The Desire to Control
Shannon Popkin, author of the book "Control Girl," tells how she finally came to realize she had a control issue. Whether getting angry at her husband or losing it with her kids, Popkin acknowledges her anger often stemmed from her need to control the situation and those around her. She explains how acknowledging God's sovereignty and surrendering to His control has helped her reign in her controlling tendencies and walk in the Spirit.
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Shannon Popkin tells how she finally came to realize she had a control issue. She explains how acknowledging God’s sovereignty, has helped her reign in her controlling tendencies and walk in the Spirit.
The Desire to Control
Bob: There is a line between helping one another in marriage and micromanaging your spouse. Shannon Popkin says she eventually came to a point in her marriage where she realized she had crossed that line.
Shannon: I didn’t know that, when I was constantly picking at him about the way he would leave his whiskers in the sink in the bathroom or not clean up the protein powder on the counter in the kitchen—constantly all these nit-picky little things, where he wasn’t doing it right, and I didn’t trust him—I was over, and over, and over communicating a measure of disrespect to my husband. I didn’t even—I was just trying to make it turn out right!
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 14th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Have your attempts to help your spouse crossed a line? Have you become a controlling person? We’ll explore that subject with Shannon Popkin today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think, Dave, you and I should probably just say nothing for the rest of the time; don’t you think? [Laughter]
Dave: I don’t know what you’re thinking, Bob. I want to control this interview. [Laughter] You want me to be quiet? I can be quiet if you want me to.
Bob: I think there may be other people here who would prefer to control what’s going on here. [Laughter]
Ann: Are you talking to me? [Laughter]
Bob: “Are you talking to me?”—that’s what that sounds like, right? [Laughter]
Shannon: I know.
Bob: We’re going to be talking about the issue of control; and it’s not that guys can’t be control freaks, but—
Dave: Bob, I think you better stop right there. [Laughter] You’re going to go in some deep waters!
Ann: Do you guys not struggle with wanting to control situations?
Bob: Maybe it’s because, by default, guys often do. Maybe we just look at it and we just live in a culture, where it’s just assumed guys will take control or they’re supposed to or something.
I have just observed that this idea of wanting to be in control of your environment—wanting to be in control of your safety and everything—this seems to be an issue that women I have known in my life have—[Laughter]—and I’m not thinking of—
Dave: You’re trying hard, Bob, to say this in a very complimentary way. [Laughter]
Bob: Can we just stop this conversation?
Ann: And I think I’m really good at taking control of things. [Laughter]
Dave: Honey, you really are. I’ve never met a better woman in control of things than right now.
Ann: Oh, it’s so sad, because this really is a struggle of mine; and I think it is to a lot of women.
Dave: It’s going to be great, because it has been—we’ve said it here on the air many times—a struggle in our marriage. To talk about this, I think a lot of people—
Ann: Thanks, honey. [Laughter]
Dave: —well, not just: “My wife’s the most controlling woman I know,”—it isn’t that; no, it isn’t that at all. We both struggle with it; I think a lot of people do. That is a tension in probably all marriages, so let’s go!
Bob: Shannon Popkin is joining us to help us have this conversation. Shannon, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Shannon: Thank you so much.
Bob: Shannon is a wife and a mom from western Michigan, the other side of the state from where you guys live. She is an author and a speaker and has written a book on this subject; I presume because you recognized, at some point, this was an issue for you.
Shannon: Yes; not immediately, though. I didn’t realize that I had any control issues. [Laughter]
Ann: —which, I think that’s interesting, because I would have said the same thing. If Dave said, “You’re trying to take control,” I was thinking, “No, I’m just a leader! I’m good at this!”
Shannon: Right! “I’m just invested; I’m just trying to make it turn out right!” That’s, I think, in general, what women feel about taking control.
You know, a lot of people, who have read this book, have said, “I picked this up, kind of for somebody else; [Laughter] so I could give advice or kind of vet it for somebody else, and recognized that maybe this is something that I struggle with more than I realize.”
Bob: The book we’re talking about is a book called Control Girl. You say in the book that you thought your issues were more anger-related than control-related, and then you got a wake-up call about that.
Shannon: Yes. No, anger I definitely recognized. I was reading books about anger and asking friends to hold me accountable, and anger was something I didn’t like. I saw it in myself, and I didn’t like it.
But one day, I was driving in the car and listening to Dee Brestin on the radio, on a program kind of like this. She was talking about how we have these surface-level sins that kind of bubble to the surface. We see these sins and we recognize them; but sometimes they’re tied to this core, underlying sin. She mentioned the sin of control. I think she also mentioned in there anger.
It was the first time that I had ever considered: “I think maybe my anger is a result of this underlying desire that I have to take control. I’m getting mad, I’m losing my temper, because of something that I want control of and I can’t get it.” It was the first time I ever tied those together.
From that point on, I started asking myself, “Okay”—when I would feel the anger rising—“Okay, is there something I’m trying to control here?” or “Is there something that I feel I am losing control of?” More often than not, the answer was, “Yes”; I was trying to control something.
Dave: How would you say or how did Dee say, “Control is a sin”? Because part of me thinks control’s good: I’m leading; I’m taking charge of my life. Yet you’re saying that’s almost underneath this anger thing; it’s a sin—explain that.
Shannon: Yes; well, control is wrong when we’re taking control of something that is not ours to control. I think, ultimately, if we’re trying to take God’s place—if we’re trying to play God/if we’re trying to insert ourselves as God—God’s the One who’s ultimately in control. He manages the details and He oversees the circumstances.
Yes, when we’re talking about our share, we should take control/we should take responsibility.
Bob: The fruit of the Spirit is—self-control.
Shannon: Self-control; that’s right.
Bob: Self-control is a healthy thing. It’s when we’re trying to control other people, trying to control circumstances that are beyond our control, trying to control our environment when that’s not our job to do; that’s when, all of a sudden, it starts to get ugly. We’re really rebelling against God’s providence when we’re trying to take control in those situations, right?
Shannon: Yes, there’s kind of an irony with this. We tend to want to control the things that are not ours to control, and then we tend to lose control over ourselves in the same process. [Laughter] Anger, for me—I was constantly losing my temper in anger—but it was because I was trying to control the things that were not mine to control.
Ann: What did that look like in your life, when you were trying to get control, and you started kind of analyzing this and listening to yourself/watching yourself? Where did this play out?
Shannon: I’d be driving in the car, and my kids are arguing in the back seats. I would be like, “Be quiet! I’m trying to drive here,”—right? Or I’m on the phone, and I don’t want the person on the phone to hear my kids yelling in the back; I’d be getting like, “Be quiet!” I’m getting angry instead of pulling the car over, or asking the person if I can call them back, and taking responsibility as a mom, like, “Let’s train my kids here!” I was losing control.
Now, that’s an example of something that is mine control. As a mom, I should manage my children and I should train them to not be screaming at each other and cause me to have an accident in the front seat, right?—that’s part of my job. But ultimately, I can’t control all of the contingencies/all of the details.
Dave: What is it about driving a car that deals with control?—because you don’t have control of other people.
Ann: I’m not sure women deal with the car as much as our spouse.
Ann: Do you think that’s true?
Shannon: Yes; he has the control, and I’m trying to control him as he controls the vehicle; right?!
I remember reading For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and going out for a date with my husband afterward. I had just read the chapter on not disrespecting my husband, and there was an illustration about driving and instructions. I decided to put that into practice. I decided to, on the way to the mall, not give him any instructions.
When we got there—
Ann: Did you make it there?
Shannon: It was novel for me! We did! We made it there! He did not choose the route or the parking spot that I would have chosen, but he did it without me. [Laughter]
When we got inside and we sat down at our booth, I decided to not correct his menu choices or not to sit where he wanted to sit. I just decided, “I’m just going to ride shotgun here on this date.” He looked into my eyes and said, “This has been the best date!” [Laughter] It was this novel, amazing thing.
I think, as women, when we take control, especially in our marriages, we don’t realize that we’re communicating a level of disrespect toward our husbands. I didn’t realize that. I didn’t know that, when I was constantly picking at him about the way he would leave his whiskers in the sink in the bathroom or not clean up the protein powder on the counter in the kitchen—constantly all these nit-picky little things; or in parenting, he wasn’t doing it right; and I didn’t trust him—I was over, and over, and over communicating a measure of disrespect to my husband. I didn’t even—I was just trying to make it turn out right!
Ann: I can so relate to your situation, because I was doing the same thing. Interestingly enough, I read Shaunti’s book as well, For Women Only. What it does is it takes you on a journey of helping you to see what you’re doing—that you’ve been doing a long time that you didn’t notice—is very controlling and disrespectful. I started gauging my words. Yes, I was always nit-picking; I was always fixing Dave of what he didn’t do or did do.
Where does that control, for us as women, where does that come from?
Shannon: I think it starts in the garden of Eden, when there was that tree in the middle of the garden. I think it’s really interesting God put that tree in the middle, right? When I don’t want my kids to have something, I don’t put it in the middle of the counter or the middle of the room; I tuck it away where they can’t see it.
Ann: Hide it!
Shannon: Right; so why would God put that tree in the middle? Maybe they were brushing past it on a daily basis. I think that tree posed a question. As they brushed against it, God was asking a question, “Will you live in daily surrender to Me?” He is God, and we are not; so when Eve took that fruit—she reached out/she took the fruit—and instead of living in surrender to God, she took control for herself. She bit into the fruit, and she became what I call the first Control Girl.
Then God spoke a curse over the whole planet, but there’s a little phrase in the curse that is centered on Eve. It says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” I always thought that was a sexual desire; it made no sense to me, because I thought, “If women had more of that, their husbands would not consider that a curse!” [Laughter] It didn’t make any sense.
I remember listening to a sermon once by John Piper, and he was explaining that verse and explaining that this desire is a desire for control. It’s a desire—there’s parallel language in the next chapter/in Genesis 4, where God’s speaking to Cain—and He’s saying, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you; you must rule over it.”
When you take that meaning back to Genesis 3, you just kind of picture the woman, as like the crouching animal, desiring control/wanting to pounce on her husband—but not just her husband—this curse that we live under affects our marriages, our parenting; it really has its fingers in all of our relationships.
Bob: I have a hypothesis that what’s behind that—you know, we’re talking about the sin behind the sin—I think a lot of women have this thought, and men have it too—again, we’re not trying to be exclusive—but we want to control because we have the illusion that—if we’re in control, then we’re safe; that if we are in charge, then things won’t go wrong—because we’ll be there to make the right decisions.
It’s an illusion, because life is not safe; right? Circumstances can come at you that you can’t handle. Safety is found when you’re surrendered to Christ; it’s not when you’re in control. Yet, this is the idea that: “If I’m going to be secure/if I’m going to be safe, I have to be in charge.”
Shannon: Yes; Bob, I think this is really particularly an issue with American women—because American women have rights; and we have money; and we have medical; we have insurance—so I just think that the façade is thicker.
You know, God gives us these opportunities, where He kind of cuts in/leans in, and gives us these things that we cannot control. He might give us a child that we can’t control; He might give us difficulty in our marriage; He might—you know, it’s the cancer diagnosis or the accident—there are these moments in life, where it just becomes painfully obvious that we’re not in control.
Those are invitations/invitations to reorient ourselves and remind ourselves that He ultimately is in control, and we are not; and that is a good thing! It does not bring deep security, and peace, and joy to think of myself as the one in control. I feel like I’m going to create this peace and security; that’s why I reach out and I try to take control.
I totally agree with what you’re saying. From the parking lot, to where the kids are going to go to school—to all of these different contingencies—I’m trying to manage them; because I have an idea in my mind of what the happy ending looks like.
Shannon: I feel like it’s all up to me to keep everything pointed in this direction. But this façade is not leading me anywhere that I want to go; because little by little by little I’m becoming a more controlling woman, and it’s not pretty.
Dave: Talk about how this—you’ve already mentioned it——but I know, in our marriage, this almost did us in—the control thing that I felt as a husband. You talked about it a little bit, but it is a big deal in marriages because—and men can do it as well, right?—it isn’t just a women thing.
When our book came out, Vertical Marriage, there’s a chapter in there called “All I Hear Is Boo,” and it was all about—I’ll cut to the chase, because we’ve told it so many times—but I felt that Ann just booed me when I walked in the house; I got applauded everywhere else. So guess what a man does?—he doesn’t want to come home; he wants to go.
Dave: Some of that was control. The thing that buzzed around the internet, when Ann wrote a blog about that, was that topic; so many people are like: “Oh, that’s my marriage,” “That’s my marriage.” You knew this was resonating with, especially husbands, going: “Yes! I’ve never connected ‘Boo’ or control to disrespect; but that’s what it feels like.” You both talked about it.
How does a woman—we could talk to the men too—but how does a woman get to a place, where she backs off, like you did that one day in the restaurant? That was an hour or two. How does a woman live that way to really trust her marriage and her man to God and let go of control?
Shannon: I realized, early on, that I had to back up to—you know, you talked about that moment that the husband comes through the door; that wasn’t the moment that I had to start with. I had to back up to the moments, throughout the day, when I was thinking about my husband; and I was coming across the whiskers in the sink or the protein powder on the counter, and I had all these little noises I would make—like: “Crr!” and “Pfft!”—and all these little frustration [noises]—“Rr! I can’t believe he put the sheets on sideways!”—all of these moments.
In those moments, those were the ones where I had to choose to respect my husband; that’s our instructions in the Word. It’s not a conditional commandment that wives respect their husbands; we’re asked to respect our husbands without contingencies.
In those moments, that I would come across things that were frustrating to me, choosing in those moments: “You know what? I can turn these sheets the opposite direction”; and rehearsing in my mind all the ways that I love my husband, and all of the wonderful things about him, my gratitude; and recapturing those words, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”; so doing the work in the heart, and putting a filter in my heart over how I thought about my husband—that was really key—but then, also, in the way that I speak to him, especially when there’s something that I disagree with.
Ann: I would totally concur and agree with you, because that’s where it started for me as well. As I was trying to get ahold of this and handle talking to God about this, I’ll never forget this day: I’m folding clothes, and I had just been in this pattern and habit of complaining about Dave in my head. As I was folding the clothes, I felt this small voice of God whisper to me, “What would happen if you would pray for him as much as you complained about him?”
It was one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks. I was kind of in an argument with God, like, “I don’t complain”; and then I started thinking, “I do complain about him.” I started to try to get in this habit: “Lord, how do You want me to see him?” and “How can I get control of my mind, of taking every thought captive?”
It took me awhile. Did it take you awhile, Shannon?
Shannon: Oh, yes; I mean, I’m still working on it. You know, we’re only talking about this problem in the past, as long as it’s the past five minutes, right? [Laughter] It’s something I’m still definitely working through.
But also, when you get to the conflict moments—when there is something that you really disagree about—inviting my husband to lead in those moments when we disagree; that I feel like has really revolutionized our marriage.
Bob: I have to presume—and I’ll ask both of you ladies this—I have to presume that the impulse to control is still there.
Shannon: [Laughter] Oh yes!
Ann: In our manual for the Weekend to Remember®, part of it says that “God will take away the desire to control.”
Ann: I’ve told the ladies, “God hasn’t taken away that desire, because that’s still there.
Ann: “But the question is, ‘Will I act on it?’”
Bob: It has less of an impact on you today than it had ten years ago; you’ve learned how to respond to the desire. So what do you do when the impulse hits today?
Shannon: You know, over and over, we have the option of caving in to ourselves or caving in to the Holy Spirit/choosing control for ourselves or choosing to let God be in control. That has to do with the big situations in life that cause great anxiety, and pain, and struggle; or that has to do with the little choices in life, like, “What am I going to say?” “What am I going to eat?” “What am I going to watch?” I’m either caving in to my desire for control or my desire that God be in control.
Little by little by little, as I make those choices, I’m choosing a trajectory for my life. I’m either headed towards the path of becoming an older controlling woman or I’m headed towards becoming a beautifully surrendered woman of God.
Ann: I think, too, it’s been amazing to see the fruit of holding my tongue; because I have done damage to Dave and our three sons, years ago, of just letting my words have their full go, and full fury, or full fixing mode. It made everyone kind of pull away from me.
I’ve realized, as God has helped me to stop my words that come out, that I’ve seen this awakening, almost, “Wow, Mom! We like being around you!”
Shannon: Yes, yes.
Ann: Trying to speak words of life instead of words of critique—I think has made a big difference in our home.
Dave: I would just add—40 years of being married to this amazing woman—she’s doing that; she’s living that, and it’s the most beautiful thing. As a man/as a husband, watching our sons, life came to our soul.
I have/we all have to do the same thing; but when it came back to her being able to step back and say: “I’m going to trust God with my men,” “I’m going to trust God with this situation.” We all have to do that; we all have a tendency to take control—sometimes we need to—but most of the time, we need to go: “God is bigger,” and “I can keep quiet,” or “I can let my man lead,” or “I can let my…” and “I’m going to trust him.” There’s life that comes to the home.
Bob: Shannon, one of the things you do in the book, Control Girl, is you identify women in Scripture and the control issues that they had. I just want to encourage listeners—get a copy of this book; go through it with other women. It would be a great women’s Bible study book to go through together; or maybe you just need to read it with your own highlighter and just say, “Every time God speaks to [me], just underline right there.”
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Shannon Popkin’s book, Control Girl; or you can call us to order. Our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to order a copy of the book, Control Girl, by Shannon Popkin; or you can order by calling 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, don’t forget: tonight, at eight o’ clock, there’s a small group meeting that’s happening. That’s eight o’ clock CT; it’s happening online. Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be hosting a three-week-long small group on their video series, Vertical Marriage®. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for information on how you can join the small group. Watch the first session of the video; then join in with people from all across the country. Dave and Ann are going to be leading the group and have a conversation. If you’ve been looking for something to do tonight—looking for something that will help strengthen your marriage—this is a great opportunity. Again, eight o’ clock CT; the information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about some of the control tactics that are used occasionally, including how we speak to one another. How do we tame our tongue and back off on trying to control the people around us? Shannon Popkin’s going to be with us again tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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