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Micro-managing: “I don’t accept you as you are.”

There is a time for everything. And, yes, there is even a time for micro-managing. But it’s not often.

I was scheduled to do five weddings this year and thus have spent a lot of time blocking out time for a total of 30 sessions in pre-marital counseling, six sessions a piece. I won’t marry a couple unless they’re willing to do the time with me. My process is getting more and more systematized as I go through the various themes I want to address before the big day and since we’ve been entrusted with a younger generation of people, I do a lot more weddings than funerals.

One discussion I like to have with the young lovers is about the matter of non-negotiables vs. negotiables. Happy is the relationship, marriage or other, that has a long negotiable list and a very, very short non-negotiable list. There are, of course, things in a relationship that should be non-negotiable. Jesus first is is one of those non-negotiables that a disciple of Jesus Christ brings into his or her marriage. A person cannot, in fact, be a disciple if he or she is willing to negotiate away Jesus and His Word. But if the non-negotiable list gets much longer there is an exponential increase in self exaltation at the expense of the spouse.

I marvel at the control-freakishness of men who dictate the details of their wives’ lives. Some even go so far as insisting that the house be decorated to accommodate their tastes, that the babies must be dressed a specific way, and that the schedule of the entire family revolve around them. They think they’re being leaders because they dominate. They think that by micro-managing everything that their wife or children do they are providing good leadership. In fact, they are saying, detail after detail after detail, “I don’t accept you as you are.” Mothers who micro-manage their children’s lives are undermining the single most important asset a confident person needs: acceptance.

I am persuaded that the confident Christian leader is such because he knows himself to be accepted in Christ. The assurance of acceptance is so powerful that even Jesus needed verbal affirmations from the Father that came to him via theophanies: “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Friends, we must realize that micro-managing the choices of people around us, particularly those who are under our leadership, is a way of saying that we do not accept them as they are.

The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus accepts us as we are. Indeed, there are commandments. There’s the cross and we must carry it. There is a yoke. But in Christ there is freedom because there is acceptance. Jesus has the right to dictate every second of my schedule and tell me whether I should get a tall or a grande at Starbucks, but I have a choice and so does the person in front of me!  One of the reasons why the Bible does not have a prescription for what we are to do in every single situation of our life is precisely because we are accepted as we are. Christ, the Lord of the universe, lets me decide whether I’m going to wear jeans or a suit to the funeral and accepts me either way; why can’t I restrain from dictating whether my wife hangs the portrait on the south wall or the north wall?

When I married my wife, I married her choices. Now, I am artistically challenged so I literally do not care what my wife does in our home, but being a human I have areas where I want to exercise my lordship and find myself trying to control my wife and children in order to get the desired outcome. I could call myself the helpful father, but it really is self-love. There are times when a parent needs to let the children do it their way without commenting, cajoling, correcting, wincing, or sighing. Particularly as they get older. There are also times when the parent must interfere.

Ironically, some of the most control-freakish spouses or parents that I know are also the most unable to actually take a stand on issues that matter. They can’t say, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” because they are always saying, “As for me and my house, we will this and we will that.”

When everything matters than nothing matters. Happy is the man when not much matters, but the right things do matter. The mother and father or spouse who figure this out become leaders and helpers and not, instead, oppressive and unhappy wanna-be controllers.

When a control-freak micro-manages every detail as if there is hell to pay if it’s not done according to their directives, eventually nothing matters. Eventually, control freaks lose the essence of real leadership: influence. This happens in marriage and parenting. And it can only be resolved when a person begins to realize that Holy God did not make him into a robot and embraces the full spectrum of his choices in all areas negotiable. When one realizes that playing lord in another person’s life is to defy the Lord in his own life then he little by little begins to develop the virtue that is the opposite of control-freakishness: meekness.

In marriage everything should be negotiable. Well, almost everything. God’s rules and God’s way are non-negotiable. But He gives us the freedom to choose Crest over Aquafresh so at the very least we should be willing to negotiate on issues of personal taste and strive to shorten our list as the years go by. Twenty years married, both my wife and I have shortened the non-negotiable list, negotiated compromises where needed, and in the main learned to love the choices of the person so amazingly different that we are married to. If I keep growing in Christ, I think I will increase in my meekness about many non-essentials that will resemble my “meekness” about home decor, a “meekness” that is not a fruit of grace, but of my nonchalance about home decor.

If I were to walk into the house today and Jennie had the walls all painted in a crazy and wild pink and purple, I speak the truth when I say I’d simply laugh and say,

Wow! I married a crazy fun woman!

If asked whether I liked it, I’d honestly say,

Not really. In fact, absolutely not! But I love the woman who chose it. It matters to her. And room decor is on my negotiable list. She can have it her way although if these colors do begin to affect my sanity I may woo her into negotiating a compromise that includes watching more ESPN than normal and letting me drink directly from the milk jug at will. Something that, sadly, is still on her non-negotiable list.

If colors are important to her and I micro-manage everything she does I’m saying: “I don’t accept you as you are.”

Today my Lord let me choose (and it wasn’t really healthy). I chose a Starbuck’s Grande Latté with vanilla flavor. My Master is not a control freak.


8 Responses

  1. Thanks for the funny and thought provoking post.

    I have never heard of anyone doing this, but what do you think of scheduling marital counseling before and AFTER the wedding. It seems that most counseling after the big wedding day is reactionary. It seems to me that heading things off at the pass might be more beneficial. Do you think couples would be willing to commit to 2 or 3 sessions after the honeymoon to deal with issues when they really start getting to know one another?

    ehh, just thinking out loud.

    Anyway-I prefer a tall cup of Pike Place roast-black.


  2. Great post! I would like to make a few copies for private distribution, if I may?

    Dereck, for many years, our pastors have used Wayne Mack’s book for pre-marital counselling, which includes three sessions after the wedding–at 6 weeks, 6 months, and 1 year. We don’t always do it, but it IS a great idea, and a helpful check-up to be sure everything is going well.

    • Yes, of course! It’s on the web so you can even cut and paste it and call it yours! That’s between you and God though! 🙂

  3. Speaking as a five-week newlywed, I think sessions after the wedding would be great. That’s when you’re really putting into practice everything you’ve learned during premarital counseling.

  4. I have started follow-up with the newly weds. The obvious challenge is that many of the newly weds move away after the big day and thus following up is not possible unless they stay in the area. But, yes, I have been little by little systematizing a follow up plan for post-wedding day. I too think it is more valuable after about six months of marriage.

  5. […] one partner micro-manages the other?   What does it communicate to our spouse and our children? This blog article by Pastor Bob Bixby was a convicting read for me this […]

  6. We are sitting here very much enjoying a discussion of your thoughts. One of the big hiccups in marriage is that neither party actually provides a list of all the non-negotiables before the wedding occurs. We have told each other in the past, “I forgot to include in the wedding vows…”

  7. My wife actually has championed the idea in my ears for years. For the life of me I can’t imagine why she would be so interested in post marital follow up……..

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