Get up. Go to class. Pick up my boyfriend. Spend every minute with him until curfew. Rush home in time for room checks. Change into my pajamas. Pick up the ringing phone. Talk to my boyfriend for another hour or so. Go to bed. Get up exhausted. Repeat. (Just for clarity, this boyfriend did not become my husband!)
It is no surprise my grades started slipping and my mental health declined as well. I vividly remember sitting in the hallway of my dorm sobbing because I had so much to do and I was so overwhelmed. My workload was not the problem. The issue was I was allowing someone to control my mind and my time.
One evening, I returned to my room to find a piece of paper attached to my door. It was a cartoon likeness of me on a milk carton with the caption, “Have you seen this girl?” ~smile~ It was my friend, Ashley’s, playful way of suggesting I was spending far too much time with him and not nearly enough time with my friends (or on my school work).
It took getting away from the situation for a few weeks (and prayers from my family and friends) for me to finally gain some perspective. Once God’s grace allowed me to see the truth, I was able to end the relationship and move on with my life. My grades improved. My mood improved. My friendships improved. My life improved.
Does my story sound familiar to you? Have you been in such a relationship? Are you currently experiencing a loving, peace-filled relationship or a controlling, caged relationship? Not sure? Consider the following questions:
- Do you feel liberty in your relationship? “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV). When arriving at my alma mater on my first visit, we passed a beautiful sign which read, “Liberty University – Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Liberty.” Have you noticed when God is at the center of something – even if it is extremely hard work – there is a sense of freedom? When we repent, walk with Christ, obey His words, and seek to become more like Him, we are free. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, ESV).
- Are you free to have opposing points of view? How does your significant other handle your differences of opinion? Can you agree to disagree, or are you shamed and pestered until you “change” your opinion (i.e., acquiesce to his or her position even if you do not agree just to shut him or her up.)?
- Does it seem like your boyfriend or girlfriend is always with you, even if you are miles, cities, or states apart (and not in a good way)? No matter how in love you may be, we all need to get away sometimes. Periods of absence gives us a chance to miss our favorite person. However, if you are in a controlling or smothering relationship, even your times “apart” do not feel like vacations. If you are consistently barraged with questions, frequently texted for desired or required updates, or nervous that you will get an earful from your lady or fellow for not staying in better contact, you are in emotional bondage – not in a loving, companionate relationship.
- Does your significant other dominate your schedule, keeping you away from those you love? While encumbered by my unhealthy relationship, I was unaware of how damaging my college boyfriend’s control was over me. By keeping me away from my friends, he was keeping me away from people who might speak wisdom into my life. He was making sure his influence was my primary One telltale sign that control was the foundation of our relationship was my response to our breakup. Once I was able to go home and get out of the domineering environment for Christmas vacation, I was able to see clearly for the first time in months. We broke up over the phone (after a horrific conversation) and my sense of freedom immediately returned. Ripping up his pictures and getting rid of items which reminded me of him was not hard – there was never love. It was a relationship based on mental and emotional manipulation. I just didn’t realize it until I got out.
- Does your lady or gentleman slip negative comments into conversations surrounding your friends or family? One way to keep you all to himself or herself is to turn you against anyone who might compete for your time. If your significant other can turn you away from your tribe, you will have more time for him or her.
- Is suspicion rampant? Does your boyfriend or girlfriend believe you are flirting with others where no flirting is happening? Does he or she accuse you of cheating if you are genuinely kind to another person? Does he or she interrogate you if you are late, do not answer your phone, or go somewhere without telling him or her first? When I was extremely young and new at this dating gig, I had a boyfriend who struggled intensely with jealousy. During our brief courtship, a friend of my cousin gave me a ride to my grandmother’s house. Upon exiting the car, he kissed me on the cheek. It seemed odd, but I thought little of it and went about my life. After all, I was like a little sister to him. Foolishly, I mentioned the harmless kiss to my boyfriend… and he lost it. Suddenly, he was ill at ease with everything I did, everything I said, and everywhere I went. Multiple times I heard, “Heather, are you sure all he did was kiss your cheek?” My immature mind did not see the glowing, flashing red flag in my face. I just thought, “Shoot, why did I ever tell him about that silly, innocent kiss on the cheek? It meant nothing!” Our relationship eventually ended after he blew up at me for asking a question about another guy. “Is he a junior or a senior this year?” That was the question which put him over the edge. If it seems like your significant other is erring on the side of being too jealous, you are probably not imagining it. Get your friends and family to weigh in with their observations. Intense jealousy is a sign of an unhealthy and potentially unstable (and potentially abusive) person. Healthy relationships do not evolve out of irrational distrust and possessiveness.
- Do you often wonder, “Am I crazy?” Overbearing and narcissistic people have a way of pushing us to our limit and then spinning situations to make us look like we are the ones with a problem. If you went from feeling normal before this relationship to frequently questioning your sanity, take a step back and do what you need to do to retrieve your objectivity. Take a vacation. Spend a few days in intense Bible study and prayer. Reconnect with people who know you well. See a Bible-believing counselor. If you are sitting in your dorm hallway sobbing, and that is not a normal occurrence, it could be your relationship is slowly squeezing the life out of you. Love gives Control takes life.
- Bottom line: Do you feel free or bound with this person? About six months after my college boyfriend and I broke up, Eric and I began dating and the difference was night and day. Though Eric is particular about certain issues and likes his world ordered a certain way, I have always experienced an inner sense of freedom with him. When he asks about my whereabouts or when I plan to come home for the evening, his motivation is for my safety and his peace of mind – not to tie me down. Within my marriage, my insides are at peace. I can roam about the cabin freely. We are a team. Because we love each other, we do not wish to smother, slow down, or control one another.
Those who expend great energy controlling their partners are, by definition, not loving them. Control is self-seeking. Control longs for the last word in every situation. Control is not concerned with the best interest of others, but instead, the best interest of oneself. It is impossible to love someone and simultaneously keep him or her enslaved to your whims.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)
If your relationship makes you feel uneasy, read through this familiar passage repeatedly. Dissect it. Filter your relationship through it.
Am I patient? Am I kind? Is my partner patient and kind with me? Am I boastful, arrogant, or rude towards him or her? Does he or she show disrespect and disregard towards me? Do either of us insist on getting our way? Are we long-suffering with each other?
The Land of the Free Because of the Brave
In a couple of days, America will celebrate her 242nd Independence Day. It is time we reflect not only on our freedom but on those who fought and paid the ultimate price to give us our freedom. If you see a soldier out and about in the next few days, I encourage you to shake his or her hand, pay for his or her meal, and show your gratitude for his or her service. Freedom comes at a steep price. When we ignore our freedom, or give it up for convenience, we will lose it. It must always be guarded and protected.
Likewise, in our relationships, we must remain vigilant. We must be aware of what we allow to enter. If we entertain jealousy, bossiness, or criticism, they will be harder to expel later. If we sit back and let someone else take over our lives – our thoughts, decisions, and opinions – it will be harder to reclaim them. Two people in a loving, committed relationship do eventually become more like one another. Eric has mellowed since we married and I have become less of a pushover. We are meshing. ~smile~ But, those changes were organic and not the result of one or the other pushing or nagging.
What do you think? Would you rate your relationship as healthy, needs work, or unhealthy based on the questions above? Do you like who you are when you are with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you feel caged? Be honest with yourself; and, if you are too encumbered at present, consult trusted friends and family who are willing to be honest with you.
Someone who loves you will hold you up and encourage you to fly. Someone who wants to control you will push you down and clip your wings. If your significant other is controlling you or trying to control you, do not call it love.
And be free.
How would you describe the freedom level you experience in your relationship?