. Your husband
has plenty of areas he could improve too, but that's
nothing you can control. You can't make him change¯you
can only change yourself. The good news is that since
you've identified the behaviors that contribute to your
problems, you can begin to solve them. Rather than wasting
time thinking about what my husband should do, I prefer
to keep all my energy for improving my happiness. The
point of my journey was to give up controlling behavior,
and to look inward instead of outward.
I encourage you to do the same.
You won't have to look far for someone to tell you
that surrendering is crazy, but it isn't. It's not crazy
to want romance and passion in your marriage. It's not
crazy to want to feel respect for your life partner.
It's not crazy to give up doing things that deplete
your spirit and ask for help. It's not crazy to stop
trying to control things you have no control over. It
is scary, but it's not crazy. Don't let people who lack
your courage tell you otherwise.
How it Grew
Shortly after I started practicing the steps of The
Surrendered Wife, I had the opportunity to share this
philosophy with some friends who brought the principles
to their marriages. Not only did they validate the process,
they added further wonder to it. They, too, experienced
inspiring transformations. Soon a group of five of us¯a
Surrendered Circle¯was meeting in my living room
once a month. The circle grew quickly as women I had
never met began calling me to learn more about how they
could revitalize their marriages. When our size threatened
to exceed the capacity of my living room, I closed the
meetings to newcomers and started Surrendered Wife seminars,
which teach women the skills and help them form the
habits they need to surrender successfully. (You can
learn more about seminars in your area by calling 1-800-466-2028
or visiting www.surrenderedwife.com). Still more women
came forward wanting to know how to surrender to their
husbands. Now Surrendered Circles, which offer free
support, meet in local communities and on the Internet.
Today there are thousands of women practicing the principles
of The Surrendered Wife. They, too, have rekindled the
love and closeness that had been dormant for years in
their marriages, and gotten a break from feeling responsible
for everything. In the pages of this book, you will
see glimpses of stories from the women I've met through
the circle, my seminars and the surrendered wife website.
All the anecdotes are true, although the names and some
other details have been changed to protect their privacy.
When to Stop Surrendering and
Your husband does things that get on your very last
nerve. I know this because I have a husband myself,
and, like yours, he is a mere mortal with numerous imperfections.
At times I found his shortcomings so big that I thought
I couldn't live with him for another day.
As it turns out, my husband is one of the good guys.
But how do you know if your husband is a good
When should you get out?
There are some situations in which a wife should not
trust her husband. Under these particular circumstances,
I suggest separation or divorce - not surrender. Are
you in one of these circumstances? Only you can judge.
Before you surrender check to see if any of the following
apply to your situation:
1. Do not surrender to a man who is physically
abusive to you.
When your safety is threatened, there can be no intimacy.
I urge you to leave your relationship as quickly as
possible if your husband has done any of the following:
• Hit you
• Kicked you
• Punched you
• Physically forced you to be sexual against
Get help from friends, therapists or clergy and get
out. Start making plans and taking action today. For
further assistance, call the National
Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline at
2. Do not surrender to a man who is physically
abusive to your children.
If your husband is inappropriately violent or sexual
with your kids, you must protect them immediately. The
sooner you leave this relationship, the better your
chances of getting into a relationship with a healthy,
loving man who will protect, rather than harm, you and
your children. (Spanking a child as discipline, however
controversial or unacceptable to you, does not qualify
as physical abuse. Just because the two of you disagree
about corporal punishment does not give you justification
to leave the relationship.)
3. Do not surrender to a man who has an active
A man with an addiction to a substance such as alcohol
or drugs, or to an activity such as gambling cannot
be trusted. I can offer little hope of intimacy in this
situation, as he will always serve his addiction ahead
of your safety and happiness.
Of course, it's not always easy to identify an addiction.
If you are uncertain, but suspect that he has an active
addiction, find some quiet time and space to contemplate
this question. Has his substance abuse or gambling ever
interfered with your relationship? Would he keep drinking,
using, or betting even if he knew it was making you
uncomfortable and lonely? Has he tried to stop in the
past, only to take it up again?
Ask your gut, and listen carefully to the response.
If you answer yes to one or more of these questions,
your husband probably has an active addiction. If this
is the case, remind yourself that you deserve to be
the first priority to your husband. Remember that the
sooner you reject what is inappropriate for you, the
sooner you will be able to form a relationship with
someone who will treat you like a princess.
If you are having trouble deciding whether your husband
falls into the category of a practicing addict, consider
contacting Al-Anon, a free program designed to help
the family members of alcoholics and addicts. Al-Anon
has meetings all over the world, and is listed in your
local phone book.
4. Do not surrender to a man who is chronically
A man who has been unfaithful time and again, despite
promises to the contrary, cannot be trusted. You deserve
to be with a man who is sexual and romantic with you
and you alone. So, if your husband is not capable of
doing that, your best chance of true intimacy is to
end the marriage and look for a man who can be faithful.
Having said that, a past extramarital affair does not
automatically make your husband a chronic philanderer.
It may have been his inappropriate reaction to years
of emasculation and criticism from his wife. That doesn't
make the affair your fault; it's still his responsibility
to communicate with you and to keep his vows. However,
your marriage can heal from this type of infidelity
once you begin surrendering, if your husband is willing
to recommit himself to monogamy.
What About Verbal Abuse?
Women sometimes ask me if they should leave a husband
who is verbally abusive. This is an important question
because verbal abuse crushes your sense of self-worth
over time, just as physical abuse does. You certainly
don't deserve to be belittled. Fortunately, as you will
see, respecting your husband and refraining from controlling
him will put an end to his hurtful words¯as long
as he doesn't fall into one of the four categories above.
If he is insulting, check to see if you have a culture
of verbal abuse in your relationship. This kind of mistreatment
is very rarely a one-way street, and is often a man's
way of protecting himself against ongoing insults and
emasculation. Again, it is not your fault if your husband
is verbally abusive, but your behavior certainly influences
One woman complained to me that her husband had called
her terrible names while they argued and that his verbal
abuse was simply intolerable. As we talked some more,
she told me some of the dreadful things she had said
to him during this same argument. At first, she objected
to the idea of apologizing for her disrespect because
he had not yet apologized.
Rather than try to convince her that they both needed
to apologize, I decided to take a different tact. I
asked her what was more important: his apology (and
her ego) or restored harmony. It didn't take long for
her to admit that it was the latter. It wasn't long
before she was willing to break the ice.
Her husband responded by apologizing for what he had
said in anger, and harmony was indeed restored.
Over time, intimacy, respect and gratitude completely
replaced verbal attacks in that relationship, as well
as many others, as the wife continued to surrender.
The same can happen in your marriage.
"We all suffer from the preoccupation that
there exists...in the loved one, perfection."
- Sidney Portier
Decide if Your Man Deserves Your
If your husband doesn't fall into one of the categories
above, then you are married to one of the good guys.
Not a perfect husband, but one who is capable of loving
you and cherishing you¯one who has the potential
to help you feel great about yourself and your marriage.
If you are like most women, you are already thinking
about how your life will fall apart if you stop controlling
your husband. Perhaps you feel you cannot refrain from
teaching or correcting your husband because then the
children will lack discipline, or because you will go
broke, or because you firmly believe the marriage will
never change. If you are thinking there is some reason
you can't follow this suggestion, you are not alone.
That's what we all think.
I know what I'm suggesting is difficult. I know it
doesn't seem fair. It didn't seem fair to me that I
had to work so hard to change while my husband continued
to sit around watching television, but your husband
will have to make big changes too. In fact, he will
have to transform in order to stay in step with you
as you leave the bumpy road of not trusting him and
steer onto the smoother road of having faith in him.
He will have to rise to new levels to meet this remarkable
He will have to listen to his own inner voice of conviction
instead of relying on yours to tell him when he's not
doing something right. He will need to use his own mind
to figure out what's best for his family rather than
reluctantly carrying out your subtle or not-so-subtle
orders. He will be taking on far more responsibility
than he ever has before. He will change as soon as you
begin practicing the principles of the surrendered wife.
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