How manipulation sabotages marriage
Sherry Van Zante
My best high school friend had two sisters. Along with their mother, these three girls developed elaborate plots to get their father to go along with their plans. They plotted to make his favorite foods, improve his mood, and best approach the subject at hand. Then they worked together to manipulate him. Afterward, they celebrated their success. They used these tactics often to get new dresses, go to dances, go on trips, and even miss school. He never knew they worked him.
One evening at my friend's house I got to witness how they'd "snow over" her dad. We were going out that evening for some fun. I wore blue eye shadow back then—the style in the seventies—and my friend Ella (not her real name) wanted to wear blue eye shadow too. So before we left her house, Ella applied some of my blue to her lids. After one last look in the mirror, we strolled out of her bedroom to say goodbye to her parents.
Her dad raised his brows, and red crept up his neck until his face glowed. "You two look like a couple of peacocks. Go wipe that blue off your eyes."
We ran wide-eyed to her bedroom. But before we could say a word, Ella's mom was in the room.
"Wait a few minutes until I get Dad outside, and then go on," she told us.
Ella hugged her mom and winked at me. We paused at the threshold until we heard the back door squeak open and rattle closed. Then we scurried out the front door. Ella's dad had no idea we went out that night looking like peacocks. Ella's dad had no idea about many things.
It's All about Me?
Back then I felt what Ella, her mom, and her sisters did was cruel. Ella's dad seemed silly and powerless to me. Now years later, I understand this man's wife and daughters feared him but didn't respect him, so they pushed him out of the family's inner circle to get their way.
The Bible's Rebekah, who coached her son Jacob in manipulating his father, Isaac, was a lot like my friend's mom. When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he couldn't see, Rebekah prepared his favorite food and sent Jacob in with it to trick his father. She dressed Jacob in Esau's clothes and tied goatskins on his hands and neck, hoping he would feel hairy like Esau. Through deception and manipulation, Rebekah helped Jacob steal Esau's blessing. Isaac appeared clueless and innocent in this story, but he trembled violently when Esau revealed that he knew the truth.
Historically, women have been good at deceiving and manipulating men. We've called it "feminine wiles." Think of Delilah. Remember how gullible Sampson was because he loved her. Three times she asked what made him so strong and how he could be bound effectively. Three times she bound him to test what he'd told her. Still, after she continued to nag and pester him, he finally told her the truth and fell asleep with his head in her lap. She deceived him repeatedly, yet somehow he still trusted her. He paid for that trust with his eyes and his freedom.
Many times I've been tempted to use "feminine wiles." I've batted my eyelashes at my husband as I've tried to convince him of something. I've planned proper deliveries for certain truths to soften their landing. I've shaded a few facts to make me look better. I've lied outright to my husband, and I've felt shame over it. The shame comes from knowing lying is wrong.
When I lie, I show disrespect and arrogance. And when I deceive my husband, I sabotage my relationship with him. If I pretend with him, if I'm guarded or misleading, if I don't give him the chance to really know me, I refuse to really know him. He becomes a stranger when I hold him at arm's length and manipulate him to get what I want. If I'm not open with him, if I don't honor him as an equal, I rob him of his value and force him from my inner circle. If I don't trust him with the truth, I isolate him by building a wall between us.
In that last paragraph the word I repeats over and over because "I" is the focus when I lie. It's all about me. How I look. What I can get or what I can avoid. When I lie, I steal reality from the other person. I warp his perception of the actual.
Honesty means being the same with everyone, and being the same person on the outside as I am on the inside. It means being open and vulnerable, transparent. It means doing what I say I'll do, making promises and keeping them. Refusing to tell lies, choosing to be faithful, deciding to honor the other person and do what is right even when no one else is looking.
Deception and manipulation are valuable tools in getting our own way or avoiding confrontation. But deception and manipulation kill relationships because they are the opposite of respect and honor. Only honesty and openness build deep relationships.
When I lie to you, I treat you like a fool. When I manipulate you, I show myself that I'm smarter than you. When I'm honest with you, I honor you as an equal. When I'm open with you, I respect your intelligence. Rather than avoid confrontation through deception, I can stay away from conflict by valuing my husband's feelings and giving respect. I may not always get my way, but we will enjoy a real and meaningful relationship built on trust. Trust is built on truth, and truth requires honesty about everything—even sneaking out of a friend's house wearing blue eye shadow.
Sherry Van Zante married Loyd when she was 18. Thirty-four years later, marriage is the hardest, but also the best, thing she's ever done. She and Loyd live on the central coast of California.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today International/Kyria.com