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How Controlling Behavior
Can Lead to a Troubled Marriage
By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.
Is a controlling spouse a problem in your marriage?
Is your spouse controlling? Or have you been told that you’re controlling?
A controlling husband or wife is often unaware that their
behavior is provoking a marriage crisis. And yet, controlling
behavior in a relationship is a leading marital problem that can push a relationship
Has it ever upset you that your spouse does some things differently
than you would?
Does it bother you if she or he makes different choices and has different opinions
than you do?
If your answer is yes to either question, then you have encountered
some of your own personal triggers and control issues in your relationship.
And if you frequently make “suggestions” that your spouse behave
differently in some way, then your controlling personality may be
a time bomb in what could become a troubled marriage.
If you are a controlling wife or controlling husband, you probably noticed
that the emotions you experience when you differ from your spouse in how
you would do something can be very intense. The emotions may even include
rage at your partner.
Why Do Some Spouses Have Controlling Behavior?
Partners can react with rage because they probably feel
less threatened and more secure when their mate shares their beliefs,
opinions, and choices. Your fears and need for safety contribute to
you wanting others to be like you. The old saying, “There’s
safety in numbers,” reflects
a primitive instinct to seek safety in a herd rather than standing
So you feel better as a result, but your spouse probably resents your
controlling personality. And over time this resentment can build into
an unhappy marriage and create marital problems. In addition, many
spouses feel like they’re in control of their
life more when they can predict the choices and behavior of their partner.
To them, it’s comforting when their mate meets their expectations.
Then these spouses don’t have to go through the discomfort of changing,
growing, or expanding themselves. Instead, they can act like that their
world is orderly, logical, safe and predictable. Thinking that your
spouse needs to mirror your own likes and dislikes helps create a marital crisis.
Seeing your partner as a extension or surrogate of yourself also triggers
your control issues. The results of this perception can include controlling
behavior such as dictating how he (or she) wears his hair, which clothes
he wears, who his friends
are, what she can or cannot do, and what political views he
While your partner may make some changes initially in trying to keep
the peace, you are really creating a child-parent dynamic in your marriage
that will eventually produce resentment and rebellion.
How Controlling Behavior Often Causes
a Troubled Marriage
A spouse with a strong need to control might say, “You’re
not going to put on that jacket, are you?” before leaving home to
go out for the evening. This statement implies is that the jacket chosen
by the other person embarrasses the spouse.
An additional implication is that the other person is not okay being
herself or himself, and that some change is necessary to meet the spouse’s
Using name calling and insults are a way to regain control. Another unfortunate
result is a further loss of rapport between spouse. A controlling husband
who habitually insults his wife could one day discover that she wants
to leave the marriage. Then, in an effort to win
the wife back, he may
discover that it’s too late.
While with many control issues in marriage, nothing sinister is involved,
pathological acting out can in some instances be triggered. For example,
a controlling spouse who’s angry that the partner didn’t follow
his commands could become emotionally and physically abusive.
The spouse may believe she has the right to punish the other partner.
Derogatory put-downs, such as “What a stupid thing to do,” and
name calling may be frequently used to re-enforce control over the partner.
While it can be easy to point a finger at your partner and to say that
she or he needs to change, it’s much harder to confront your own
unresolved control issues and take full responsibility for how and what
you need to change in yourself.
As you become increasingly aware of any control problems in your relationship,
the best marriage advice will encourage you to look at yourself and at
your response to what is happening between you and your spouse.
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