How to Deal with Control Issues

As part of the You Get What You Ask For Series, you all asked me to write about control issues. I’ve been putting this off for quite a while because control issues are somewhat out of my experience. My husband and I are both incredibly independent people. The most controlling things I do are insist he wears his bike helmet and avoid really dangerous types of cycling (like downhill mountain biking) until our daughter grows up.

I’m trying to think of a single instance when my husband tried to control me, but I just can’t.

So I’m going to take a wild stab at this topic. I encourage all of you to comment away and let me know if you think I’m on track or on crack. (Hey, that rhymes!)

I believe control issues stem from a few factors.

  1. A lack of trust in each other. My husband doesn’t meddle in most of my affairs because he trusts me to make good decisions. I trust him, too. This isn’t to say that we don’t occasionally ask for or offer each other advise. It’s only to say that we both acknowledge that we are separate beings who both have brains, points of view, values, and good ideas. If you think your spouse’s control issues stem from a lack of trust, ask for a trial experiment. For two weeks, your spouse will trust you to make your own decisions. At the end of two weeks, see if the world has come to an end. If it hasn’t, ask for a few more weeks.
  2. A lack of trust in the inherent goodness of all things. Many control issues come from the feeling of being out of control and the worry that terrible things will happen as a result. The problem with this, though, is that most of the things that we try to control are really not within our control anyway. And no matter what we may or may not do, unfortunate events will occur from time to time. No one gets out of this lifetime without suffering a little bit of hardship. Part of the reason I trust my husband to make his own decisions is because I trust him to be strong enough to deal with the ramifications of his decisions—whether they be good or bad.
  3. Low self esteem. Some people control others because it’s the only way they know how to feel loved. If they tell you to do something and you bend to their will, they think, “Oh, she really loves me.” This is, of course, dysfunctional, but it helps to understand the mentality. If you think your spouse controls because of self esteem issues, talk about other ways you can show your love.
  4. Dominance issues. Some spouses use control as a means of gaining the upper hand and dominating the other person. This type of control may start off as what seems like harmless jealousy. It’s usually not harmless. This is dangerous and usually leads to verbal and physical abuse. I’m not sure if there’s a solution to this type of control issue other than this one: run for your life. Thoughts?

As I mentioned, I’d love to hear thoughts from others. Do you have control issues in your marriage? If so, how do you deal with them?

20 comments… add one

  • Sarah Liz September 1, 2010, 1:42 pm

    This might be one of your best posts ever! A lack of trust and need to be in control is I think something that most everyone has to curb. It is in our make up not to trust–our leariness at times, is what keeps us alive. But, our lack of trust can ruin us–and our marriages–when we let it seep into every aspect of our life. I always say–trust your instinct, and everything will follow.

    We all want to be in control of SOME things, at some point. At least I do. The good, right thing to do, though, is to realize that we cannot control the universe, and most of us, need to learn to control ourselves. The first step to any kind of peace and order is learning to control yourself and have peace within.

    Self-esteem issues are so true. My mother, though I love and adore her, had this “never-clean-enough” thing when I was growing up. So, I stopped doing my chores, because they weren’t ever good enough anyway, so why bother? Now, at almost 60, she has learned that not everything has to be HER level of clean. Back then, she didn’t love herself enough so she would point to everyone else to “fill her up”. Her henpecking about the cleaning was really an aversion so that we wouldn’t see she didn’t really like herself. So, the self esteem issue is absolutely true. And yes, I am my mother’s daughter, I love myself, but I like certain things cleaned a certain way–if and when I do, I just do it myself, I don’t even bother asking my husband or anyone else. The point is, you’re absolutely right, Alisa–someone who always needs to be in control is most likely not in control of themselves.

    You also made a very good point about trusting others to make their own mistakes. I would think parenthood would teach you the most about that. I used to have a hard time letting my loved ones deal with the consequences of their mistakes–but then I realized–although our lives are intertwined and we love each other very much–we are each on our own unique paths. Everyone learns different things in a different time frame and we all learn them when we’re supposed to. When we’re supposed to know something, we will. Once I figured that out, and started living it, life got much easier. It’s huge!

    It is hard to watch others screw up, but often times, the only way we learn is the hard way. That’s what makes success so sweet!

    I heard a quote once that said it all “I resign as controller of the Universe”. Once you do that, and it is NOT easy (at least not for me) life gets so much easier and freer!

    And yes, overt control issues DO lead to abuse! Although I think everyone has “hot-button” control issues such as cleaning, driving or how to pay the bills–but if someone honestly HAS to control EVERYTHING–from A to Z and back again–than yes, RUN FOR THE HILLS! I totally agree!

    I think we can and do–and need too–learn from everyone. Letting someone have their way with one or two things isn’t so bad, letting them have control over your every move, every habbit and most of all, control over your peace & sanity–that’s unhealthy, unwarranted, abusive and indeed, not necessary.

    Fascinating post, thank you, Alisa!

    Many Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Joanne & Ray September 1, 2010, 1:55 pm

    I think Alisa that Ray and I are like you and your husband, we found a long time ago that we each have our strong points and the great thing is that we recognize them in each other and the trust is there. Ray makes decisions for us in his area and I make the decisions for us in mine.

    If there is any discord it is many times because someone has burned one of us in the past so we are more Leary of giving up control in that particular area but all we have to remember is that Ray has never purposely made a bad decision that impacted me and I have never done that to him.

  • Angelia September 1, 2010, 4:40 pm

    I have to admit that I am usually a lurker. I read every one of your posts, but for the most part take the advice, but don’t feel I have anything to add. This one though, hits close to home.

    I was a single mom of 2 girls for a little over 10 years before I married my husband. In all that time, not a single decision was shared. All choices were mine. When I married it suddenly hit me that I had to allow him in. I no longer could make all the decisions. It took me a very long time to trust his judgement and to accept that I wasn’t the only one who ‘could’ make decisions. I have really had to step back and come to terms with the fact that if I didn’t trust his decision making skills then I should not have married him. I DO trust him, but at that time I didn’t think I could. For a while I resented having to share decision making with him. We had many, many arguments and it took longer than it should have to work out a system and really (If I want to be honest with myself) for me to trust him.
    Angelia´s last blog post ..Post-It Note Tuesday!

  • Kathy September 1, 2010, 8:18 pm

    I sometimes feel that my hubby tries to control me. And it may just be my own buttons from a previously controlling husband. That husband would give me instructions to only answer questions with yes or no answers or to keep my answer as brief as possible (this was not advice for a legal situation – this was life). If I get the feeling that current hubby is trying to control me, I have a bit of a fit or tell him to stop it.

    I can’t stand to be controlled. It really pisses me off to no end.

  • Jennifer Margulis September 1, 2010, 11:58 pm

    My daughter, as a first born child who inherited a lot of bossy, stubborn genes (from her father, tee hee) tries to control a lot of situations that are often simply none of her business. I don’t have it figured out at all, but I think part of it is that she really loves attention and loves to be noticed and wants a spot in the limelight…
    Jennifer Margulis´s last blog post ..Read Beth Terry’s Recap of BlogHer2010

  • Alexandra September 2, 2010, 6:14 am

    My daughters criticize me for being controlling of my husband. Fortunately, he is independent-minded enough not to care. I cannot help it. I need control of a situation. If I am not in control, I need for someone else to be. My husband tends to be a bohemian, so this equation works for him, too. It’s not at all about domination. I can see how difficult it would be if both members of a couple were like me ….

  • Maureen September 2, 2010, 1:05 pm

    My first husband had control issues in all 4 areas. He did not trust me to make good decisions, I had to go shopping with him because I had no access to money. He felt nervous around how close we all were in my family and was mortally afraid I was unduly influenced by them. He was afraid they would convince me to leave him. His self- esteem was in the tank and the only way he felt safe was to control everything.
    He started off being jealous. It always baffled me and it escalated to the point where he had to know where I was and with whom at all times. He was insanely jealous of my families closeness.
    In the end his control issues led to emotional,psychological, financial abuse and after he hit me once… I left. What he was trying to keep together he destroyed.
    What scares the heck out of me was seeing my daughter act that way with her alcoholic boyfriend. I sat her right down and we had a VERY long talk, which had some shouting anger and eventually tears and hugging. She finally kicked out the drinking problem and got into a healthy relationship with an awesome young man. Phew.

  • Maureen September 2, 2010, 1:09 pm

    And yes my second marriage is incredible. Sometimes my husband looks at me, smiles and says, Sorry honey I’m not deciding that for you. You are too much of a free spirit and I love that about you.
    Personally I think I have ADD.

  • Sheryl September 2, 2010, 8:37 pm

    I think people try to control other people when they feel a lack of control in their own lives. I’m careful not to do this with my husband (or my own children, for that matter), since I trust them to make good/right decisions and I don’t want to live with the guilt if I give them the wrong (unwarranted) advice!

  • Lisa September 3, 2010, 8:37 am

    Great post!! Nobody likes to be controlled. Especially by our significant other. My husband is not controlling thank god, probably because his mom is so controlling. LOL!! I like to have control of my life but not at the expense of others. I cant control what others do.

  • Bern September 5, 2010, 11:02 pm

    Personally, I tend to be a ‘take charge’ sort of person in most situations, but in my previous marriage over time my then wife wanted to make all the decisions, and I stupidly let her, because I was more concerned about her happiness (or perhaps avoiding ‘unhappiness’ might be a better way to put it!), even to the detriment of our financial situation and the childrens emotional welfare. I think with her it is partly a low self esteem thing, and she falsely believed she would feel better if she ‘called the shots’. It was certainly a mistake on my part to enable her, and in hindsight I should’ve confronted it years before, even if it had meant the end of the marriage then rather than later (as doing what I did only delayed the inevitable).

    However, since our divorce I certainly stand my ground and do the right thing for my children and myself. Interestingly, it was my girlfiend who identified my former wifes controlling behaviour, and now I do the right thing she is intimidated by me (after years of getting her own way) and only contacts me when really necessary, which is very peaceful!

  • Missy September 6, 2010, 9:06 am

    I like this post. I think insecurity in one way or another contributes to someone feeling the need to control a person or situation. Guilty as charged. I have lots to work on when it comes to giving in and trusting. Thanks Alisa. Your blog has given me lots of good advice over time. :)

  • Gayle September 6, 2010, 3:50 pm

    low self esteem yes that is a big cause of control issue but it all comes down to trust … good post
    Gayle´s last blog post ..Happy Weekend

  • sarah henry September 7, 2010, 12:18 pm

    If we could all get over the notion that we can “control” anyone or anything we’d all probably be a lot happier, but taking charge is such a powerful force for some of us (guilty!) to fight against.
    sarah henry´s last blog post ..Berkeley Bites- Elmwood Cafe Feeds People and Funds Worthy Projects

  • LeeAnne September 2, 2011, 10:42 pm

    I believe we are all born with somewhat of a need to have control things in our life; however the manner in which we are raised determines how controlling we are. People turn to control issues when they themselves feel controlled and it will only escalade when the controlling person is directly confronted. Until the contolling person “sees” truly “sees” ussually through a painful experience then it will not be corrected. To correct this includes a journey of self-reflection and a lesson in compassion which they have to experience firt-hand. I pray it that anger and control issues can be overcome; I have trudged through these issues and am currently seeing an upside; however it is a hallowing and exhausting yet somehow rewarding experience too to walk through such a harsh walk with someone.

    • Bill August 31, 2012, 6:58 am

      yep.. happened to me.. my wife just gave me that bad news we’re not done yet but she’s at her end. She’s got nothing left right now. My control and a lack of positive __communication__ is the root cause.

      Some tips for dealing with the controlling person: (like me)
      – Give them a warning about their bad behavior like their parents did. That’s what they know. Get some help and try to work things out. If you go and see a counselor make sure it’s someone with a Dr. level and with lots of experiences.
      – Don’t give in to the controlling one’s demands. If you don’t want to do something don’t do it. If you do you’ll probably end up hurting more. Although it will placate the current pain you’re just signing yourself up for more down the road.
      – (Pleading my case) If they truly want to change and try to get help and truly see what’s going on support them to get the help that they need. Over time you will both feel better, things will come around. (my hope) If they don’t.. Then you have to leave. (my fear but reality)

      Also, surround the controlling person with good people and good experiences. Love conquers all things :) But true love is hard to find.. :)

  • Farhat September 25, 2011, 2:28 pm

    Supposedly I was told I have control issues by my husband. I don’t feel I do per se. As the post stated, I can relate to the fact that my husband and I are very independent people and I love that about us. We have full trust in one another and don’t question things.
    However, he’s a smoker and I have never smoked in my life. He knew from the beginning that I hated and wished he would quit but on his own will. Lately the smoking has started to anger me. He blames it on me trying to control him. My rebuttal is that he is shortening his life span with me with putting extra factors in the equation.

    Is that controlling??

  • Kelli July 10, 2012, 2:19 pm

    My husband will always tell me, No kelli don’t do that or No Kelli don’t put that there. He has a Visa card. I have asked him too many times to count to get another one for me but he always says Why, I give you money when you ask don’t I? he gives me 40.00 a month. We have been together for 22 years. Is this abuse?

  • Susan Allen October 3, 2014, 11:31 am

    I believe that your intentions are good, but it was with deep sadness that I saw that even you, with such good intentions, should exhibit such prejudice and intolerance to what is often a psychological issue and challenge, simply because its consequence is unpleasant. There are people who have valid dominance issues and are valid loving human beings who have never physically struck anyone and who are fighting for their sanity in an attempt to overcome dominance issues. And all the advice you can offer is “Run!”? I was searching the internet to get a handle on how to deal with a precious, wonderful loved one who is going to need therapy and there it is–if I take your advice, I just abandon this soul and run…?

  • sunny December 2, 2014, 12:20 am

    OK I am. Control freak. Former abuse and terrible childhood. But my husband is a passive, procrastinator, but very loving. The issue is me….so much loss, but how do you go from being a loving helpful wife and mother to a control FREAK! The issue is not that I want control, I ask nicely for my spouse to fix the toilet he remains on the computer ignoring me, the I remind him that company will be here and it needs fixed, he ignores me so then I raise my pitch and say can you please get off the computer and spend time with your family, he gets mad slams the keyboard drawer in and then the fight is on………… it me? Or him?


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