Desire For Control

“I tried to control everything, from our financial decisions to where the kids were going for preschool. There was no room for Jared’s leadership in our marriage.” – Leigh Anne Sullivan

“It’s almost like I was sweeping my husband’s feet out from under him,” said Leigh Anne Sullivan. “That’s what my desire for control was doing to our relationship. I tried to control everything, from our financial decisions to where the kids were going for preschool. There was no room for Jared’s leadership in our marriage.

“My desire for control was fueled by the insecurity, instability, and fear I experienced as a child. My parents divorced when I was young, and my dad wasn’t involved in my day-to-day life. My mother struggled with a host of challenges, and by the time I graduated from high school, I had lived in 15 different houses.

“I coped with the chaos by being a good kid and immersing myself in sports, friends, and school work. Catholic school gave me a little guidance and introduced me to a God I had no exposure to before then. Knowing the Lord was real was the extent of my faith.

“In high school, I looked to alcohol, partying, and relationships with boyfriends to fill the void. That pattern continued when I went off to college. I made a lot of irresponsible choices, and my moral compass was all about comparison. If I wasn’t doing something worse than another girl was doing, I was OK.

“Although Jared always jokes that his good looks won me over, it’s actually his sense of humor that made me fall in love with him. We got together in college, and along with dating me, Jared also got to date all my anxiety and insecurities. My constant fear of losing him was not great for our relationship, and neither was our partying.

“Jared’s parents are wonderful, and I met them shortly after we started dating. They shared the gospel with me and prayed for me often. During that time, I also went through the most difficult chapter of my young adult life when my father passed away very suddenly. At the time, I was preparing to graduate and take the registered dietician exam so I could start my master’s degree. Life was just a blur.

“Jared and I got married after that, and we moved to Dallas. We both got great jobs and immediately bought a house. I thought that material things could fill the void already growing in our relationship. Jared had a high-stress job, and alcohol no longer masked his anxiety, so he started using drugs. There were signs of his drug use, but I was in a total state of denial.

“Because Jared traveled for work, I was at home alone for much of the time. Feeling isolated, I sought fulfillment in my relationships with friends and family. After our daughter, Caroline, arrived, I distanced myself from Jared by pouring myself into motherhood. Paying very little attention to my husband, I sort of stopped being a wife.

“We fought a lot about Jared’s drinking, but the more I tried to control him, the more he withdrew, which only made his drinking worse. Eventually, I caught Jared doing drugs. It’s almost like God put it right in front of me since I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Now, Jared says that he was praying to get caught.

“When Jared and I decided to go to re|engage,* I thought we were there to fix Jared. God used re|engage not only as a turning point for our marriage, but also as a starting point for my faith in Christ. One week, we had a lesson that focused on the fact that we are totally undeserving of the free gift of God’s grace through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. This was the first time I’d ever connected Christ’s death on the cross to my own life. How could I ever earn that kind of love from God? I learned that trusting in God’s grace and walking in faith meant I could find my identity in His love. I no longer had to search for fulfillment in being a wife, or in motherhood, or even in being in control.

“As we went through re|engage, Jared’s heart began changing as well. He went from withdrawing from our family to caring deeply and leading us so well. Both of us started seeking accountability and running to the Lord for support. I worked on letting go of control, which gave Jared room to lead our family. We started out in a hard place, and today we are more in love than before.

“Our marriage is still a work in progress, and we continue to take steps in improving communication. We have been part of a community group for a while now, and it is great to have people to walk with us and hold us accountable. We also serve as leaders in re|engage, where we have the chance to encourage other couples the way we have been encouraged. I frequently get to tell other couples that God has used the struggles in our marriage to free me up to love Him and others. As I have focused on not being anxious, as it says in Philippians 4:6-9, I’ve trusted God to give me contentment that I wouldn’t otherwise have. There is no explanation for the peace I have now, and I am thankful.”

* Whether your marriage needs to be reignited or is in need of complete resurrection, re|engage is a safe place for couples to move toward oneness through stories of grace, teaching, and small groups. See watermark.org/reengage.

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