Motivated to Control
About the Guest
Do you always feel the need to be in control? Recovering controllers Nicole Unice and Karen Ehman believe that the root of control is fear or pride. We either just "want what we want when we want it" or we are afraid we won't be safe or significant if we don't control the outcome of our circumstances. Women are great multi-taskers, Karen admits, but that ability to take care of many things at once can also leave them frazzled. Husbands can help their wives put life in context and encourage them to be okay with less than perfect.
Karen EhmanKaren Ehman is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and New York Times Best-selling author. Described as profoundly practical, engagingly funny and downright real, her passion is to help women to live their priorities and love their lives as they serve God and others. Karen writes for Encouragement for Today online devotions that bring God's peace, perspective,...more
Nicole UniceNicole Unice is a fresh voice for the next generation. Part bible teacher, part community organizer, part busy mom–Nicole has the uncanny ability to relate to people in all ages and stages of life with her “keeping it real” approach to ordering a life around God’s word. Nicole’s teaching reaches wide, both as a writer and speaker. Her first book, She’s Got Issues, released May 2012 and speaks to a fundamental question of faith: is being a Christian supposed to chan...more
Nicole Unice and Karen Ehman believe that the root of control is fear or pride. Husbands can help their wives to put life in context and encourage them to be okay with less than perfect.
Motivated to Control
Bob: Would you say you are a high-control woman? What would your husband say? What would your children say? Nicole Unice says the issue of control gives women an opportunity to dig a little deeper to see just what is going on inside them.
Nicole: The real issue is not that you’re micromanaging the birthday party. The real issue is that you’ve made your kids an idol because, if we’re striving that hard, there’s something driving that inside of us. There’s a fuel there that says, “I need to be affirmed,” or “The kids are where I find approval or worth.” That’s the real issue because I think that what we’re missing is the opportunity to get to the heart of what we see of ourselves, as people, and what we really think of God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. So, do you have control issues? We’ll see if we can get to the heart of some of those issues today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. So, who do you think is going to run the show today?
Dennis: Both of our guests. [Laughter]
Bob: Neither of us; right?! [Laughter] I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be completely out of the loop by the time this is all over. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, since both of our guests have written books that deal with women who like to control things—
Dennis: —I think it would be safe for you and me to just leave.
Bob: Just back out and hand it over to them. [Laughter]
Nicole: I have a feeling you might learn a thing or two. [Laughter]
Bob: There you go! [Laughter]
Dennis: There you go; there you go!
Nicole: I have a secret male readership—they send me notes.
Dennis: That is Nicole Unice—and also, Karen Ehman joins us on FamilyLife Today. Karen, Nicole—welcome to the broadcast.
Karen: Thanks for having us.
Nicole: Thanks. It’s good to be here.
Dennis: Nicole and her husband are from Richmond, Virginia. They live there, along with their three children. She’s a counselor and author of a book called She’s Got Issues—
—not—I’ve Got Issues. [Laughter]
Nicole: That’s right. We start with third person, and we move in from there. [Laughter]
Dennis: But you do share a good bit about yourself.
Karen is also a writer. She and her husband live in central Michigan, along with her family. She has written a book called Let. It. Go.
Tell me the truth here—do you think women struggle with control more than men?
Nicole: I think that the way it manifests itself looks a certain way in women and differently in men. I do think—I’ll just go ahead and say it—I think men’s opportunity is in the area of passivity as a way of managing some of these things. I think, for women, more often than not, it ends up being an issue of control.
Dennis: There were a bunch of women who moved closer to the radio when you said “passive men.” [Laughter]
Dennis: You ladies both experienced a crisis in your life where you both had to confront this issue. It was around being pregnant / having children.
I guess, really, Nicole, you start this story, first of all. Tell what happened in your crisis.
Nicole: Sure, I will. Yes; I was, you know, doing ordinary life. For me—ordinary life, at the time, was three children under five. I was working part-time and in ministry. Sometimes, when you know in your head what the right thing to do is, it actually makes it all the more of a crisis when your heart does not follow.
That, for me—was a big part of my crisis—was just having a moment, where I had my baby with me, and I had to step out of my house because I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was the five o’clock hour, which every woman knows lasts approximately 18 hours—between the hours of five and six p.m.—everybody is falling apart at that hour.
Dennis: We call that time “the valley of the shadow of death”—
Karen: That is the valley of the shadow of death! [Laughter]
Dennis: —at our house.
Karen: It absolutely is! And it lasts sooo long!
Dennis: It does.
Karen: So long.
Dennis: It does. And you say it stripped away the “nice girl” demeanor?
Nicole: Yes; that’s right. I think that having children— and I’ve seen this in other women too—sort of the ability to keep it together, at least on the outside, is a little bit removed. It sort of pulls back a little bit—at least it did for me—it just wasn’t there. I knew that the way that I, not only was acting in my own home, but the way that I was thinking and the way that I was feeling was so far removed from the woman that I wanted to be.
I do think that women tend to accept some of those things as just: “This is just my personality. I’m just stressed. I just need sleep.” But what I love to tell women—and that I believe, truly, from my own heart—is that those very stressful times are the real you. That is not you, under stress / that is the real you. So, for me, realizing that that time of stress is not about just being stressed—it’s about who I really am.
Bob: You know—that’s a great point. I remember a friend of mine, one time, who was talking with a mother of a teen. The mother of the teen said, “I was never an impatient person until my daughter became a teenager.”
Bob: My friend said: “You have always been an impatient person.
“It just took a teenager to bring it out of you.”
Nicole: Yes; exactly! And that’s a big mind shift because that’s not really, sort of, what we hear in the culture.
Dennis: And children have a way of bringing that out. In fact, I read a Proverb this morning that said, “The heart of a man reveals who the man really is.”
Dennis: We don’t like that many times, but it is our children who are used in that sanctification process.
Bob: Karen, what was your crisis?
Karen: I had horrible pregnancies. I had three children. With each of them, I had what is called hyperemesis, which is a fancy term for saying “morning sickness all day long.”
Karen: I, literally, could not get off the couch. I had to go to the hospital to get IVs and all kinds of medicines that just didn’t work. For me, being a really in-charge, get-with-the-program kind of gal, it was very hard—especially with pregnancies two and three. I had to actually go to friend’s houses during the day and lie on their couch, with my bucket next to me. My children had to run around their house and be cared for by my friends.
This lasted for about eight months with my first child; seven with my second; and about six months with my third child. Lying there on the couch, not able to get up and do anything, really taught me two things.
First of all, it taught me that I was not indispensable. I used to think: “My family would fall apart if I weren’t around here! I keep things running around here.” Then, the second thing—lying there—that I really realized was that, when I was unable to function, because of my medical condition, I was also unable to get my own way. I couldn’t make sure my daughter’s bow matched her dress as she was going out the door for church. I could not get my own way!
Actually, it was a very good place for me to learn to dwell because I had never been forced to be in a position where I didn’t get my own way because I’m a pretty persuasive person, and my husband’s a very laid-back agreeable kind of guy. Just to see how—through those pregnancies, my family fared pretty well—taught me a lot about my need to control, my need to get my own way, my need to feel like I completely ran things around there, and it would fall apart without me.
Bob: You’re saying, “When things didn’t go exactly the way you thought they ought to be going, life did not fall apart the way you thought it would?”
Karen: No! You know, Captain Crunch for breakfast, lunch, and dinner never killed anybody. I thought it would; but when my poor husband was faced with nothing but cereal in the cupboard, the kids lived. It was okay! I just tended to think that things needed to be done right. To me, being done right meant doing them my way.
Dennis: Your husband broke out in leadership and got a youth group to come and kind of help sort things through to give you a break. That didn’t exactly work out the way you expected it to work out; did it?
Karen: No, I laid there and cried. I was so embarrassed that my house was messy—from the grimy ceilings to the filthy floors. Lying there—facing the reality that I couldn’t do it all and I had to have teenagers come in and help me—it was very humbling for me. In fact, I wanted so badly to get up and clean before they came to clean so they wouldn’t see my dirt!
I really had to learn how to accept help.
I’m the first one to sign up when somebody needs a meal or somebody needs something—I love to help people—but I don’t accept it very well because I want to appear as though I have it all together. I don’t like to admit: “I can’t do this. I have limitations.”
Bob: Nicole, let me ask you: “What is at the core?” There is really a deeper issue than the control issue.
Bob: And tied to that: “Is this really a gender-based issue? Can we say that this is more of an issue for women than it is for men?”
Nicole: I don’t love to make lots of sweeping generalizations. I believe very much that men and women are different. I think control, at the heart of it, is either rooted in fear or pride. Either “I want what I want when I want it,”—and maybe, I’m so far removed from that deep issue that it just seems, to me, like—“I’m just being a helper,” or “I’m just doing what I’m good at,” or whatever we sort of say to ourselves—or I am so terrified that I will not have someone’s approval, that I will not be affirmed, that I will have to face pain / that my loved ones will have to face pain, I’m scared of death—
—whatever that is—that we have a striving, inside of us, for that as well.
From a perspective of men and women, I think at the deep root of it, the Lord has made it very clear that we all have a deep desire for significance. How we go about getting that significance—I do think looks different for men and women.
Dennis: So, for a husband, who’s listening to us right now, who has identified between your two stories—that: “Yes, I think my wife may struggle a bit with control. Maybe, she’s on the fear side. I think I’ve got to create some kind of relationship with my wife. I’ve got to nourish and cherish her in such a way that she feels safe, she feels that my commitment is secure, and that she doesn’t have to control everything.”
What about the husband, who’s listening, who says: “I don’t know if that’s my wife’s issue. It’s over on the pride side.” What would you ladies say to him and coach him in dealing with a wife who’s in that category?
Bob: Oh, just go home and confront her—I think! [Laughter] Just go home and say: “You’ve got a pride issue, Sweetheart. I heard about it on the radio today!”
Dennis: I can assure you—
Bob: Things will not go well for you.
Dennis: —they will not go well, and do not give FamilyLife Today credit on that one! [Laughter]
Karen: Well, I really think it’s very important to understand that, for a woman, really, being controlling sometimes is a strength carried to an extreme, that now becomes a weakness—because women are very good at being conscientious, at pursuing excellence, at multi-tasking—but sometimes, we cross the line and we’re no longer conscientious—we’re controlling. We’re no longer just multi-tasking—we’re micro-managing.
Sometimes, at the root of why we women do that, is because culture kind of demands it of us today. We paint this picture that women can do it all—they can raise the kids, they can take care of the house, they can work outside of the home or inside the home, and they have all of these community and church responsibilities. We have all these things that we’re juggling, and we want to do them with excellence. In a way, we’re thinking about the verse in Colossians that says:
“Whatever we do, we’re to work at it heartily, as unto the Lord.” We think we’re just trying to do the good-mom thing and do the good-wife thing.
Sometimes, because we feel that there are eyes watching us / evaluating our performance: “How are our kids turning out?” “Gee, how are the kids on Facebook® turning out?”—that we see our friends post pictures. They win “Student of the Month” at their middle school the same time you’re hanging up the phone from the Vice Principal, at your middle school, because your child just pulled an inappropriate prank—you know—
Dennis: Yes, exactly; exactly.
Karen: —for which he got busted.
Karen: Not that that has ever happened to anybody I know! [Laughter] So often, we see those people doing life really well—and all these different roles that they have, as a woman—and we feel that we need to keep up. So, we bark out orders to our family and try to get them to get with the program because we’re trying to pursue the appearance of perfection—
Karen: —rather than pursuing the person of God.
I think a husband who can help his wife to know that: “You don’t have to be perfect, Honey. I love you just the way you are. I love our kids just the way they are. We’re going to pursue the purposes of God for our family, but we don’t have to do it like everybody else does.
“We don’t have to be perfect like all these other families appear to be. We are our own unique family and our own unique marriage. I love you just the way you are.” Then, I think, maybe, she won’t try to feel like she has to keep up with the Joneses—that parade in front of our eyes, 24/7, on the internet.
Dennis: So, a husband can help his wife put life in context—to say: “You know, we don’t have to do it all. It’s okay to settle for less. You don’t have to be perfect.”
Nicole: I think—you know—one of the temptations in a marriage is to talk at each other. I believe that growth happens in an environment of safety and love. Anytime these things are going on—perhaps, you see your wife doing something where you’re thinking, “Why is she striving so hard?”—even to ask some of those questions.
You know, we’ve lost the art of a good question—a question that isn’t leading / a question that’s not trying to make a point. A man has an opportunity to ask his wife a good question: “Why are you trying so hard to keep up?”
That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a real question: “What is going on in your heart?”
I think what we’re missing is the opportunity to get to the heart of what we see of ourselves, as people, and what we really think of God—because, if we’re striving that hard, there’s something driving that inside of us. There’s a fuel there that says, “I need to be affirmed,” or “The kids are where I find approval or worth.” That’s the real issue. The real issue is not that you’re micromanaging the birthday party. The real issue is that you find all of your worth and you’ve made your kids an idol.
Nicole: It has truly become the place of worship in your heart. We miss an opportunity, as husbands and wives, if we don’t ask the good questions in an environment of safety and security. It doesn’t have to be in one night / it’s not one date night.
Dennis: I’m glad you said that because I can ask Barbara a question—and, early in our marriage, she would say: “I don’t know. I’m not in touch to be able to answer that question on the spot.” At that point, you may need to give your wife freedom and space to process—
Dennis: —and come back 24 hours later, or a couple of days later, and say: “You know that question you asked me? I think I’ve got at least a pass of an answer.”
Nicole: Well, isn’t that the beauty of a marriage? That it is a lifetime to know each other. I think that, even in conflict, sort of staying in it—not feeling like—“This is a sitcom marriage, and we have to be resolved in the next sixty seconds. If we’re not, it’s not okay.”
The same thing for husbands—and I say this to women all of the time—in the issue of control: “Don’t try to fix it right now. Can you ask one good question that might get him thinking? Can you just let it be at that and hold your tongue for the rest? Let it be with just that one good question—that you can come back.” That’s real growth, to me / there’s an opportunity there.
Dennis: I really like that because that removes the pressure from the moment—which I do think we live in such an instant, text-message culture, and finding something on Google® or going to Wikipedia or whatever on the internet. We’re so used to doing it—we want to solve things quickly. Some of these issues have been in formation for a lifetime.
Dennis: There are a lot of habits and, really, a lot of things that contribute to it that we don’t understand.
One of the things that occurs to me—we’ve been talking about control, but we really haven’t unpacked what it really looks like. So, what I’d like both of you ladies to do is unpack what it looks like, in your life, as you have had to deal with the issue of control. So, who volunteers to go first? [Laughter]
Nicole: Radio silence! [Laughter]
Karen: Blackout! [Laughter]
Nicole: What do you mean?!
Dennis: If we had TV—stark terror on the face. [Laughter]
Karen: Well, I think, for me—I actually, in my book, I write about the different kinds of control and the different kinds of women. There might be all-out control freaks that are dominant and combative, and they are bossy. You can think of different sitcom moms, maybe, that you know who are like that—that are in-your-face controlling.
Sometimes, we have people who are enablers. They may be more quiet and soft-spoken, but they so want to control the image that they’re putting out about what their family is like that they’re the one that runs up to the school every time their child forgets their lunch pail or forgets their homework because they don’t want it to look like they have a child that’s not with it.
Or maybe, they have a husband who behaves badly or maybe has some sort of substance-abuse problem. They continually cover up for them—trying to control it.
Some people control—and this is the one I do—through people-pleasing. I think, in the end, it comes out in a lot of different ways, according to our personality; but at the root of all control—I really feel like—especially, for women—again, because we have so many hats we’re trying to wear and things we’re trying to juggle—I think, at the end of the day, we control because we don’t trust God. We think we can do His job better than He can. We think we know what’s best for us rather than Him.
It may come out in different ways; but I think, really, at the root of it, is we just don’t trust. We think that we have to do it a certain way because we don’t get to the place where we just sit back and let things lie for a little bit—we don’t have to fix it right now.
We just learn, through the journey, that those faith lessons of trusting God—we want to get to the end result—we want to fix the outcome. We don’t just sit back and let Him have the driver’s seat. It’s not that we’re trying to be godly—we’re trying to be God!
Dennis: Yes, I agree with you. Nicole, what about you? If we called your husband, right now, on his cell phone—
Dennis: —and said, “Would you bring forth the DNA, the fingerprints, the eyewitness evidence of how Nicole has dealt with issues of control?”
Dennis: What would he say?
Nicole: Well, I know I can say, for myself, that I was born bossy and always have been. If that’s submerged in God’s obedience, it can be a wonderful gift—to have the gift of influence—
Nicole: —but outside of it, it’s its own thing.
For me, I really have learned through this process and just being an adult—and, again, having young children—really getting to the root of things—where you believe deeply that life should go a certain way for you. I think, over and over again—
—whether it was in an argument with my husband or hiding in my walk-in closet and crying and trying to understand life—it was a sense of very strong belief that I should be able to get my life to go a certain way.
When it is not going that way, there is anger there / there’s resentment. The anger and the resentment are toward the Lord, at the end of the day—that’s what it’s toward. You can either turn it in and decide that you can fully wrestle your way into what you want or, at some point, you have to really realize, “Who’s in control of my life here?”
I think the one thing about control is that we are made to work. I think there’s a little bit in this Christianity / church-ianity life for women that’s like: “Sit back and abide in the Lord. Be a Mary. Don’t be a Martha.” I’m all into that, but I have a pretty hard-driving personality. So, it’s really been pretty hard to take that in because it sounds, to me, like: “Stop doing anything. Don’t do anything.” I’m like: “Most women I know are pretty awesome at a lot of things. A lot of women have changed the world because of the beliefs that they’ve had and what they’ve done.”
Nicole: “I don’t think they’re all just sitting back.”
Dennis: I agree.
Nicole: So, I want to say that we were made—men and women, together—to advance the Kingdom. We really do have work to do in this world. God has chosen us, as His church—His hands and feet. It’s a matter of what you do with the influence He’s given you / it’s not a matter of not having any influence.
Karen: Don’t you think it all comes down to motive?
Karen: For me, it comes down to motive: “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”
Nicole: Right; that’s what we’re talking about.
Karen: “Are you doing it to get recognition? Are you doing it to wow the neighbors and impress all of the people down at the PTA?” or “Are you doing it because you’ve truly been in a close-walking relationship with the Lord; and through the Holy Spirit, He has told you: ‘These are My marching orders for you. Now go do the job with excellence.’” That’s fine!
Dennis: That’s how I want to kind of wrap what we’re talking about here because what I hear you ladies talking about is a humility that takes a step back and considers your own heart: “Where is your heart?” You know, the Proverbs warn us: “Guard your heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life.” What I hear you saying is: “Take a step back. Look in the mirror of the Scriptures.
“Evaluate your own life and say, ‘God, do I have an issue of control?’” Whether you are male or female, by the way—but pull back, ask God the question—and then, be quiet. Just sit on that prayer for a couple of days and ask God, “Would You begin to show me if I have an issue of control?”
Just to kind of help you relax about it—all of us bring issues into our marriage—like bringing bags into the house. We’ve got the issues, and we’ve got to unpack them. It’s the safest—I think—the safest relationship in life because it’s a covenant relationship.
Dennis: The marriage relationship is for keeps—where real transformation and life-change can occur, under the leadership and Lordship of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Bob: I’m imagining a wife, who’s listening, who would say: “Okay, I’m going to do what Dennis said. I’m just going to ask the Lord, ‘Do I have an issue here?’ I’m just going to get quiet here and spend a couple of days.” Then, she decides: “I’m going to ask my husband. I’m just going to ask him, ‘Do you think I have a control issue?’”
Before you ask him, just ask yourself this question: “If he says, ‘Well, yes, Babe. You know, there are some areas…,’ how are you going to respond if he answers that way?”
If you think, “If he said that, I would get so mad!” then, you probably have a control issue. [Laughter]
Dennis: I was going to say, Bob, to that woman—that she has that prayer, and she prays it—and then, her husband, who is listening to this broadcast today, as well, comes home and says, “Sweetie, you’ve got an issue…”—[Laughter]—that’s not good either. We’re not going to end on that.
Bob: Oh, you don’t go home today and say, “They were talking about you on the radio today, Sweetheart.” [Laughter] And I wouldn’t go home and say, “I ordered a couple of books for you from FamilyLife Today.” In fact, let me just encourage wives: “Take the pressure off your husbands. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and look at the books we’ve been talking about today—the one by Nicole Unice called She’s Got Issues and the one by Karen Ehman called Let. It. Go.”
We have both books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order either or both when you go to our website. Again, FamilyLifeToday.com is the web address; or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And we’ll make arrangements to get these books sent to you.
Now, guess who is celebrating 25 years together as a couple today. They live in Aurora, Colorado, and listen to FamilyLife Today on KRKS. Their names are Sukhee and Oky Cho—and 25 years / they were married in 1991. They are also supporters of this ministry. We just wanted to say, “Happy anniversary!” to the Chos as they celebrate the big silver anniversary today.
Anniversaries are a big deal. They ought to be a big deal. I mean, it represents something significant in a marriage. It represents commitment. It represents a whole lot of forgiveness that has had to occur.
It represents an understanding that God’s design for marriage means going the distance together.
And we’re all about that, here at FamilyLife. We want to provide you with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family every day on this broadcast and in everything we do, here at FamilyLife. We are joined in that passion by folks, like you, who come alongside this broadcast and help make all that we do possible through your donations. We are a donor-supported ministry. More than 65 percent of the funds that we need to operate this ministry come from donations. Without you, literally, much of what we do here would not happen.
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Now, I think there is a question about “When does the desire to make sure things are being done right turn into being controlling?” We’re going to explore that tomorrow with our guests, Karen Ehman and Nicole Unice. Hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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