10 Ways to Let Go of Control in Your Marriage
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I have found that sexual abuse victims are control freaks and need counseling for a freedom and happiness but many feel they don’t need counseling till they have no choice.
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Caught in a Controlling Marriage
Are you caught in a marriage with a controlling spouse? Or, have you been accused of being controlling in your marriage? Living under the constant scrutiny of a controlling spouse is an exhausting exercise in futility. This person will never be satisfied, will never be wrong, always knows what’s best for you and feels the need to make sure you know that fact as well. Not only that, but the need to control every aspect of your own life as well the life and actions of your spouse and children be exhausting. There’s never a break.
Treated Like a Child All too often the spouse of a controlling person feels like he or she is treated like a child in the relationship. They feel their partner does not trust them to do even the simplest of tasks without being corrected. Sometimes the level of control in the relationship surpasses even that and the controller dictates who his or her spouse can see, where he or she can go and for how long until the controlled person no longer has any personal autonomy or identity.
Though a person may live for years under such circumstances, there is often a slow, quiet boil underneath the surface. One day it will boil over and it often occurs once it is too late to save the marriage. The spouse that allowed him or herself to be controlled will suddenly be ready to leave and the controller will often not even see it coming.
What’s the Definition of Control? A good working definition of control could be stated as “exerting influence over one’s environment or the actions or behaviors of another person [and] is sometimes used excessively by those who fear the unpredictable and ambiguous, feel they need to prove themselves, or fear losing control. The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”*
Essentially, the need for control boils down to fear. Perhaps the controller has been hurt, abused or traumatized in some other way. The fear of the loss of control can be caused by a myriad of traumas: childhood abuse, death of a parent, divorce in the family of origin, prior infidelity, just to name a few. Whatever the cause (with perhaps the exception of is a psychological issue with an underlying physiological cause needing medical care) the controller can learn to change his or her behavior.
What does control look like? There are several ways control can play out in the life of the controller and his partner.
• Micromanagement. The controller must have a hand in every aspect of a task. The dishes must be loaded in a certain way, the floor must vacuumed with the grain a certain direction, the budget needs to be color-coded in a certain pattern. This can also be anything from backseat driving to interference in how the other partner parents, especially correcting parenting in front of the children. • Limitations on relationships outside the marriage. The controller expresses unreasonable jealousy toward reasonable relationships. It is perfectly appropriate for a wife to have female friends and a male to have male friends and for either spouse to have strong relationships with their families of origin. It is not control to expect that the marriage relationship come first, it is control when you are severely or completely limited in how often you may speak with your friends and family. It also not control to expect that friends outside the marriage be positive toward marriage and to be of the same sex. You should not have to be asked to leave behind friends that tear down your marriage relationships, but you should be able to make plans with good and positive friends that are of the same sex as you without fear or criticism. • Hovering. This behavior often occurs in relationships where the controller has suffered some consequence of infidelity. It may be that a prior spouse cheated or that a parent cheated or even that the controller cheated in a prior marriage. The controller completely lacks trust in his or her partner and constantly checks up on the spouse with phone calls and texts while the two are apart. It may even lead to the controller following and spying on the other spouse. The controller suffocates and infuriates the other spouse by clearly demonstrating a lack of trust. • Bullying and emotional abuse. We all know when we are being bullied. The bully over-talks, shouts down and verbally belittles his or her spouse. This happens to ensure that the controller gets his or her own way or to make sure that the controlled spouse understands that the consequence of not agreeing or towing the line will be very grave. • Positioning oneself as the weaker partner. The controller in this case, rather than bullying, threatens to fall apart when his or her demands are not met. • Gaslighting. The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play in which a woman’s husband subtly manipulates her environment in order to cause her to question or doubt her own senses and reality. The aim of gaslighting is to, in fact, cause the victim to doubt his or her reality, identity or sense of the truth. Gaslighting can be an indication of deeper psychological issues and I recommend seeking professional help in confronting or managing the spouse who displays this behavior. It does not have to be a physical manipulation of the environment and can be entirely psychological and verbal. Some tactics of “gaslighting” include:
-Refusing to listen to any concerns or pretending not to understand them. -Questioning his or her memory, denying that events occurred in the way the victim (accurately) remembers. -Changing the subject to divert the victim’s attention from a topic, trivializing their concerns. -Pretending to forget things that have happened to further discredit the victim. -Denying events have taken place, claiming that the victim is making them up.
Can a Controller Ever Change? Can a marriage that has been damaged by control issues ever be fixed or reconciled? The answer to both of those questions is yes. It requires work and a good deal of evaluation and rigorous honesty when looking at the person in the mirror, yet change can and does occur in controllers and their marriages frequently experience healing.
So what’s next? What should you do if you are the victim of a controller? First, your controlling spouse probably does not view himself that way. He (or she) simply acts out of a conviction of “rightness.” In other words, the controller is so completely convinced of the rightness of his demands or expectations that he is nearly unaware—or chooses to ignore—the fact that you would have a difference of opinion. It is good and right to set clear boundaries with your spouse. It is perfectly valid to express the fact that you feel treated like a child when micromanaged.
Setting Boundaries Before you set these boundaries, think about what you really want first. For instance, perhaps you aren’t allowed to do the budget, manage the money, work outside the home, go out with friends, do the dishes your own way, wash the car, or any number of things that your spouse thinks you won’t handle well and so does them. What tasks are important for you to do for yourself?
For instance, I do not touch the budget nor do I manage any of our money. I honestly don’t even ask much about it. Occasionally, I need to know if I can purchase something I want or need and I have to ask. But, I do not want to be responsible for the budget. I am perfectly contented not dealing with the stress of it. In other words, if your spouse is genuinely more organized with the budget and does manage it better than you could, let him do it.
Perhaps your spouse is a neat freak and needs everything done just so. It is perfectly valid to expect a reasonably clean home from one another. It isn’t necessarily valid to demand that the cleaning get done a certain way. It is now unreasonable. You may need to say, “I need you to allow that the way I accomplish tasks is good enough and not correct me about them.” Or, “Please allow me to be the parent that I am. If you have a real concern about the way I discipline the children, please do not correct me in front of them. Withhold your thoughts until we can discuss them privately.”
Arguing and Blaming won’t Yield Results If your spouse is not responsive or continues to right fight with you, it is best not to argue back. In fact, expect the controller to be angry at first. Understand that if you have had little to no boundaries with the controlling spouse up until now, he or she might feel threatened by the shift. Stating your boundary in a genuinely calm manner and sticking to your boundary is best. If your controller refuses to change, don’t allow yourself to get fed up to the point of marital disintegration. Seek help first!
What If I am Accused of Controlling? If your spouse claims that you are the controller, I urge you to take an inventory of yourself and your behavior. Look over the controller characteristics and doing everything in your power to honestly answer the question: Do I display these traits? If you see some of these patterns in yourself, that is the first step to change. You can come to compromises and agreements with your spouse where you both feel that your needs are met, that you are respected and that you are equals. If you still don’t see control issues in yourself and your spouse does, I recommend you still seek help. Clearly there is some problem, real or perceived, that needs addressing.
Don’t Let Your Marriage go Without a Fight! Suppose you have been struggling with a controlling spouse for many years and you’re fed up. Suppose your spouse is accusing you of being controlling and is threatening to leave. Consider counseling with a really good (hopefully Christian) counselor that will support your desire to keep your marriage intact. Another great resource in dealing with the heavy toll control takes on marriage is to come to a Marriage Helper weekend. Joe Beam and his staff have developed tools over many years of working with couples and through in depth study of the marriage relationship. Don’t give up. We can help.
If your marriage is in danger of separation or divorce, call us at (866) 903-0990 to speak with someone or use the form here to request more information about our Marriage Helper workshop for troubled marriages. We can help you save your marriage even in cases of infidelity, loss of trust, anger, sexual problems, and other issues. (If you’re thinking your spouse would never come, contact us by phone or the form below and we’ll tell you what others who felt the same way did to get their spouses there.) We will keep everything you tell us completely confidential. Our motivation is to help you determine if this workshop is right for you and your particular situation.
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How I Stopped Trying to Control My Partner and Took Responsibility for My Own Happiness
“We must learn what actually lies in our sphere of control — and learn to live strictly within that sphere”
Have you been attempting to control your partner without realizing it?
Have you ever justified taking on your partner’s emotional, relational, financial, or logistical responsibilities with:
- “I can do it better and/or more quickly, so I might as well just do it myself.”
- “They aren’t making it a priority, so I have to do the legwork for them.”
- “They won’t do it themselves, so I have to do it instead.”
- “If they don’t do it, they’ll have to face the consequences. I don’t want them to have to deal with that.”
- “I want to save the relationship but they don’t want to participate, so I’ll do the work for both of us.”
Controlling behavior is a hallmark of codependency , but the first time we come across the idea that we’re controlling, we sputter with indignation. Whether we’re “helping,” “generous,” “saving them from themselves,” or “doing it for our relationships,” many of us don’t realize that we use various tactics to influence our partners’ behaviors and manipulate the outcomes of situations.
How I Was Forced to Deal with My Codependence
As if from a great distance, I could hear my partner saying that he wasn’t happy in our relationship — and hadn’t been for a while, unbeknownst to me.
“Okay,” I said slowly, my heart racing. “Okay. Let’s talk about how we can work on it.”
My mind was already spinning with tactics and plans. He only stared back.
“I don’t want to work on it,” he responded, shrugging limply.
I had a choice. I could take his words at face value and accept his unwillingness. Or, I could try to fix our broken relationship single-handedly. My fear of loss was so strong that attempting to mend our broken bond felt like the only imaginable option.
And so I did.
Every night, I went to sleep with a highlighter and stack of self-help books beside my bed. I talked about my partner’s fears of intimacy in therapy and then dragged him to therapy along with me. I created a written chart of “argument rules” for us to follow when agitated.
I spent two long months effectively playing God, certain my methods would lead us straight into contented old age.
So when my partner finally broke up with me on the first day of my family’s annual summer vacation, I realized that my sense of control had been nothing but an illusion all along.
“You are afraid to surrender because you don’t want to lose control. But you never had control; all you had was anxiety.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
This was three years ago. At the time, if you’d asked me what I thought was doing, the answer would have been simple: I’m trying to save our relationship . But the truth was, I was attempting to control my partner’s feelings and choices to get my desired outcome. I was working overtime in the hope that his feelings and behaviors toward me would change.
As my anecdote illustrates, many of us try to control others into meeting our own needs. This is especially true if we grapple with codependency or have an anxious attachment style . Marriage and family therapist and codependency expert Darlene Lancer explains :
“Instead of taking responsibility for their own happiness, which would be empowering, codependents’ focus is external. Rather than attend to their needs directly, they try to exercise power over others and control others to make themselves feel okay on the inside. They think, ‘I’ll change him (or her) to do what I want, and then I’ll be happy.’ This behavior is based on the erroneous belief that we can change others.”
Evaluating Your Controlling Behaviors
You might be subconsciously trying to control your partner if you do any of the following.
Doing for others what they can and should do for themselves
As independent adults, we are singularly responsible for our own physical, emotional, social, and financial well-being:
- Maintaining physical health.
- Sticking to routines.
- Staying in touch with friends and family.
- Taking financial responsibility for purchases.
If you find yourself regularly taking on responsibility for your partner’s relationships, wellness, finances, or otherwise, ask yourself: Why am I doing this? What’s my motive here?
Are you hoping your partner feels dependent on you so that they’ll never leave? Are you trying to protect your partner from facing the consequences of his or her behaviors? Are you trying to make up for what you believe to be your partner’s deficits?
Helping others avoid the negative consequences of their behaviors
When we try to mitigate the negative consequences of others’ irresponsible actions, we rob them of opportunities for growth and learning. Have you ever tried to mitigate the consequences when your partner acted out in addiction, in an angry outburst, or in some other irresponsible behavior? If so, you may think you’re being “helpful” or “kind,” but in reality, you are enabling your partner’s irresponsibility. Without experiencing negative consequences, folks who engage in destructive patterns are far less likely to change.
We also help our partners avoid negative consequences when we refuse to express justified anger, sadness, or discomfort with their actions. When we avoid sharing our feelings for fear of hurting their feelings, we’re really just managing their feelings — and that’s not our work to do.
One of my favorite counselors, Jordan Pickell, puts it this way: “When setting a boundary, you don’t need to smooth over the tension. You don’t need to protect people from feeling uncomfortable. It makes sense for people to feel bad and weird when they have crossed a line.”
Making empty threats disguised as boundaries
Boundaries are statements of what we will or will not tolerate. The goal of a boundary isn’t to change another’s behavior, but to create safety and integrity for ourselves. In order for a boundary to be genuine, you must be ready to enforce the boundary when it is not respected. Otherwise, it’s just an empty threat: an attempt to get someone else to act your way on your terms.
For example, you say to your partner, “If you don’t start treating me more kindly, I’m going to leave you.” If your partner continues to treat you poorly, you need to be ready to leave that relationship — because, if you don’t, your “boundary” was just a tactic to change your partner under false pretenses.
Attempting to “heal” or change others when they have no desire to change themselves
Change is an inside job. We can support or hinder others’ healing journeys, but we cannot take the journey for them. In order to heal, one must be willing to heal.
If someone is not willing to quit an addiction, we cannot educate them into quitting. If someone is not ready to address their trauma, we cannot force them to heal. If someone carries heavy baggage from their past, we cannot pry that baggage from their hands.
We can support their journey and assist along the way if they have the willingness to grow . But we cannot plant a seed of willingness for someone else.
My partner clearly stated his unwillingness to work on fixing the relationship, but that didn’t stop me from buying self-help books, taking him to therapy, and using every tool in my toolbox to make him change on my terms.
Engaging in protest behavior
When our partner is unable or unwilling to give us the depth of connection we seek, we may resort to protest behavior. Protest behaviors are attempts to get reactions from our partner — reactions which, if only momentarily, will create a feeling of connection. Protest behaviors include things like intentionally withholding communication, withholding sex, attempting to make a partner jealous, or threatening to end the relationship.
Protest behaviors are not driven by a genuine desire: we don’t genuinely desire not to be in touch, we don’t genuinely desire to end the relationship, we don’t genuinely want to engage with another person outside of the relationship. What we want is our partner to change how they interact with us , and we believe that these behaviors will facilitate that change.
The book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment is a good resource for reading more on protest behaviors and other issues of attachment that factor into controlling behaviors.
Making others singularly responsible for your emotional state
When my ex and I fought, I became inconsolable. At the conclusion of every argument, I felt certain he would leave me. He needed time and space to re-center, but my anxiety was so strong that I refused to give him that space. With guttural sobs and fearful pleas, I demanded his reassurance, which he begrudgingly gave.
In hindsight, it’s clear to see how I used my emotional outbursts to secure attention from my partner when he was unwilling to voluntarily give it. Instead of understanding that we were both responsible for meeting our own needs in that moment — him taking space, me self-soothing — I created conditions in which he felt pressured to abandon his own needs to prioritize mine.
The Solution Lies Within You
If you’ve used the above tactics consciously or unconsciously, you’re not alone. Many of us have had to release our toxic illusions of control. As we move forward, we must learn what actually lies in our sphere of control — and learn to live strictly within that sphere.
To release my illusion of control and take responsibility for my own happiness, practicing the following habits in my relationships gave me the most relief:
#1. Make a list of the things that are in your control and a list of the things that are not.
In your “I Can Control” list, be sure to include your actions, your reactions, the words you say, the boundaries you set, and the amount of time you spend. In your “I Cannot Control” list, be sure to include others’ actions and reactions, others’ feelings, others’ relationships, and so on.
I found it particularly helpful to include these on my list:
- I can control whether or not I express my needs and how I express them. I cannot control whether or not others meet my needs.
- I can control whether or not I set and enforce boundaries around intolerable behavior. I cannot control others’ intolerable behavior.
- I can control the extent to which I choose to heal from my past. I cannot control others’ willingness or ability to heal and grow.
At first, releasing the illusion of control feels terrifying. After all, control has been our way of managing the world around us and creating a sense of safety for ourselves. When I first reviewed my list, I wondered, What will happen if I’m not controlling this? Will everything collapse around me?
Behind that fear, though, was a freedom I hadn’t predicted. I looked at the column of items I could not control and realized how much time I spent, each and every day , attempting to manage, manipulate, and influence others. I put incredible effort into making others happy when they were sad. I used endless lines of reasoning to alleviate others’ guilt for things they’d said and done. I got blue in the face spouting instructions for how to properly pay a bill, how to stop getting drunk, and how to mend broken relationships with family members. I was utterly convinced that if I just said my piece in a perfectly convincing manner, I could get others to act my way.
When I let go of these fruitless attempts at control, I reclaimed hours of my time. With this newfound time, I was able to…
#2. Refocus on your own needs, desires, and passions.
When in doubt, return home to yourself. By taking responsibility for meeting your own needs and pursuing your own passions, you will find yourself much less likely to attempt to control others.
Not sure where to begin? For every item on your “I Cannot Control” list, come up with an alternative way to spend that energy that centers your own desires and passions. Here are some of the ways my priorities shifted over time, from things that I should not be attempting to control to things that I could:
- Helping my partner advance his career → advancing my career
- Trying to get my partner to go to therapy for his baggage → going to therapy for codependency
- Helping my partner mend his relationship with family members → mending my own relationships with family members
- Begging my partner to soothe and reassure me → learning cognitive and somatic techniques for soothing myself
As a result of these changes, my career advanced, my resilience grew, my relationships with family members improved, and I accumulated an arsenal of coping mechanisms that I use to this day. It was incredible how much time, space, and energy became available to me when I was no longer spending it trying to change someone else.
#3. Ask before offering help — and accept the answer the first time.
Help can be useful if it is freely given with no strings attached. If you have a tendency toward over-control, though, you may have a history of offering help in order to engender someone’s favor, to get someone to act a certain way, or to manipulate a situation to achieve your desired outcome.
Begin asking before offering help. Keep it simple: “Would you like help with that?” If they don’t want your help, don’t give it. If your offer is rejected, avoid the compulsion to ask, “Are you sure?” Once the question has been asked and answered, it’s time to move on.
It was very hard for me to stop offering my loved ones “help” in the emotional sphere. It might not surprise you to learn that I read a lot of books about psychology and relationships. Historically, when loved ones embodied a behavior that I’d come across in a recent reading, I jumped at the opportunity to psychoanalyze them, dissect their family history, and offer suggestions for healing.
Now, instead of playing therapist without their consent, I say, “What you’re describing sounds like something I’ve been reading about lately. Do you want to hear the connection?” or “I found an article that describes the type of family you grew up in. Do you want me to send it to you?”
To my surprise (the psychology geek that I am), more often than not, the response is either a halfhearted “maybe” or a simple “no.” As it turns out, few folks enjoy being therapized outside the safe confines of a legitimate therapist’s office.
At first, their refusal baffled and insulted me. They have no idea how much this information could help them! I’d fume silently. They must not care about their healing or personal growth. They must not trust that I know what I’m talking about.
This way of thinking imposed my personal value system upon others. I expected them to react the way I would react , and when they didn’t, out poureth my judgments!
Over time, I realized that what to me felt like a fascinating intellectual exercise might have felt overwhelming, painfully vulnerable, or intrusive to my loved ones. Ultimately, accepting others’ refusal of my help meant trusting their own decision-making process and honoring their own autonomy — something that it is notoriously challenging for recovering codependent folks to do.
#4. When in distress, focus on how you can self-soothe.
As my earlier story demonstrated, I tried to control my partner because I made him responsible for my happiness and for soothing my distress. A critical step in breaking the over-control pattern was learning to self-soothe and take responsibility for my own emotional state.
Now when I feel distressed, instead of immediately reaching out to my partner for help, I practice the following self-soothing techniques:
- When I feel myself teetering on the edge of a powerful emotional reaction, I give myself permission to sit quietly with the feeling. I put my hand directly on my heart, notice where the feeling lives in my body, and wait for my pulse to slow down. “Leaning in” to the physical sensation that accompanies emotional pain is a core tenet of Dr. Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing model , which has been an incredible resource to me in my self-soothing practice.
- If I’m in the presence of others when a strong emotion comes forth, I take a few minutes or more to be entirely alone. If I need more space — say, a night to myself — I take it.
- Should I need support from someone else, I have a shortlist of trusted friends and family I can call. I know that there are many folks available who can tug me out of a dark emotional place. My partner is not the only one capable of helping me.
These techniques not only decreased my dependence on my partner, but also instilled in me a profound sense of resilience. Instead of feeling like a victim in the face of an emotional typhoon, I knew I had the internal resources I needed to ride out the storm.
#5. When someone tells you that they’re unwilling to work on an issue, believe them.
As Maya Angelou famously said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Had I accepted my ex-partner’s statement that he was unwilling to work on our relationship, I would have saved myself two long months of fruitlessly attempting to change his mind — and two long months of heartache.
I eventually learned that in order for a pair to solve a relationship issue, both parties must be willing to do their part . This requires that both parties acknowledge the role they play in the dysfunction and take concrete steps to change their habits.
Unless a person is adamant that they are willing to change, assume that how they are now is how they will be. That being the case, consider: If this person does not change, is this a relationship I will be happy in?
Remember: You cannot heal another person’s woundedness. You cannot carry another person’s baggage. Your efforts cannot transform an emotionally unavailable person into an emotionally available one.
I have found it helpful to construct a list of non-negotiables that serve as a rubric when I’m debating whether a relationship is healthy enough for me to maintain. My non-negotiables are qualities and behaviors that absolutely must, or absolutely must not, be present in my partner.
Mine include the obvious — no physical violence, no emotional abuse, and no sexual coercion — as well as willingness to work through tough moments, a sense of humor, and regular expressions of love and affection.
#6. Learn to say no. Practice diligently.
Despite our hope that our partners will anticipate our needs intuitively, this is often not the case. Even the fiercest love can’t transform our partners into mind-readers. It is our responsibility to communicate our boundaries and give others the opportunity to respond accordingly. If we don’t, we may fall into old habits of attempting to control others into meeting our needs.
Boundaries are a form of verbal self-defense. They are protective mechanisms that maintain the integrity of our inner worlds while also blocking out people, places, and things that we find unacceptable. We can set boundaries around our physical bodies, our time, our possessions, our communication with others, and more.
Not sure where you might need to set a boundary? Consider when and where you feel resentful. Literally defined as “bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly,” resentment arises when others trespass our spoken or unspoken boundaries.
Once you’ve identified your resentment, you can set a boundary with the person in question. For those of us who are new to communicating our needs directly, finding the right language is often the hardest part. As I describe in my article “ How to Set a Challenging Boundary from Start to Finish, ” my favorite framework for boundary-setting is the “I-statement” approach developed by clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon in 1970. I appreciate this model because it centers the boundary-setter’s feelings and experiences, reduces the likelihood of defensiveness in the listener, and offers concrete suggestions for change.
The approach includes four simple parts:
- I feel _________________________________________.
- When you _____________________________________.
- Because _______________________________________.
- I need ________________________________________.
Boundaries that follow this model might sound like:
- “Shelley, I feel taken advantage of when you ask me to babysit your kids more than twice a month because it makes it harder for me to prioritize other things I care about. I need you to find additional babysitters because I can’t shoulder this responsibility on my own.”
- “Steven, I feel overwhelmed when you text me because I don’t have the time or space for this connection right now. I need some space.”
- “Dad, I feel uncomfortable when you ask me to accompany you to church because it doesn’t align with my spiritual beliefs. Please don’t ask me again so I can make my own decisions without pressure or guilt.”
- “ I feel upset when you borrow my tools without asking because I garden on a regular basis. I need you to ask before borrowing my tools in the future.”
You can adapt this language to suit your own conversational style or tone.
At first, the tactics I’ve suggested in this article may feel like heavy burdens. I know they did for me. When I first began recovery from codependency, I was so accustomed to getting my sense of power from controlling others that the idea of taking responsibility for myself felt overwhelming.
In her book The Language of Letting Go , Melody Beattie offers four powerful questions that gave me the inspiration and motivation I needed to get started. I will leave you with them.
“If we weren’t trying to control whether a person liked us or her reaction to us, what would we do differently?
If we weren’t trying to control the course of a relationship, what would we do differently?
If we weren’t trying to control another person’s behavior, how would we think, feel, speak, and behave differently than we do now?
What haven’t we been letting ourselves do while hoping that self-denial would influence a particular situation or person?
Make a list, then do it.
Want to master the art of setting boundaries and start saying YES to YOU? Join my group coaching program, The Say No Club : a 25-person, 6-week program that combines education with real life practice and community support. Register here today.
This article originally appeared on the author’s website .
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Hailey Magee is a Codependency Recovery Coach who helps individuals of all ages break the people-pleasing pattern, set empowered boundaries, and master the art of speaking their truth. Certified at Erickson International, Hailey has worked with over 150 clients from the US, Canada, Ireland, France, Yemen, South Africa, and more. She has facilitated group coaching for employees in partnership with WeWork, Amazon, Women In Music, and more, and her bi-monthly virtual workshops , including Empowered Boundary-Setting for the Recovering People-Pleaser and Courageous Dating for the Recovering People-Pleaser, have reached thousands of participants around the world. She currently resides in Seattle, Washington. To learn more, visit www.haileymagee.com or follow Hailey on Instagram or Facebook .
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What to Do If Your Spouse Is Controlling You
Last Updated: August 3, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Liana Georgoulis, PsyD . Dr. Liana Georgoulis is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with over 10 years of experience, and is now the Clinical Director at Coast Psychological Services in Los Angeles, California. She received her Doctor of Psychology from Pepperdine University in 2009. Her practice provides cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based therapies for adolescents, adults, and couples. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 313,255 times.
Being in a relationship with a controlling spouse can be very trying. Controlling spouses often micromanage, criticize, and limit the other spouse's activities. Depending on how serious and how frequent these controlling behaviors are, you may be able to work with your spouse to improve your marriage, or you may benefit from counseling. If the behavior is very serious or does not improve with counseling, you may need to consider ending the relationship with your controlling partner in order to regain your independence.
Handling Minor Instances of Controlling Behavior
- Be as specific as possible when describing the problem to your spouse. For example, instead of saying, "You are too controlling," consider saying something like, "I feel that you micromanage my activities and don't trust me to get things done on my own."
- If your spouse refuses to acknowledge that there is any problem, this strategy may not work.
- This should help you understand your spouse's behavior and perhaps look past minor incidents, but you should never use this technique to excuse disrespectful behavior.
- Avoid getting defensive, as this will only enhance the controlling behaviors.
- If you feel that you need to disagree with your spouse, consider saying something like, "I see your perspective, but have you considered this?" instead of "That's wrong. My idea is better!"
- In some cases, you may find that agreeing with your partner is best, but you can do this without submitting to the controlling behavior. For example, you may take the initiative to make your own decision, while still taking your spouse's opinions into account.
Correcting Recurring Patterns of Controlling Behavior
- Be as respectful as possible when having this conversation. If you want to save your marriage, you should not attack your spouse's character. Instead, focus on the kinds of actions or situations that upset you.
- Use as many examples as possible in explaining what you mean by "controlling."
- You may want to make a list of the biggest problems and brainstorm with your spouse about specific things you can do to avoid those problems in the future.
- Keep in mind that there is a chance your spouse will think you are controlling as well, so be open to listening to any boundaries that they might propose.
- For minor offences, your spouse may benefit from a simple reminder of your boundaries.
- Don't overuse consequences. Withholding privileges or affection as a consequence for the tiniest offence is what controlling people do!
- Your consequences may have to be quite serious. For example, you may decide that you will move out of the house if your spouse does not make an effort to treat you with respect over the next month.
- You may want to try couple's therapy, as this will give you the opportunity to speak to each other about your problems with the guidance of a professional marriage counselor.
- Your spouse may also benefit from individual therapy, which may help reveal the reasons behind the controlling behavior, such as low self esteem or a traumatic childhood.
Regaining Control of Your Own Life
- You are entitled to time alone as well, so let your spouse know if you need time to pursue your own hobbies or just be by yourself. Encouraging your spouse to take up hobbies may make this easier.
- You should still spend some time with your spouse if you are working to improve your marriage. Make this time count by doing enjoyable activities together.
- Internalizing criticism can cause you to doubt your own abilities. If this has happened to you, remind yourself of the goals you once wanted to achieve and dismiss any negative thoughts that your spouse may have planted in your head about your abilities. Taking small steps to achieve these goals is a great way to begin to free yourself of a controlling spouse.
- Some controlling spouses may make their partners feel guilty by complaining about how they will not be able to function if the partner leaves, or even threatening to harm themselves.
- Other controlling spouses may make their partners feel guilty by making them feel as if they owe the controlling spouse something for housing them or loving them.
- If you practice a different religion than your spouse, maintain your independence by continuing to go to services on your own or with family members.
- If you have different political beliefs than your spouse, continue to vote based on your own convictions.
- Certain behaviors should never be tolerated. If your spouse abuses you physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually, leaving the relationship is the best option. If you need support, consider calling a domestic violence hotline.
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- ↑ https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-deal-with-a-control-freak/
- ↑ Liana Georgoulis, PsyD. Licensed Psychologist. Expert Interview. 6 September 2018.
- ↑ https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/couples-thrive/202011/how-set-and-respect-boundaries-your-spouse
- ↑ https://ct.counseling.org/2016/06/recognizing-managing-deception-therapeutic-relationship/
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/friendship-20/201506/20-signs-your-partner-is-controlling
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/romance-redux/201607/4-keys-leaving-bad-relationship
About This Article
Dealing with a controlling spouse can be challenging, but you can make your life easier by staying calm when they start an argument, since shouting and fighting will only make things worse. You can also set clear boundaries with your spouse so they respect your rights. For example, tell them you’ll walk away if they start telling you what to do, and commit to your boundaries. Controlling spouses often try to isolate their partner from their friends and family, so make sure you spend time having fun with other people to maintain a healthy social life. If your partner makes you feel bad for spending time with other people or doing the things you want to do, consider that you might be better off taking a break or ending the relationship. For more tips from our co-author, including how to deal with a spouse who doesn’t accept that they’re controlling, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Signs You Have a Controlling Wife & Ways to Deal With Her
Jeannie Sytsma, AMFT, works for Relationship Reality 312 in downtown Chicago. At this highly-respected private practice she works mainly with couples who are experiencing... Read More
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays.... Read more
In This Article
Husbands usually have a lot of things to say about their wives. A lot of times, husbands may comment on how nagging their wives have become, how they feel neglected, and many more.
Marriage is like that. There can be things that we just don’t like about each other, but overall, with effort – everything can still work out fine.
But what if you are married to a controlling wife? This isn’t something that we often hear, especially from men. However, it may be more common than we think. Just how do you deal with a controlling wife without giving up on your relationship ?
Is it normal to feel controlled by my wife?
Feeling controlled by a partner can feel challenging and is not healthy for a relationship. Being controlled by a spouse isn’t considered normal or acceptable in a relationship.
It’s important to have open communication about your feelings and concerns with your wife. A healthy partnership is built on mutual respect , trust, and understanding. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, discussing your emotions together can lead to finding solutions that benefit both of you. Remember, healthy relationships involve collaboration, not control.
13 signs that you’re married to a controlling wife
Looking for signs of a controlling wife? Keep reading.
If you have been seeing, first hand, the signs of a controlling woman, then most likely, you’re married to a controlling wife.
Let’s go over some simple scenarios that only a husband married to a controlling woman would relate to
- Is your wife asking you to report to her about where you are going, who you’re with, what time you’ll go home? Well, this includes calls and questions throughout the day about what you are doing and where you are!
- One obvious controlling wife sign is if she is always right. Whatever issue or disagreement you’re having, you end up losing because she is very capable of turning things around and digging up past mistakes.
- Do you feel that when you have a fight or disagreement, even if you know you’re right, she’ll end up playing the victim? Does she make you feel guilty about being abused when you’re angry or stressing her?
- Do you notice that she can do things that she specifically doesn’t allow you to? For example, does she hate it when you chat with female friends, but you see her chatting with her male friends freely?
- Does your wife always get what she wants one way or the other? Does she act out and give you a hard time when she doesn’t get it her way?
- Does your wife accept her mistakes ? Or does she get angry and divert the issue?
- Do you notice that your wife has an irrational temper? Is she always irritated, angry, and in a bad mood? When a wife controls husband, she can be pointlessly enraged at times.
- Does she show other people how superior she is to you or to your family ?
- Does your wife closely monitor your spending habits and control your finances, making you feel like you need permission for purchases?
- Does she discourage you from spending time with your friends and family, trying to keep you only focused on her?
- Does she frequently criticize your choices, appearance, or decisions, making you feel inadequate?
- Does she discourage you from pursuing your own hobbies, interests, or career goals that don’t align with her preferences?
- Is she excessively curious about your personal conversations, texts, or emails, invading your privacy and not respecting your boundaries?
What causes a wife to be controlling?
Why are wives so controlling? Why do wives try to control their husbands? Let’s try to find out.
Here are some common reasons that might cause a wife to exhibit controlling behavior , along with relatable examples:
- Insecurity: If a wife feels insecure about herself or the relationship, she might try to exert control to gain a sense of security. For instance, she might constantly ask about your plans to ensure she won’t be left out, fearing you might prefer someone else’s company.
- Past trauma: Previous experiences, like past relationships or childhood issues , can impact behavior. If she had a partner cheat on her in the past, she might be overly controlling about your interactions with others, fearing a similar outcome.
- Desire for perfection: A need for things to be perfect can lead to controlling behavior. If she’s fixated on having the “perfect” household, she might dictate how chores are done or criticize your efforts to align with her standards.
- Fear of losing control: Some people use control as a coping mechanism to manage their own anxiety. If she’s stressed, she might try to control various aspects of her life, including your actions, as a way to regain a sense of control.
- Communication issues: Poor communication skills can lead to control attempts. If she struggles to express her needs and concerns openly, she might resort to controlling behavior to ensure her wishes are met.
How can you deal with a controlling wife: 7 practical ways
If you are married to a wife who controls you, but still wants to work on your marriage and improve things, it means that you truly love her and that you value the relationship you both have.
Know the simplest ways how to deal with a controlling wife and how you can do it together as a team.
1. Understand the reason
Living with a controlling wife calls for trying to reach the root of the issue.
There will be cases where a controlling wife might have underlying problems, such as showing narcissistic traits or other psychological problems. It can also be from trauma or a relationship problem that you had before.
Your overall approach will differ from the reason for the attitude she’s displaying. If she’s suffering some form of psychological problems, she may need professional help.
2. Stay calm
It’s important for husbands to maintain their cool while dealing with controlling wives. Instead of arguing or escalating the issue to a fight over who is better, stay calm.
It’s better that way, and you’ll save up your energy. Allow her to rant and then ask her if she can now listen. By this time, even a controlling wife can give way.
You can let her know that you see her point and then add your own points.
3. Ask her to work with you
You’d be surprised to know how communication can help in these situations.
You can start off by using positive words and statements for her so that she does not misinterpret them.
You can also show signs that you agree with her and you are willing to create a plan about it. This will make her feel that she’s given importance while you are also able to open a way of getting into her and helping her.
4. Seek help
There can be instances where the controlling wife is aware of her actions and wants to change.
In this event, it’s better to ask for professional help and make sure you allow time for her to understand how this is needed and how it can save your relationship.
5. Encourage independence
Encouraging independence in your relationship involves giving each other the space to pursue individual interests, friendships, and activities. This helps prevent a sense of control from developing. When both partners have their own lives outside the relationship, it can lead to a healthier and more balanced dynamic.
6. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. Boundaries define what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Communicate openly with your wife about your personal boundaries, and encourage her to do the same. Discuss areas where you both feel comfortable and uncomfortable in terms of control.
7. Lead by example
Leading by example means demonstrating the behaviors and communication styles you’d like to see in your relationship. If you want a partnership built on trust, respect, and open communication, be the first to display these qualities.
Show that you value your wife’s opinions, involve her in decisions, and actively listen to her.
Commonly asked questions
Relationships can sometimes pose challenges, and understanding how to address controlling behavior is important. Let’s explore some common questions and provide straightforward answers to help you navigate these situations.
Can a controlling wife change?
Absolutely, change is possible. People evolve, and relationships can too. If your wife is willing to understand her behavior’s impact and both of you communicate openly, positive change is achievable. Patience and mutual efforts will play a key role.
When is a man controlled by his wife?
Control can emerge when one partner dominates decisions, affecting freedom and confidence. Feeling like you need approval or fearing reactions might signal this. Healthy relationships honor both voices, allowing space for growth and mutual decisions.
Is it possible for my wife to be controlling in a healthy way?
Certainly, balance is essential. Guidance can be positive, but preserving each other’s independence is vital. Honesty, understanding, and finding a middle ground are key. Striving for a partnership where both perspectives are valued leads to a harmonious connection.
How can couples therapy help if one partner struggles with controlling behavior?
Couples therapy offers a supportive arena for growth. Skilled therapists facilitate conversations, teach effective communication, and provide tools to address control-related challenges. Both partners collaboratively work towards understanding, fostering a more harmonious relationship.
A relationship of equality and understanding
Addressing controlling behavior in relationships with empathy and open communication is pivotal.
Change is possible when both partners recognize the need for growth and strive to create an atmosphere of understanding and respect. By embracing balanced dynamics and seeking support if needed, couples can nurture stronger connections and build a future together grounded in harmony and mutual happiness.
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Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships Read more and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together. Read less
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Is It Normal to Feel Controlled by My Wife?
Controlling behavior from a spouse can have a significant negative impact on a relationship. It is essential for both partners to have agency in a marriage. If you feel controlled, you're likely struggling to assert your wants and needs. You may also feel like you cannot communicate with your wife about how her actions make you feel.
A desire for control is not unique to men . Women can and do exhibit controlling behaviors that can impact a relationship. No matter the gender of the perpetrator, someone who controls their partner is, at best, bringing resentment into the relationship. At worst, controlling behavior can predict more severe behaviors later in the relationship, including violence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing dangerous or abusive behavior at the hands of their partner, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also seek assistance through the hotline's online chat.
What Is A Controlling Relationship?
Defining exactly what behaviors are considered controlling in a relationship is difficult. Ultimately, how each spouse feels determines if one or the other feels they are being controlled. In some cases, one spouse may consider requests that are typical in a healthy relationship to be controlling, like asking to prioritize quality time or complete household chores.
You should first determine the degree of controlling behavior you see in your wife. It's important to ask yourself whether your wife is being overbearing or whether you are too sensitive to typical requests. If the common themes of controlling behavior listed below resonate with you, it's likely that your wife's behavior is not appropriate.
You deserve ample time with friends, family, and other loved ones besides your spouse. Keeping you from seeing others in your life is not acceptable. If you feel like your wife is isolating you , evaluate the situation thoroughly. Does she get angry when you visit with friends? Does she downplay your relationship with your family or get upset when you lean on them for support?
It is important to distinguish isolating behavior from simple requests for your time. If your wife gets angry at you because you canceled plans with her to go and hang out with friends, that's not controlling behavior, nor is its isolation. You may need to improve the communication in your marriage to get to the root of the issue. Isolating behaviors are consistent; if your wife constantly gets upset when you see friends and family, that's controlling behavior.
Stalking Or Monitoring
Stalking refers to a pattern of unwanted attention or communication. If your wife follows you or monitors your arrival at certain locations without your consent, that's not OK. You have a right to travel freely and a broader right to feel safe and secure in your relationship. Your safety and security are not intact if you are constantly being monitored.
The same principles apply to electronic devices. If your wife insists on going through your phone, installing tracking apps, or installing any other monitoring software, your safety is being violated. Excessive monitoring indicates a lack of trust , and you deserve to feel trusted by your spouse. Part of mutual trust is an expectation of safety; your wife needs to be secure enough in her relationship with you to trust that you have nothing to hide.
If your wife controls the finances in your marriage and limits your access to money, she may be financially controlling you. It is important to note that financial control only applies to assets that would normally be shared; if she doesn't share her own money with you freely, that's not financial control. An example of financial control might be if you and her deposit your paychecks into the same account, but she insists that only she can access it.
Your wife may use phrases like "You're not good with money" or "I'll take care of the finances." Financial control is more likely if she doesn't allow you to make reasonable purchases or gets upset when you do. Financial control does not include becoming upset at frivolous purchases, anger at not discussing a major purchase, or sharing her opinion of how you handle finances.
Threats Or Violence
Women can and do enforce control through threats and violence . If your wife hits you, throws objects at you, or breaks your possessions, it is just as serious as if a man were being violent. If you identify as a man, you may feel that your wife's behavior is excusable. Over a quarter of men in the United States have experienced some form of intimate partner violence. Stigma surrounds the victim status of men who have experienced violence at their partner's hand. When women perpetrate violence against men, it is not always perceived as abusive behavior.
The double standard of men's victimization and the hands of women perpetrators is slowly changing. No matter your gender, if you are experiencing violence at the hands of your spouse, that is a serious violation of your safety and security. It is not OK to remain in a relationship with a spouse who treats you violently. If you need help, regardless of gender, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can provide immediate assistance.
Gaslighting is the intentional distortion of reality to make you feel that what you see or feel isn't real. Attacks on sanity are common in gaslighting cases. If your wife calls you crazy or otherwise makes you doubt your reality, you may be the victim of gaslighting. You may also feel like your marital situation is surreal – like it's happening on a different plane of your life. This is termed the "Twilight Zone effect" and is a hallmark of gaslighting.
The common techniques used in gaslighting, as well as example phrases, are below:
- Withholding. The gaslighter pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. "I don't want to hear this again."
- Countering. Questioning your memory, even when you remember the event accurately. "You never remember things correctly."
- Blocking. Changing the subject or questioning your thoughts. "Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?
- Trivializing. Making your needs or feelings seem unimportant. You're too sensitive.
- Denial. Pretending not to remember events that occurred or promises they made. "You're just making stuff up."
Can My Marriage Improve?
If your wife frequently demonstrates behaviors like those listed above, your first consideration should be whether you wish to leave the relationship. Abusive relationships may not respond to interventions designed to improve marital satisfaction, including couples counseling . Severe controlling behavior takes a toll on the person being controlled, and you may need time away from your wife to regain a sense of self or perspective.
However, if your wife rarely or never behaves in a severely controlling manner, there is likely hope for your marriage. If you feel controlled, but your wife's behavior doesn't match what was described in this article, you should focus first on improving marital communication . Your wife may be having trouble enforcing her needs, or you may have difficulty enforcing yours. Things like nagging and repeated requests don't amount to being controlling, but they do indicate a potentially harmful communication pattern.
You should take time for self-reflection to ensure you know your own needs and are able to communicate them. What is making you feel controlled? Are there specific things you want your wife to do differently? Be sure you can answer those questions before discussing the issue with your wife. Your needs matter just as much as hers, but it's important you can adequately describe your perspective. When bringing your concerns to your wife, do so politely and constructively.
How Can Online Therapy Help?
If you're considering leaving a potentially abusive partner, a therapist can help you plan your exit from the relationship and help support you after you leave. If problems in your marriage are not that severe, visiting with a therapist online can help you better understand your own wants and needs in the relationship, as well as how you may be contributing to marital concerns. Couples counseling is also an option; you and your wife can work together to improve your marriage from your home. Online counseling removes many barriers to accessing therapy, including traveling to a physical office or being restricted to nearby therapists only. Online therapists use the same evidence-based techniques as traditional therapists, which are just as effective when administered online.
If you're feeling controlled by your wife, the first step is to evaluate the level of controlling behavior. If she is threatening, hurting, isolating, or monitoring you, you should strongly consider leaving the relationship. If her behavior is less severe, you can improve the situation by working on your assertiveness, developing your self-esteem, and working with your wife to increase the quality of communication in your marriage.
Not everyone will go into therapy seeking the same things. Keeping this in mind can ensure that you will get the most from online therapy. If you’re still wondering if therapy is right for you, and how much therapy costs, please reach out to us at [email protected] . BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address mental health concerns. If you’re interested in individual therapy, reach out today to get started. For more information about BetterHelp, please find us on:
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9 Signs Of A Controlling Husband And How To Deal With It
In a marriage where your partner micromanages you, it's time to establish new boundaries.
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Jealousy, control in a marriage are complicated subjects to understand. Here, in this article, we have made a list of signs of a controlling husband to make it easy for you to check if you have one.
Marriage brings a lot of changes into a woman’s life, and the best way to adapt to them is by embracing them by making a few adjustments to your life. But there are some things that you should not entertain, and you should nip them in the bud, like your husband’s controlling and manipulative behavior.
Controlling husband traits include domination, manipulation, and intimidation. They don’t honor your wishes and constantly dismiss your views, impacting your mental health and self-esteem. This sort of possessive, dominating, and authoritarian behavior carries more negative effects than you can imagine. It can seriously impact your confidence levels. In this article, we have listed some tips that can help you deal with your controlling husband. Scroll down to know more.
In This Article
9 Signs Of A Controlling Husband
Before finding a solution, it is essential to diagnose if there really is trouble in your paradise and that it is not something trivial or momentary. Here are 9 signs of a controlling husband . If your partner exhibits more than 4 such behaviors, you need to take a step soon:
- He Constantly Criticizes You: This is one of the most obvious signs that your husband is trying to take control over you. He criticizes you at every step. It can begin with the simplest things, like how you do your work or dress up, and eventually worsen. It will not only put you down but also break your self-confidence gradually. It can also chip away at your self-worth, making you question yourself, feel insecure, and become more dependent on him.
- He Makes Your Feel Guilty: Oppressive and controlling people often make you feel guilty when you do not go according to their wishes. Moreover, they will try to manipulate you into doing things they like. They will also twist words and blow any argument out of proportion so that you end up being the bad person while they pose as the victim.
- He Gets Jealous, A Little Too Much: There is always some level of jealousy in all relationships , but when you have a controlling husband, it can go overboard. He will read too much into your conversations with other guys. It can end up with him becoming more obsessive and spying on you by checking your phone calls, emails, and so on.
- He Cuts Off Your Social Relations: A controlling husband wants to weaken your spirit and keep others from finding out and helping you deal with the toxic relationship. That is why he will try to cut your communication with others and isolate you. Just like criticism, isolating you will begin slowly and get worse over time. His possessiveness and jealousy will also play a role in this, leaving you unguarded and vulnerable. This restrictive behavior can affect you greatly and increase the feeling of loneliness.
- He Wants To Know Everything About You: From whom you are talking to on the phone to your financial status, your controlling husband would want to know every little detail. He may even start hijacking your decisions and controlling your actions directly or indirectly.
- He Threatens You: Whenever there is a fight, he may threaten to leave you or take away your kids or reveal your secrets to your family. The threats can be of any magnitude, but it is a way of extreme emotional manipulation he tries to pull over you.
- He Gaslights You: Gaslighting is a technique where a person tries to manipulate your thoughts, making you question yourself. It is a form of emotional abuse that is often found in controlling people. They challenge your sanity and wear you down to such a state that you start doubting yourself and feel like you have to rely on them. It sets the stage for further manipulation and control.
- He Ignores What You Say: If your husband wants to control you, he will ignore everything you say. Your words will fall on deaf ears, and this will again affect your self-confidence. He might even belittle you when he dismisses your opinions in front of others.
- His Love Comes With Conditions: A controlling husband will shower you with love as long as you give in to his conditions. For instance, if you are busy at work, he will not show you any love or affection. But as soon as you start caring for him, he can be the best husband ever. So, you will have to work harder for his love every time, and that’s not how a healthy marriage works.
Marriage to a controlling husband can be tricky to navigate. The constant criticism, manipulation, and emotional abuse impact your mental health. So, before things become worse, it is best to take steps. Head to the next section to know how you can tackle these manipulation techniques aimed at asserting dominance over you.
How To Deal With A Controlling Husband
Here are a few tips on how to cope with a controlling husband:
- Stay Calm: A controlling husband can be quite irritating, but you need to calm down. Be the bigger person and ask them gently about issues. It may look like you are surrendering to him, but you are just trying to blow down the fire. This reverse psychology may help you and turn things in your favor.
- Take Control Of Your Life: Stop feeling guilty and weak if your partner wears you down. Instead, take charge of your life and appreciate yourself. It will strengthen your confidence, and you can control things better. Try taking up a new hobby and spend time doing the things you like.
- Figure Out The Reason For The Behavior: Try to trace the events that led to this behavior. It could be anything – from a traumatic childhood to the death of a loved one. He may also have some mental health issues like anxiety or bipolar disorder. Once you know the reason, you may be able to help him. Remember, love can heal the deepest wounds.
- Keep A Strong Support System: Being alone never helps, especially when you have a controlling husband. So, keep your friends and family close to you. Make plans with them and share your troubles. Don’t let your husband isolate you.
- Set Boundaries: This step is helpful when your husband wants to know everything about you. Tell him about your limits and the consequences of any violation so that he understands how serious you are about the boundaries. It is time-taking yet worth it.
- Try Therapy: If nothing works, you can always go to a professional therapist to sort the marital issues. This way, you both will get the chance to speak your side of the story and find answers to what is causing this behavior.
- Ask For Help: People often hesitate to ask for help when it comes to marriage. Avoid this mistake if you have a controlling husband who torments you mentally, verbally, and physically. Do not wait for things to escalate to physical abuse. Instead, speak up and let your friends know.
When things get out of hand, and you feel unsafe and unheard in the marriage, it is time to call it quits. After all, nothing is more important than your mental health and happiness. Scroll down to know ways to exit the relationship safely.
Getting Out Of A Controlling Relationship
A healthy marriage is based on love, respect, and care. If you feel that your controlling husband’s behavior has jeopardized all these things and you just cannot take it anymore, it is the right time to walk out of the relationship.
You can go for a divorce. But before that, make sure you have a strong backup. Assemble your support system, think about finances, and if you have kids, think about custody as well.
Another way is to seek professional help from a lawyer or marriage counselor . They will find out the right steps for you to get out of the toxic marriage. Leaving a relationship is difficult but if it is taking the life out of you, choose yourself.
Infographic: Top 5 Signs Your Husband Is Controlling
It is expected and natural to make adjustments after your marriage. But if your husband starts acting differently, you should deal with it at the beginning to avoid more problems in the future. Your husband’s authoritarian behavior should be a cause for alarm. If you are still wondering whether he is controlling or not, check out the infographic below for the top signs to look out for.
Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team
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A controlling husband is not only particular about your whereabouts, whom you meet, and how you spend every single minute but may also turn out to be aggressive or abusive. Excessive possessiveness, inquiring about every tiny detail, micromanaging, and offering to schedule your day in spite of your will may be signs of a controlling husband. As much as it is important to know when and how you connect with a person, it is also important to be aware of toxic relationship signs. You need to pay attention to their domineering attitude and dictatorial traits that can pose a threat to you both mentally and physically. Minimum respect, care, and trust are important to keep a relationship going. If you find yourself feeling alone, left out, disrespected, or abused in any way, it is important to identify the toxic traits and take a stand for yourself rather than continuing the suffocating relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between caring and controlling?
Sometimes, people confuse controlling behavior with care. That’s why they slowly find themselves stuck with a controlling partner. So, it is important to know the difference between the two. Here is a list of distinctions between caring and controlling behavior in various scenarios:
1. Rules Caring: When you both create rules to make your relationship successful. Controlling: When the rules he ‘creates’ apply only to you.
2. Meeting Friends Caring: He offers you a ride when you go to meet your friends and even joins you at times. Controlling: He meets his friends and family but stops you from doing the same.
3. Calls And Messages Caring: He drops a sweet message occasionally to know how you have been doing and says he misses you. Controlling: He calls you all day to know where you have been and who you have been with.
4. Compliments Caring: He boasts about your career in front of his friends and family. Controlling: He talks about your job in a condescending way.
5. Social Media Caring: He comments on your pictures, saying how you look hot and beautiful. Controlling: He checks your social media and controls what you post and comment.
6. Fights Caring: There will be fights, but they don’t stay for long. Both of you end up apologizing and understanding. Controlling: He blames you every time and makes you feel guilty.
Why is my husband so controlling?
There are various reasons behind a man’s controlling behavior, not the least of which is a lack of awareness about what a healthy marital relation should be like. Other factors include substance abuse, financial or emotional insecurities, and personality or mental health disorders. Some men also tend to be naturally chauvinistic, making them more controlling in their nature.
Will a controlling man ever change?
It may be possible for a controlling man to change with therapy, clear boundary setting, and honest communication.
Is being controlling abusive?
Yes, being controlling can be considered to be emotionally and sometimes physically abusive, depending on the extent to which the control is exerted.
How do you fix a controlling relationship?
Setting boundaries, communicating, and going for therapy or marital counselling are the most important ways to help fix a controlling relationship.
- A controlling husband will criticize you and break your self-confidence.
- Your husband’s jealousy, possessiveness, and gaslighting behavior can wreak havoc on your mental health.
- Setting clear boundaries, helping him get therapy, and building a strong support system for yourself can help you deal with a controlling husband.
Identify the signs of a controlling spouse or husband. Learn how to recognize red flags and take steps towards a healthier relationship from the video below.
Sneha Tete Beauty & Lifestyle Writer
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Is My Spouse Controlling or Just Caring?
- By Julie Holmquist
- April 18, 2022
Ron Welch, author of The Controlling Husband , didn’t realize he was a controlling spouse. But then he heard one of his sons say something demanding to his wife, Jan. Soon after that, Ron listened as another son ordered Jan to take him to sports practice.
“I started to lecture them both,” he said . He told them, “Don’t talk to your mother that way! You better start showing her some respect.”
In a Focus on the Family podcast, Ron shares how God opened his eyes to his controlling behavior. “I remember God slapping me across the head and saying, ‘And who do you think is teaching them to disrespect women? I’ve taught you a different way to value your wife. Why are you doing this?’ There was this inconsistency between my faith and what I was.”
Kimberly Wagner also admits to having previously been a controlling spouse. She didn’t realize what she was doing at the time, either.
“I thought I was helping LeRoy, not trying to control him,” she writes. “I really believed I was doing a good deed when I pressured him to do things my way, when I insisted on a different approach to parenting and when I told him how to drive. …
“When I relished sitting in the seat of control, I was unaware that forcing my plans on LeRoy and continually challenging his decisions was actually devaluing him. Then one day I watched as my criticism of a decision he had made crushed him, and it hit me: Getting my way in this moment is not worth killing his spirit as a man.”
Addressing the issue
If you suspect that control may be an issue in a couple’s marriage, prayerfully consider how you can address the topic as you talk with each spouse individually. You might ask them which characteristics show up more often in their marriage. Do they see characteristics of a controlling spouse? Or characteristics of a caring and loving spouse as defined by the Bible?
Characteristics of a controlling spouse
- Constant criticism. (“You always load the dishwasher wrong.” “That outfit makes you look fat.” “You need to mow the lawn the right way.”)
- Not taking no for an answer — arguing and persuading until the other spouse gives in.
- Dictating their spouse’s schedule or what they wear, eat, etc.
- Controlling the finances and not providing access to money.
- Monitoring their spouse’s social media or devices.
- Not wanting their spouse to spend time alone with family and friends.
- Frequent jealous accusations.
- Constant scorekeeping. (“You didn’t do the dishes last night, so why do you expect me to help you with your flat tire?”)
- Lots of conditional “love.” (“I don’t want to have sex with you until you lose 20 pounds.”)
- Making their spouse feel as if they’re always wrong.
- Regular manipulation, such as playing the martyr and using the silent treatment to get their way.
Characteristics of a caring spouse
- Sacrificial behavior. “I’ll make supper and do the dishes tonight because I know you’re super tired.” Ephesians 5:25 , Mark 10:45
- Unconditional love. “You got laid off from your job, but it’s OK. I still love you. We’ll get through this together.” Romans 5:8
- Patience. Example: A husband fills the gas tank of his wife’s car without complaining even though she’s forgotten to take care of it many times. Ephesians 4:1-2
- Kindness. “It looks like you could use a break from the kids. Why don’t you plan some time with your friends and let me handle the kids this weekend?” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
- Keeping no records of wrong. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
- Honoring. “I appreciate the time you put into planning our vacations. I know it’s a lot of work, but you do an amazing job!” 1 Peter 3:7
- Forgiving. “It’s OK if you forgot to stop at the grocery store. I’m not perfect either. And I know you’ve been stressed out at work lately.” Ephesians 4:32
- Being humble. “You’re right. Your way of handling this situation is better.” Ephesians 4:1-2
- Not being envious. Example: A husband celebrates his wife’s success. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
- Not being self-seeking. Example: A wife would rather stay home but attends an event with her husband because it’s important to him. Philippians 2:3-4
Are you being controlled?
Sometimes, a spouse realizes something is wrong in the relationship but doesn’t recognize the problem as unhealthy control. In a WebMD article titled, “ Warning Signs That Your Partner Is Controlling ,” Lilianna Hogan suggests that such spouses ask themselves the following questions:
- Does your partner make you feel scared?
- Do you feel mistrusted constantly?
- Do you feel powerless over your relationship?
- Are there specific topics you dread bringing up or entirely avoid?
- Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?
- Do you feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you?
Jan says she was accustomed to her father’s controlling behavior and made the mistake of being passive with Ron and not setting boundaries. At one point in their marriage, she says couldn’t even leave their apartment without Ron. If she did, she faced his constant inquisition.
Are you acting controlling?
To help a spouse know if they’re acting controlling toward their spouse, Kimberly suggests asking the following questions:
- If things don’t go as I’d planned, do I get stressed and respond in hurtful ways?
- Do I function as though I believe my way of functioning is superior to that of my spouse?
- Do I find it extremely difficult to defer to my spouse?
- Who calls the shots most of the time?
- Do my spouse and I equally contribute when big decisions need to be made?
- Does my spouse feel safe providing an alternate idea or plan?
- Do I receive input from my spouse and demonstrate appreciation for that input?
Insecurity, selfishness and the fear of losing Jan were the causes of Ron’s controlling behavior, he says.
What the Bible says
If you discuss control issues with a husband and wife, you can also remind them that none of us is “in control” of life, even though as humans, we often want to be. The Bible reminds us that God is in control of the universe, and we are not. God asks His children to surrender to His will because He loves and values each one of us. We can hand over our fear, insecurity and desire to be in control to our mighty God, who wants to give us His wisdom ( James 1:5 ) and cares about every detail of our lives ( Matthew 10:29-31 ).
Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ ”
1 Chronicles 29:11-12: “Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.”
Psalm 34:4-5: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
When to suggest counseling
If you’re concerned that control is an issue in any way, encourage the couple to seek help. If you’re worried about a spouse’s safety, suggest that they call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org . To find counseling, suggest that the spouse call Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department for a one-time free consultation at 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain Time).
To learn more
The Dangers of a Controlling Spouse
“ The Best Choices You Can Make for Your Marriage ”
“ Harnessing Your Strength to Transform Your Marriage ”
“ The Benefits of Losing Control in Your Marriage ”
“ A Husband’s Selfishness ”
© 2022 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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Julie Holmquist is a content producer for the Focus on the Family marriage team. She’s been married to her husband, Jeff, since 1986 and is also the author of A Call to Love: Preparing Your Heart and Soul for Adoption .
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THE INSTITUTE FOR MARITAL HEALING
The Controlling Spouse/Relative Healing
This chapter will describe the challenge of dealing with a controlling spouse, child or relative and offer recommendations for addressing serious this conflict. The healing of a compulsive need to dominate others is very challenging. This conflict is properly identified as a major marital toxin.
The origins, manifestations and treatment of this common marital and family difficulty are presented. In addition, I recommend reviewing updated material in chapter three of my new marital book, Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Spouses , Ignatius Press, 2019.
Men and women are on a journey to find someone to whom they can entrust themselves for a lifelong commitment.. After the discovery of the person, marriage and the birth of children various stresses can result in a diminishment of trust, the foundation for loving. When this occurs, emotional walls can unconsciously go up which then limit giving and receiving love. Subsequently, spouses feel less happy and may experience loneliness and irritability toward a spouse. This type of stress also can lead to transitory tendencies to control or to withdraw.
Fortunately, the tendency to control can be resolved if promptly addressed through a process of understanding, forgiving, seeing the good in one's spouse, and re-committing to trust and to show respect.
In contrast to these transitory stresses on marital trust are the serious difficulties which arise when a spouse manifests ongoing controlling and disrespectful behaviors. Unfortunately, not a small number of spouses today bring into their marriages strong selfishness, deep unconscious trust wounds from hurts with a parent or the serious weakness of modeling after a controlling parent which lead them to act in a controlling manner.
The tendency to control a spouse can emerge slowly in response to hurts or character weaknesses or it can be present at the very beginning of a marriage. This serious personality conflict creates a great deal of tension and unhappiness in a married life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1606, speaks to this challenge, "Their (marital) union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can scale into hatred and separation."
The ability to trust, that is. to feel safe and secure with one's spouse, is the foundation for giving love as well as for receiving love. Without a strong foundation in trust or without attending to and maintaining trust, a rift can develop in marriages and families. Therefore, trust needs be protected and strengthened at every stage of married life.
Let's look at weaknesses in trusting, which are often unconscious, which are a major cause for controlling behaviors. However, in our clinical experience the most common cause is selfishness. The more a spouse gives into selfishness, the greater the drive to have everything go one's own way and the greater the lack of respect shown to one's spouse.
The checklist below identifies many symptoms of mistrust and controlling behaviors, as well as origins from hurts in childhood and adult life, as well as from personality weaknesses.
Specific Origins of Controlling Behaviors
1. Modeling after a controlling parent
The very painful experience of a having a controlling and, therefore, disrespectful mother or father is one of the major reasons for mistrustful behaviors in married life. If your spouse had a controlling parent, he/she will have most likely many of the behaviors listed in the mistrust checklist. Unfortunately, this childhood pain is difficult to face and to address and many will project this conflict claiming the spouse is the controller rather than a parent. One of the major reasons for this denial and projection or misplacement is because of the intensity of the powerful unconscious, locked-in anger and rage toward the dominating by a parent.
The emotional trauma of having a controlling parent in childhood also leads to an intense unconscious fear of being controlled in married life. This fear often results in a compulsive need to distance or to criticize a gifted and trustworthy spouse. This pain of fear and mistrust can be buried for many years only to emerge for the first time after the birth of a child or after some other major stress in the marriage.
Without a process of uncovering and resolving strong resentment with a controlling parent through a forgiveness process and through growth in trust, the controlling spouse, in the words of John Paul II, will be remain "a prisoner of the past", that is, will, in fact, be controlled emotionally by the hurts from childhood. Our clinical view is that if a person does not work to forgive a parent for a serious weakness, such as a tendency to control, that the intense anger with this parent will contribute in a major way to the spouse's repeating such behavior in married life. In addition , this anger and rage meant for the parent will be misdirected at the spouse.
Also, the response to having a controlling parent can be that of acting in a passive-aggressive way in one's own family life by not assuming any appropriate responsibility, particularly in regard to the correction of children. Here the spouse can unconsciously support rebellion by children against the other responsible spouse in an act of passive-aggressive anger which is meant primarily for the controlling parent of that souses.
The process of addressing and resolving such anger will be described in the case studies in this chapter. However, if you believe what has been presented here applies to your spouse, you can begin now thinking of asking this spouse to repeat a parent's good qualities but not his/her tendency to control. You might also begin to think about saying that you are not going to enable controlling behaviors in your marriage.
2. Character strength gone awry
Those spouses with very strong personalities can engage in behaviors which they view as being responsible and caring, but which their husbands and wives can experience as being controlling and disrespectful, particularly under various types of stress. When this occurs, it should not be denied, as often occurs, but honestly discussed. Often a strong spouse can recognize an overreaction, apologize and make a commitment to be strong and loyal, but not controlling. In addition, growth in the virtues of gentleness and patience can refine and modulate the special character trait of strength and protect the marital friendship.
3. Damage to trust from parental alcoholism, divorce or excessive anger or from other abuse trauma
We work with a number couples who experience severe stress in their marriage because one spouse overreacts regularly with anger and controlling behaviors under stress. They often come to discover that this harmful emotional response is the result of an unconscious need to control because of the fear that they could re-experience in their married life the same pain, turmoil and sadness of their childhood. The childhood experiences which cause such controlling responses later in marriage are from the stress alcoholism/substance abuse, excessive anger, emotional abuse of a parent or oneself, physical abuse, marital separation or divorce. In fact, the most common unresolved childhood conflict we address in wives who are controlling is alcoholism in the her father.
4. Insecure spouse
An insecure spouse often fails to be responsible enough as in the home which then forces the other spouse to be more responsible than he/she would like to be. For example, struggles with insecurity can interfere with responsible parenting and appropriate correction of children because the parent craves their love and acceptance. Then the more responsible parent is burdened with doing all the correction of children and feels very unsupported. Since nature hates a vacuum, the more responsible spouse may become more controlling as a result of being forced to assume too many leadership roles in the family.
Evaluate the Control Conflict
Please attempt to determine if you or your spouse has these controlling conflicts:
• Trying to make the spouse believe that he or she is the cause of the conflicts in the marriage
• Using anger with the hope one’s spouse will become fearful
• Distancing the spouse in numerous ways
• Using excessive and unwarranted criticism with the goal of weakening a spouse's confidence
• Acting as a victim or in the sick role
• Acting in hysterical ways to intimidate
• Restricting access to family finances
• Acting in manipulative ways
• Refusing to listen to one's spouse
• Cutting a spouse off from family or friends
• Using religion to dominate
• Presenting others as not being trustworthy
• Controlling communication
• Making one’s spouse feel overly dependent
• Attempting to turn the children against a one’s spouse
• Making threats of ending the marriage if one cannot have one’s own way.
Marital Control Conflicts
Copyright © 2017 Richard Fitzgibbons
The following case stories of a controlling husband and a controlling wife are taken from Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope . Since they have helped many couples, they may be of assistance to you as well. Forgiveness helps to break the control patterns, purifies the memory in a sense and enables one to live with less anxiety and anger. Forgiving those who have damaged one's trust is also essential overcoming the tendency to control one's spouse and children.
The Controlling Husband
In our clinical experience, forgiving the distant or unaffectionate spouse is an easier task than forgiving the controlling spouse because the latter is usually more disrespectful and arrogant. The domineering spouse often is much more resistant to therapy because of profound selfishness or of fear of buried emotional conflicts with a parent, especially intense rage. Also, these individuals are very challenging because they regularly try to control those who want to help them.
The most common causes of controlling behavior in a spouse are the result of modeling after a controlling parent or of a narcissistic personality. Another reason is a stressful and traumatic childhood and adolescence as a result of having an addicted, extremely angry or narcissistic parent. Also, many of those abandoned in childhood will be highly controlling in their adult lives as a compensation for the lack of security they experienced. Finally, some spouses are extremely controlling due to their narcissistic personalities which result in their insistence on always having their own way.
It is challenging and quite difficult to resolve the emotional conflicts of controlling spouses and help those individuals let go of their excessive anger. One reason for this is that most of these individuals have a weak foundation in trusting others as a result of their childhood and adolescent traumas with parents.
Once the client is aware of the origin of the spouses need to control, it is possible to become more confident and assertive and point out the weakness of the controlling partner. In the work phase, the offended partner needs a great deal of patience because a significant change in this type of behavior can take a considerable amount of time. Also, it is usually difficult to continue forgiving the controller since domineering behavior is repeated on a regular basis.
When one forgives a controlling spouse, it does not mean that the individual decides to tolerate insensitive treatment. Instead, forgiveness can remove the stress of anger and strengthen the spouse to be assertive and to make the necessary decisions that need to be made to protect oneself and ones children, and improve the marital relationship. Finally, if the spouse is unwilling to give up the controlling behavior, marital separation might be indicated. Such a step may be the only thing that will motivate some spouses to work on their compulsive need to control.
Jed is a twenty-eight-year-old married man who was controlling, overly critical of his wife and irresponsible in the home. His wife, Violet, entered therapy because she could no longer tolerate his behavior. For a long time he refused to participate in marital counseling and only agreed after Violet threatened separation and divorce.
Initially, Jed blamed Violet for his anger. He was highly resistant to examine any conflicts from his family of origin and blamed Violet and her family background for the stresses in their marriage. Clinical experience has shown that there is more resistance in the uncovering phase of the treatment of marital conflicts than in the treatment of any individual disorder. For months Jed reluctantly came to therapy and did very little work because he wanted to maintain control over his wife.
Violet accused him of not working in therapy and again threatened marital separation unless he worked on his own conflicts. It took many months for Jed to accept that his difficulties with trusting and anger were the major source of the marital conflicts. Until that time he tried to pressure his wife to end therapy and, when that failed, he attempted to control most of the sessions by blaming his wife for the stress in the marriage, by using humor to defend against his own weaknesses and by not following the advice of the therapist.
Violet had great difficulty coping with her anger with Jed because, for months, he did not appear truly motivated to change. She tried to resolve her anger for the good of the marriage by forgiving him. This forgiveness did not limit her ability to be assertive with him. She was able to express her anger in an appropriate way when he was being controlling. It is not unusual during treatment of such cases that therapists experience anger toward a controlling client. The therapist may benefit by forgiving such clients during or after the sessions.
Under the threat of separation, Jed finally admitted that he had grown up in a family with a very controlling mother and with several older sisters who treated him in the same manner as his mother had. He reluctantly accepted that he might have an unconscious fear of being controlled by his strong wife, as he had been by his mother and older sisters. Even though he would not admit the presence of anger with these women, he was given a cognitive forgiveness exercise in which he was asked to reflect that he hated being controlled when young and that he wanted to try to forgive the controllers in his world.
Again he manifested a great deal of resistance, not truly entering into the work of forgiveness. He continued to try to control numerous aspects of their life together including the care of their home, their time together, their leisure activities and regularly overreacted in anger when he was unsuccessful. His ability to invest trust was so limited that he did not begin the hard work of forgiveness until he felt considerably safer with the therapist. In order to build that trust, the therapist would regularly reiterate that he did not want to control Jed and was not an agent of his wife. Also, the therapist expressed the view based on many years of clinical work that unless he resolved his anger with the offenders of his childhood that they might control him for the rest of his life. Specifically, they would limit his ability to enjoy a trusting, relaxed relationship with Violet. The fear of being controlled by others motivated Jed to finally work on letting go of his deep resentment and to try trusting his wife.
Jed grew in trust as he reminded himself daily that his wife was a trustworthy woman who did not desire to control him. The growth in trust facilitated his ability to let go of the resentment toward his mother and sisters, which he had been misdirecting for years toward his wife. The recovery process was stormy with intense quarreling and threats of separation necessitating several years of therapy because Jed, like many controllers, was ambivalent about giving up the control.
Violet, during this period, worked daily at trying to forgive Jed so that she would not overreact each time she saw his controlling behavior manifest itself. Jed, in the deepening phase, grew to become more trusting of Violet and felt greater love for her. Furthermore, he regularly expressed remorse to his wife for all the ways in which he had hurt her.
The Controlling Wife
Several months into their second marriage, Dave, 53 years old, and Marsha, 50 years old, came into therapy because of their marital fighting. Dave complained that his wife, Marsha, was driving him crazy because of her constant criticism and because of what he viewed as her compulsive need to control every part of his life. Dave was profoundly discouraged and talked about giving up on their new marriage. Marsha disagreed with him and claimed that her criticisms were fully justified. However, Marsha grew slowly to understand that she had difficulty trusting Dave because of all the ways she had been betrayed by her first husband who had left her for another woman as well as by her own mother, who had been an extremely critical person.
Since Dave was more receptive to understanding the concept and benefits of employing forgiveness, he was asked to use it first to resolve his strong anger with his wife. Marsha was resistant to uncovering her anger, but she eventually agreed to employ past forgiveness exercises for hurts from her mother and former husband. She became highly motivated to resolve her anger toward her mother. She did not want it to control her and she knew it was essential to reestablishing a healthy, loving relationship with Dave.
Marsha had far more difficulty in forgiving her former spouse, whom she was trying to forgive at the same time she was forgiving her mother, because she had never fully recovered from the betrayal pain he caused. She related, "I gave myself totally to him and he used me and left me for a former friend. Thinking of forgiving him is so hard. He should be punished and suffer for what he did to me." However, Marsha committed herself to the very hard work of forgiveness because, as she stated, "I don't want him to control me and I want to be freed from that part of my life." As her anger with her former spouse diminished she was able to admit that she feared that Dave would betray her as severely as her former husband had and that this fear gave rise to a need to control.
Other therapeutic interventions which helped improve this marital relationship were for Marsha to reflect daily that she wanted to trust Dave and not control him and to ask Dave for forgiveness for her compulsive need to control. Their love became stronger as anger lessened and trust grew.
Resolving anger with those who have damaged one"s ability to trust is very effective in diminishing the emotional pain of the past and in building a safer feeling in the marital relationship.
Common Reactions to a Controlling Spouse/Relative
__ Denial that one is upset or offended by controlling/disrespectful behavior
__ Excessive anger
__ Withdrawal with diminished communication
__ Lack of attraction to one's spouse
__ Anxiety and muscular tension
__ Need to escape into alcohol, pornography, activities outside the home
__ Friendships pursued outside the marriage
__ Loss of confidence
__ Withhold affection and love
__ Rebellious behaviors including infidelity
__ The enabling of controlling behaviors
__ Avoidance of the home
__ Psychosomatic disorders such as irritable bowel, headaches, etc.
__ Failure to work on the marital friendship
__ Correction of the controlling behaviors
__ Separation or divorce.
Do you think that you experience any of these emotional responses because of controlling behaviors in your spouse, children or other family member?
The most common response to the controlling pressures in the early years of marriage is that of denying how one has been hurt by such behaviors. However, this denial is time limited and eventually a strong emotional reaction against the controlling spouse will emerge. Unless the control weakness is uncovered and addressed, it can lead to severe marital and family conflicts and even separation.
Strategies Used to Control Others
A number of strategies are used to control one's spouse and others. How does your spouse or others try to control you?
__ the emotional life by attacking confidence
__ the victim/sick role
__ manipulative behaviors
__ social life by cutting one off from family or friends
__ emotional life by overly indulging/spoiling others
__ religion to make a person feel guilty
__ thinking by making a person feel totally dependent
__ spiritual life by trying to undermine trust
__ threats of ending a relationship.
Any surprises here? Many spouses are afraid of discussing controlling strategies because they fear the response they will receive. Don't be afraid of your spouse or others! Christian spouses report being helped meditating that the Lord's love supports their Catholic marriage, trusting the Lord with the marriage and then discussing controlling issues.
Communication with the Controlling Spouse
When this conflict is present in a marriage, it should be discussed in a calm and charitable manner which is not easy. First, it is essential to try to understand why a spouse has this weakness. Next it is important to work on forgiving the controlling spouse daily. This forgiveness will decrease anger and diminish the likelihood of so that overreacting in anger. Spiritual forgiveness, in which one gives up anger to God, can be the most effective way to diminish this resentment in some marriages.
The offended spouse can consider relating that being treated in a controlling manner is disrespectful and harmful to the marriage and to the children. Then, whenever the tendency to control is manifested, the other spouse can respond, "Please treat me with more respect" or "I don't deserve to be treated in a disrespectful manner."
Also, when it is clear that a controlling spouse is repeating the controlling behaviors of a parent, an effective approach can be to request that he/she stop repeating the weakness of that parent and, instead, repeat the parent's good qualities. In addition, relating that there will be no enabling of controlling behaviors in the marriage, as occurred in his/her childhood, is important. Many controlling spouses expect that their spouse will not challenge them because they did not see this occur in their childhood. In other words, the controlling parent got away with it and they expect to also.
The reasons why many spouse have difficulty in being honest about this serious marital conflict are the result of a lack of confidence in one's own gifts and in God and numerous fears including those of of being criticized, of increased marital conflict, of being rejected and even of marital separation. I have worked with people who related that parents told them they were going to leave the marriage because they could no longer bear to be treated with such controlling disrespect, but decided not to because of the love for the children.
Confidence can be strengthened by discussing their marital conflict with a trusted friend and with a marriage-friendly counselor. Marital therapy can be beneficial, however, controlling individuals regularly will attempt to dominate the treatment process.
From a faith perspective confidence to address this serious marital problem can grow by being thankful for one's special gift and for Christians by meditating on asking the Lord to protect one's confidence. Fears can be resolved by entrusting the marriage to the Lord on a more regular basis. As confidence grows and fears diminish a request can be made to the controlling spouse to try to make a commitment to try to overcome this weakness by working daily on growth in the virtues of respect, gentleness, humility and faith.
In Christian marriages another beneficial intervention can be to remind the controlling spouse on a regular basis that the Lord is in control and not either spouse. Also, controlling spouses who have modeled after a controlling parent, can benefit from reading how negative parental modeling can be overcome in the parental legacies chapter on this website.
Recovery from the controlling compulsion/addiction
The good news is that often after much struggle some spouses are willing to admit this conflict in their personality and to commit themselves to work on it. Some do so because their spouses are totally burned-out, have major symptoms of explosive anger, anxiety or depression or are prepared to leave the marriage.
When they begin the healing process, many discover very powerful buried anger/rage toward a controlling parent whom they have modeled after. Others identify similar strong hostile feelings toward a parent who was a an alcoholic, was abusive toward the other parent or children, was narcissistic or left the family. This anger must be fully uncovered and resolved which is done initially through past forgiveness exercises in which the spouse pictures himself as a child thinking, "Dad/Mom, I want to understand you and forgive you for your controlling behaviors or for other harmful behaviors. I don't want to model after your weaknesses or try to control my spouse because I could not trust you."
The cognitive distortions in these spouses often are "If I don't control, I will be hurt as I was in my childhood. If don't control, my spouse will control me. " This false belief can be overcome by thinking of the goodness in one's spouse and of their many loyal and trustworthy qualities. Interventions described in the anxious spouse chapter are effective also.
Some Catholic spouses report that their deep resentment with a parent diminishes by taking it regularly to sacrament of reconciliation. Meditating upon trusting the Lord and one's spouse several times daily decreases fears and control compulsions. Some Catholic women relate that choosing Our Lady as another role model for trust enables them to feel safer with their husbands and Catholic men relate, similarly, that choosing St. Joseph as another role model for relating to a wife can bring more trust and refinement to the marital friendship.
Correcting a Controlling Spouse
A serious mistake many spouses make in their marriages is the failure to offer a gentle, clear correction to a spouse who regularly communicates or acts in controlling and disrespectful ways. Such behaviors, unless corrected, severely harm marriages and children over time.
This appropriate psychological response to spouses, in-laws and children with this major personality, can be challenging. The reason is that these people often attempt to instill a fear of their anger in the others in an attempt to intimidate and to prevent justifiable criticism. Subsequently, the response to gentle correction can often be intense anger that is meant to end communication on the topic.
Here’s a trade secret which is that mental health professionals who have the courage and confidence to comment on this weakness in a marital therapy are also often subjected to the same manipulative treatment with angry, disrespectful comments and also may mistakenly back down as do so many spouses.
Here are the leading reasons why spouses can have difficulty in offering much needed correction to harmful controlling communication:
• Denial of the harm caused by this severe weakness in marital self-giving
• Fear of a spouse’s angry response creating severe stress in the children
• Fear of being cut off from love and greater loneliness
• Lack of confidence
• Fears of marital separation
• Selfishness with concerns about the possibility of leading a materially less comfortable life
• Failure to truly trust the Lord with the marriage.
Although spouses can feel battered by controlling abuse, they often come to recognize that the Lord expects more of them in the sacrament of marriage which can motivate them to work to overcome several of these weaknesses. As faith and confidence grow, there is greater freedom in giving a gentle correction with the request to trust more and to be more respectful. A reminder to the spouse that from a Catholic perspective there is no need to control, because the Lord is in control and has placed a sacramental bond between them, can be helpful.
When a Spouse Refuses to Let Go of the Controlling Compulsion
When a Catholic spouse refuses to work on letting go of the tendency to control and emotional suffering is growing in others in the family, consideration should be given to reading together about the nature of Catholic marriage as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, including this description of what is truly occurring in the marriage, “Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination …” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1607). Also, couples report being helped by reading together sections of St. John Paul II’s, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World and Archbishop Aquila’s apostolic exhortation, Family: Become What You Are.
If the controlling persists, then consideration should be given to speaking with a priest with the hope that he could communicate that the Lord has placed the sacramental bond between the spouses and He is the Lord of the marriage, not either spouse. Furthermore, a reminder can be helpful that the Lord expects spouses to live up to their marriage vows to love and honor and to give the control of the marriage to Him. Such advice can also be offered by concerned family members and couples who may be trying to help.
Spouses have reported that, when they have recognized that the controlling behavior arises from modeling after a controlling parent or from experiencing childhood hurts with an angry, alcoholic, controlling or selfish parent whom they could not trust, prayer for healing of those conflicts has been helpful to the marriage. Other interventions can be participation in Church related programs such as Retrouvaille or the Alexander House program.
If resistance continues in the controlling spouse to address this severely damaging personality weakness, consideration could also be given to seeking supportive professional counseling with someone loyal to Catholic marriage with experience in this area. Unfortunately, the control compulsion is often so strong that these spouses are very often unwilling to admit and work on this weakness in marital therapy; rather they tend to blame their spouses for all the marital difficulties.
A worsening marital relationship with harmful fall-out onto the children may indicate the need to discussion of the possibility of a marital separation. At times this threat leads to a “hitting bottom,” in Alcoholics Anonymous recovery terms, in the controlling spouse that leads to a commitment to work on the control compulsion.
In a number of marriages, it was only after a marital separation that the controlling spouse finally began forgiving someone who damaged their ability to trust/feel safe or working on not repeating the controlling style of a parent.
Some loyal spouses give up on this challenging healing journey because they become burned-out by the severe pressure of criticism and disrespectful communication directed at them by the controller. They may either accept the abusive treatment or they move toward divorce. We strongly recommend perseverance on the healing journey for years before journeying on either of these two paths.
When marriages are on the verge of separation, a discussion of the conflicts with a trustworthy, sensitive relative, such as a mother or father-in-law, who is in a stable Catholic marriage in which there has been reliance upon their Faith and the sacramental bond during challenging times has been beneficial.
Growth in faith has helped victim spouses persevere on a stormy marital healing journey. Husbands with significant fears and insecurities report being helped by meditating upon Our Lady’s comforting love and wives also upon the Lord’s comforting spousal love. Also, praying a meditative rosary for marriage has been reported to be beneficial in reducing the controlling compulsion by slow growth in Marian virtues of gentleness and meekness. Other spouses report reading together St. Louis de Montfort’s, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, has deepened a sense of maternal protection that can diminish fears, mistrust and then the control compulsion.
Controlling Spouses and Parental Alienation
Some spouses are so emotionally and cognitively impaired by their compulsion to control that they falsely come to view their husband or wife as being dangerous toward the children. Often, this is projection of a conflict these spouses had with one of their parents who was overly angry, controlling, abusive, addicted or not loyal and responsible onto spouses who have none of these weaknesses and who are psychologically healthy.
These spouses set out to attempt to undermine the trust of the children in a father or a mother and sadly may accomplish their goal. Husbands may be falsely accused of being autistic when in fact they are quiet men whose trust has been damaged by an emotionally abusive wife. Wives may be falsely presented as being religious fanatics and angry because they believe in the sacrament bond and may point out to husbands his family of origin conflicts with a controlling or angry mother or father.
Most of the spouses who engage in parental alienating communication and behaviors refuse to face honestly their own family of origin psychological weaknesses that they have brought into their marriages. When we attempt to engage such spouses in therapy by recommending that they read about the long term damage from divorce in the 2017 book, Torn Asunder, they both deny the harm caused by divorce and also refuse to participate in marital therapy.
Justice requires that parental alienating behaviors and their origins be uncovered and corrected in families in order to protect essential, secure relationships between child and parent which are important to psychological health.
Children and the Controlling Parent
Children are seriously harmed by observing the controlling and demeaning behaviors and words shown toward a parent. Such parental behaviors result in severe stress in the home which damages a child's happiness, hopefulness, trust and confidence even if the child is not the recipient of these words and behaviors. The emotional pain in these children, which includes a great deal of anger, is often unconscious. However, it requires the expenditure of significant intellectual energy in order to deny it. Subsequently, many of these children develop cognitive difficulties with maintaining attention and concentration which can lead to their being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or ADHD.
If the parent of the opposite sex is controlling, then this child will develop an unconscious fear of being controlled in a similar fashion in adult life and will have great difficulty in trusting a spouse in marriage. Also, since the anger with the controlling parent is denied in childhood, it will regularly be misdirected later toward a spouse leading to severe stress in his/her marriage in the future. In priesthood or religious life this anger and mistrust will be misdirected at authority figures.
An awareness of the severe harm done to children by parental controlling and disrespectful behaviors in the marriage and home can be an important factor leading to change in some spouses except those who are very selfish.
Correcting Controlling In-Laws
Controlling in-laws can be a source of serious conflict in many marriages. These in-laws can place psychological pressure upon a married child to be more loyal to the family of origin than to one’s spouse. Part of this process involves engaging in criticism of a son or daughter-in-law, not infrequently for being too religious or not religious enough. Spouses with insecurities or who crave parental approval are particularly vulnerable to such pressure.
We work with many young Catholic couples who experience severe stress in their marital life because of control pressures from an in-law. These controlling and critical behaviors often include:
__ demanding excessive attention and time
__ pressuring a couple to live in a certain area
__ demanding more loyalty to them than to the spouse
__ lack of respect for the son or daughter-in-law
__ excessive criticism of the son or daughter-in-law
__ making plans to be with the couple without first consulting with them
__ arranging family vacations and then demanding the couple come
__ failing to respect appropriate boundaries
__ attempting to interfere with and criticize the parenting of grandchildren
__ trying to influence the number of children in the family
__ trying to dominate through the victim role
__ text messaging grandchildren to arrange meetings with them without the permission of parents
__ pressuring a couple to embrace the contraceptive mentality and cafeteria Catholicism
__ ignoring in-laws.
An increasingly common cause of this difficulty is that the in-laws chose (with the aid of contraception or sterilization) to have only one or two children themselves. They can become upset with the decision in a child's marriage to a more traditional Catholic family of four, five or more children. . As a result, they may intrude in their children’s marriages, attempt to control their lives to a degree by discouraging having more than two children and offer a constant stream of criticism if they have more than two children. Marital trust, as well as family peace and happiness, require correcting such in-laws by requesting they stop the criticism and communicate more respectfully. Should controlling relatives resist such a request, couples may have to act to protect their marriage by distancing themselves from these relatives until they relate in a more respectful manner.
A major mistake often made when one spouse complains about being on the receiving end of controlling and disrespectful behavior from an in-law is the failure to address this major source of family and marital stress. Spouses regularly report that they feel insulted and hurt by a controlling in-law and often do not feel supported by their spouses. An understanding of this pain can motivate couples to corrective action. If the offending behaviors are not properly addressed, they can over time damage marital trust and create serious marital tension and discord.
Spouses with a controlling and demanding parent regularly fail to understand how a parent's overly strong behavior can be hurtful because they believe that they understand the goodness in this parent and have coped with such behaviors. This reaction is seen particularly in husbands who often fail to understand how sensitive their wives are. In addition, these husbands often become upset with their wives for failing to "suck it up". overlook the controlling behaviors and employ the defense mechanisms they have used since childhood.
The emotional reality is that their wives usually have not had to deal with a controlling parent in childhood and are completely unable and unwilling to deny the emotional pain of being treated in a pressured, disrespectful manner. They want their husbands to protect them which is completely reasonable. When husbands work to understand their wives' family communication experiences, they come to realize both how completely unprepared they are to deal with a controlling in-law and that they need to act to protect their wives.
The strategies for dealing with a controlling spouse can also be effective in dealing with controlling in-laws. The first step is the identification and labeling of controlling behaviors. The mistrust and selfish checklists on this site can be of benefit here. Next, a communication process needs to begin in which the controlling in-law is affirmed in his or her strength, but told then that the overly strong communication style is hurtful to the wife because it makes her feel anxious, sad, hurt, disrespected and mistrustful. In addition she never experienced such communication style in her family background. Then a request should be made that the controlling parent work on growing in a number of virtues such as gentleness, kindness and compassion to purify the gift of strength which will help the family relationships. The controlling parent also should be told that in communicating he/she should never state an expectation for meeting with the couple, but, instead, should ask if it would be possible to meet on such and such a date.
The controlling relative may initially be offended by such a correction and request. A discussion of growth in virtues and in a more gentle communication style may need to occur a number of times. In our experience, if the deep love of the overly strong in-law for the couple and the grandchildren will usually lead to beneficial changes in the relationship. If the request for change in behavior is ignored, couples may have to create some distance with the in-laws until they cease their controlling and disrespectful behaviors.
The major limiting factor in this process is the fact that the spouse who had a controlling parent often believes that he is not bothered by the control pressures which he views as passionate love. The husband often needs to pray for strength and wisdom so that he can be a gentle, but strong protector of his wife. He can also be helped by reflecting that from a Christian perspective the priorities in his life should be be: first God, then his wife, next his children and finally his parents. Reflecting on the priorities strengthens one to act for the good of the family, as does reflecting on the scripture passage of leaving father and mother and clinging to one's spouse.
Also, because of the epidemic of narcissism and divorce in the culture, many older couples are experiencing intense controlling pressures from a dominating daughter or son-in-law. Such controlling relatives can even resort to withholding grandchildren if they do not get what they want from their in-laws. Correction, a refusal to enable controlling and narcissistic behaviors and prayer are beneficial in these families.
Stress from Controlling Children
One of the most common strategies used by children to try to control their parents is to label responsible parenting as being controlling, insensitive parenting. This behavior occurs particularly when parents do not give into children's selfish demands. The recommendations for dealing with a the controlling spouse are also effective here. In addition parents can explain that their goal is to be a responsible, not a permissive parent.
The Role of Virtues
A daily commitment to grow in the following virtues can help to diminish the need to control in marriage:
forgiveness (of those who have damaged trust or have spoiled one)
meekness and humility (to face family weaknesses)
faith and prayer (meditating on feeling safe and protected at every life stage).
The Role of Faith
A survey of nearly 37,000 men and women, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May 2005 in Atlanta, showed that people who regularly attend church, synagogue, or other religious services are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other psychiatric illnesses than those who don"t.
The lead researcher of this study, Marilyn Baetz, MD, of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, stated, "The higher the worship frequency, the lower the odds of depression, panic disorders and mania,"
As stated in other chapters on this site, faith can play a beneficial role in the healing of emotional pain and conflicts. (See faith and healing at the National Library of Medicine web site, Medline .) A number of spiritual interventions help in resolving control conflicts and in building deeper trust in marriages. These include employing daily modification of the first two steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and thinking "I am powerless over my tendency to control and want to turn it over to God." The process of meditating daily "Lord you are in control, not me" and "Lord help me not to act like a controlling parent" are also effective.
For those Catholics who could not trust their mothers, attempting to meditate upon Mary as a trustworthy mother at each life stage can deepen their safe feeling. People with mother conflicts also report that they have been helped by asking the Lord to give them a gift of Mary as another loving mother who has always been with them.
Similarly those who could not trust their fathers report being helped by meditating daily upon God the Father or St. Joseph as another loving and trustworthy father at each life stage. Again, some find this process very challenging and find it easier to ask the Lord to give them a gift/sense of God the Father"s love and St. Joseph"s love during each phase of their lives.
Since the tendency to want to control others is often the result of modeling after a controlling parent, being thankful for the gifts one has acquired from parents and then asking the Lord to free one of the acquired parental control weakness can slowly help to resolve this compulsive habit.
When a decision is made to try to overcome the personality and emotional weaknesses which lead to controlling behaviors, Catholic spouses report being helped by taking these weakness to the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis. Some spouses believe that their control tendencies diminish also as a result of asking to be healed of this conflict after receiving the Eucharist. Also, husbands and wives have found that trusting more in the graces of the sacrament of marriage to be assistance.
A deeper understanding of marriage, human love and sexuality acquired from a study of John Paul II"s outstanding books,. Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body , lead to a deeper respect for the spouse and the sacrament of marriage. These insights can help to diminish the tendency to control.
Finally, the Vatican document written by Pope Benedict earlier in the year when he was chosen to lead the Church, Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World contributes to an understanding of some of the present cultural conflicts which have contributed to mistrust and the need to control and of God"s plan for collaboration between men and women.
Human nature being what it is, most of us who are married believe at times that we know what is best for the marriage and for our spouse. Then, we can act with a lack of respect and refinement. We can benefit from keeping in mind daily that any attempt to control our spouse is going to harm our marriage, our children and, in the long run, ourselves.