At the end of the day, it can never really be about control or you are sunk. Love not freely given is not real--and deep down we know it. One of my dating partners from college told me about her husband being unfaithful, although not to the extent of full adultery. Her strategy thereafter was to keep him busy with a "Honey do" list, in order to keep him out of trouble. I told her I believed that strategy was only going to drive them both crazy. First of all, you can't watch another adult every minute. So you're still going to have plenty of unaccounted for time and the constant suspicion is going to drive you crazy. Constantly assigning him chores and never letting up is a recipe to drive him away. More important, even if you could watch him every minute, if the only reason he is not cheating on you is that you are watching him like a hawk and he is afraid of getting caught, what is his loyalty worth? If he's not giving it freely, it's not real. He's just a child afraid of getting spanked.
My friend asked me how to trust her husband again, when he had proven himself to be untrustworthy. We had a good conversation about how it is important to make peace with the fact that we cannot create complete safety for ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Is there a chance her husband would cheat again? Of course. I told her that if she knew she could not get past what he had done and eventually trust him, it would be better for both of them if she let him go. She didn't want to do that and asked me what she could do while trust was being rebuilt. I told her that I believed sometimes trust was a policy more than a feeling.
My friend's husband seemed genuinely remorseful for what he had done. He had confessed it to church leaders. He had stepped up his efforts to create intimacy in the marriage by beginning to court her again. She was keeping him in a "one down" position, which is understandable for awhile. However, there comes a point where an errant spouse may have had a wake up call and shown great progress, and the injured spouse continues to be the victim, because that preserves his or her power in the relationship. Again, however, if your relationship is ultimately about control, you are no place. At some point, you adopt trust as a policy, even though you don't yet feel it in your heart. You stop monitoring your spouse. You stop trying to keep him busy with a "Honey do" list. You create clear boundaries with him about how you intend to be respected, and what you will do if those boundaries are violated. And you accept in your heart the fact that he might cheat again. It is his responsibility not to cheat. It is not your responsibility to stop him from cheating. If he remains loyal, you can trust that it is real and not simply a result of your elaborate marriage policing program.
I realize that many of you in this group have been cheated on, and this is a sensitive issue. Others have faced various other breaches of trust, and feel very vulnerable being in a relationship where they cannot control the other person--which is literally every relationship on Earth if we are honest with ourselves. Let me be clear, you do not have to give your spouse another chance. You may have very real reasons to believe it is poor judgment to do so.
I am only suggesting that, whether you stay or go, you really have no control over the other person. You cannot stop him or her from making mistakes. The same is true as you are making future relationships through dating. If you are afraid of getting hurt and smother your partner with your control issues, the relationship is going to suffocate. Let go and let God.
In case you wondered, more than a decade later, my friend and her husband are still together and are very happy now. They are a power couple. Both are now elected officials in local government. The damage to their relationship has been repaired and they have created a great partnership where they spread a lot of good and light in the world. Part of creating that, was my friend's realization that she needed to honor her husband's agency, even understanding that trusting in his loyalty made her vulnerable to being hurt again.
As mid-singles date, many unwittingly transfer their mistrust of a former spouse to their dating partners and treat them with suspicion and fear. That is not only unfair, it is unhealthy. Part of the reason we decide to create new relationships is a fresh dose of trust in a person with whom we don't have history. But we each bring our baggage to a new relationship, and that sometimes poisons it.
What do we do instead of trying to control our partners? We look at ourselves and how we show up in the relationship. That is not to suggest that we blame ourselves for anything the other person did. Rather, it is just owning our own part in the relationship and whatever we have done. It is making peace with our imperfections, even as we try to overcome them. It is cultivating a heart at peace toward our dating partners, rather than a heart at war. A heart at war sees the other person as an object--a means of getting what it wants or as an obstacle to what it wants. A heart at peace sees the other person as a human being with needs, desires, weaknesses, opinions, a will, and hopes and dreams as real as its own.
So how do we show up in relationships? Are we guarded and constantly looking for red flags? Are we constantly warning our dating partners about our trauma and things we are intolerant of? Or do we strive, for the most part, to really get to know and understand them at a deeper level. Do we do this because of knowing them better, we can love them more deeply? Friends, that is how genuine love develops. And struggling for control is the enemy of real love.
From August 8, 2012
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Control is an illusion. After a divorce that you didn't want, it is tempting to try to seize even more control over life and subsequent relationships--to keep something so painful from ever happening again. We want (and maybe even need) to believe that life is solid, predictable, and under control. It is better to embrace the fact that a certain amount of chaos in life is inevitable and that in that chaos we find the possibilities.