When you slowly realize that your husband is in control of your life, you may feel like you’re suffocating. It doesn’t matter whether he’s outright telling you what to do and bossing you around, or coercing you into doing what he wants with guilt-trips and gaslighting. The result is the same: you’ve lost your independence, your personal life, and sometimes even your sense of identity. It can be a real challenge to find a way out of this situation, precisely because your ability to act and decide for yourself has been limited. But, don’t get too down on yourself. There’s always a way forward, and I’m glad you’re here reading this, because in today’s article we’re going to explore precisely how to deal with a controlling husband.
It’s not always easy to talk about ways to solve this problem, because what we mean by ‘controlling behavior’ can encompass so many things, and so many relationships. It can be as seemingly harmless as your husband making you feel guilty when you do something with your friends, and it can be as serious as outright physical abuse. The degree of control, too, can be really broad: in some cases it may be one small part of your life that you feel like you don’t have control over, and in others it may feel like your independence has vanished completely. To make things even more difficult, controlling behavior can have many different causes! That means that an approach that works in one relationship can actually make it worse in another, since the root of the problem isn’t the same.
That’s why we’re going to focus on the broad elements that are the same across many different relationships, so that you can use them as a jumping off point for addressing the particular issues that are unique to yours. First we’re going to go over the basic definition of a controlling husband, then we’ll take a look at some of the approaches that are useful across a wide variety of relationships and dynamics. Finally, we’ll talk about when it’s time to walk away from a controlling husband. Let’s dive in!
How to Deal with a Controlling Husband: The Basics
If you’re dealing with a controlling husband, this means it’s really hard to find any useful information that lines up to your specific situation. But the good news is that there are some commonalities between all different forms of a controlling relationship, and by learning about those, hopefully you can find some tricks that can help you deal with it. The first thing we need to do is define a controlling relationship: it’s when any kind of behavior on the part of your partner limits your freedom and puts you in a position of lesser power. It can be intentional or unintentional, verbal or physical, well-meaning or mean-spirited. It can include power over your finances, your friendships, your interests, your body, your beliefs, or your independence, just to name a few. But the most important detail that all of these have in common is that your power to choose and act for yourself, by yourself, is in any way restricted by your husband.
As you can see, this definition encompasses a wide range of dynamics and relationships. Our first big step in understanding how to deal with your specific situation, then, is to break all of the relationships covered by this definition into two big categories: worth trying to fix, and worth leaving behind. And how do you know which category your marriage belongs to? Well, let’s start by talking about the kind not worth saving, no matter what.
Domestic Violence: A Red Line
Tragically for so many women, a controlling relationship comes in the form of a physically violent husband. Violence, at its heart, is the ultimate weapon of control. If you’re in this situation, then the fact is that there’s nothing you can do other than get out safely as soon as possible. You should engage your support network of friends and family to help with leaving, and if you’re cut off from them, then please call your state’s domestic abuse hotline. Domestic violence is the red line, and if your relationship crosses it, then the problem is no longer something you can fix.
However, just because your relationship doesn’t suffer from physical violence, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not in an abusive situation. Verbal abuse, for example, is another manifestation of controlling behavior, because at its core it is meant to make you feel less-than and weak. Emotionally abusive behavior is about power and control! That’s why it’s important to make sure that you’re not in an emotionally abusive relationship when you’re thinking about how to deal with your controlling husband. If you need help, check out our article on 8 signs of emotional abuse. If those signs seem familiar, your best bet may still be to move on.
But what about those women who find themselves with a husband who’s controlling, but doesn’t seem to realize it? Or, whose husbands truly only want what’s best for them, and don’t mean to hurt their feelings by being controlling? Well, the hard truth is that any kind of control is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Whether it’s fixable or not depends on how serious the controlling behavior is. If you’re able to rule out overt emotional abuse, and you want to give your husband the benefit of the doubt that his controlling behavior isn’t intentionally meant to make you feel belittled and demeaned, then there are a couple ways forward that you can use to try to get a healthy dynamic back to your relationship. Let’s take a look.
Regaining Your Confidence and Saying No to a Controlling Husband
I really want to make something clear at this point: your husband’s controlling behavior is never your fault. The need to have control over someone else typically comes from a place of insecurity and inner weakness, and the reality is that your husband is going to have to address the root causes of his own behavior if you want it to stop. However, an important part of this process is not allowing the control to go on unchecked!
Understandably, plenty of women never stand up to their husband’s controlling behavior because they prefer to avoid confrontation and conflict. Unfortunately, this means it will never stop, because there’s nothing to curtail it. Often, it will only get worse with time. Although controlling people never like to have their authority challenged, your first step towards stopping the behavior is to have the confidence to stand up to it. This is true for two reasons:
The first is that having the confidence to say no when you feel like decisions are being made for you puts you on equal footing with your partner. It addresses the power imbalance central to controlling relationships, even if that’s uncomfortable for your husband, and allows you to be clear about how you feel in a way that can’t be dismissed. This is an essential ingredient for the path forward in your relationship.
The second reason is that being challenged can offer a moment of clarity to your husband: this is when you find out whether he really sees what he’s doing clearly or not. Your husband may even be surprised to hear that you feel controlled. It’s a good opportunity for him to start the process of introspection, to identify what’s causing him to be controlling. Of course, you can’t get started on making it better until you bring the problem to his attention. And this means putting your foot down.
Of course, this is easier said than done. People with control issues typically hate being stood up to, but even the discomfort this causes your husband is an opportunity for you to gauge your best move forward: if your husband doubles down on his efforts to control you, you may need outside help like couples therapy, or even might consider walking away. If he listens to you and reflects on his actions, you’re off to a great start towards rebuilding your relationship.
There’s a catch, though. You need confidence in order to do this, and often it’s in short supply if you’re stuck in a controlling marriage. If you’re lacking in confidence, your first step is to figure out how to build it up again. Remember, confidence comes through accomplishment, so find other areas of your life where you can build yourself up to be strong enough to tackle this situation with your husband. Confidence is a huge topic that we’ve explored many times in our articles, so feel free to browse through our website or to check out our course in confidence building to find out more.
Setting Boundaries in a Controlling Relationship
Like I mentioned before, controlling behavior in your husband typically stems from a deep insecurity or fear. Although it’s his job to address it, you can help shine a light on it by setting boundaries and going through with things he normally would try to dissuade you from. Here’s an example of how this works from a woman I worked with recently:
My client, let’s call her Tracy, had a husband who never let her go out with her friends. He wasn’t overtly controlling, but any time plans or friends came up, he always made her feel guilty about leaving him and going out. After a few years of marriage, many of her friendships began to disappear, because she hadn’t put any time into maintaining them. By the time she came to me, she had grown resentful of everything she had lost because of her husband’s coercive control. Since it wasn’t a couple’s counseling session, I couldn’t work with her husband to find out why he felt the need to pressure her to stay home every night with him. However, I suggested that she call some of her remaining friends and make some plans, and not let Scott dissuade her from going.
It only took a few nights of her going out before the real arguments started between them. However, even though it was uncomfortable, the problem was out into the open: he was hopelessly insecure, and afraid she would meet another man at the bars. As soon as that became clear, Tracy could see that the route to ending his controlling behaviors was through helping him address his own insecurities, and reaffirming her love for him and her commitment to their relationship. By talking it through, they were able to work through their issues, and things got a lot better for them.
So what do you need for this to work?
First, like we mentioned earlier, you need the confidence to follow through on your intentions even when he tries to dissuade you. You’ll also need some boundaries: things that are only yours, that his authority doesn’t extend over! This could mean friendships, hobbies, or any activity that you’re doing for yourself independently of him. In a way, this gently provokes the control issues in your husband and lures them into the open, and this is where the third and most important thing you need comes into play: communication. If you have the problem right in front of you, healthy communication can allow you to discuss it and overcome it in a non-hostile, mutually respectful way. It’s true what they say: sunlight is the best disinfectant!
Helping Him Recognize Controlling Behavior by Bringing in an Outside Perspective
One final tool that can really help you deal with a controlling husband is to bring in outside help. This isn’t because you’re incapable of handling it, but instead because it’s one of the best ways to get around the typical reaction of people with controlling personalities when they’re confronted with their behavior: denial that the problem even exists. An outside perspective removes your husband’s ability to claim that the problem is all in your head. Even more importantly, hearing the situation explained to a third person can also be eye-opening for your husband if he doesn’t understand how or why his behavior is controlling. Getting him to accept the issue, or to take the problem seriously, is the first step in working on addressing it. That’s why I really recommend reaching out to any of us here at Happily Committed, so that we can all discuss the particulars of your relationship in a way that shines a light on the root of the problem. Once it’s out in the open, you can take steps towards solving it.
When to Consider Walking Away from a Controlling Husband
One of the biggest things to keep an eye out for as you try to address this problem with your husband is how he reacts to your efforts. If he’s open and willing to work with you, it’s a huge sign that you’re dealing with a fixable problem. After all, willingness to listen and to meet you halfway is a big sign of respect. And if you’re respected, then you can be sure that his controlling behavior isn’t intentionally designed to be demeaning and hurtful.
On the other hand, if your husband gets angry or doubles down on controlling behavior as a reaction to you trying to change it, then your relationship may be on thin ice. Ultimately, this is a pretty clear sign that you are not actually respected, and that his behavior is meant to put you down and belittle you. This is emotional abuse. When controlling people are stood up to, it’s really their inner insecurity, fear, and fragile ego on full display when they get mad. Those, unfortunately, are not and can not be your problem. If this sounds like your husband, and trying to talk about it only makes it worse, there’s nothing left for you to do. It’s time to move on.
With that being said, as this article comes to a close, let’s recap three of the most important elements that can help you deal with a controlling husband:
Regaining your confidence and saying no to a controlling husband
Setting boundaries in a controlling relationship
Helping him recognize controlling behavior by bringing in an outside perspective
As always, the most important thing is that you’re being proactive. The fact that you’re here, reading this article, is a great sign that you’re not going to accept the way things are, and that you’ll find a way to change them for the better. I know you can do it.
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