Letting Go of Control
About the Guest
There is drama in every marriage. Sandy Ralya has had her share. After a quick courtship, an unexpected pregnancy and 18 years of marriage to an angry and abusive man, Sandy finally saw God transform her relationship with Tom. Today, Sandy tells how she quit trying to control her husband and tried respecting him instead.
There is drama in every marriage.
Letting Go of Control
Sandy: When Tom was abusive, there was a lot to disrespect about his behavior. It was hard to keep my tongue from wagging at that point—you know, to really light into him and cut him down to size. Even now in marriage struggles that we encounter, I have had to learn that our husbands need our respect. That doesn’t mean that you have to be a door mat, but you can still use respectful words and tone with them.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We will talk today about what respect ought to look like in a marriage and about how God uses it.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. You know, I think one of the things we are being reminded of this week is something that we know but that we forget from time to time; that is, marriages can look fine when you see them from a distance.
Dennis: Yes. You are talking about marriages in church.
Bob: Right. But oftentimes behind the scenes, there is more going on than most of us realize.
Dennis: There is a drama in every marriage and family. You can airbrush the Christmas photograph, but you can’t airbrush life. We are broken clay pots. That is who Christ came to redeem and who he came to use to reach out to other people. We have heard a compelling story this week from a new friend here on FamilyLife Today, Sandy Ralya. Welcome back, Sandy.
Sandy: Thank you.
Dennis: She is the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a mentoring ministry for wives. There is a reason why she has a mentoring ministry to wives because she was mentored.
Bob: Yes. We have heard a story this week about a quick courtship and an unexpected pregnancy in the midst of that which led to an early marriage and a very tumultuous first few years of marriage. Finally, after more than a decade, you asked your husband to move out. God did a pretty remarkable work in his life over a 30-day period and ultimately brought the two of you back together. That was more than 18 years ago, right?
Sandy: It was. One part of the story that I didn’t get a chance to talk about was that after Tom came back into our home—it was July at that point—and on our 12th wedding anniversary which was December 12, so it was 12/12/12 we renewed our vows to each other. He sang and played the piano.
Dennis: Did you do that in front of family and friends?
Sandy: Family and friends; and our children stood with us.
Dennis: You know, I think there is something important about renewing our vows every once in a while. As Bob has said before, “We pledge allegiance to the flag numerous times. Why shouldn’t we pledge allegiance to our spouse and reframe and restate our covenant and what we promised one another.” It wasn’t just a promise to stay married. It was a promise to love, to honor, and to cherish. When Tom said it this time, he meant it.
Bob: In fact, we invite couples who attend our Weekend to Remember marriage conferences to have the opportunity to renew their vows at the end of the conference. I don’t know how many couples I have talked to who have said, “It was more meaningful for me the second time because: No. 1. I knew what I was saying better than I did the first time. Secondly, I knew what the reality of love, honor, cherish for better or for worse. I knew the reality of that this time. To still stand there and say, ‘I do’ was very meaningful.”
Sandy, you have said and, in fact, one of the things you tell women as you speak and as you write—during the time that you were living through this very difficult relationship with your husband, God was getting a hold of you and pointing out some things in your life that needed adjustment, right?
Sandy: Right. Yes. I needed to stop resorting to preaching to my husband. I needed to learn when to step up to the plate and speak the truth in love. Sometimes women have a hard time telling when it is that you need to speak the truth in love. One time my husband was sick with a cold. His nose was running, and he was blowing his nose and dropping his snotty tissues on the floor. You know, we can work ourselves up to think we have a real serious problem when our husbands do things like that.
That is not when you need to speak the truth in love.
Bob: Let me ask you about this because some women are listening, “You said I need to stop preaching to my husband, but I needed to speak the truth in love.” They are going, “Well, how can I tell when I am preaching? How can I speak the truth in love without drifting into that preaching thing that I am not supposed to do? Doesn’t 1 Peter say that you are to win them without a word? How do I speak the truth in love and win them without a word at the same time?”
Sandy: That does sound impossible, doesn’t it? Well, the thing that you have to determine first is if your husband is participating in sinful behavior. You know, the Bible is clear about that. We are to speak the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ. This is what the body is supposed to do for each other; but the way that I tell women to do it is to apply liberal love to your words and do it in as few words as possible. I am not kidding when I said, “Ten words or less.”
In other words, I would often find myself telling Tom, “Tom, it hurts me when you say or do this to me.” Then I am done. He needs to know that what he is doing is having an impact on you. Enough times of that, and they start to understand that their cruelty is having an effect.
Dennis: Yes. And sometimes the behavior may not be sinful. It just may be the husband doesn’t do it the same way as the wife does it.
Dennis: I mean, this is still a running joke in our marriage: “There is more than one way to load the dishwasher.”
(laughter) I mean, there really is.
You had a young woman come to you who was irritated about the way her husband was bathing the baby?
Sandy: Yes. She had asked her husband if he would help out more around the house. He said, “Okay.” One night he offered to give their baby a bath. Pretty soon the baby started just crying really loudly. She ran in there to try to save the day and said, “Hey, let me show you how to do it,” and totally took over.
Once she had heard me speak she said, “Do you think I should have done that?” I said, “Do you think he is going to want to help next time? Do you think he could have figured it out himself? I mean, he is a good-willed man. I am sure he can figure out how to keep soap out of a baby’s eyes next time.”
Bob: During the time that you were in the midst of a difficult situation—an emotionally abusive husband—you had a number of women who came around you and loved you and mentored you in the process. It really is what gave birth to your book and to your ministry, watching how these women saw you through.
One of the things they pointed out to you and one of the things that God’s Word dealt with you on is the issue of control. You began to see that, in your own life, you were really trying to control Tom.
Sandy: I was. You know, I didn’t have any control over how he was treating me; but I did have control over how I would treat him. I was participating in controlling behavior. I was. That was one of the things that the Lord spoke to me about and one of the things that I had to pull back from. You know, if you were to ask women if they are controlling women, nine out of ten are going to say, “No,” because we don’t like that label. Controlling women are not attractive women, right?
Sandy: So we have to go a little deeper and say, “Do you try to instruct your husband? Do you try to improve your husband? Do you try to correct your husband?” I mean, these are questions we need to ask. It is in a woman’s basic nature to try to take control. That is what Eve did in the Garden.
Dennis: I am sorry. I am sitting here smiling; I’m thinking, “What if all the wives listening to this broadcast ask their husbands tonight, ‘Sweetheart, do you feel like I try to control you?”
Bob: Oh, don’t do that. All the men are going, “What’s the right answer there, huh? Do I tell the truth or do I just go…”
Dennis: I think it could unlock some key conversation, though.
Bob: It would have to be done this way. The wife would have to say, “Sweetheart, I am about to ask you a question; and I really want you to be honest with me…”
Dennis: “And I am not going to be defensive.”
Bob: “And I am not going to be defensive or upset if you tell me the truth. I am just wondering, ‘Are there ways that you think I try to control you?’”
Dennis: And then if he doesn’t immediately know the answer, allow silence to be there for a while.
Bob: But if the silence goes on for 30 seconds, the answer is, “Yes;” and he is just trying to figure out how to tell you.
Sandy: Okay. I think I may have a better option.
Bob: Please. Help us here!
Dennis: Help a couple of husbands. Yes, please.
Sandy: Okay. You know, this kind of thing is well done in a community of women. You get women together and it is easier for them to open up about this with each other because I think we all know in the back of our minds what our husbands are going to say and we really don’t want to hear it from them. Hearing it from another woman makes it more palatable. Then she can make the changes and let him just see the changes.
Dennis: Control can have an impact on a marriage relationship, especially on romance and intimacy. Share with our listeners what you have found out about that.
Sandy: Well, let me ask you this, “Do you want to get close to a controlling person?” None of us want to be controlled. If our best friend was telling us what to do, how to think, how to dress, they wouldn’t be our best friend. It really does block relationship; it blocks intimacy.
Bob: So you are saying whether it is a husband or a wife, if a wife is trying to control her husband or boss him around…
Bob: That doesn’t cause the husband to go, “Gee, I find you so appealing, so attractive when you do that. Do that again. It just draws me close to you.”
Sandy: That is right. “You are driving me crazy with this.”
Dennis: What would you say is the root of control? I mean, what is behind it ultimately?
Sandy: Fear. Fear causes us to take control in a situation. We are afraid we are not going to get what we want or that things aren’t going to go the way that we think they should go. Fear is at the root.
That is what happened to Eve in the Garden. I mean, she was afraid that she wasn’t going to get something that she wanted. You know, Satan came to her and said, “You know, you could be just like God when you eat from that tree.” She thought, “I’m missing something.” Here she was—in perfect relationship with God in a perfect location in a perfect relationship with her husband—and she was still afraid that she might be missing something. She traded in a whole lot of something for a handful of nothing.
Dennis: It is really risking the relationship. You may live in some kind of power play where you ultimately are in control; but if you don’t finally drop your guard and let it down, it’s not going to happen.
One of the things you talked about in your book was you didn’t respect your husband—you demeaned your husband. That is a strong word—demean. What did you do that didn’t communicate respect but ultimately undercut and cut him to the core of his masculinity?
Sandy: Well, you know, when Tom was abusive, there was a lot to disrespect about his behavior. It was hard to keep my tongue from wagging at that point—you know, to really light into him and cut him down to size. I mean, I did retaliate in anger a lot.
Even now in marriage struggles that we will encounter, I have had to learn that our husbands need unconditional respect. That doesn’t mean that their behavior need be respectable, but we are called to respect them no matter what. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a door mat, but you can still use respectful words and tone with them.
Bob: So what changed in your life? How did you begin to change your speech? If you had been demeaning Tom, did you just start saying nice things or holding your tongue? What did you do differently?
Sandy: Now it is a matter of holding my tongue. Back then, it was a matter of changing my speech. I mean, I was called upon to speak at that point in my life.
Bob: To speak the truth in love as you said.
Sandy: To speak the truth in love.
Bob: Today you just let some of this stuff go that you used to point out?
Sandy: Yes! I do. I can hold my tongue.
Dennis: Now did you do that when he bought the 1952 MGB replica?
Sandy: Well, when he bought that car, I was pretty excited, actually. That was awesome! Yes. The first part of that story is that we had a lot of good years driving in that car. This is something that he always wanted. I was happy for him. I am a quality-time girl so I had quality-time with my man in that car.
I mean, we had a lot of good times; but when my back started to give me trouble and I realized it was the result of riding in that old car, I was afraid to communicate that with Tom because I knew he would be tremendously disappointed. He loved this car. We had had so many great hours in the car. I was afraid to communicate that. I did not want to be the cause of his disappointment.
When I did begin to communicate with him, it was completely ineffective. I was totally indirect. I would start saying things like, “You know, wouldn’t it be nice if this car had good shocks in it?” or, “Do you notice how this whole car just rattles when we go over bumps?” Nobody could have accused me of being direct—no one. When I did choose to communicate directly what the cause of my back pain was—the car—Tom had been planning a convertible trip with all of our convertible buddies. I told him the week before we were scheduled to leave.
Dennis: Oh, man.
Sandy: Bad timing.
Dennis: Death of a vision.
Sandy: Death of a vision. I really thought he would come to rescue me. That is not the way that played out.
Bob: If you were going to go back and redo what you did, what would you have done? Would you just gone and said, “I can’t ride in the convertible anymore because it hurts my back?”
Sandy: I would have said, “Honey, you know what, we have had a lot of good times in this car; and I have enjoyed it so much. It really pains me to say this to you, but this car is the cause of my back pain right now. Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to ride in it with you anymore. I am really sorry about that, but I hope that we can find another alternative.
Bob: If you had done that, what do you think Tom would have said?
Sandy: I think he would have tried to do everything that he could to see that I was made comfortable.
Bob: I think part of the point you are making here and this is something—I don’t know what it is about men and women—but this is pretty much generally true: Women often think, “If I can just drop a little hint, my husband will get it…”
Dennis: He will get it, right.
Bob: “…and he will do the right thing.” I am here on behalf of the men to say, “We aren’t good hint-getters.” We need the kind of direct communication you are talking about from our wives in order to understand things.
For a wife to say, “Does it feel chilly in here to you?” If you would like us to make it a little warmer, just say, “Could you make it warmer in here?” rather than, “Does it feel chilly?” because we will go, “No, it feels fine,” and we’ll go back to our book. You’ll think, “Well, he doesn’t care about me.” Well, you were just asking me what I thought about the temperature but when a wife comes along and says, “You know, I’m cold. Could we turn up the thermostat?” A guy will go, “Oh yeah, we can do that.”
So there is something to this point of more direct communication—learning how to do it—speak the truth in love. I think it is critical for a married couple to learn that dance. It is something you learn over the years, don’t you think?
Dennis: Supposedly. (laughter) Supposedly men…
Bob: You still working that out a little bit?
Dennis: Yeah, I’m still in the school of matrimony at that point. You know, I just appreciate you, Sandy, sharing your story and being honest with our listeners and taking us into the drama. I do want to share with the men, however, that yes, Tom did sell that MGB…
Sandy: He did.
Dennis: And he bought another convertible. So he found another way to get the quality time with his bride. You did work through it.
Dennis: I think one of the big ideas we want to share here is that even though you go through a valley like you went through—where your marriage was on the line—there will be those moments where there are tests.
Dennis: That you still are teachable; that you are going to have humility; you are going to be able to admit you have made a mistake. You have demonstrated that in some great ways here on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: You have talked about how powerful these mentoring relationships were in your life. You continued those mentoring relationships over the years.
Sandy: I have.
Bob: In fact, you encourage women this is essential for a healthy marriage, isn’t it?
Sandy: Absolutely. Even after my marriage was transformed, I realized that marriage is still hard work.
Sandy: It is still hard work. We have to keep up with it.
Dennis: And that’s okay for it to be hard.
Sandy: And that’s okay. That is why I started the ministry of Beautiful Womanhood—to encourage women to keep growing and going as a wife.
Dennis: To your point about mentoring—one of the things we are excited about continuing to roll out here at FamilyLife—is a brand new use of the web called eMentoring. We have developed a tool to train both those who would like to become mentors…
Dennis: And connect them in a safe environment with those who need to be mentored.
Bob: One of the things we found out is that in some smaller communities or in some places, it is hard to connect face-to-face, heart-to-heart with somebody that you can open up to. So, we wanted to give folks an opportunity to have that kind of mentoring connection but utilize the internet as a vehicle for making that happen. It has been exciting to see how some of that is starting to happen.
Dennis: That’s right; and with qualified mentors, again, in a safe environment that is protected, that is secure for those who are connected there. I just appreciate you, Sandy, and your ministry. I cheer you on.
Sandy: Thank you.
Dennis: We need these kind of ministries in the local church all across the country because, I think, frankly, we have a whole generation of women who are emerging into the empty nest years…
Dennis: Who need to have purpose…
Dennis: And this is one of the great purposes of life—to reach down to a younger generation and train them and equip them and maybe come alongside a Sandy who may be in a tough marriage, in a tough situation, and hang in there with that young lady for five or six years.
Sandy: That’s right.
Dennis: Just like they did you.
Sandy: That’s right. I just want to speak to that woman and tell her, “You do not need to be perfect. You do not need to be in a perfect marriage to be that mentor because there is no such thing.”
Dennis: Well, actually, some of your best lessons…
Dennis: Come from your mistakes.
Bob: That’s right.
Sandy: Exactly. That’s what connects you to another woman—is sharing your mistakes. You know, when I lead Beautiful Womanhood seminars, I never have women come up to me afterwards and say, “Girl, you’re all messed up.” Instead, it connects them to me. They are able to relate to me in a way that they would not be able to have otherwise. So, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to make yourself available.
Bob: Well, and it helps to have a resource like what you have provided for women in the Beautiful Womanhood book because there is a mentor edition here that a woman can use and combine with her own life experiences to help steer and shape and guide a younger woman.
We have the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the book Beautiful Womanhood by Sandy Ralya. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com, and the toll-free number is 1-800- F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY.
Speaking of mentors, over the years we have encouraged older couples to consider mentoring a pre-married couple, an engaged couple. In fact, we created a tool years ago called the Preparing for Marriage study guide. Our hope was that couples would go through this during the engagement period, but not just the two of them alone.
Our hope was that an older couple would take them through the material and, again, share with them the biblical truth that is found in the book, along with the life experiences that the older couple has been through to help prepare the younger couple for what is ahead in their marriage relationship. There have been tens of thousands of people who have gone through this material.
Just recently we had it updated and revised. I think it is better than ever. This month we are making this study guide available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. We are listener-supported. Your financial support is what keeps us on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country. We couldn’t do it without you. We are grateful when you are able to provide any kind of donor support for this ministry. I know you may not be about to be married, but I bet you know somebody who is. Let us send you the study guide, and you can pass it on to them. Better yet, you can take them through it yourself and mentor a younger couple.
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Tomorrow we want to invite you back. Robert and Bobbie Wolgemuth are going to be here. We are going to find out about some of the challenges they faced as their daughter got married and they tried to figure out, particularly Robert tried to figure out, what it means to be a daddy to your married daughter. We’ll have that conversation tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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