The Devastation Caused by a Dominating Husband or Wife
The words coming out of my mouth surprised me as much as it did the other guys.
It was one of those thoughts that ramble around in the back of your mind but doesn’t take clear form until articulated. In a conversation about our extraordinary success in saving marriages when one spouse is madly in love with someone else, I blurted, “Give me ten of those couples in my workshop rather than one couple where one of them has controlled, dominated, or browbeaten the other for years.” I explained, “I see it with both spouses, but the more common is the husband that has verbally or emotionally driven his wife away. She takes it for years until she builds up such a wall of protection for herself and overwhelming emotional distrust of him that now all she wants is out. During the workshop, most of these guys finally get it. The husband realizes what he’s done, and begs and pleads for her to believe that he is changing, that he loves her, and that he very much wants her to stay. She has little to no belief that anything will be any different when they get home. She’s so closed to him emotionally that she doesn’t really care what he does, as long as he does it somewhere else.
“Yep, give me the affair people. At least they’re emotionally alive. This person is too afraid to feel. She probably came only from a sense of duty to salve her conscience. She doesn’t want us to succeed in helping salvage her marriage. She just wants inner peace and to feel loved and cherished as she is. She doesn’t want anyone else in her life pointing out her weaknesses or mistakes. She doesn’t want anyone telling her what she must do. She’s tired of feeling alone and wondering if she is unlovely and unlovable.”
You Know This Person
My guess is that thousands read the description above and thought, “That’s me.” Others read it and said, “He just described…” It’s that common. As stated, more often it is a husband dominating his wife. However, don’t discount it being the other way. We have couples walk into our workshop regularly in which his wife has emotionally broken the man. The gender doesn’t matter. Criticism, sarcasm, constantly correcting, dominating, controlling, interrupting, embarrassing, ignoring, and similar behavior communicates very clearly that one person treats the other as an inferior.
I’ve seen strong women, successful in their professions, become meek and cowered when their husbands enter the room. I’ve witnessed men whose wives apparently consider them insignificant to the point that he eventually becomes insignificant in his own eyes.
Amazingly, when the dominating person hears that the other sees him or her as dominating, s/he often responds, “Me? I’m not the controller. My spouse is.” Yet through our weekend workshop for couples in crisis, I see the controlling spouse that thinks of him- herself as not dominating constantly dominate the other. They don’t recognize it in themselves and it usually takes a while for him or her to “get it.” I feel a combination of joy and sadness when they do. Instantly they show remorse and assure their spouses that things will be different. However, as already said, the dominated spouse often is too emotionally protected or too afraid of more berating to believe it. I rejoice at the self-understanding on the part of the one and ache for the other who refuses to believe it.
It Can Be Changed
Though I began with a comment that I’d rather have ten couples fighting affairs than one couple like this, I did not do so because these marriages are unsalvageable. They are and in high percentages of success. However, the key to saving these marriages is not the same as helping others. Three crucial things have to occur.
- The dominating spouse must “get it.” S/he has to understand what actions, words, and body language sends the other scurrying for emotional safety. If the dominating spouse does not realize his or her role in what has happened to their marriage, the likelihood of salvaging it is practically nonexistent.
- The dominated spouse has to decide to trust the previously dominating spouse and allow another chance. This risky emotional move requires quite a bit of courage. Distrust has to be suspended, at least to some degree, and the wall of emotional protection must be lowered enough to allow him- herself to be hurt again if the other spouse doesn’t change behavior. It makes little difference how much the formerly dominating spouse claims change. If s/he isn’t given the chance to prove it, nothing good happens.
- Time must pass with MUCH more positive interaction than negative interaction. Changing behavior isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and sometimes the changing spouse blows it. If s/he corrects course quickly enough to prove positive intent, and if errors are far outweighed by better behavior and communication in their renewed relationship, the couple will make it. The transition won’t be perfect, but it can be good enough to develop love and trust again.
Seek The Help Needed
If you (or someone you love) are in the type marriage we’ve been discussing, seek help now. Wait too long and your marriage will end either emotionally or legally. You may live together for life but it won’t be much of a life. More likely, one of you will finally have enough and seek solace elsewhere.
If you think it’s too late, please believe me that it is not. We see miracles with these kinds of marriages every month in our workshop for couples in crisis. It can happen for you, but it will take action. As the old saying goes, “Keep doing what you’ve been doing and you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.”
Stop it Early
If you are in courtship or newly married, be wary of signs of domination and control. If the other person regularly criticizes you, corrects you, or attempts to control you, don’t think it will get better with time.
Domination increases if not stopped solidly. You won’t get used to it and s/he won’t get better.
To all couples I offer this reminder, “One thing is true of every dictator. Someone wants them gone.”
If your marriage is in danger of separation or divorce, click here to get more information on our intensive workshop that saves marriages!