Looking in the mirror

In the true spirit of taking a woman in hand, I realize that I am responsible for all that happens in our marriage. My authority to direct my wife’s behavior flows from a realization that "our failings are inherently my fault." She's following my lead, after all. I need to know where we're going, and how to get there!

In turn, she honors my wishes and shows me a depth of affection and respect that is priceless. It's a good adage that authority and responsibility go hand in hand. I only accumulate authority as much as I'm willing to bear the consequences. In our case, we started out slowly, then picked up speed. I'm astonished at our growth, since setting our natural instincts free.

I'm seeing behavior—from two, boring, middle-aged adults—which I never expected. We're calmly re-aligning our marriage to better reflect Taken in Hand principles. With more than 20 years together, it’s a natural change for us. We're clarifying our roles and expectations of each other—and we’re having a lot of fun in the process. I mean a lot.

We haven’t made any radical changes, nor have we discussed it exhaustively. I don’t like to overanalyze, and she wouldn’t be impressed with a lot of relationship theory. We both prefer actions over words. So, I’ve experimented where necessary, expanding what works, and dumping what doesn’t. I keep a very close eye on her and judge the effect. It’s a gradual shift for us, but the results are stunning.

In practical terms, my wife is a mirror of my attitude and behavior. If I'm happy, she feeds on that and responds, beautifully. If I'm playful or I surprise her somehow, she gets really wound up—in more ways than I can describe. I’ve been surprised at her reactions to some very small (at least, in my mind) changes. Now, when I press into new areas of her life, I’m on guard, looking for the results, whether good or bad.

She magnifies everything that I feel and express toward her—at least ten times over. For instance, whenever I make a small gesture that eases her burden, she gushes with appreciation. I try to choose wisely, since her views are based on perception. She honestly doesn’t want me to work and sacrifice, in a lofty, altruistic fashion. She just wants her life to be a little easier. That’s all it takes, and the payoff is huge.

Others have mentioned that a positive feedback loop develops. I agree. It can be a little intimidating, because it’s so powerful. After seeing the results, I started doing things purely for the fun of gauging her response. I’ll muscle into her daily life, take a sticky problem away from her—like some lingering family matter, and then I make a decision that settles it for good. At that point, she stares up at me with big eyes and an adoring grin. She’s smitten! I love that look—and admittedly, I’m addicted to it. I’m a stone cold junkie. By the way, she comes up with imaginative ways to thank me for being her everyday hero.

It’s not a joke and it’s not rocket science. It’s day-to-day life. If you want to step up, take the reins, and make your marriage stronger, then study her. If she’s your woman, she’ll show you what you need to know. She’ll also show you things that you never expected.

Alan K

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You're responsible for all that happens? I wouldn't go that far, myself. OTOH you're right that as men taking charge in our homes we need to take some responsibility and I'll admit that you have a good point about your wife being a reflection of your control. I have had to face that fact myself in my own battle to introduce Taken In Hand to my marriage.

I say battle because it has been somewhat of a battle. My wife is a strong-willed woman not used to being bossed about, least of all by me, but despite our battles it's obvious she wants this just as much as I do. When I'm too busy with work or other things to pay attention to what's happening my wife has more than once sought reassurance that I haven't changed my mind about Taken In Hand.

Like you, I'm not the overanalysing type and when I decided we needed Taken In Hand I did not discuss it with my wife, much less try to get her to agree to anything. That would never have worked. My wife would have resisted all the way.

I'm making her sound like a real b*tch but she's not. She's kind and sweet and she takes good care of me and always has. Nevertheless, like many women, she has some daft ideas floating around her head that can get in her way and would have got in my way had I tried to get her to agree to Taken In Hand in advance.

Like you, Alan, I introduced Taken In Hand by listing all the problems I could take out of her hands—problems that were weighing on her, like how to handle a family member who was trying to add yet another burden to my wife's load. (I forbade her from saying yes, and told her sternly that she was overextending herself—that's been a constant issue with her.)

Another issue we had to resolve was that she is always so busy being all things to everyone that she has neglected her own passion in life, which is her violin. She used to play daily and was in a local trio, but lately she hasn't played at all, and I saw that that had to change for her to feel good. I just about forced her to call her musical friends and arrange a date to play together again. To get her to do that I had to tell her I would do several tasks she had been procrastinating over, and I'm not the world's best at cleaning house but I donned the rubber gloves and got to it.

By taking charge to start with only in ways that would help my wife as opposed to making it all about me, what that did for our relationship and my Taken In Hand plan was to make my wife love my taking charge rather than giving me a swift and painful kick in the nuts. An important consideration!

By starting with 'nice' things that I knew she would ultimtely find helpful to her, I brought it in under the radar. Then, when she was giving me that look Alan writes about, that "My hero! How can I serve you? I'll do anthing for you" look more often in a week than in the whole time we've been married, that was when I inched into taking charge in regard to issues I myself want resolved for my own benefit.

Like you, Alan, I study my wife. Women are not the most predictable of creatures, and I'm often surprised, either pleasantly or unpleasantly. So I, like you, study my wife and her reactions to the control I am introducing and if she reacts badly I come up with a different way of resolving that issue. When I see that look you mentioned, Alan, then I know for sure I've got it right. Sometimes there is a real battle, like I said, but those battles are instructive. I learn from them. Viewing your wife as a mirror of how well you as a man are doing at leading her in the relationship is a bit depressing in my case, because if she's my mirror, I've got a long way to go, but I think you're right, Alan. She is a mirror. Damn!

Great article Alan.



Ned, I appreciate your candor. I’ve thought about your comments for a while and wanted to better explain how I got to this point.

It’s always been a sobering experience for me; looking at my wife and noticing some vague distress in her expression. She feels things very deeply, and without a word, her eyes and body language speak volumes. If she’s hurting, it doesn’t matter why. I just need to fix it, quickly. Even if I didn’t cause it, and couldn’t prevent it, I’m still on the hook.

I do realize how extreme this sounds, making a blanket statement about marriage responsibility, but I’ll stand firmly behind it for several good reasons:
1.) Clarity. I don’t know where else to draw the lines. If we try to share leadership, it’s a mess. I spend all of my time debating which jobs are whose, while her nerves fray due to stress.
2.) Purpose. Honestly, I want all of the authority to shape our lives. It drives me onward, knowing that I’m important. I understand my role as her provider and protector, even when the job seems nearly impossible. We both know who’s calling the shots, and don’t waste time guessing.
3.) Inertia. Given half a chance, I’ll get lazy and try to avoid hard work. Loopholes are too tempting. I’m not perfect, so I should take my lumps, as necessary, and try again. No excuses.
4.) Results. I won’t argue with success. I spent 20 years trying other approaches, and nothing else came close. This site helps a lot with identifying and explaining certain behavioral patterns, but in the end, we each must find our own way.
5.) Satisfaction. I’m proud of my wife and everything that we’ve accomplished together. I get a thrill, looking at her and declaring, “Mine.” That possessive claim is dangerous, but some risk won’t erase my happiness or prevent her from cuddling into me whenever I assert control.

Early on in our marriage, I didn’t move quickly or confidently enough. I concentrated on being a nice guy, and failed to properly guard and support her. She became exhausted, wracked with guilt and doubt.

Without clear leadership, we were ineffective, and got bloodied up – at least figuratively. Others took advantage of our inconsistency, pressing their own agendas at our expense. We were both giving it everything that we had, and we were failing.

We needed a better answer. We were too strong to give up – and too weak to fight back.

When matters reached a breaking point, my buried nature resurfaced, and we both felt it. The change was like waking up from a coma. Shortly after, we discovered that we had the answers, but needed to let go of some preconceptions. I took charge and it clicked. Powerful dynamics fell right into place.

We’re still making adjustments, and the work will never be completed, but we’re better equipped. We’ve survived lots of mayhem and some very ugly situations. Along the way, I’ve learned to look after her, more effectively, shouldering the burdens while her spirit buoys us up. I don’t care who’s to blame for any given problem, the responsibility falls to me, because she’s mine. And that’s enough.

Alan K