Control issues in your marriage

Do you often feel controlled by your spouse? Do you feel that your spouse has all of the power in your marriage, and that you are under their ‘command’?

An imbalance of control in a marriage is a major sign that the relationship is in ill-health.

Over-control is when one spouse (husband or wife) tries to make the other do things, think, or feel a certain way, rather than accepting the natural differences that exist between them.

When the controller’s husband or wife does not act as they wish, they bring about some type of punishment.
This punishment does not have to be physical. It can be emotional, mental, financial, or sexual.

When their spouse complies, the controller feels a sense of power and enjoyment. This emotional reward reinforces their controlling behavior.

In the meantime, the spouse being controlled becomes filled with resentment, fear and unhappiness.
If spouses do not have freedom and equal responsibility in a marriage because one person has all of the control, love will have no space to grow and will eventually die.

Warning signs of an unhealthy, controlling relationship:
- You feel afraid to express your opinions, wants or needs to your spouse
- Your spouse is extremely demanding and jealous
- Your spouse makes fun of your ideas when you do speak your mind
- Your spouse makes you feel guilty for having a life outside of the relationship
- You are afraid of your spouse’s temper and avoid doing anything to make him or her angry
- You find yourself making excuses for your spouse’s behavior to others
- Your friends and/or family have expressed concerns about your relationship
- Your spouse tries to control what you do and who you spend time with
- Your spouse has threatened to hurt or leave you
- You feel more free to be yourself when your spouse isn’t around

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, this is a sign that your marital relationship is unhealthy and changes need to be made.

Changing the power dynamics of your relationship will be hard, especially if this is the way things have been for some time. But it is not impossible – you CAN get back the love you once had with your spouse.

Why do people endure being controlled in relationships?
People crave respect, especially from those that they love. They want to be accepted by their spouse, and may go out of their way to try and earn their respect and acceptance.

This can fall into a vicious cycle; where the person being controlled is constantly trying to please their spouse and their spouse is continuously demanding more of them.

Although the ‘pleaser’ may start to resent their spouse’s controlling nature, by this stage they may be unwilling to confront or set boundaries with their spouse because they are too afraid of their spouse’s reaction and what it could do to the relationship.

Because confrontation and saying “No” is too hard, the person being controlled finds it easier to give in to the demands of their spouse.

Eventually, this becomes a routine.

What happens to a spouse who is being controlled?
When a person continuously has their opinions, values and needs de-valued, they gradually lose their sense of identity and self-respect.

Without any power in their relationship, they are left feeling helpless and insecure.

Eventually, a person being controlled by their spouse will usually hit a point of frustration that leads to defiance, resentment, and rebellion against their spouse.

When this goes on for a long time without anything changing or being worked out, this resentment can turn into hatred, which poisons the marriage and kills love between spouses.

Likewise, if a person keeps suffering in silence while waiting for a ‘miraculous’ change in their spouse, the situation will usually only get worse. In the worst case, they will become lost and never rediscover who they were.

If you want to save your marriage, you can't ALLOW your spouse to continue abusing you. Your spouse needs to experience the consequences of their behavior in order to change.

Become aware of any control-enabling behaviors
The truth is, by continuing to cater to the unreasonable demands of your controlling spouse, you are actually reinforcing and enabling their dysfunctional behavior.

Spending all of your time and energy trying to please your spouse while your own needs remain unmet is not doing you any favors. In fact, it will only cause you to lose self-respect and to become more resentful of your spouse.

Living in a ‘victim’ mindset is not going to help you either. Blaming your spouse does not make the problem go away, nor does it account for any of our own actions which may be contributing to it.

But by breaking free from the need to gain your spouse’s approval, you will also stop allowing yourself to be controlled.

Remember, YOU have power over your thoughts, desires, choices, attitudes, actions and reactions. You can make the CHOICE to stop feeling helpless and start taking some responsibility for what is happing in your marital relationship.

Continuing to suffer in silence is not love, nor is it a healthy way of life.

Why setting firm boundaries with your spouse is essential for the health of your marriage:
If you are feeling abused by your spouse’s controlling behavior, you need to stop enabling this behavior and instead set firm limits which will protect you and help to bring about change.

In order for your spouse to ‘wake up’ and realize what he or she is doing to your relationship, they need to start having CONSEQUENCES for their controlling behavior. Because until now, they may have been continuously getting away with it.

Setting boundaries is about telling our spouse where we stand, what we believe, what we like and don’t like, and what we want.

It lets your spouse know that you are in control of yourself and have your own individual needs – you are not living to serve them.

Even if what is happening is not your fault, you need to do what is in YOUR power to break this destructive cycle of control in your marriage. If you are waiting for your SPOUSE to change, you will never see any progress.

Remember, setting boundaries is NOT selfish. Nor is it a way of CONTROLLING, fixing or punishing your spouse.

Boundaries are not about stopping someone else’s behavior, they are about your own self-control, self-respect and taking ownership of your life.

Many people believe that being a good spouse means constantly putting your spouse’s needs before your own. But this is NOT the case - complying with what is going on for the sake of ‘peace’ is actually the OPPOSITE of love.

But by mustering the strength to set healthy boundaries with your spouse and have appropriate consequences if these are broken, yours chances of rekindling the love in your marriage are greatly increased.

How to set boundaries with a controlling spouse:
Words are the clearest way in which you can communicate your boundaries to your spouse.

When your spouse is making unreasonable demands of you or doing something you disagree with (such as trying to force his or her opinion on you or make you act in a certain way), you need to start using the word “No” – the clearest verbal boundary.

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up trying to explain yourself to your spouse, or engaging in explosive, abusive arguments.

Back your boundaries up with clear consequences - otherwise your spouse will find out that they can overstep them whenever they want to.

Keep the consequences appropriate to the behavior and remember that boundaries are about yourself, not about changing your spouse’s behavior.

So, for example, rather than saying to your spouse “You can’t speak to me that way” (which is controlling), you could say “If you speak to me in that way, I will walk out of the room. I will talk to you again once you have calmed down”.

This threat is completely enforceable because the only behavior it directs is the behavior of the person who is setting the boundary.

You can also use physical boundaries, such as putting distance between you and your spouse when you are feeling unsafe or need space to ‘cool down’ after an argument.

If you do put space between you and your spouse, just make sure that you come back and try to resolve the issue once you have both had a chance to calm down and gather your senses.

Otherwise, extended physical distance could add further harm to your marriage.

Note: If your spouse ever physically or sexually abuses you, you need to remove yourself from their presence and seek help IMMEDIATELY. This behavior is NOT okay and requires professional intervention.

Emotional distance is a boundary that you can use when you have been deeply hurt by your spouse, feel that you can’t safely trust them and need some space for your own protection.

However, it should be used only as a temporary measure that can prevent you from having any further hurt, until you are ready to confront your spouse and work things out.

It is important to clearly communicate to your spouse when you are taking spouse emotional ‘time-out’ and why.
For instance, saying things like; “I love you, but I don't trust you right now”, “I can't be close with you until we work this out”, “We can work on becoming close again, when you are serious about getting help.”

Although your spouse may react in an angry manner when you start setting limits with them (as they may not be used to this), stand your ground and stay true to yourself.

Be firm with your boundaries and follow through with the appropriate consequences if your spouse’s behavior gets out of hand.

Remember, by doing this you are actually HELPING your spouse and your relationship to grow. If you cave now, nothing is going to change and your connection to your spouse will slowly disintegrate.

When your spouse RESPECTS the boundaries you have set, engage with them and reinforce their positive behavior by saying “Thank you” and showing affection.

For instance, ‘Thank you for taking the time to listen to what I have to say”.

The power is in YOUR hands to stop enabling and start SAVING your marriage – are you going to use it?

Brooke Ryan,

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3 comments on “Control issues in your marriage”

  1. This is so timely for me. Whenever I go golfing with my husband, he starts controlling me immediately. He criticizes and picks on me for everything I do. Eventually, by hole number nine his language turns foul and is a direct attack on me. This time I told him I would not golf with him again because he continues to act this way on the course. He tried to jump me to the punch by telling me he wouldn't golf with me if I criticize him about his golf cart driving (way too fast). Now he is pouting and giving me the silent treatment, which he does whenever I stick up for myself.

    It's too bad because golfing is just about the only thing we have in common, and we both enjoy it. However, by the time he puts me down so many times on almost every hole, I am so depressed I can barely function. I literally become almost catatonic from the emotional abuse. The resentment builds up to the point where I am not able to be friendly or communicate at all. The last time I kept going and tried to push through, forcing myself to give him compliments on his shots. I wish I had gone to the car at the turn like I had suggested. When we got home and he had had about four beers he said that he had three good flop shots that I didn't even notice! Whoa!

    Eventually we will go golfing again, as this has been going on for years. I just hope that I can set boundaries for myself and tell him that if he starts getting angry with me and putting me down, I am going to walk back to the clubhouse. Oh that would embarrass him so much to think that the manager/ owner found out he was not treating me right. Somehow I feel that this golf situation is an analogy of our marriage. This isn't the only area he tries to control me in. He puts me down for going to church and calls it a "social club". He calls me a hypocrite for going and calls me a "churcher". I still go, despite years of his ridicule,because I am not willing to walk away from all the good relationships I have developed there. I could count on any one of those people to help me out if I needed it.

    I have been out of work for almost five months, which is putting a bigger strain on our relationship then normal. I can't afford to buy the program right now, but I really appreciate your blog and emails. I want to share this one with my friend whose husband knocked her down and she didn't leave. She's going through a terrible time right now and is trying to learn how to deal with a controlling husband. Thanks for listening.

  2. Wow, this was a powerful eye opener! Thank you for the sharing the blog. I am on the controllER side. Do you have any more advice for this side of the issue? I realize how unhealthy it is and the damage it causes and would like to work on 'fixing it.

  3. Hi there, I did and try everything that you mention but seems it doesn't work with my husband so was thinking to get divorce now.

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