When we started learning ballroom dance, the teacher choreographed basic steps into a routine. He called them out and we mastered them by rotating around the room and practicing with different partners.
Our teacher explained that in ballroom dance, the man leads the steps and the lady follows. The problem was the ladies knew which step was coming next because we knew the routine. If my partner made a mistake, there was a temptation to do what I knew to do instead of actually following. I wanted to keep control—because I was right. When you have partners who are doing different steps, you no longer have a dance. You have a tug-of-war.
The Bible tells us how Eve took control. When the serpent offered her the fruit, Adam knew it was forbidden. God had given him direct instructions, but he didn’t say anything. In the absence of clear, confident leadership, Eve stepped in and took control. “The fruit looks good to me. Here, have some.”
And doesn’t the same thing happen today—in my marriage—maybe in your marriage? Unless Bob lays out a plan, I step in and make the decision. If I think he’s made a mistake, I assume it’s my responsibility to correct it. If we disagree, I’m pretty sure he hasn’t given it enough thought.
In the interest of fleshing this idea out in an authentic way, I asked Bob to give me a bullet-pointed list of how I seize control. Here it is:
- When we’re planning something, and I want to do it my way because it makes it easier for me
- When I have an opinion and don’t want to stop and think about alternatives
- When I don’t like the clothes he’s wearing and strongly suggest “options”
(I thought three examples would suffice, but he kept going.)
- When I’m afraid he’s going to do something I won’t like
- When he suggests a change and I resist it because I’ve already thought it through and my way is better. (He was kind to note that sometimes my way is better.)
- When I want to choose a restaurant (and it’s not Denny’s)
- When I want to say something right now before I forget it
- When I want to be someplace on time and it’s not as crucial to Bob
- When I insist where things go in the kitchen. (Okay, I am right on that one.)
He could have given me more but I thanked him for his help and he stopped.
Who Should Lead?
If you ask me who should lead and who should follow in a Christian marriage, I will say husbands should lead and wives should follow. (I am talking about husbands who Emmerson Eggerichs calls “good-hearted men”—not someone who tells his wife to submit as he beats her up.) I’ve heard many Christian wives say they would love to follow but their husband doesn’t want to lead. But repeatedly, I take control without processing what I am doing. I have an underlying assumption that I am right and this assumption leads me to seize control. Bob’s response is, “Why should I fight this?” I bet other husbands say that, too. Even though I would like Bob to lead, I regularly decrease the chances of that happening.
So, what do you do when your heart wants to support your husband’s leadership but your natural inclination is to discourage it at every turn?
I remember dancing with Bob and second-guessing which step he was going to lead. “Oh, really?” he’d ask. “Is that what I led?” I didn’t want to commandeer his lead, but I did it anyway. I developed a method of foiling my own tendency to jump in: Physically, I closed my eyes. Emotionally, I let go. When I relaxed, I was better able to feel Bob’s lead, and really follow. (As opposed to pretending to follow.)
I need to figuratively close my eyes in marriage as well. I need to relax and let go. I need to trust God and my husband. I need to stop assuming I always have the better idea. That’s not true and I know it’s not true. I need to acknowledge the world will not end if Bob wears the worn-out but comfy pants he loves. If I’m very honest, I’ll admit the world won’t end if we go to Denny’s—once.
When he knows I am trying to follow, he is far more likely to give a clear, confident lead.