Is Control a Good Thing?

“Do you like where you keep your checkbook?” I asked my husband as I idly stirred some pasta on the stove.  “I’m going to organize the office tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I like where I keep it,” he replied good naturedly.  “It works.”

“Okay, cool,” I said, nodding.  “I’ll find a better place for it, then.”

HOLD THE PHONE.  Back up the bus.  What in the world did I just say?  My husband said he liked where he stored his checkbook and I said that I’d find a better place for it?

Sadly, that was an actual verbatim conversation that happened between Lancelot and me a few years ago.  I can still remember the stunned look on his face as I declared my intent to find a better place for his personal property, despite the fact that he liked where he was currently keeping it.  His eyes got wide and his jaw even dropped a little bit before he erupted in a laugh and generously told me, “You can do whatever you want with it, sweetie.  Just tell me where you end up putting it.”  As he laughed, I realized what I said and I laughed at myself, too.

Mind you, that checkbook was stored in a really inconvenient and obscure place (in my opinion).  It was buried under paperclips and staplers and miscellaneous rubber bands in a dimly lit drawer and it always took him a while to find it when he needed it (or so I assumed).  I was on a quest to streamline our office organization, darn it, and that brown leather checkbook was the bane of my existence.  It was going to fall in line with the new system whether its owner liked it or not!

So, why did I even ask my husband about his opinion?  And more to the point, why did I completely disregard his answer?  What made me think my opinion was better than his?

At the time, we chalked my inconsideration off to the insane nesting habits of a pregnant person (those hormones can admittedly drive us a little insane) and enjoyed a good laugh together.  I certainly couldn’t have blamed him, though, if he had decided to use this opportunity to call me out on my neurotic need to control.

Control.  It’s such a loaded word.  We often hear control lauded as an enviable trait, as when we comment, “She has such amazing self-control.” or “You should have seen the way he took control of the situation!”  We say things like, “I just need to get control of my diet,” and we ask, “Why can’t that mom control her child?” It seems a given that control is a good thing, something we should strive to have more of.

But let’s face it – control may be a good thing when we have it, but it’s a different story when someone else does.  We may want to be in control, but we never appreciate being controlled.

When I feel like someone is trying to control me or a situation that I’m involved in, I get defensive, irritated and sometimes downright aggressive.  The raw vulnerability that results from someone trying to control me is incredibly unnerving.  I get suspicious and self-protective.  I feel manipulated and wary.  When someone tries to control me, I immediately lash back by trying to control them.  Control can turn into a viscous spiral as all parties try to compete for power.  It takes someone like Lancelot saying, “It’s cool, babe – put the checkbook wherever you want to,” to stop that cycle in its tracks.

I’d like to say immediately after the checkbook incident, I changed my ways and became less of a control freak.  That didn’t exactly happen.  I continued my neurotic and obsessive need to control for many years, and only recently have I really started opening my eyes to the beauty of letting go.  The first step, for me, was understanding how rude and selfish it is for me to always seek to control a situation.  Control is one way I try to satisfy my own needs, and that can often come at the expense of another human being.  If that’s the case, I need to check myself.

In any given relationship, power struggles inevitably pop up.  My marriage to Lancelot is no different.  The subject of control comes up often in our day-to-day life.  Now, when one of us crosses the line, we may gently and light-heartedly say, “Is this like the checkbook?”  At those times, we’re able to catch a twinkle in each other’s eye and keep things in perspective, moving on to the next subject at hand.  Sometimes, it’s not so easy.  Sometimes we need to sit down and really duke out whatever we’re in a power struggle over.

This much I know is true: It is impossible to control another human being.  It’s even impossible to control the itty-bitty ones.  (If you doubt if this is true, I triple-dog dare you to force a three-year-old eat something they hate, poop when you tell them to or sleep on command).  We do have control over our own selves, though.  We can control our words, our actions and our reactions.  And if we can control those things, the need to control other humans simply goes away.

I’m committed to finding peace and self-acceptance in my life, and interestingly, that has a lot to do with control … or more specifically, with letting go of control.  The only way to truly experience acceptance is to let go of the reins sometimes.

Even if it means letting your husband store his checkbook wherever he wants to.

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