How to manage a spouse who’s overly controlling
Re-balancing power in your marriage.
No relationship is perfect.
But if you often feel powerless or wonder if your spouse is micro-managing your life under the guise of love, control might be an issue in your marriage.
What are tell-tale signs of a controlling spouse?
1. They criticise you frequently – It could be a disparaging remark such as, “You can never get the facts of a matter right” or sarcastic jokes about things your spouse knows that you are sensitive about such as, “You are a first-class procrastinator”.
When you express your hurt, your spouse would frequently invalidate your feelings by saying, “You are so sensitive” or “Why are you upset over a harmless remark?”.
2. They use manipulation to get what they want – Silent treatment and the use of threats or ultimatums are some ways a controlling spouse gets his or her way.
A friend once shared with me that her husband often gives her the cold shoulder to “punish” her if she did not follow his instructions.
3. They dismiss your points of view – They do not listen to understand, but to evaluate what is being shared. The oft complaint of the non-controlling spouse is, “She doesn’t listen to me at all” or “He likes to thumb-down whatever views I have as if his view is the only valid one”.
4. They think you are the problem – When things go south, they do not take responsibility for their actions. Instead, they put the blame on your oversight.
5. They make decisions for you – If your spouse routinely makes decisions, whether it is on how you should spend your weekend, how you should discipline the children, or what you should wear for an important event without considering your needs or consulting you, it can be considered controlling behaviour.
What are the reasons behind controlling behaviour?
Maintaining a marriage with a controlling spouse can be emotionally exhausting but there is no need to write them off. Some people may not even be aware they are being controlling. They may think they are being protective or helping their spouse grow in their areas of weakness.
There are many reasons why people crave control: insecurity in the relationship, childhood trauma, fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, perfectionism, or irrational beliefs about marriage.
If you have a controlling spouse, it is best not to expect overnight change. However, if the power dynamics in your marriage leads to abusive behaviour, do seek professional help straightaway.
How to bring about a balance of power
1. Examine your role in contributing to your spouse’s control – Consider if you are a people pleaser and often yield to your spouse’s demands just to keep the peace, or if you make excuses for your spouse’s behaviour because of fear.
2. Have open and honest conversations – Have an honest conversation with your spouse about how their behaviour affects you and what you would like to change. If your spouse refuses to engage in an open dialogue, consider penning down a heartfelt note.
Tip: Write the note only when you are feeling calm. If possible, get a trusted friend to read it to ensure the tone is respectful and loving.
3. Stop giving your power away – In a healthy marriage, there is a balance of power and control. Whilst there are situations where the dynamic is tipped in your spouse’s favour, it should not be a permanent or longstanding pattern. It is healthy for you to exercise your own power to choose and make decisions, not just for your self-interest but also for the interest of your marriage bond.
4. Establish healthy boundaries with consequences – Decide what you are and are not going to accept in your relationship. For example, you do not want them to nitpick and find fault with everything you do. Whenever you think the criticism is uncalled for, let your spouse know in a firm and kind way. If they continue with the behaviour, you may want to walk away from the scene.
5. Understand the reasons behind the controlling behaviour – It is helpful to understand the cause of your spouse’s need to control others. Reframing their behaviour will help you avoid feeling exasperated whenever they are overbearing. With patience and understanding, you may even be able to help them become less controlling. However, being empathetic does not mean you should excuse any abusive behaviour. Seek professional help if you think your spouse’s controlling behaviour has crossed the line.
6. Nurture supportive relationships with trusted friends and family – Relating to a spouse who has a need to be in constant control can rob you of your peace. They know your soft spot and may sometimes attempt to make you yield to their demands. You need trusted friends and family who can affirm you and help you stay grounded.
Living with a spouse who is controlling does not mean your marriage is in serious trouble unless the controlling behaviours are excessive, and physical or emotional safety is compromised. Some spouses are controlling only in certain aspects of the relationship, so it may be good to take an honest look at these areas.
It is possible to recalibrate and maintain a healthy level of power and control in the relationship when you and your spouse engage in honest and open dialogue and come up with strategies to rebalance power in the relationship.
** The article above was written by Chan Swee Fen for Focus on the Family Singapore. ©2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. This blog was first published on www.family.org.sg and republished with permission.
(** PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash/Jeremy Wong)