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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 toward marriage counseling.

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 alone.

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 holds.

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 expectations.

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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Copyright © Nancy Wasson.  All rights reserved.  Nancy Wasson is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get help with your marriage problems.

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