On a recent trip to Alabama, my mom gave me a book to read on the plane.
I was excited to see which one she chose for me. But as she handed over what looked like some kind of romance novel with a long-stemmed red rose pictured on the cover, I didn’t know whether to be disgusted or intrigued.
Then I read the title: “The Surrendered Wife: A Practical Guide to Finding Intimacy, Passion, and Peace with a Man.”
Feminists, bear with me.
My grandfather passed away last year. Since then, my grandmother has been very reflective and sentimental, particularly when it comes to remembering her marriage. On a recent outing with my sister, we decided on a whim to haul our combined five boys, including two infants, up to Bountiful for some frozen custard. At the last minute, we also decided to call Grandma to see if she wanted to meet us for dinner. After several failed attempts to get hold of her, I left a message and sent her a text, hoping she would see them and be able to join us.
About 10 minutes after we ordered our food, we saw her car pull up.
“Oh look, Raquel!” I said, pointing out the window. “Grandma made it. I guess she got our messages.”
But as she walked in and saw us seated in a booth, it was clear she had no idea we would be there.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“What do you mean? We invited you!” I said.
She then told us she had been at a different restaurant with our cousin when they both decided they’d rather eat somewhere else. They picked up and left and drove to where we were. We all laughed at the lucky coincidence and pulled up some extra chairs.
During that messy, loud dinner, as our boys smeared custard all over their faces, down their shirts and in our hair, my grandma gave us some life-changing advice, some of which she got from — guess which book? — “The Surrendered Wife.”
She told us she wished she would have been more patient, kind and appreciative of Grandpa. She said she misses him and told us to cherish our husbands and everything they do.
“Be true to the one who shares your bed,” she said. “Even if you feel like venting to your girlfriends about this or that your husband does that bugs you, don’t do it. Try taking a moment to give him a kiss as soon as he walks through the door. I know how exhausting it is to be with the kids all day and to keep up a house. But he’s exhausted from working for you all day, too. A little kiss and just a few minutes of time to warmly welcome him home will mean the world to him. And do you know what happens when you show your husband appreciation and love? He works even harder to make you happy.”
I have thought a lot about this. So many times when my husband comes home from work, I am literally sweating over the stove, trying to finish a made-from-scratch meal while World War III breaks out around me. I barely have time to give him a salute before the sauce boils over and I hand him a red-faced, screaming baby and poopy toddler. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to yell, “It’s your turn!” before retreating into the bathroom.
Who has time for a kiss? I can’t be the red-lipsticked, ruffled-apron-wearing 1950s wife waiting at the window with a smile every night.
Or can I?
Laura Doyle, author of “The Surrendered Wife,” certainly doesn’t advocate that we go back in time. She does, however, suggest that women have developed the problem of perhaps feeling undermined by men and have since gone to the other extreme — always wanting to be completely in control, forcing things to be done “our way or the highway.”
“When I was choosing to control over allowing myself to be vulnerable, I was doing so at the expense of intimacy,” Doyle writes. “What I know now is that control and intimacy are opposites. If I want one, I can’t have the other. Without being vulnerable, I can’t have intimacy. Without intimacy, there can be no romance or emotional connection. When I am vulnerable with my husband, the intimacy, passion and devotion seem to flow naturally.”
Ginger Rogers once said of her partner, Fred Astaire, "I did everything he did. And I did it backwards, and in high heels."
The point is not to let one or the other spouse "control" or "dominate" the other. But naturally, one must lead so both can dance through life together in a beautiful, harmonious way.
Doyle gives a step-by-step guide on how to achieve this, including “Respect the Man You Married by Listening to Him,” “Avoid Setting Up a Negative Expectation” and “Let Your Husband Be the Children’s Father.”
“Only a woman knows how to be a good mother,” Doyle says. “Only a man knows how to be a good father. Therefore, any time a woman tries to direct how her husband fathers, she is in unfamiliar territory, and that’s no place to exercise control.”
I have been secretly trying out some of these principles on my husband. Since reading this book, I have been shocked at how much I try to “control” our relationship. Everything from where we should eat, when we should leave our families’ homes after dinner, what we should do on Saturday and when the kids should go to bed have all been under my jurisdiction. After all, I know the kids will be grumpy if they don’t go to bed by 8 p.m. or if we spend all day hiking and don’t get lunch until late afternoon.
But on a recent weekend, I decided to let go and let my husband make some of the choices. Instead of saying, “Here’s what we need to do today,” I asked him what he wanted. He picked tennis and boating. And even though we got home at a late hour — so late we missed dinner and had to settle for feeding the kids cold cereal at 10:30 p.m. — we made some great memories that I know we’ll cherish for years to come.
So if you’re up for a challenge, I challenge you to read this New York Times best-selling book and try some “controversial” principles. All I know is that once I got past the wrinkled-nose “oh brother” prejudgments of “surrendering” and tried to read and process with an open mind, some miraculous things happened.
While I don’t agree with everything Doyle suggests in her book, there are some great ideas in there for showing more appreciation toward your husband. For another beautiful opinion on how to do this, read Sister Linda K. Burton's "We'll Ascend Together" from the recent May 2015 Ensign of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes talks from the recent general conference.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.