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My marriage was fine before we had children, but as soon as I got pregnant he began trying to control very personal choices like where I birthed and who would help me deliver. Now, he shoots down how we originally agreed to raise our child. On top of it, I’m in trouble for not completing chores on time. He wants to send our child away to daycare so I can devote more time to housework. He tells me I’m not qualified to raise our child and that my instincts as a mother are dead wrong because he is more in tune with the Spirit than I am. He says he gets extremely anxious when he sees another child do something our child can’t do.
We’ve already been to counseling and both counselors said he’s very controlling and wasn’t willing to work on the anger he admits he has. Our bishop also called him out for unrighteous dominion. One counselor said at this point I’ve got to do what I feel is right and ignore his desires, but that doesn’t feel right. Plus, our child will pay for it dearly with increased tension in the home. Our boy is already grumpy because my husband snaps at me in front of him for little offenses like me holding him when he says he needs to be held. I’m not sure what can be done, but change isn’t happening very quickly and our son is growing up.
Your counselors and your bishop are correct that his behavior toward you is controlling and embodies the very definition of unrighteous dominion. I will share a couple of quotes from our prophets and apostles that will further reify this point, but my guess is that you already understand that his behavior is completely out of bounds. The bigger question, then, is what are you going to do to protect yourself and your son from these abusive patterns?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that if he ever let himself become controlling of his own wife, then,
“God will hold me accountable for any pain I cause her by intentionally exploiting or hurting her when she has been so trusting of me, having long since thrown away any self-protection in order that we could be, as the scripture says, “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). To impair or impede her in any way for my gain or vanity or emotional mastery over her should disqualify me on the spot to be her husband. Indeed, it should consign my miserable soul to eternal incarceration in that large and spacious building Lehi says is the prison of those who live by “vain imaginations” and the “pride of the world” (1 Nephi 11:36, 12:18). No wonder that building is at the opposite end of the field from the tree of life representing the love of God! In all that Christ was, He was not ever envious or inflated, never consumed with His own needs. He did not once, not ever, seek His own advantage at the expense of someone else. He delighted in the happiness of others, the happiness He could bring them. He was forever kind.”[i]
President Howard W. Hunter further emphasized the need for men to honor and revere the sacred role mother’s carry out in our homes:
“Mothers perform a labor the priesthood cannot do. For this gift of life, the priesthood should have love unbounded for the mothers of their children. Honor your wife’s unique and divinely appointed role as a mother in Israel and her special capacity to bear and nurture children. You share, as a loving partner, the care of the children. You should express regularly to your wife and children your reverence and respect for her. Indeed, one of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”[ii]
Again, I’m certain that these ideas reinforce what you already know about your situation. Although it doesn’t hurt to reiterate these truths, knowledge isn’t the same as understanding. You’ve had multiple people tell you the same truth and now it’s time to take action. This doesn’t mean you need to divorce him, but it does mean that your relationship with him can’t look the same anymore.
You are worried about the tension rising in your home if you stand up to your husband’s controlling behavior. The truth is that the tension is already high and will only get higher over time as he exerts more control. I don’t know how old your son is, but as he becomes more independent, there will be more power struggles as your husband works to control his behaviors. He’s already controlling you and will expect to be able to do the same with your son.
I recommend you seek personal counseling for yourself to get ongoing support as you begin to change your responses to your husband. Even though marriage counseling may seem like the obvious choice, it’s not a good fit when there is controlling and abusive behavior. You need a space to clarify what you need, how you feel, and understand why you’ve allowed this controlling behavior to continue for so long.
The goal isn’t for you to have things your way and completely disregard your husband’s input. That would be the same thing that’s happening right now. Instead, the goal is for you to claim your spot in the marriage as an equal partner and parent to your husband. He is dominating you and your son by refusing to allow you to have input on parenting and home decisions. If he shuts down your voice and completely disregards you as an equal, then this is abuse and needs to be stopped.
Please recognize that your husband may become more verbally or even physically aggressive as you become more assertive about your preferences. Physical and emotional abuse should not be tolerated in marriage and family life. If this happens, make sure you have a plan outlined with your therapist and bishop so you can find a stable and safe place for yourself and your son.
It’s possible for your husband to change and become a more inclusive and supportive husband and father. However, nothing will change if you don’t expect to be treated like an equal. Your son doesn’t need to be raised by parents who believe that one of them is less important than the other. Hopefully you can recognize your own worth and value as a woman and reclaim your rightful place in the home.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.