Help With A Controlling Husband Or Wife

Arm Wrestling Between A Couple

She could not look people in the eye as they greeted her. Head down, shoulders slumped; she headed to the nearest open seat and quietly slid into it. Her husband was a study in contrast. Confident, gregarious, he firmly shook hands and made polite small talk before striding over to sit beside his wife.

Years before she had been a decorated officer in the military. A leader of men and women. Shrinking violets do not earn those positions, so it was obvious the woman in that seat was only a shell of the woman she used to be. When anyone tried talking with her, she clasped her purse to her chest with both arms, glancing up only occasionally. If asked a question, she spoke briefly and timidly.

Abused? Yes, but perhaps not in the way you think.

Her husband had never hit her or used his physical presence to intimidate her. No spousal rape or sexual domination. In fact, he had no idea that he abused her at all. He considered himself a good man that would never be so evil as to harm a woman. In fact, he was the type that would go to the defense of any woman being threatened physically.

More than that, he seemed not to notice his wife’s public timidity. His view was that she could hold her own and gave as well, if not better, than she got when they clashed. When she argued with him via email, she was forceful, angry, and articulate. She did the same aloud when they were alone. He held that perception of her to the degree that the behavior others saw seemed not to register with him. He saw a brawling, selfish witch. Others saw a frightened woman drowning in her own lack of confidence and esteem.

When the subject of controlling relationships came up, he was quick to tell how controlling his wife was. Not unusual: Often the person who is the most controlling is the one who feels the most controlled.

When he finally understood that the bulk of their problem was his behavior, he reacted first with anger, then regret, and finally genuine change. Their relationship changed in a matter of three days and the change is still in effect nearly three years later.

What Is Control?

People crave respect. They want to be accepted for who they are in reality, rather than having to pretend to meet someone else’s criteria. When treated as an inferior, they react badly. When they feel they have to pretend, living as a picture of what another wants rather than as the person they actually are, they slowly dissolve their own identity. Some become lost and never rediscover who they were. Others deteriorate for a while, but eventually hit a point of frustration that leads to defiance, anger, and rebellion. Yet others live between those extremes.

Picture the lion or tiger in a cage snarling and slapping at the tamer making them jump through hoops and put on a show. They show their anger, but ultimately comply because they do not wish to receive punishment, and they enjoy receiving reward. The award is not equal to the freedom they once had, but over time they submit themselves to captivity and the morsels handed by the one who controls them. The whip hurts; the morsels are tasty; compliance results. At least for some of the big cats. Others likely never yield to the control of the tamer. Maybe others do for a while, but finally have enough and fight back.

Though the illustration may miss the mark a place or two in actual lion taming, the idea makes clear how some marriages or relationships work. One person (man or woman) tries to make the other do, think, or feel a certain way, rather than accepting the natural differences that exist in individuals.

If their partner does not act as they wish, they bring about some type of punishment. It does not have to be physical. It can be emotional, mental, financial, sexual, or more. When the other person complies, a morsel of enjoyment comes their way, perhaps by the opposite of the method used to punish. For example, a woman may try to control her husband by withholding sexual favor when he does not do as she wishes, and giving him sexual pleasure when he does. A man may try to control his wife by controlling the finances in the home, punishing and rewarding based on whether she ignores or complies with his wishes.

The control may apply to more than action. Some individuals bicker and argue until their lover gives in and agrees to some point of thought. They think they won the argument; the yielding lover did not give in, they gave up. Ending the pain of the argument became more important than defending their thoughts or beliefs. The controlling spouse feels good that the other finally saw the light. The controlled spouse feels resentment.

Often the control applies even to emotions. The controller forces the controlled to claim an emotion that the controller wants, rather than the honest emotion that the controlled actually feels. In those relationships, “I love you” from the controlled may be a statement to avoid pain and get a morsel of reward rather than a declaration of actual sentiment.

Who Is the Controller?

One reason that controlling people often claim that they are controlled is that when they do not get what they want, they blame the other person. If he wants more lovemaking and she does not provide it, he views her as controlling him through sex and that may be the case. However, the difference in one who really is a controller and one who is being controlled is whether one allows the other to be who he or she truly is.

In the story that began this article, the husband controlled. He had so beaten his wife down with his arguing, intensity, and sense of self-righteousness that she had long since come to believe herself invalid. The reason they came to us for help was that she had finally reached a point of absolute rebellion. That is why she fought so hard in emails and when just the two of them were alone. However, her sense of inferiority developed from being corrected, cajoled, and coerced over the years made her doubt herself. Therefore, in public, she was a docile, fearful individual who could not look other people in the eye. She could fight him in private because she was full of resentment, but inside she feared that she really was inferior. Because of that low self-esteem, if there was anyone else in the room, she cowered. She was terrified that others would validate his superiority and her inferiority.

He felt she controlled because she had reached the point where she would react with anger rather than yielding. He did not get what he had always gotten when he overpowered her with his intensity of argument. That change angered him. When she fought back, though in private, he was convinced that no one could be married to a shrew such as she.

Two things happened to help him understand that he was the controller and not his wife.

First, other people in their marriage workshop reached out to her and validated her as a human being with value and worth. They accepted her as she was. Perhaps that was the first time she had had such direct validation in years. It gave her strength. Strength turned her anger into confidence and resolve. With great self-control, she calmly informed him the last day of the crisis marriage workshop that she would not tolerate being treated as inferior ever again. He would treat her as an equal or he would live without her in his world.

Second, one of the leaders of our workshop finally got through to the husband what he was doing. It is fine to have an opinion: It is not fine to force it on her. It is okay to want her to feel certain emotions: However, he had to accept that her feelings belonged to her, not him. He had no right to try to control what she felt. In the same way, he had no right to control any of her life. Overpowering another person by personality, intensity, argumentation, or any other means is in essence a form of slavery. Words and behaviors can be just as frightening as chains and whips.

What Should a Controlled Person Do?

As indicated above, sometimes controllers feel that they are the controlled. Having wise, objective counsel sometimes is essential to discovering whether one is the controlled or the controller.

Additionally, if one is truly being manipulated or controlled, that person has to make a decision that he or she will no longer live under those conditions. Anger will not solve the problem. Calm strength can. Therapy or counseling may be required. Almost certainly there must be a strong support group. Many find that through my Marriage Helper 911 weekend for marriages in crisis. The couple in the story at the beginning of this article did.

Lastly, if someone is being physically controlled (violence, abuse, or similar), that person must seek professional intervention before any confrontation with the controller. Many cities have hotlines for abused people. If a person does not know where to find help, a talk with a caring physician or a call to the police can lead to the right resources.

If your marriage is in danger of separation or divorce, call us at (866) 903-0990 to speak with someone or use the form below to request more information about our Marriage Helper 911 workshop for troubled marriages. Our success rate over the last decade is saving three out of four marriages, even when adultery, porn, anger, or other things have deeply hurt the relationship! (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 your particular situation. We also offer solutions for couples who can’t attend the workshop.

Get More Information On Our Marriage Helper 911 Workshop.

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  1. Caroline says

    Thank God for you and all of the posted information. I see myself and my controlling manipulating husband in almost all of the comments. We have been married for four months and this is our second marriage to each other. We were married when we were in our early twenties and now in our mid sixties. Everyone thinks that our relationship is heaven sent and so did I, I thought! We spent forty years apart and when we united this time he showed or I overlooked the signs of control. He is such a master in masquerading and twisting my words to try and make me feel worthless and childish.. There is a pattern with him. We can have the best of times for about a couple of weeks and then he will get angry about something he said I did or didn’t do in supporting him or he’ll say i’m not with him when I don’t agree with him about certain things. He goes on and on about it. He doesn’t see the affect it has on me but he is so self righteous and always right with no wrongdoing. when I tell him to look at himself and what he is doing, he twist my words to make me feel wrong for accusing him and I need to be truthful. He uses the word of God to jusyify his “truth.” I didn’t marry to divorce, but this man is trying to take away my identity in Christ and the person that I am. I love him but each time it takes away from it. I noticed that he doesn’t have but one close friend and he is at a distance and his family tolerate him and his only son has disconnected himself from him. He is really a sad man, but is blind to the real truth. I came back into his life and now he is pushing me away. What do I do?

    • JulieGrace says

      You are describing my ex husband. He is passive aggressive just like your husband. Here’s an excellent website about passive aggressive people.

      Just yesterday, I talked to a preacher about my divorce because I became fixated on the verse in the bible that says a divorced woman is committing adultery if she marries again (our divorce was not one that is allowed according to the New Testament); she has two choices- never remarry or reconcile with her ex husband. I’m paraphrasing this of course. Anyways, the preacher believes that God doesn’t want us to live a life of suffering because our spouse is psychologically abusing us. (Yes, you are being abused). If you’ve been diligently praying about it, and your husband shows no signs of changing, I highly recommend you leave. Notice that I didn’t say divorce. I’m not qualified to offer up that advice. I would talk with a pastor before making that decision.
      Until then, the only thing you can do Is remove yourself from your husband’s presence. This means leaving. I don’t mean in the future, I mean today. Pack up some essentials, and go stay with a trusted friend or trusted relative.
      One of the most difficult things all human beings have to deal with is change. The decision to leave right now might be hard, but deciding to permanently leave is going to be so much more difficult. If you can’t afford to see a therapist, lean on those who have always cared about you (not those who only make appearances in your life when it’s convenient for them). You can do this!

      Here are three things that I say to myself when dealing with negative people.
      “Don’t let people live in your head rent free.”
      “Anger may win the argument, but calm strength will defeat the cause.”
      Then I say a prayer for the negative person.

      I’m only 35 years old, but I’ve gained more knowledge this past decade than I ever imagined. Having three craniotomies and undergoing radiation will certainly give a person a new and more in depth view of life in this world and of eternal life with God.

      In the name of Jesus I pray for the Holy Spirit to embrace you and give you courage. My prayers are with you.

      • Kimberly Holmes says

        The temptation to leave can be strong, and if someone is in physical danger they should. But you actually can save and repair a marriage afflicted by control. We do not advocate leaving your spouse. We have seen thousands of these situations change and turn around for the better. We also do not advocate talking with family or friends about marriage issues. They are biased, and they do not give the best advice for your marriage. We do recommend speaking with a neutral third-party such as a pastor, counselor, or mentor who can step back from the situation and see the best thing for the marriage, not just for one spouse. “Poisoning the well”, or speaking poorly about your spouse or your marriage issues with family and friends, will only lend reasons for your loved ones to not like your spouse, which will lead to many, many, many more problems down the line.

        • Laura says

          We’ve been to counselors. As long as they focus on my faults, they’re fantastic, and he uses their comments (real or imagined) against me from then on. As soon as they turn on him and begin to focus on his issues and changes he could make to improve our marriage, their branded as liberal and feminist and poorly trained and he stops attending.

          • Kimberly Holmes says

            That’s typically what happens. This is one reason that counseling sessions have less than 50% success rate in helping marriages – because one or both spouses will end up feeling criticized and become defensive. No one wants that. The MUCH better option is doing a group workshop. That way, no one feels defensive and the information is more likely to get through without putting up walls.

  2. shirley ivory says

    I have lived through the most horrendous 31 ears of being bullied and controlled so I took the step to change this I have read so many things just like this website and they are all right in what they say, I have started o stand up for myself but he is making it so very difficult I have always been told that I am no allowed to show emotion and if I do he tells me getting angry or shouting and crying just shows how mad I am even thou he is allowed to hit me throw things etc. and now he has turned even that around I am now allowed to shout back and stand up for myself but like he says shouting so the neighbours can hear and by telling people how he treats me just shows how mad I am he has done a really good job of still making me look the idiot so if anyone has any other ideas o how to handle him I would be very grateful as for why am I still here!! well he has taken everything from me my strength my confidence and at 52 I really have no choice but to see it to the end of my days

    • Roz says

      Yes you do, I kicked my husband out, I was 49yrs old, 3 weeks before my 25 wedding anniversary, I have not looked back, I love my life today, I choose who I want in my life, the Lord gave us free will, now only people who respect me and treat me well are in my life.
      My daughter can see the new me, my friends are all new, none of my old ones could understand any of this, they just expected me to take more of the same, but I blew up threw him out and did not go back, best decision of my life.

      • Kimberly Holmes says

        There comes a point where no one wants to be controlled. At some point, you may have to put your foot down and draw the line for your own well-being. However, our hope is the fix your marriage before that has to happen.

  3. Laura says

    The confirmations surrounding our meeting and subsequent engagement mean that 25 years later, there is still no doubt that my husband and I were brought together by God. Yet if we had a song it would be the Carpenters’ “Hurting Each Other.” Only once have I stood up to him – when he wanted me to go back to work with three children under 5. The youngest of these is now 18, and he still throws it back in my face that I’ll “just do my own thing – (I) always do” when I want to do something he doesn’t want me to do. He is verbally and emotionally abusive to me and to our children – the oldest ran away at 16 and only communicates with the youngest. Yet “What God joined together….” has always kept me from leaving. Besides, I still love him, in spite of his judgemental criticism and bitter unforgiveness. However, I’m finding it harder and harder to love in forgiveness towards him. Pray for me.

  4. Nina says

    Wow I knew my husband had many issues and I’ve determined he has narcissistic personality disorder but after reading this about emotional manipulation it sounds just like him. Even the examples given are things he has said or done. I’ve tried counseling but he thinks he is justified in everything he feels and does so it gets nowhere. I started living with it and trying to still treat him the way God would want me too but I don’t know who I am anymore. I have no identity left. I’ve told him before that he is an emotional abuser and controlling but he looks at me like I’m crazy and of course has everyone convinced that I’m controlling. I believe he wants me to leave so yet again he can say “see she left me and I was a good husband”. He truly believes it. I feel stuck and I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve given up really.

  5. Connie says

    This article surely hits home to me. I have been married almost two years. We have been separated for much of that time during to a physical fight within the first month of my marriage. We have tried to reconcile. It seems like the simplest things I say or do set him off and he shuts down. I have been on the verge of divorce many times because I felt I couldn’t get i right. We talked earlier this month and it seemed we werr on the same page to work on our marriage but he has called it quits again. I have moved out and I have filed for a divorce and I am so miserable. I know God hates divorce and I had prayed He would save our marriage. I do know I have issues and I am willing to work on them. My concern is I dont think he sees his issues as we always talk about mine. He isnt communicating with me at all at this point but I would like for us to go to a group session. I just dont think he would go. I feel a tremendous amount of guilt over my own faults and I want to get it right so I can please God and my husband. He tells me if I would hear, listen, and follow God then he would be fine.

    • Kimberly Holmes says

      Connie, we would love to help you. If you don’t think your husband will go, we have ways that we can help you get him to come to a workshop. Please call us at 615-636-8086.

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