Control in marriage. Really?  You hear about it all the time, but usually in a negative connotation.

“He/She is controlling.”

“Everything is his/her way.”

“I can’t be myself.”

That’s because control in this meaning is about pressure, force, power, manipulation and sometimes even domination. But we all desire to have some control over, or in, our lives. Control is a very natural part of who we are because we are created to live free. We have a free will that desires to manage our own actions or emotions, and even the overall outcome of what our life is to be.

 It’s really all about INFLUENCE

Research on couples show that the most successful ones share the control in the relationship. John Gottman calls this accepting influence from each other. The health of marriage depends on the degree both spouses are willing to accept and receive influence from each other. That means control of the marriage is shared. When one spouse forces, pressures or dominates a relationship, it only creates damage; not control or influence. It takes away the freedom from a person and the freedom in the relationship as a whole.

So if we are to feel a sense of freedom for the direction our lives are headed, we must find the right balance in how we control ourselves, and not in controlling others. Instead we influence others in positive ways that give us that sense of self control, and give our partners the freedom to be who they are too. So here are:

3 Attributes for a Healthy Marriage

  1. The Power of Vulnerability

First of all, instead of being vulnerable, we protect and defend ourselves. Why? Because, we see vulnerability as a weakness. Or, we aren’t comfortable with our emotions or the emotions of others. It may be because we are in or have been in emotionally or physically unsafe relationships.  Sometimes we even allow ourselves to be hurt by our own lack of boundaries. So, yes, there are good reasons why we protect instead of being open and vulnerable. The definition itself sounds scary to us: “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.”

Brene’ Brown is a research professor who has spent many years studying things like courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.  Her definition of vulnerability includes “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” That definition can really scare some of us too. She goes on to say “But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.” The Vulnerability muscle “allows us to soften and stay open rather than attack and defend.” “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, trust, intimacy, courage-everything that brings meaning to our life.”

I believe she is right. Couples I see that have real meaning -love, trust and intimacy- in their relationships are ones that are not walled off, defensive and protective. They are emotionally safe, vulnerable toward one another. By their influence with each other, they control the balance of their freedom in the marriage and create a deeper, shared meaning. Of course, physical and emotional safety is an essential requirement for vulnerability.

  1. Empathy Always

I don’t think many people would argue that understanding your partner is a key to peace and a good relationship. Solomon said “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Empathy is the understanding, awareness and sensitivity to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of someone else. It’s more than just knowing and awareness though. It is taking action to express that understanding and sensitivity.

Without empathy we see only our own perspective; the ideas, opinions and views of our spouse get lost in stubbornness and misunderstanding. Many believe that “misunderstanding is the cause of 90% of all conflict.

Empathy is associated with more successful conflict management and problem solving in relationships. Without empathy more withdrawal and compliance happen in relationships; more conflicts, arguments, more lack of closeness and intimacy. Listen to understand first. Validate the thoughts and feelings of your partner. Recognize and appreciate the meaning of your partner’s feelings. 

  1. Shared Submission

Finally, the word submission has got to be one of the most misunderstood terms in marriage. Our culture today often sees submission as weakness and passivity. But submission has nothing to do with being controlled, or obeying. Submitting is a free act of our will to yield to our spouse in some ways and some of the time. To submit is not to be forced, but to consent out of our own choice. We permit ourselves to receive influence from our loved one.  And we also defer to their ideas or desires.

Great marriages are ones where both submit to one another. We consider and treat our partner as valuable and important. Encouragement and appreciation are regularly expressed. We humbly share the control in the relationship and acknowledge and respect the skills and character of our mate.  It does not mean there is not leadership or authority in the relationship. It means there is the sharing of those things according to abilities, agreement and even functionality. We accept and receive influence from our spouse. It is not about position and being first. It is about putting your partner first! When both submit, both are first! Feels good!


Not the kind of attributes you were expecting, huh?


The only way to have control in your relationship is to let go of it.

Work the attitudes and practices of vulnerability, empathy and submission into your relationship. You will find there is real power, control and freedom in using your influence in these areas.

We would love to know what you think! Leave us a comment below.