The Book That Launched a Movement:
The Surrendered Wife - A Practical Guide to Finding Intimacy, Passion and Peace With a Man
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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 with.
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 on John.
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.
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 of appeared.
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 it.
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.
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 husband
• Respects her husband's thinking
• Receives his gifts graciously and expresses gratitude for him
• Expresses what she wants without trying to control him
• 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 she surrendered.
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 'backleading.'"
"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 very best.
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 him."
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, romantic union.
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.
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.
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 guy? 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.
• Hit you
• Kicked you
• Punched you
• Physically forced you to be sexual against your will
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 1-800-799-7233.
2. Do not surrender to a man who is physically
abusive to your children.
3. Do not surrender to a man who has an active
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
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 him.
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.
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 occasion.
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.