Desire for Control
“It’s almost like I was sweeping my husband’s feet out from under him,” said Leigh Anne Sullivan. “That’s what my desire for control was doing to our relationship. I tried to control everything, from our financial decisions to where the kids were going for preschool. There was no room for Jared’s leadership in our marriage.
“My desire for control was fueled by the insecurity, instability, and fear I experienced as a child. My parents divorced when I was young, and my dad wasn’t involved in my day-to-day life. My mother struggled with a host of challenges, and by the time I graduated from high school, I had lived in 15 different houses.
“I coped with the chaos by being a good kid and immersing myself in sports, friends, and school work. Catholic school gave me a little guidance and introduced me to a God I had no exposure to before then. Knowing the Lord was real was the extent of my faith.
“In high school, I looked to alcohol, partying, and relationships with boyfriends to fill the void. That pattern continued when I went off to college. I made a lot of irresponsible choices, and my moral compass was all about comparison. If I wasn’t doing something worse than another girl was doing, I was OK.
“Although Jared always jokes that his good looks won me over, it’s actually his sense of humor that made me fall in love with him. We got together in college, and along with dating me, Jared also got to date all my anxiety and insecurities. My constant fear of losing him was not great for our relationship, and neither was our partying.
“Jared’s parents are wonderful, and I met them shortly after we started dating. They shared the gospel with me and prayed for me often. During that time, I also went through the most difficult chapter of my young adult life when my father passed away very suddenly. At the time, I was preparing to graduate and take the registered dietician exam so I could start my master’s degree. Life was just a blur.
“Jared and I got married after that, and we moved to Dallas. We both got great jobs and immediately bought a house. I thought that material things could fill the void already growing in our relationship. Jared had a high-stress job, and alcohol no longer masked his anxiety, so he started using drugs. There were signs of his drug use, but I was in a total state of denial.
“Because Jared traveled for work, I was at home alone for much of the time. Feeling isolated, I sought fulfillment in my relationships with friends and family. After our daughter, Caroline, arrived, I distanced myself from Jared by pouring myself into motherhood. Paying very little attention to my husband, I sort of stopped being a wife.
“We fought a lot about Jared’s drinking, but the more I tried to control him, the more he withdrew, which only made his drinking worse. Eventually, I caught Jared doing drugs. It’s almost like God put it right in front of me since I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Now, Jared says that he was praying to get caught.
“When Jared and I decided to go to re|engage, I thought we were there to fix Jared. God used re|engage not only as a turning point for our marriage, but also as a starting point for my faith in Christ. One week, we had a lesson that focused on the fact that we are totally undeserving of the free gift of God’s grace through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. This was the first time I’d ever connected Christ’s death on the cross to my own life. How could I ever earn that kind of love from God? I learned that trusting in God’s grace and walking in faith meant I could find my identity in His love. I no longer had to search for fulfillment in being a wife, or in motherhood, or even in being in control.
“As we went through re|engage, Jared’s heart began changing as well. He went from withdrawing from our family to caring deeply and leading us so well. Both of us started seeking accountability and running to the Lord for support. I worked on letting go of control, which gave Jared room to lead our family. We started out in a hard place, and today we are more in love than before.
"Our marriage is still a work in progress, and we continue to take steps in improving communication. We have been part of a community group for a while now, and it is great to have people to walk with us and hold us accountable. We also serve as leaders in re|engage, where we have the chance to encourage other couples the way we have been encouraged. I frequently get to tell other couples that God has used the struggles in our marriage to free me up to love Him and others. As I have focused on not being anxious, as it says in Philippians 4:6-9, I’ve trusted God to give me contentment that I wouldn’t otherwise have. There is no explanation for the peace I have now, and I am thankful.”
“With the police right outside, there was no hiding what had happened,” said Jared Sullivan. “I’d wrecked my truck in front of our house after driving home drunk. My mother-in-law was at the house, and my daughter was about one year old at the time. It was so embarrassing for my family to witness that scene. I knew I needed to do something about my drug and alcohol use, but I didn’t know how.
“My prodigal journey began when I was a senior in high school. I kept my alcohol and drug use hidden from my parents and Christian friends. As I continued through college, my heart was further away from the Lord than I ever thought it could be. Immersed in a lifestyle of partying, my life was going nowhere.
“I met my wife, Leigh Anne, in a bar in Oklahoma, and we married several years later. My partying continued after we moved to Dallas, and I began my career. Networking and being social were all part of my job, so drinking almost seemed like a ‘must’ to me. I’d go out at night, get drunk, and come home ready to pick a fight with Leigh Anne. It was a terrible cycle.
“I tried synthetic marijuana for the first time when I was on a business trip to San Antonio. That one experiment turned into a five-year struggle I kept hidden from my wife. Sometimes I thought that I could fix the addiction on my own, only to find myself staying up late at night to get high or sneaking around to hide the drugs. Finally, Leigh Anne caught me using drugs and confronted me. At that point, we had two young kids at home, and she needed to protect them. She gave me an ultimatum – either stop using drugs or you have to leave the house. It was time to either get help or get out.
“Somehow, I was able to stop using drugs immediately, and I haven’t fallen back into it. As my drug use stopped, I realized that my problem wasn’t just drugs and alcohol. What was really missing was a relationship with Jesus Christ. There was nothing in my life that resembled the Lord at the time. I knew I needed His help.
“My mother-in-law heard about re|engage and we decided to go. We both wanted to make our marriage work, and neither of us wanted to parent our kids separately. Through re|engage, we started to see that my alcohol and drug addiction was really a symptom of greater sin: pride and my need to please others. I feel like God put our leaders in our path so they could speak bluntly and tell me what was missing from our family. What I was desperately in need of was a relationship with Christ. “Since taking part in re|engage, both Leigh Anne and I are following the Lord, and our marriage is in a much better place.
"We are surrounded by people who love God and love us enough to point us back to Him when we need it. Whatever sacrifice of time I make to spend time with men who hold me accountable in Christ is worth the effort. It has really helped me take God’s Word seriously and be hopeful for what the Lord has for myself and for our family.
“Before following Christ, our marriage was based on feelings. If we were happy or not fighting, that meant we had a good marriage. Now we both understand that we don’t have the capacity to love each other without looking to the Lord. The biggest change is the grace and forgiveness my wife and I give to one another. I finally have the biblical knowledge and relational tools to swallow my pride, ask for forgiveness when I’m wrong, and extend grace when it is needed. That dynamic between Leigh Anne and myself really carries over to our kids, too.
“As we started serving as leaders in re|engage, it was humbling to see God using our past hurts and experiences to care for others and the struggles they go through. Leigh Anne and I are going through many of the same struggles as the people we serve. The difference, sometimes, is that we’ve learned to pull Christ into our conflicts and look to His Word as we work through fights and disagreements. “I would often wish I could talk to the guys who knew me years ago, so I could tell them I’ve been transformed by Christ. I’m not the same person! I never really thought I’d get that opportunity, but the Lord answered that prayer recently. A friend I used to party with in college actually lives near us. He and his wife were noticing a change in our marriage and began to ask about it. Now my friend and his wife are involved in re|engage like we are, and they are pursuing oneness in marriage. It’s great to be able to tell people that I’m still a fun-loving guy, but I’m different from who I was before. God’s redemption made all the difference.”