Managing Your Defiant Spouse

First of all, let me say that I have my wife’s permission to write this blog. I told her the title I had planned, and I told her the content. I explained that it was a metaphor for something else, perhaps for parents struggling with defiant teens. No one actually has a defiant spouse, I said, especially not me. Would she give me her permission to write such a blog, for the benefit of the larger world?

“I think I had better not read what you write,” she said.

Which means yes.

So here I go.

My wife has been very successful. She is smart. She has worked hard. I am very proud of her.

I have a theory for why she has been so successful. My theory is that someone, somewhere along the way, told her that she wouldn’t be successful. And she went out of her way to prove them wrong. So whoever you are, thank you for telling my wife that she couldn’t do something. She proved that she can. To defy you.

But there are some unfortunate side effects to her defiance. One in particular is the way that she drives her car.

Her car has a gas tank. And the gas tank has a gas gauge. And the gas gauge, well, you know, it tells you how much gas is in your car. And as you drive your car, of course, the amount of gas decreases. And when the amount gets low enough, well, these new gas gauges, they start ringing bells and flashing lights and essentially tell you, “Put gas in your car!”

But no one is going to tell my wife what to do.

The first time she ran out of gas it was on a stretch of lonely road after dark. She let a strange man pick her up and drive her to a gas station. It all worked out okay. But I was beside myself. “What were you thinking?” I said when she got home. “How could you let a car run out of gas,” I asked.

I never run out of gas. I never let my car tank go below half full. How could she do this? And let a strange man pick her up?

Then she did it a second time. I lectured her again.

When it happened a third time, I had a revelation. I realized that my wife is who she is. When she was a toddler and her mother put her in her playpen outside, she climbed out and ran away. When she was placed back into her playpen and tied to it with a long tether she climbed out and ran away again, dragging her playpen down the street behind her. When she grew up, she decided all manner of things on her own. Which church to attend. Where to go to school. What to do for a career. In my own way, I am as defiant as she. Possibly that is what we respect in each other.

So I have come to accept that it is unlikely that my wife is ever going to let a car tell her what to do. Laws of physics being what they are, her attitude is going to cause her some difficulty from time to time.

When she gets into difficulty, I have a choice. I can help her, or not help her.

I am not a big fan of the concept of enabling. I think it takes just too much thinking to sort out whether any particular choice or action I make is going to make someone else more or less defiant, more or less addicted, or more or less dependent on me.

I don’t think that my behaviour makes that much of a difference in the behaviour of others, so I can stop worrying about it. What matters is discerning what I can control, and what I cannot control. I cannot control my wife’s attitude toward people and things who tell her what to do. I can only control my behaviour toward her.

The last time she ran out of gas I went home, got the jerry can, filled it, and drove out to where she was stranded on the highway. I quietly filled her car.

“I owe you big time,” she said.

“No you don’t,” I said. And that’s all I said.

I was thinking, however, You have this temperament that makes you you, and I accept that. And today I choose to fill up your car. And I accept my choice.

No lectures. No anxiety. I felt particularly peaceful. Although nothing apparently had changed, except my attitude.

But she hasn’t run out of gas since.

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