How to Deal with a Controlling Spouse

Three Parts:Handling Minor Instances of Controlling BehaviorCorrecting Recurring Patterns of Controlling BehaviorRegaining Control of Your Own Life

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.

Part 1
Handling Minor Instances of Controlling Behavior

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    Stay calm. For many people, arguing is a natural response to a spouse's controlling behavior. Unfortunately, a controlling person is unlikely to submit and let you win the argument, so this tactic will likely only escalate the situation. Instead of arguing, stay as calm and collected as possible. You can disagree with your spouse without yelling or being disrespectful.[1]
    • 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.
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    Ask the controller to develop a plan. In some cases, you may be able to use your controlling spouse's tendency to control as a way of remedying minor issues in your relationship. Explain the issue to your spouse, and appeal to their desire to control by asking them to develop a plan to solve the problem.[2]
    • 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.
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    Be empathetic. When your spouse makes a demand or tries to control you, it may help to try to see things from his or her perspective. Take a moment to consider why your spouse may be acting this way, and try to be understanding. This may help you avoid becoming angry whenever your spouse acts controlling.[3]
    • 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.
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    Ask constructive questions. If your spouse begins to criticize or interrogate you, you can quickly turn the focus around by responding with the right questions. Ask questions that reveal to the controlling spouse that their expectations are unreasonable or that their behavior is unacceptable. For example, you might say, "Did you explain to me exactly what you wanted me to do?" or "I am going to walk away unless you start treating me with respect. Is that what you want?"[4]
    • Avoid getting defensive, as this will only enhance the controlling behaviors.

Part 2
Correcting Recurring Patterns of Controlling Behavior

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    Be prepared for denial. Controllers often do not know they're controlling. In fact, many controllers feel as though they are being controlled, which may explain why they feel the need to be so assertive. If you are dealing with a spouse who is habitually over-controlling, you will most likely have to convince them that they are controlling, which may take some time.[5]
    • 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."
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    Set boundaries. Once you have a conversation with your spouse about their controlling behavior, you will need to make it very clear what you are willing to tolerate. Explain to your spouse in as much detail as possible what kind of behavior needs to be corrected.[6]
    • 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.
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    Enforce consequences. Your spouse may need to be reminded of your limits every so often, so it's a good idea to decide what kind of behaviors warrant consequences and what those consequences will be. This should only apply to major offences that cannot be addressed in any other way.[7]
    • 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.
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    Seek counseling. If your spouse is unwilling to acknowledge the controlling behavior, or if the two of you are unable to correct the issues on your own, consider seeking professional counseling. Your spouse may need a professional to explain what controlling behavior looks like and how to stop engaging in it.[8]
    • 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.

Part 3
Regaining Control of Your Own Life

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    Do not allow yourself to be isolated. Many controlling spouses isolate their partners by dominating their time or prohibiting them from going out with friends. If this is the case for you, you must stand up for yourself and let your spouse know that you have no intention of letting your other relationships suffer.[9]
    • 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.
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    Avoid internalizing criticism. If your controlling spouse has repeatedly put you down, you may start to feel as though you did something to deserve that criticism. It's important to remind yourself that you deserve the best, and to do your best not to take this criticism personally.[10]
    • 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.
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    Don't feel guilty or beholden. Many controlling spouses use guilt to control their partners. If your partner does this, you must recognize it as just another tactic that is being used to control you, and not let it affect your decisions. [11]
    • 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.
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    Stay true to your beliefs. Many controlling spouses dominate their partners by telling them what to think or what values to have. If you have opinions and beliefs that differ from those of your spouse, it is important to stand up for your right to maintain them.[12]
    • 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.
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    Be willing to walk away from an unhealthy relationship. In some cases, controlling behavior can be corrected and mutual respect can take its place, but it's important to recognize that this does not always happen. Often, a controlling individual simply cannot be changed, so you need to be willing to end the relationship if it is causing you harm.[13]
    • 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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Categories: Relationship Issues